Monday, January 26, 2015

Econometrics and Kung Fu

What do econometrics and Kung Fu have in common?

(This post has been updated to include links to teaching resources at the end.)

Last month, Joshua Angrist and Jรถrn-Steffen Pischke published their latest econometrics book, Mastering 'Metrics.  This book is much more accessible to the beginning student than their earlier book, Mostly Harmless Econometrics.  They begin their most recent book with a passage from a scene in the 1972 pilot of the TV series Kung Fu:
Master Po: Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.
Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
Caine: No.
Po: Do you hear the grasshopper which is at your feet?
Caine: Old man, how is it that you hear these things?
Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?
What's the connection between their book and Kung Fu?   They describe this on pages xi-xii of the Intro: 
 There is a mystical aspect to our work as well: we're after truth, but truth is not revealed in full, and the messages the data transmit require interpretation.  In this spirit, we draw inspiration from the journey of Kwai Chang Caine, hero of the classic Kung Fu TV series.  Caine, a mixed-race Shaolin monk, wanders in search of his U.S.-born half-brother in the nineteenth century American West.  As he searches, Caine questions all he sees in human affairs, uncovering hidden relationships and deeper meanings.  Like Caine's journey, the Way of 'Metrics is illuminated by questions.
I'm guessing most students have not seen this series.  Therefore, when my undergraduate econometrics class meets for the first class tomorrow, I plan to show the scene from which the passage above was taken, and also a bit before and after to provide context (fellow instructors may wish to know I plan on starting at 17:20 and going for about 6 and a half minutes.)  I think this will be class time well spent as it will not merely allow me to entertain the students, but will also allow me to capture their interest and teach them valuable lessons.

This scenes should be of interest for several reasons.  First, we see Caine on his first day on the job in the U.S., working with Chinese workers on the construction of a rail road.  Some of these scenes were filmed at Vasquez Rocks in the Sierra Pelona Mountains in northern Los Angeles County.  Incidentally, this site is also close to potential routes of California's High Speed Rail project.

On a more pedagogical level, the segment ends with young Caine's recognition that learning a difficult subject takes time. He has developed a growth mindset. Many students become frustrated with econometrics because it is difficult.  It should be reassuring to know that learning it is difficult for everyone, even those who go on to become "masters". 

Both the Introduction and Chapter 1 of Angrist and Pischke's book are available for free download from the publisher's website.  These are valuable, free resources that I will use in my course.  The Appendix to Chapter 1 (pages 34-46 here) provides a readable, focused and concise review of statistical inference.

In the spirit of contributing some educational public goods, I plan to post some of the assignments I create for this course here and potentially to other places, so check back later, email me or comment here until I can add these links.

Update (10/24/2020):

As promised, I'm posting updated teaching resources for using Mastering Metrics in introductory econometrics courses. 
Here is the current syllabus. 
This document contains a reading guide for Mastering Metrics Chapters 1 and 2, including the appendices to these chapters.

This simple R script produces a table that can be used to illustrate the omitted variable bias formula that was introduced in Chapter 2. 

This simple R script carries out a difference-in-difference analysis that appeared in Mastering Metrics Chapter 5.

Instructors may be interested in other R scripts I've written for this class, which follow the same approach to using R as you'll find in my two R scripts linked to above. Another two R scripts I wrote are here and are intended to be used in conjunction with Michael Bailey's Real Econometrics. I have also prepared exercises and notes to go along with these R scripts. I have also created over a dozen R scripts that analyze the American Community Survey microdata (an excellent data source for student term papers!) and these are intended to be used in conjunction with my forthcoming book, Data and the American Dream.)

A final free resource are videos Josh Angrist appears in produced by Marginal Revolution University.


  1. Awesome, thanks Matt! We'll add your resources to the web page - Master Joshway

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.