Life, Love, and Dirty Diapers

The Women in Time’s Most Influential List 2011: Esther Duflo

Today is another name I don’t recognize, but I think in this series I actually find those the most fun because I get to learn about new people. So let’s dive in and take a look at Esther Duflo.

  • She’s an economist.
  • She teaches at MIT (Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics).
  • Her research looks at developing countries.
  • She has worked hard to advance using field experiments.
  • She is the director (and one of the founders) of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, which seeks to reduce poverty by having science to help inform policy.
  • She often focuses on the very specific and studies it in randomized trial experiments. Examples include “If schoolkids could get their uniforms for free, would attendance go up?” and “What’s an effective way to reward mothers for immunizing their babies?”
  • Speculation has it that she will win a Nobel Prize in the future.
  • She’s met with several big shots: Bill Gates, the head of Facebook, and the head of Amazon for example.

I think she is definitely influential. She is slowly changing the way we address poverty. It may not be widespread yet, but I think the work she is doing now will be in the future. This is really revolutionary work if we want to end poverty (which most people would say we do) because her work focuses on trying to find out what actually works. If we want to end poverty, her work is going to be crucial. Her influence will come in the future, as she is really making this a popular idea. It seems like such common sense – let’s test what actually makes a difference, but yet before her, it wasn’t really happening. I think that if we ever want to end poverty we need to pay attention to the work she is doing and we need to pay attention to how she is doing it. This is world changing stuff, mark my words. And it will have all started with Esther Duflo.

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The Women in Time’s Most Influential List 2011: Felisa Wolfe-Simon

I’m not immediately familiar with today’s person, Felisa Wolfe-Simon, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t influential. Let’s take a look at her.

  • She is a geobiochemical oceanographer.
  • She has a doctorate in Oceanography.
  • She also has a NASA fellowship in astrobiology.
  • Her primary work focuses on the idea that (and I’m quoting because I don’t really understand it well enough to put it into my own words) “a bacterium called GFAJ-1 could substitute arsenic, poisonous for most life forms, for phosphorus, considered an essential element for all living cells.”
  • That work is heavily disputed by others in her field and others claim to be unable to reproduce her results, a key part of the scientific process.

So, is she influential or not? I think it’s not a question that I can answer conclusively at this point. I think it depends a lot on whether or not her research turns out to be true. And that’s hard for me to answer because I don’t have the scientific background to be able to say whether or not her research is true. But it has stirred up quite the controversy in the scientific world – so I can’t say definitively whether it’s true or not because the scientific community can’t even decide whether it’s true or not. If her research is true, then it will change the way we think about life and how life works (according to everything I’ve read on it). And then she will have had a huge influence on the future and have been highly influential. If her research turns out to be just bad science, all she will be is the scientist who almost discovered something that didn’t exist and she might even become a laughingstock. So in my opinion, the jury is still out. Do you have any thoughts on Felisa Wolfe-Simon? Leave them below in the comments! 

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The Women in Time’s Most Influential List 2011: Sue Savage-Rumbaugh

Oh boy. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh is a name I am super unfamiliar with. Come learn along with me.

  • She works with monkeys studying their use of language.

I think that she is influential but to a very limited extent. I think she is influential within her field, but I’m not sure her work particularly effects ordinary people. Teaching monkeys language is a cool and useful thing for people who work with primates, but I’m not sure how it would effect the average person. So I will say she is very limitedly influential. However, there is some evidence that her research might someday be used to help children with disabilities learn to communicate, but I will still say her influence is limited because it hasn’t been used for that yet and it might never be and/or it might not be successful.

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