This week, Freakonomics Radio, the popular radio show and podcast born of New York Times bestseller Freakonomics, is broadcasting an episode featuring research by J-PAL North America Scientific Director Amy Finkelstein (MIT). In the episode, Freakonomics host Stephen Dubner interviews Dr. Finkelstein on an evaluation she conducted in partnership with Dr. Jeff Brenner, a physician and Executive Director of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers. Jeff Brenner and the Camden Coalition have developed a program that provides targeted support to healthcare “superutilizers,” the small minority of people who account for a disproportionate quantity of healthcare spending. For more information on the Camden program, as well as on Dr. Brenner, see this New Yorker article.
As well as covering Dr. Finkelstein’s collaboration with Dr. Brenner on the Camden superutilizer intervention, the podcast also discussed the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment. The Oregon Health Insurance Experiment was a large-scale randomized evaluation of Medicaid expansion led by principal investigators J-PAL affiliate Katherine Baicker (Harvard) and J-PAL North America Scientific Director Amy Finkelstein. For more information on the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment, check out this J-PAL North America policy briefcase.
Included in the episode was an insightful discussion between economist Steve Levitt and host Stephen Dubner on the role of randomized evaluations, also known as randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Dr. Levitt argues that randomized experiments, when possible to conduct, help establish causality with much more certainty than other economic methods. J-PAL focuses heavily on these sorts of randomized evaluations and in fact, Freakonomics Radio has previously featured other randomized evaluations by J-PAL affiliates on four occasions:
- An episode in December 2014 focused on a randomized evaluation of a community program designed to increase high school graduation rates, authored by J-PAL affiliate Philip Oreopoulos (University of Toronto), Robert Brown (Toronto District School Board), and Adam Lavecchia (University of Toronto).
- A randomized evaluation of Becoming a Man, a Chicago-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy program designed to decrease youth violence and increase educational attainment. This research was conducted by J-PAL affiliate Sara Heller (University of Pennsylvania), Anuj Shah (Chicago), J-PAL affiliate Jonathan Guryan (Northwestern), J-PAL affiliate Jens Ludwig (Chicago), J-PAL affiliate Sendhil Mullainathan (Harvard), and Harold Pollack (Chicago).
- A September 2015 episode the following week focused on a randomized evaluation of another Cognitive Behavioral Therapy program, this time directed at former child soldiers in Liberia; this study was authored by J-PAL affiliate Christopher Blattman (Chicago), Julian Jamison (World Bank and Innovations for Poverty Action), and Margaret Sheridan (Harvard and North Carolina).
- In November 2015, the podcast highlighted a randomized evaluation of a program designed to increase parental engagement with their children in order to foster cognitive and executive function skills. This study was carried out by J-PAL affiliate Roland Fryer (Harvard), Steven Levitt (Chicago), and John List (Chicago).