academic publication, Economics

Academic publishing and the market place of ideas

I came across two interesting posts this morning that may be worth sharing.

In a BloombergView post Justin Fox writes about the profitability of academic publishing. It is a costly business and the internet and Open Access should have killed it a long time ago – but that is if it were about disseminating ideas. He argues what most of us already know: that publishing in academic journals is about trying to certify the quality of those ideas and awarding status. (I have written about my worries about publication earlier).

On a related tangent Federico Fubini writes about the closed market place for economic ideas in a Project Syndicate post. His analysis of RePEc rankings shows remarkable persistence of the positions of top-ranked economists. He has some choice bits:

… persistence at the top is striking across the board. Among the top ten economists in September 2015, six were already there in December 2006, and another two were ranked 11 and 13.

Mobility in the RePEc rankings remains subdued even after widening the sample. For example, of the top 100 economists in September 2015, only 14 were absent from the much wider top 5% in 2006, and only two others had advanced more than 200 spots over the previous decade. Among those recently ranked from 101 to 200, just 24 were not in the top 5% in 2006, and only ten others had moved up by more than 200 places. The rate of renewal among the 200 most influential economists was as low as 25% – and just 16% among the top 100 – during a decade in which the explanatory power of prevailing economic theory had been found severely wanting.

He goes on to show that in 2015 only 11 of the top-200 economists were from emerging countries (10 of that 11 worked in the U.S. or U.K. since their student days), there were only 4 women and no black person. He goes on to ask whether this is a closed inefficient market with high entry barriers?

I think that the two posts point to a number of different issues. Since it is the start of a new year and all of us have resolved to get that paper in, it mostly reminds us that it is tough to “make it”.
You will need to have good work to get into those good journals: Throw in the mathematics, search for those large and novel data sets, learn the latest techniques, crunch the numbers, see if you can identify those causal relationships. It will take time, effort, lots of revisions and incremental improvements before you submit.

But to break through those barriers to entry you also need to work at overcoming the disadvantages of distance, our developing country context and a dearth of old friends at Harvard or the LSE. You should be heard speaking about your good work at the right seminars and conferences. Don’t go to nice places for conferences, go to where the journals’ editors and reviewers are. Get your work out on RePEc, blog and tweet about it. Build a network with the right people. Locally and internationally.


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