This post is the fourth of a Communicating Economics series outlining what I’ve been reading, attending or thinking about over the past week or so.

 

 

The challenge of improving the communication of economics became a news story this week with Bloomberg, Financial Times and Economist reports that World Bank chief economist Paul Romer was no longer managing the Bank’s Development Economics Group, in part because of adverse reactions to his insistence on clearer writing. Some of the problems with ‘Bankspeak’ are detailed in an analysis of the language used in World Bank Reports since the institution was founded in the 1940s.

 

Romer’s response to the breaking news includes a link to his internal Bank blog, now mirrored for a wider readership. The blog features a particularly striking post on writing, which says ‘clear writing is a commitment to integrity. It is, without exaggeration, the foundation for trust in science.’

 

Trust in science and its communication has been an underlying theme in the UK’s general election campaign, with many questioning why independent researchers and their universities are being urged to observe the ‘purdah’ that applies to government departments and non-departmental public bodies. Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, wrote to the head of the civil service calling for a clarification of the rules; while an editorial in The Lancet concluded ‘Dissemination of scientific information is in the public’s interest, most especially in the run up to a General Election. The UK Government should not be allowed to obstruct facts, and must be held to account.’

 

Once the election campaign resumed after the Manchester terror attack, leading economic researchers continued to disseminate their analysis and research evidence, scrutinising the policies outlined in the manifestos of the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats:

Journalists continued to make use of the directory of over 65 economists available to provide evidence and expert insights, which Diane Coyle and I have circulated via email and Twitter under the hashtag #GE2017Economists. Meanwhile, Chris Giles at the FT lamented politicians’ disregard for evidence in their policy proposals. The prime minister has been particularly explicit in her preference for anecdote-based policy-making, reportedly saying ‘You can have all the evidence in the world, but…’

 

CEP held their two-day annual retreat this week, at which researchers from across their full range of programmes presented work in progress. Richard Davies, chief of staff of the LSE Growth Commission, announced the results of a light-hearted survey of participants on which economists they think have had most ‘impact’ in recent years (Paul Krugman came out top).

 

Richard also recounted a story of former Bank of England governor Mervyn King returning to the office having read a book on the discovery of the structure of DNA while on vacation. A little like Paul Romer at the World Bank, King apparently wondered why Bank of England communications couldn’t be as short and sweet as the research paper in Nature in which Francis Crick and James Watson published their path-breaking findings: just 900 words.