Heidi Williams, 34, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose “insights about market inducements for innovation and the implications of technological change in health care markets are informing institutional practice and public policy and sparking new lines of inquiry about innovation more broadly.”
That’s to put it mildly. If I were going to characterise her contribution in an Internet succinct way it would be: “she finds s**t out.” You know, she locates an open empirical question, devises a way of tackling it and finds the answer.
For instance, she found out that hospital classifications of low birth weight demonstrated a large discontinuity in “effort” and expenditures on babies that make the cut-off — those being just slightly ‘under-weight’ — with big consequences for quantification on the return to medical expenditures and also explaining some US poor performance. She found that a mild strengthening of intellectual property rights could lead to a 20 to 30 percent reduction in subsequent research and development but that gene patents did not appear to diminish follow-on research. She found that private cancer research was distorted away from long-term research with bigger potential life saving.
I got to know Heidi when she was just a graduate student working at the NBER. I am happy to say that “I knew it” when I met her that something big was going to happen here. Personally, I didn’t need the Macarthur Foundation to tell me she was a genius but it is nice for those who weren’t paying attention to now know.