Economists may not build gigantic atom smashers or gene-sequencing facilities, but they can still perform rigorous experiments. This year's Nobel Prize in economics honors three researchers who pioneered the use of randomized controlled trials to determine how best to ameliorate global poverty. Michael Kremer of Harvard University and Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will split the roughly $9 million prize. The three have often worked together and form an intellectual team, other economists say.
"We all knew that they would win, just not so early in their careers," says Sandra Sequeria, a development economist at the London School of Economics. Kremer is 54 years old, Banerjee is 58, and Duflo 46. While many Nobel prizes honor discoveries made long ago, this year's economics prize goes to work still gaining momentum at foundations and development agencies around the world, says Sylvie Lambert, a development economist at the Paris School of Economics. "It's an ongoing project," she says. "This is the frontier."
Globally, more than 700 million people live in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank, which defines poverty as living on less than $1.90 per day. One in three children is malnourished, according to figures provided by the Nobel foundation, and most children leave school without basic skills in reading, writing, and mathematics. The new Nobel laureates have strived to explain empirically which interventions work to alleviate poverty and why. "The goal of our work is to make sure that the fight against poverty is based on scientific evidence," Duflo said on the phone at the press conference announcing the prize. "It starts from the idea that often the poor are reduced to caricatures, and often even people who are trying to help them do not understand the deep roots of the problems."