Professor John List Visits NTU


John List, the Kenneth Griffin Professor and Chair of Economics, University of Chicago, gave the Inaugural Sun Chen Lecture on “Using Field Experiments to Make the World a Better Place”

The Sun Chen Lecture of the Department of Economics, National Taiwan University (NTU Economics) aims at promoting cutting-edge economics research, and encouraging dynamic conversations between scholars, among economic community. The Lecture is sponsored by O’bank, whose chairman, Kenneth C. M. Lo, NTU Econ 64’ and the Distinguished Alumni Awards receiver, launched the Lecture in the name of NTU’s former president, Sun Chen, for the purpose of promoting economics research.


The Inaugural Sun Chen Lectureship was awarded to Professor John A. List, Kenneth C. Griffin Distinguished Service Professor and the Chairman of the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago. He was also a senior economist at the United States President’s Council of Economic Advisors. Professor List is an iconic figure for field experimental economics, well-known for his innovative experimental designs. He has published more than 200 academic papers, 37 of which were in Top 5 economics research journals. In 2015, Professor List was shortlisted for a Nobel Prize in Economics by Reuters for his work on field experiments, and on google scholar, his works are cited approximately 35000 times. With his creative experimental designs, Professor List is able to explore a wide variety of important economics questions, inclusive of market competition, charitable behavior, and education, as well as to test the availability of economic theory in the real world. He and Uri Gneezy co-authored The Why Axis, through which they introduce many research results of field experiment to the general public.


Professor List’s talk aims at convincing the audience that field experiments could make the world a better place. He recalled reading on the textbook by Samuelson and Nordhaus that economists cannot run controlled experiments. Up until early 2000s, the norm of economics research is to write down models, and to use mounds of data with methods that require assumptions to infer causality. Professor List presented his research results to disprove the old beliefs. The experiments in Chicago Heights shrank the learning gap of ethnic minorities. The experiment on Smile Train, an NGO that corrects cleft lips, led to more charitable gifts. Professor List used field experiments to examine the gender wage gap, and found out that by framing job descriptions correctly, women could compete for better positions. He further suggested that different working time periods, the “learning by doing” experience of male drivers, and driving speed led to the gender pay gap of Uber drivers. Professor List also cooperated with the U.K. Behavioral Insights Team to send out effective tax reminders using descriptive norms, allowing the British government to receive more than 20 million U.S. dollars in taxes. They further targeted small businesses similarly and effectively. Professor List concluded by reiterating his beliefs: the world is complicated with many confounds, but randomization allows researchers to balance the unobservables across the treatment and control groups, as well as to leverage and deduce a causal relationship.


Professor List’s talk was followed by Doctor Dana Suskind’s speech. Doctor Suskind is a pediatric physician, Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics at the University of Chicago Medicine Division, and the founder and director of the Thirty Million Words Initiative. Doctor Suskind introduced her project of enhancing children brain development using behavioral insights and experiments. She aims at assisting children to reach their full language potentials, and at closing the achievement gap between the advantaged and the less advantaged. She advised parents to actively engage their infants in conversations using sophisticated language, which bolster not only children’s vocabulary set, but their understanding of the subjects.


On Friday, June 22nd, 2018, Professor List gave an inspirational talk at the Principles of Economics class that is mainly taken by freshmen of NTU Economics. He shared his own experience of falling in love with economics, and encouraged students to work towards making the world a better place. In the afternoon, Professor List and Doctor Suskind visited Vice President Chen, alongside Professor Ming-Jen Lin, Chair of NTU Economics, Professor Jin-Tan Liu, and Professor Chun-Fang Chiang, also from NTU Economics. Professor List shared his experience in cooperating with the British and Australian governments in projects related to behavioral economics. Doctor Suskind also exchanged thoughts with the Vice President, whose academic background roots in public health, epidemiology, and human genetics.