Peter Dizikes: Writings on Science and Society

Poverty’s Researcher
Profile: Esther Duflo
By Peter Dizikes. Technology Review, Jan/Feb 2010

A few years ago, economist Esther Duflo, PhD ‘99, found a problem that threatened to stump her. In the rural villages of Udaipur, a district in northern India with one of the worst child mortality rates in the world, parents were spurning health clinics’ offer of free immunizations against deadly diseases such as measles and tuberculosis. Only 2 percent of local children were being immunized by age two.

Duflo, MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics, specializes in finding unorthodox ways to help the world’s poor. So she concocted an experiment with MIT-based collaborators Abhijit Banerjee and Rachel Glennerster, along with officials from Seva Mandir, a local nongovernmental organization. In some villages, they offered parents about two pounds of free lentils when they brought their children in for shots. Before long, families started streaming into these clinics. About four in 10 children got immunized where free lentils were available.

According to mainstream economic thinking, the success of the lentil giveaway made no sense. The shots were already free. The lentils, a cheap staple of the Indian diet, added little value. “The standard theory of human capital accumulation cannot explain why you go from a few percent to 38 percent,” says Duflo. “The fact that there is huge responsiveness to such a small thing is contrary to theory.”

Read more


Pharmacy Mall
Features and Profiles
Essays, Reviews, and Misc
All Posted Articles
Bio and Contact Info
RSS for Articles


My work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Slate, Salon, Technology Review, and numerous other publications. You can learn more about me here.


E. Coli and You
The New York Times, June 29, 2008

The Meaning of the Butterfly
The Boston Globe, June 8, 2008

Joseph Needham's Grand Question
Seed, May/June 2008

Pure Science
The New York Times, April 13, 2008

Nature Nurtures Learning
The Boston Globe, December 31, 2007

Genes Open New Frontier in Privacy Debate
The Boston Globe, September 24, 2007

Cambridge Scientists Put on a Show
Nature Network Boston, May 1, 2007

Edward O. Wilson Sees Accord on Climate Action
The Boston Globe, January 29, 2007

Genome Human
The New York Times, July 30, 2006

Galileo Groupies
Slate, February 3, 2006


Peter Dizikes: Writings on Science and Society


Measure for Measure
Technology Review, July/August 2010


Andrew Hearst


Photo credit: Flickr user alb Marcos, via a Creative Commons license