J Dustin Tracy

PhD Candidate


A passion to guide environmental and health policy toward effective solutions, based on economic theory, scientific research, and real world behavior inspires my research. I am intent on understanding fundamental principles underlying human behavior and leveraging them to craft policy. As an applied microeconomic researcher, I use a mix of field and laboratory experiments and empirical methods to test interventions in the fields of environment and health. I am not only interested in whether they are successful but understanding the mechanisms that make the policy effective. Many of the interventions that I evaluate utilize a behavioral "nudge". One particular concern I have is whether results can be replicated, and how robust these are when the nudgee is aware of the intent of the nudge. My background in psychology provides a valuable perspective when considering how reactions, might tip the balance of cost and benefits to change behavior. My experience working in mental health has also been important grounding to my research.

Working across disciplines is intriguing, and one the most fruitful approaches to many policy questions. Each discipline offers its own perspective that shed light on different elements of the problem, different barriers to implementing a solution, and alternative tools to overcoming those barriers. I have worked with public health and medical professionals on projects related to obesity. At present I am working with engineering and GIS faculty, on researching returns from infrastructure projects. I also enjoy creative ways to apply tools from economics, such as modeling, identification strategies, and mechanism analysis to novel topics.

My job market paper uses MEPS data to analyze a Massachusetts regulation that prohibited pharmaceutical manufacturers from providing doctors off-site meals. My analysis focuses on medications that are still on patent, and for which there are good substitutes, which are off-patent and available as generics. I find that after the regulation, participants in MA are less likely to be prescribed these more expensive medications, resulting in savings in overall medication costs. In a pooled sample, I have the surprising finding that, after the regulation participants were also less likely to be on substitute medications, the in class generics. In a smaller true panel sample, I find there was substitution toward these medications. Additionally, in both samples there is evidence of improvement in self-rated health and that participants are less likely to report that health limits their daily activities. These finding may generalize to any policy that attempts to deter doctors from prescribing expensive branded medications when there are low-cost substitutes, such as prior authorization, co-pay structure, formularies, or restrictions on other types of marketing such as direct to consumer advertising.

The second chapter of my dissertation reports on a laboratory experiment, that uses loss framing and a real effort task, and informs how subjects prefer to be incentivized, and the long-run robustness of loss framing. Subjects did a tedious computer task, and were paid according to the number of correct solutions. According to the round, this was either at the end, or they were prepaid for a certain (unachievable) quantity and then penalized according to how far they fell short of the quantity. The payments were isomorphic, the same amount of correct answers netted the same pay. I also incorporated a paid break. Subjects were given a choice between the two payment system for the final round. In one treatment, subjects were informed at the beginning that loss framing (the penalties) generally results in people working harder and getting more money. Subjects in the control situation exhibited this loss-framing effect and were more likely to take breaks during loss frame rounds, while performance of those in the control group did not vary across payment frames. Subjects generally preferred gain framing, however those that performed better with loss framing were more likely to choose it in the final round.

The final chapter is a time-enabled GIS analysis of the impact of bicycle infrastructure recently installed in Atlanta, on ridership and safety. I work with government officials, advocates and researchers from other disciplines and combine data from myriad sources. The location and installation dates of the infrastructure come from advocacy groups and the city, collision data from the state's Department of Transportation. Data on bicycle traffic comes from site counts, surveys and smart phone apps. The latter can provide route specific information, but has geographic and other biases, which we correct using the former. This work is in progress.

I am also working on a variety of other research. I am helping to conduct a field experiment, in which farmers compete in an auction for cost-sharing of public environmental goods. The goal is to design a mechanism that maximizes the benefit of public funds. Projects which require the least public funding as a percentage are selected. The project is funded through a National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant. I helped write the application. Bids are entered on a slider which allows farmers to select the percentage of the cost they are committed to pay. The default starting locations are either 0\% or 100\%. We analyze how this impacts the bid and how the impact evolves with market feedback and from year to year. In another field experiment, we partner with an NGO and use an online petition site as a platform and tests whether anthropomorphic, biocentric or a combined framing are more effective in garnering support. Subjects receive email appeals to go to the website and sign the petition. We test how the different framing effects whether they sign the petition and if they choose to make a contribution to the NGO.

I have found it stimulating and enlightening to work in rich and diverse environments. A fundamental curiosity about big-picture questions and how they relate to policy guides me. It is important not only that a policy meet its goal, but that we ask how it impacts the lives of the people who are subject to it and the world as a whole? I have adapted well to each new environment, while bringing to them experience, knowledge and perspective from previous environments. I hope that I can find a position that allows similar collaboration and exposure to a multitude of viewpoints. I am confident that my existing network will continue to raise fascinating questions about a vast array of topics, but excited by the opportunities that accompany expanding my network of research partners and coauthors.