I like to periodically clean/organize my Dropbox folders and documents (it’s a never-ending job). Here’s a fun sampling of what I found in the latest round, almost all from grad school days:

  1. A 2010 document titled “Clever titles.” It had two: “The making of a disaster” and “What’s an ounce of prevention worth in ounces of cures?” (this last one is about ex ante prevention versus ex post mitigation). Now I just need projects to go with them.
  2. A 2010 project called “Weather and obesity.” The idea is not that bad, actually. Theoretically, bad weather realizations (rain, heat, cold, absence of sun) can reduce physical activity and increase obesity. My guess, however, is that one would have a hard time detecting it empirically. If you write this paper, let me know what you find!
  3. A 2008 document titled “Crazy experiment ideas.” Here’s one:
    • “Set up a beverage sale at an all-day event. Either make the beverage clearly distinct from others sold at the same place or be the only beverage seller. Keep track of the recycling rates:
      • When there’s a big sign that says “please recycle” next to the point of sale
      • When you offer people $0.05 if they bring the bottle/can back empty (also check recycling cans nearby)
      • Other treatments? Green versus red recycling cans?”
    • (I really don’t know what the “big” research question was. My best guess is that, because I lived next to Fenway Park at the time, I really wanted to figure out a way to exploit those big game-day crowds. This is why starting with a data set or something similar is a bad idea.)
  4. A 2010 document called “Ideas to run by professors”, with maybe about 20 ideas (most of which I’m sure I never actually spoke about to my advisors). Most of them were quite boring, except “Farms and smell pollution” (unfortunately, there was no explanation, so I’m not sure where I was going with that) and “What is the effect of non-hurricanes?”. Yes, you read that right, “non-hurricanes” (another clever title?). The idea there was that landfalling hurricanes may increase agricultural productivity in areas that are further inland by increasing precipitation there. I did look for this effect but couldn’t find anything. (It was a bit hard to parametrize though, so it’s possible that this effect is actually there).
  5. From a 2012 document: “Find people who’ve been in hurricane-prone areas (storm chasers?) See if anyone will let me tag along?” And then a note: “http://www.stormchaser.com/ (wrote, asked me to write back in June)” I don’t know why I wanted to go chase a storm, but I never followed up on this.

Morals of the story: (1) we all have bad/half-baked ideas, (2) you don’t have to pursue every idea you have, (3) you should write your research ideas down – at the very worst, you’ll get a good laugh out of them.