Too little knowledge is a dangerous thing

3 November 2010

Too little knowledge is a dangerous thing: This blog by Shanta Devarajan, WB Chief Economist for Africa, might not be directly relevant to the issue of think tanks but is of great relevance to the role of think tanks in different parts of the world.

Stefan Dercon’s wordle based on our data of the countries that economists work on led Chris Blattman and Tyler Cowen to wonder why there are more papers on Latin America relative to Africa in the Journal of Development Economics, a leading journal in the field of development economics. We looked at this issue in our paper onthe Geography of Academic Research.

Devarajan’s blog finishes with two important questions:

– What policies can “incentivize” knowledge production in low-income countries?
– Should we worry about this, or can policies to improve education in, say, Burkina Faso be based on research done in South Africa or the US?

I would argue that if this think tanks in countries where there is insufficient knowledge production should be trying to influence the adoption of the policies that will promote it.

And yes, I think we should worry that policy makers in Burkina Faso are basis their decisions on either peer reviewed research on other countries or non-peer reviewed research; namely reports from NGOs, donors and consultancies. Local economists are probably busy tracking donors’ funds instead of modelling monetary policy options.

So what other factors explain this?