Bright lights, big money

Craig Mayhew and Robert Simmon/NASA GSFC

Craig Mayhew and Robert Simmon/NASA GSFC

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In the nighttime snapshots of earth compiled by NASA, industrial parts of the world shine brightly. But in less developed countries, darkness more or less reigns. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that this variance in luminosity often serves as an accurate proxy for the relative wealth of nations. Sterling Professor of Economics William Nordhaus ’63 and Quinnipiac sociologist Xi Chen argue that for poorer countries with limited data, where key statistics such as gross domestic product can be tough to come by, the aerial accounting method offers a useful supplement to traditional measurements. “We have only the foggiest idea of the actual incomes—or national outputs—of nations that we are deeply engaged with, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, and Somalia,” Nordhaus points out.  

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