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2020 Year in Review

This year was quite bad globally, but I think this was so mostly from our point of view as Westerners. Pandemics, disasters and strife have been going on unabated in developing countries for many years. It just did not feel relevant to us. Malaria, AIDS, political unrest, etc, those were mainly things that affected poor countries. Now, with the coronavirus and the populist agitation in the US and Europe, they also affect us. Well, to be fair, and at least for now, mainly, poor people among us… I do hope we find ways to deal with those issues, mainly by renewing the involvement of citizens in information gathering and decision making.

With this preamble, the year was actually not all that bad for me. I was surprisingly active in furthering my research, but not successful, just, in finally obtaining a permanent position in academia.

Munich: The year started very nicely with a research visit in January to Caterina Giannetti, who was spending one month at the University of Munich, where she was accomodated by Simeon Schudy at the at LMU Munich. We finalised the design of our experiment on using robo-advisers as commitment devices – Think Forward Initiative (en), whereby we brain stormed a two-by-two treatment design mixing sophistication and rigidity of the advice given by the robo-adviser.

Colombia: Barely back from Munich (which surprised me for its relaxed, chic and almost Austrian ambiance), I went in February and March for a three weeks field trip in Colombia with Marcela Ibañez. We spent the first few days in Bogotá, where Marcela knows many researchers at the Universidad de los Andes. Then we went to Medellín to meet our local parners, namely Juan Carlos Muñoz Mora at the EAFIT and Carlos Adrián Saldarriaga at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. I gave a seminar at EAFIT on the willingness to pay for advice from experts, but mainly, we discussed a research plan to investigate the effect of mining activity on the social preferences and cohesion of local communities. We also managed to get interviews at the mining ministry, some mining companies, and with some social activists. Then on we went to visit possible research locations.

The principle was to identify areas with old, new, projected, and no mining activities, as comparable ones with the others. So Marcela and I first travelled north, to Buriticá, a mining town moving from illegal to legal gold mining. Then after two days there, we briefly went back to Medellín to then go with Carlos Adrian to Jerico, Jardin and RioSucio, which are cities with projected mining, rejection of mining, and no mining respectively.

A pause 3000m meters high!

Particularly great was the trip between Jardin and Riosucio, which we did by the “direct” unpaved route going as high as 3000 meters. In Rio Sucio was Marcela’s family, a well-established and old family of the region, with its own separate and beautiful cemetery, as they were not catholics but rather of a separate version of christianity. At that point, I was free to do a bit of tourism, and I went to the Cocora Valley. Yes, I know, cliché, but that area is really beautiful, I had some great hike and visited a very interesting coffee plantation. Seriously, sometimes, just do what other people do, it is not that bad :) On the way back to Bogota, I passed by Ibagué, the music capital of Colombia. In Bogotá, I mainly made sure to bring back the good stuff, i.e. chocolate a la tassa, pane de azucar, aguardiente, etc…

Göttingen: Those provisions, which I had planned to spread around, were a great support to me as we went back in the middle of March. This was the first corona lockdown in Germany… as for everyone, this was a time of adjustment, learning to work at home and buying a screen, a table, a printer, a working chair, and getting an Internet connection, as really, I did not have any home office. My principle up to now had been to separate strictly home and office. Good luck with that now…

Once this done, it was time to prepare applications for jobs, esp. getting qualified for a professorship in France on the basis of my habilitation in Germany (done), applying for professorships in France, and for research positions at the CNRS and INRAE. I got furthest at the University of Caen (ranked second for a professorship) and at the INRAE GAEL laboratory in Grenoble (ranked second as well).

Recovering from the disappointment was a bit hard, but I got other things to concentrate on, in June and August, with intensive meditation practice during two “Buddha Camps” (several days of full day meditations), organised by the Lebendiges Zen association in Deppoldshausen, under the free sky in a beautiful location close to Göttingen, where we simply camped and meditated outside to avoid contamination. This was great, a part of rediscovery of the activity of nature, something that many people experienced in those days.

Austria: Also, almost as soon as the lockdown was over, in July, I went to Austria by train to visit Katharina Gangl, with whom I work on a project about ethics in business, which is related to her work on taxation. We took the opportunity to go in her region, Styria, where we rented an appartment with this amazing view of Sankt Anna am Aigen. Katharina’s father treated us to a wonderful diner (he was a restaurateur, now food producer), and I enjoyed the sweet white wine of the region

Italy: Right before the second lockdown started, in October, I went to Pisa to give a seminar on my joint work with Caterina Giannetti about the use of robo-advisers in stock trading. I stayed one week there as we worked on finalizing our report for our funding body, the Think Forward Initiative. In the months before, I had done the programming for the experiment, to be run online over three weeks. It went very smoothly, with the aid of oTree and of automated email reminder services to tell participants when to trade.

Teaching: Back to Germany, I got an extension of my contract at the University of Göttingen until March 2021, mainly to take care of tutorials in the course in advanced microeconomics for the Winter Semester, which this year goes on totally online. I chose to offer in-presence tutorials, mainly to give an opportunity for students to meet in person, something that they said they missed a lot in the summer semester. I worked quite a bit on making written corrections even easier to follow and understand. As for online videos, I decided to go for the simplest, simply videotaping myself writing and explaining corrections on the board. This is less boring for the viewer, as I accompany explanations with movement. I do not juggle yet while teaching, but I am thinking about it.

I also offered a seminar on the role of experts, both in the Summer semester for students in Göttingen, and in the Winter semester (now) for students in Jena, where I am a Privat-Dozent. That seminar, described here (The problem with experts (and those who do not listen to them), was my modest contribution to trying to understand both populist movements and the corona crisis, characterised by their denial of expert advice, spread of conspiracy theories, and both encouraged by frankly bungled government policies. I got full attendance in both seminars, with all topics taken, and very interesting and well done presentation, at least so far for students in Göttingen. I can say that I found a topic they are really interested in :)

Research: In terms of research, the year was also quite good. With Stephan Müller and Claudia Keser, we got a R&R from Games and Economic Behavior for our paper on the evolution of morals under indirect reciprocity (repec.org), and with Paolo Crosetto, a R&R at Management Science for our paper Fast then slow: A choice process explanation for the attraction effect (repec.org). Revisions for those two papers kept me busy in August and September, especially for the second one, for which I am developing a version of the multiattribute linear ballistic accumulator model of context effects in multialternative choice – PubMed (nih.gov) to account for revisions in choice.

Perspectives: My main goals for 2021 are to 1) find a position in academia or in policy-making. I have applications going on in many great places, but competition is tough 2) run experiments that are already funded but that I could not run in 2020 because they require physical presence (in order to measure physiological responses to stimuli) 3) get my paper with Paolo published in Management Science 4) write a research proposal about how people revise their choices, to be submitted to the DFG and the ERC 5) explore further my practice of Zen Buddhism 6) in relation to this, travel to Japan and do the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage, or if this is not possible or too expensive this year due to the Olympics, go hike in the Himalayas. If this is also not possible due to COVID, find another long hike to do closer to home.

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