Home > The Economics Profession > How to succeed as an academic economist

How to succeed as an academic economist

from Steve Keen

A blog participant (Lyonwiss) recently made a comment about the general state of academic economics that was so “spot on” I wanted to share it more widely. I have of course followed the exact opposite of the conventional route to publishing success that Lyonwiss outlines here–and I’ve encountered the negative consequences he notes, of rejection by neoclassical referees and editors.

Here is Lyonwiss’s foolproof formula for publishing success in academic economics:

Academics wants to write research papers and have them published. University bureaucracies are not only bean counters, they are also paper counters. Promotion depends on the number of papers published. Publishing papers is not the same thing as actually doing research.

Having read far more  economic papers that I care to admit, I have worked out the “secret” formula for achieving a voluminous publication record in the subject. The “recipe” for publication success is as follows.

Step 1: Cite the work of as many potential referees to your paper as possible, as this will soothe their egos and shows that you are one of them. Make sure that your paper is seen as merely an extension of the work of one of the gurus and you are not going to “rock the boat”, challenging the establishment.

Step 2: For the bulk of your paper, bamboozle your readers/referees with a complicated model or argument, making any assumptions you need (however unrealistic), because Milton Friedman has already covered you with his essay on “the methodology of positive economics”. If you have enough complexity in mathematics or argument, it is likely that the reader/referee will not bother to follow the heart of your paper in detail.

Step 3: It is vitally important that in your conclusions that you only make modest claims in supporting the status quo, such as eg the evidence or the model lends support to the efficient market hypothesis or globalization or whatever. Quite often, your conclusions do not have to follow from what you did in Step 2. Any strong conclusions, particularly when challenging the status quo, will lead a much closer scrutiny of your paper by the referee, who is taking a career risk in accepting your paper. As the additional effort is not personally rewarded, the economically rational action for the referee is to simply reject the paper.

This “recipe” leads to career success for many, as there are thousands of papers published by many economic professors who have made little difference to economics in any way which matters. The “Egg and Krug” paper is good example of the “recipe” in action. Reading between the lines in some of what Krugman wrote, I suggest that he appears to admit to playing such a game.

Academic collusion in partly causing the global financial crisis has been documented in the “Inside Job”, which won the recent Oscar for best documentary. Nothing really surprising there, but worth seeing nevertheless. The fraud involving academia is probably quite extensive, e.g. the recent resignation of Guttenberg, the German foreign minister. Full marks to Steve for fighting such an academic fraud.

  1. March 14, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    The Global Financial “Crisis” was a gang-bang indeed.

  2. paul davidson
    March 14, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    It was not alway6s like this — when I was starting out as an econmist, I published two articles in the 1963 and 1964 AER within three issues, two articles in the EJ, an article in Econometrica, an article in Review of Economic and Statistics as well as articles in the Southern Economics Journal, Western Econmics Journal, etc. And most of these articles pointed out errors by the Economics Establishment –such as Franco Modigliani, etc.

    It was only by the mid to late 1970s when the major journals became hostile to non cliche aticles supporting the gurus. Why? because goovernment and pribate foundations began finasncially supporting economic “research” in a bigway — and the gurus were put on committees that approved funding based on previous publication records.

    That is why Sidney Weintraub and I co-founded (with financial help from John Kenneth Galbraith) the JOURNAL OF POST KEYNESIAN ECONOMICS to give a publication outlet for those doing original research raather than supportive guru research.

    Paul Davidson

    • March 14, 2011 at 8:43 pm

      Hi Paul,

      Would you mind if I put this statement from you into the second edition of Debunking Economics (which I’ve now almost completed)? I have a section discussing the takeover of the leading journals, and your formation of the JPKE as well. This quote would fit in nicely.

      All the best, Steve

  3. Hannes
    March 16, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    Is amateur sociology really what economics needs?

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