Our uneconomic methods of measuring economic research
Stan Liebowitz, 6 December 2013
Academic economists – especially in the US – are continuously evaluated, with salaries and promotions hanging on outcomes. This column argues that the methods – identified from a survey of economics department chairs – are likely to reduce the amount of research created, perpetuate inefficiently sized research teams, promote false authorship, and penalise honest researchers. They also provide departments with excessive leeway to engage in potentially capricious behaviour.
In the movie Moneyball, a nerdy Ivy League economics major, working for a general manager played by Brad Pitt, found undervalued baseball players by applying clear-headed logic and statistical techniques.1 Many economists watching this movie probably felt a tinge of pride in seeing our tools portrayed as rigorously objective.
Tags: academia, citations, journals, productivity, publication, research
Journal quality and citations: Why economists should practice what they preach
Daniel Sgroi, 11 November 2013
In the upcoming UK Research Excellence Framework, a small panel of academics are tasked with rating thousands of academic submissions, which will result in university departments being ranked and public money being distributed. Given the enormity of the task and the scarcity of the resources devoted to it, this article discusses a straightforward procedure that might help, based on exactly the Bayesian methods that academic economists study and teach when considering the problem of decision-making under uncertainty.
The UK is about to enter into one of the most important academic ranking exercises in its history. The Research Excellence Framework (or REF), starting in 2014, will determine how money is divided between departments and how the UK perceives the quality of its own universities and departments.
Tags: academia, Bayes’ rule, higher education, journals, rankings, uncertainty
Herding cats? Management and university performance
John McCormack, Carol Propper, Sarah Smith, 7 November 2013
The conventional wisdom is that managing academics is futile. This column challenges this view by comparing management performance in UK universities with measures of research and teaching quality. Universities with better management have better performance. This holds for all types of universities, and the results are not driven by differences in resources. Recruitment, retention, and promotion are the most important aspects of management in universities, but management at the level of academic departments – not human resources departments – is what matters.
The common view holds that managing academics is like herding cats – difficult and ultimately pointless. But this view of management contrasts with growing evidence that good management practices are like a good technology – they increase productivity (Bloom and Van Reenen 2010).
Topics: Education, Labour markets
Tags: academia, higher education, human resources, Management, Universities
Ageing and productivity: Economists and others
Daniel S. Hamermesh, 20 February 2013
Publishing in economics is a very tough game, especially for young scholars trying to establish a research record while on a tenure clock. This column discusses new research that shows the age profile of authors in top journals has distinctly shifted away from young scholars. In 1993, half the authors of top-level articles were under 35 and 90% were under 50. Today, only a third are under 35.
Sixty years ago, Harvey Lehman published a path-breaking book examining the lifecycle of productivity in various fields, scientific, humanistic and artistic (Lehman 1953). He demonstrated the now widely accepted conclusion that the contributions of mathematicians and people in mathematics-related disciplines peak very early in their careers.
Topics: Frontiers of economic research, Productivity and Innovation
Tags: academia, age, economists, Nobel, research, technology
Are leading papers in an issue of a journal of better “quality”?
Victor Ginsburgh, 25 May 2012
Lead articles in academic journals tend to receive more citations than other articles. But does this mean they are any better? This column suggests that two-thirds of the additional citations that leading papers receive seem to be due to coming first in the journal, while only one-third are because they are genuinely better quality.
There exists a lively debate among scientists about evaluation methods. Some prefer peer review-based research assessments, while others think that bibliometric citation-based methods should be used as a verifiable mechanism for promotion and distribution of public research funds. Like peer reviews, but for other reasons, citations suffer from several problems.
Topics: Education, Frontiers of economic research
Tags: academia, academic papers, evaluation, quality control
Does gender matter for academic promotion? Evidence from a randomised natural experiment
Natalia Zinovyeva, Manuel F. Bagues, 19 December 2010
Several countries have recently introduced gender quotas in hiring and promotion committees at universities. Evidence from promotions in the Spanish university system suggests that quotas are only effective at increasing the number of successful female applicants in promotions to top positions. This column argues that, given that sitting on committees reduces the available time for research, gender quotas should be implemented only for more senior academic positions.
Women have historically been under-represented in top academic positions. For years, this under-representation was partly the result of the smaller number of women obtaining doctorates.
Topics: Global governance
Tags: academia, gender, sexism
Stuart Macdonald, 4 April 2010
Recent allegations that scientists at the Climate Research Unit have hidden and manipulated data has caused a media storm. This column argues that the practices alleged in “climategate” may be more common in academia than we think.
Are academics telling porkies? Are drugs really less dangerous than horse-riding? Are Himalayan glaciers really melting? Politicians are beginning to wonder – which can do little for their faith in evidence-based policy.
Topics: Environment, Frontiers of economic research
Tags: academia, climate change, Copenhagen