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Pofile of Solomon Hsiang, who uses big data to inform climate change policies..

Summary:
Interesting profile of Prof Solomon Hsiang of University of California Berkeley (pronounced Shung): Solomon Hsiang is a smart man. He listens to his wife. Over breakfast a day or two after the California pandemic lockdown in March 2020, Google researcher Brenda Chen asked a question. Couldn’t her husband’s Global Policy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, shed some light on the world’s fight against COVID-19? “A lab called ‘the Global Policy Lab’ should be able to tackle this question,” she recalls saying. He raised it with his team on a conference call that morning. The lab uses sophisticated statistical analysis of economic data—econometrics—and advanced computing power to address questions related to climate change, development, violence, migration, and disasters.

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Interesting profile of Prof Solomon Hsiang of University of California Berkeley (pronounced Shung):

Solomon Hsiang is a smart man. He listens to his wife.

Over breakfast a day or two after the California pandemic lockdown in March 2020, Google researcher Brenda Chen asked a question. Couldn’t her husband’s Global Policy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, shed some light on the world’s fight against COVID-19?

“A lab called ‘the Global Policy Lab’ should be able to tackle this question,” she recalls saying.

He raised it with his team on a conference call that morning. The lab uses sophisticated statistical analysis of economic data—econometrics—and advanced computing power to address questions related to climate change, development, violence, migration, and disasters. When the group reconvened after a day of research, “we realized that nobody knew if all these lockdown policies would really work,” says Hsiang, a 37-year-old economist and climate physicist.

Over the next 10 days, Hsiang and 14 researchers worked around the clock gathering vast amounts of data on dozens of pandemic policies such as business and school closings, travel bans, social distancing mandates, and quarantines from China, France, Iran, Italy, South Korea, and the United States. Applying econometric tools, they found that the anti-contagion policies significantly slowed the spread of disease, averting 495 million infections. The paper they cranked out appeared June 8, 2020, in the journal Nature. It has been accessed 309,000 times and cited by 361 news outlets, according to Nature.

The episode shows how Hsiang (pronounced “Shung”) is helping to transform the way economists conduct research. He’s leading a new generation in leveraging newly available giant databases, massive modern computing power, and large, interdisciplinary teams to address thorny global issues such as climate change and the pandemic. Previous work on the economics of climate change relied largely on sweeping assumptions rather than hard data and was carried out mostly by solo researchers or a few collaborators.

Within just a decade of earning his doctorate from Columbia, Hsiang has published a raft of startling and sometimes controversial findings. He and various research partners showed that rising temperatures increase civil conflict and slow economic growth; that as tropical storms grow more intense, the economic effects are more severe and last longer; and that trying to fight climate change by mimicking volcanic eruptions to dim the sun would reduce global crop yields. Now he’s leading researchers in a years-long effort to calculate the true cost worldwide of greenhouse gas carbon emissions.

Amol Agrawal
I am currently pursuing my PhD in economics. I have work-ex of nearly 10 years with most of those years spent figuring economic research in Mumbai’s financial sector.

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