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Links for 8-13-08

* Imagine our surprise at seeing a client on the front page of CNN:

“AIDS in America today is a black disease,” says Phill Wilson, founder and CEO of the institute and himself HIV-positive for 20 years. “2006 CDC data tell us that about half of the just over 1 million Americans living with HIV or AIDS are black.”

We wrote a two-million dollar funded CDC Capacity Building Assistance to Improve the Delivery and Effectiveness of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Prevention Services for Racial/Ethnic Minority Populations grant for the Black Aids Institute in 2004.

* I discussed how to attract and retain grant writers by relying on Joel Spolsky’s Joel on Software for guidance. He also wrote a short book, Smart and Gets Things Done: Joel Spolsky’s Concise Guide to Finding the Best Technical Talent on the subject. To reiterate my earlier point: although Spolsky is writing about programmers, much of what he says is equally applicable to any intellectual worker—including grant writers. Buy a copy and put it on your bookshelf next to Write Right!.

(37signals has a good article on environment and productivity echoing Spolsky’s points.)

* The L.A. Times ran an article attempting something unusual—fresh perspectives on teen pregnancy:

Teenage motherhood may actually make economic sense for poorer young women, some research suggests. For instance, long-term studies by Duke economist V. Joseph Hotz and colleagues, published in 2005, found that by age 35, former teen moms had earned more in income, paid more in taxes, were substantially less likely to live in poverty and collected less in public assistance than similarly poor women who waited until their 20s to have babies. Women who became mothers in their teens — freed from child-raising duties by their late 20s and early 30s to pursue employment while poorer women who waited to become moms were still stuck at home watching their young children — wound up paying more in taxes than they had collected in welfare.

Eight years earlier, the federally commissioned report “Kids Having Kids” also contained a similar finding, though it was buried: “Adolescent childbearers fare slightly better than later-childbearing counterparts in terms of their overall economic welfare.”

To evade the set of angry e-mails and comments likely to follow, I’ll point out that the thrust of the article isn’t that teen pregnancy is a great idea—it’s those involved, rhetorically and otherwise, in the issue might want to consider alternate viewpoints and explanations rather than go back to the usual birth control and sex ed versus abstinence debate.

“Teenage Childbearing and Its Life Cycle Consequences: Exploiting a Natural Experiment” uses a very clever method to get around the correlation-is-not-causation problem in research areas like this, and it’s one of the academic papers underlying the article. You can read it at Duke economist V. Joseph Hotz’s website (warning: .pdf link).

EDIT: In addition, compare these pieces to our later post, What to do When Research Indicates Your Approach is Unlikely to Succeed: Part I of a Case Study on the Community-Based Abstinence Education Program RFP.

* The Wall Street Journal has done excellent reporting on the housing perhaps-crisis, as Isaac mentioned previously. Now comes “Philadelphia’s Housing Woes May Provide Lesson for Lawmakers:”

One point is being missed in this squabble: No matter what Congress does, some cities will end up owning more crumbling houses as owners fail to pay taxes and do their maintenance. Taxpayers will foot the bill. The bigger question is: How can cities quickly get this property back into productive use?

For perspective on this debate, it helps to stroll through Philadelphia’s Ludlow neighborhood, about a mile north of the city center. In this neighborhood and others like it, the Philadelphia Housing Authority became one of the main property owners in the 1970s and 1980s, acquiring homes through foreclosures after owners failed to pay their mortgages or taxes.

One thing you can be sure the solution will involve: grants.

* Well-run career programs that incorporate college counseling and prep classes help low-income students according to a study cited by the New York Times. This is at least a somewhat better study than most, as the New York Times says:

To compare similar students, all those who volunteered to join a career academy at each school were randomly assigned either to participate in the academy or to serve as part of a control group outside the academy.

Nonetheless, it still suffers from the cherry-picking flaw most grant-funded programs do, and it’s encapsulated in one word: volunteered. Those who are at least smart and willing enough to seek help are be definition more likely to do better than those who don’t. Nonetheless, that the group receiving services did better still than the control group is encouraging.

* Freakonomics discusses advice to young and ludicrously rich philanthropists who don’t know much about the world:

They believed that poverty was largely a result of resource deficiencies and organizational inefficiencies: if the poor had more money and their service providers could simply manage their giving more efficiently, change would happen. None placed much emphasis on feelings of self worth, the long-term nature of behavioral change or, most important, that staying above water is itself an accomplishment for a poor household. Everyone modeled their expectations after their family business or other corporate workplaces where they saw the “bottom line” motivate people to meet certain standards of achievement.

* For those of you interested in the academic and systematic aspects of philanthropy more generally, check out the heavy hitters at Creative Capitalism, including Bill Gates, Richard Posner, Gary Becker, Clive Crook, Larry Summers, Ed Glaeser, and Gregory Clark. Alternately, if you want to wait, a book based on the discussions is supposed to be released in 2009. Conor Clarke explains why you might pay for something you can get free online.

* What’s mystery ingredient X for improving school outcomes? Marginal Revolution considers.

* More on parsing RFPs: The Partnerships for Innovation program wants you to:

1) stimulate the transformation of knowledge created by the research and education enterprise into innovations that create new wealth; build strong local, regional and national economies; and improve the national well-being; 2) broaden the participation of all types of academic institutions and all citizens in activities to meet the diverse workforce needs of the national innovation enterprise; and 3) catalyze or enhance enabling infrastructure that is necessary to foster and sustain innovation in the long-term.

That’s not easily understood and doesn’t answer the essential “what” question that an RFP should: what does the program demand that an Institute for Higher Education (IHE) do? The answer is probably “nothing,” and the National Science Foundation (NSF) probably could’ve just said, “We’re giving walking around money to universities so they can use it to fund research or donut eating. Enjoy!”

* An unintentionally funny RFP called the Sexually Transmitted Infections Cooperative Research Centers says:

The purpose of this Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) is to stimulate multidisciplinary, collaborative research that is focused on control and prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) […]

Surely I can’t be the only one to read a certain double meaning into “stimulate” in this context, given its juxtaposition with the program title.

* Slate points to a study that found TV watching among the very young might cause or contribute to autism.