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.


Resolutions and advice

The academic year typically starts with resolutions. Many of my colleagues say that they do not make resolutions, but everyone takes stock and makes plans and for that purpose Co-Pierre (you should read his blog too) shared a good piece with career advice from The Chronicle.

It says a lot of things that we all know, but that we need to keep reminding ourselves to do:

  • Put your family first.
  • Make your health a close second.
  • Save some money.
  • If you are in the wrong  place, get out.
  • Stay away from jerks.
  • If you are not having fun, something is wrong.
  • Be true to yourself.
  • Don’t tie up too much of your self-esteem in someone else’s evaluation of your work.
  • Take stock periodically.
  • Have a hobby. See the world. Or both.
  • Help others.

There are lots of good bits, but I take this part to heart:

… most of us go into academe because of intellectual passion for a subject or for teaching. It’s a place where we can enjoy our work and make a decent living doing it. If you’re not having fun, then ask yourself: Why not? What can you do to make the job more enjoyable? Do you need a new course to teach, a new area of research, a new type of student, a new avenue of community outreach?

I think that one of the best parts of an academic job is the freedom to make your resolutions and plans, but you have to remember to make it fun.


Sweet ’16

Originally from Chris Blattman’s blog

Retooling, rebooting, relaunching in 2016…

I have been writing things on the internet for a while and this is the latest version of my online efforts. It started in 2002 with with links to class notes and research resources long before it became fashionable in South Africa. By 2007 maintaining a web page had become too much work and I spent a few years doing other things. By 2011 blogs were everywhere and I jumped back in with a Blogger site until 2014. In 2015 I put it in hibernation to focus on the School of Economics’ blog and another one with Economic resources aimed at high school students. Even with those two platforms I realised that I still need a personal blog to share ideas and resources.

So now I am back, with everything consolidated in WordPress. I have pulled in some of the old posts from the Blogger site and hope they have stood the test of time. For 2016 I have some firm plans to blog and tweet about Economics teaching and research in South Africa!

clickers, EdTech, plickers

There is an app for that!

Everybody know that I like to talk about higher ed and tech together: flipped classroom, MOOCs and all that. The flipped classroom is in fashion on the Potch campus this semester, but I have always been worried about what to do in the classroom if the students did the reading, or watched the video and completed the online MCQs before they get to the class. The examples on the internet show that you can then use the time for Socratic discussion, class debates, more in-class cooperative learning etc, but those examples are hardly ever in classes of 200 and more.

Of course you can just try old school cajoling of students until they answer your questions, or put up the MCQs and get some answers by show of hands. It takes a special sort of enthusiasm to “work” with 200 people at a time.

Another solution to flipping a massive class (is it distance learning beyond the third row anyway?) is to add more tech to the ed. There are some cool examples of BYOD classrooms, screen sharing and many different student response systems. Unfortunately, none of them work in the underground bunker that I am teaching ECON121 in.

Until this week when I discovered plickers. It works like the show of hands or clickers system, but the in-class response the students use printed QR-like codes.

  • We did elasticity this week – they have a textbook, study guide and some video’s explaining it. I then recapped a few key points and showed a few examples.
  • Then we practice the calculation and interpretation. The multiple choice questions are up on the PPTs.
  • The students get the printed code that shows options A through D.
  • When they are ready to answer they show the code and I scan them with my smart phone’s camera.
  • Then I add a bit more explanation and those that have questions ask.

And it worked really well. They enjoyed the novelty and the scanning is quick. On my phone I see the following after each question: Question 4 had options A through to D. You can type up the whole question but I did not bother. You cannot add you options, only which one is the correct option – in this case B. Here 14 students answered the question correctly, choosing option B. Only 2 chose A and 1 chose C. You can also see the number of the response card and the option that they chose. Here, number 9 was incorrect with option A.

In my class of 200+ this could work nicely for checking group participation. If I assign students to groups and I know who is group number 9 or 16 or 12, I know that they missed this bit of the work. In small groups every student can have their own card and participation can easily be linked back to their other marks.

It is clickers made simple. You can read more about the use of clickers here, or just Google “using clickers in class”. There are loads of resources out there.

academic publication, publish or perish

Submitting to that better class of journal

Last month at an ERSA Economic History workshop James Fenske shared some ideas about how to do and write up economic history research for submission to top-5 economics journals. That sets a particularly high bar, but I think that his ideas apply more generally to normal people’s efforts to submit to a slightly better class of journal. I finally got around to writing it up for the School blog yesterday.

clickbait econ papers, success in academia

Day of days on the interwebs

It was a big day on the interwebs. Johan made a post with Econ paper clickbait: the titles of famous economics papers re-imagined as clickbait. The sharing got us a mention by Justin Wolfers:


Then Nick Powdthavee shared this post from the Economic Job Market Rumours site:

The internal narrative has not been so reassuring lately and I could’a should’a written it myself. Feeling much better about it all now.

#higher-ed, EdTech, flipped classroom, iPad teaching

EdTech for higher ed

A few colleagues from our faculty have put together a workshop this week on using technology in your classroom. They want info and demonstrations of things that people are doing right now. I volunteered to talk a bit about the cloud services that I use, Dropbox and Evernote, and how I use the iPad app Explain Everything to make little voice-over-PowerPoint video’s for the “flipped classroom”. Here is my video of the story: