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Alex Counts is the President and CEO of Grameen Foundation and a biographer of Muhammad Yunus, the Grameen Bank founder. Given his position in the large network of Grameen, he holds sway in the microfinance world and beyond. So when he publishes an attack on independent research on his blog, I take to represent a reasonably broad antiscience sentiment in the microfinance industry.

In his article, the head of Grameen Foundation laments the emergence of “a new generation of researchers” rising to “debunk the myth of microfinance being an effective tool to fight poverty” (I consider myself part of this generation, but I’m sure Counts doesn’t mean me). He writes about a “conflict” between researchers and practitioners, questions whether practitioners are to blame for not having brought researchers into the fold, says researchers have supported sensationalist reporting against microfinance, and claims they have not tried to contribute (enough) to poverty alleviation. Then he delves into an elogy for Tim Ogden, head of the Financial Access Initiative at NYU. The overall message – research results which don’t support microfinance should be disregarded; the title-giving Haiti cue is a bit of a red herring – is akin to a call to sticking one’s head in the sand when threatened.

The ostrich, unlike the microfinance CEO, is falsely believed to stick its head in the sand when it feels threatened.

Image: Bob Jagendorf/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0.

I’m writing this to respond to Counts’ piece and his core request “that we get beyond debates about “whether microfinance works” to more fruitful and action-oriented dialogues about “how it can work better”.” The following is my small defense of academia. Read the rest of this entry »

As we have discussed repeatedly on this blog (e.g. “Middle-aged White Guys“), one of the most puzzling issues in analyzing Wikipedia is its continuous decline in active editors since 2007, shortly after a period of exponential growth:

The number of active editors (>=5 edits/month) in English language Wikipedia (Halfaker et al. 2013)

Active editors (>=5 edits/month) in English language Wikipedia (Halfaker et al. 2013)

Aaron Halfaker, together with R. Stuart Geiger, Jonathan Morgan and John Riedl, has now published results of their research efforts to understand the reasons behind this editor decline in American Behavioral Scientist under the title “The Rise and Decline of an Open Collaboration Community: How Wikipedia’s reaction to sudden popularity is causing its decline” (see Preprint PDF).

One of Halfaker et al.’s core findings is that, while the proportion of desirable newcomers entering Wikipedia has not changed since 2006, the proportion of them being reverted in their first session has increased (“good_ faith & golden” refers to sub-groups of desirable newcomers): Read the rest of this entry »

It is well known that YouTube serves as a platform for a huge variety of educational material. Most prominently, Salman Kahn (“Khan Academy“) began his career as a provider of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) by posting teaching videos on YouTube.

In addition to educational material on all kinds of topics provided by third parties, Google increasingly engages in the production of its own educational content to improve the quality of user-generated content published on its platform. Google’s obvious calculation: better videos means more views means more ad revenue.

Initially, however, Google’s first educational videos were in mere self-defense against countervailing accusations with relation to copyright infringement on its platform. While rights holders complained and blocked unauthorised use of their content, users protested against respective deletion of their accounts (see “Private Negotiation of Public Goods: Collateral Damage(s)“) . In this situation, Google launched its “YouTube Copyright School”, which so-called “multiple infringers” have to watch to re-open their account (see “Crazy Copyright Cartoon: The YouTube Copyright School“).

Read the rest of this entry »

On October 2nd thirty years ago, Muhammad Yunus founded the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, the world’s most famous microfinance institution, by the grace of a special ordinance from dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad. The German radio station Westdeutscher Rundfunk decided to commemorate this event with a 15-minute piece which included an interview with yours truly and with the incredibly well grassroots-informed Andrea Rahaman of non-microfinance NGO MATI.

Though not every statement of mine was used in context – for instance my explanation of the high costs incurred by lending tiny sums and collecting them in weekly instalments, illustrating the inefficiency of microfinance-based poverty relief – I like how the piece directly contrasts Yunus’ pathos-ridden and impressionistic proclamations with Andrea’s and my own sober descriptions of the reality of microfinance in science and on the ground. Thanks to this technique, Andrea and I perhaps got as close to having a real debate with the Gandhi of finance as any regular mortal can; though others certainly have tried, like Tom Heinemann (view part 4 / 2:40 of the documentary, to see Yunus almost comically avoiding speaking to the journalist). Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
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