Home > economic journals, jobs, The Economics Profession > Some tips for real-world economists in the academic labour market in 2012

Some tips for real-world economists in the academic labour market in 2012

Once upon a time, academic job vacancies for economists focused on filling holes in teaching plans and a promotion was assured if one was prolific, had established a good external reputation and had done one’s bit in collegial terms. Nowadays, things work very differently and real-world economists need to know how to play the game (often against those trained extensively in game theory) in order to get a foot on the career ladder and step up it. In this post I reflect on how things have changed and how real-world economists can try to improve their competitive edge in the academic job market.

A telling sign of the times was the opening comment from the chair of the recruitment committee in the department in which I work, at the start of a meeting to shortlist applicants to be interviewed at the upcoming AEA meeting: ‘Remember, we’re trying to hire people better than ourselves.’ The subtext of this comment was that the goal is to improve the department’s ranking by hiring staff with a better capacity to publish in the top-tier journals; if they were in areas where there were teaching needs to be filled, that would be a bonus, but it wasn’t a prerequisite. This way of thinking is driven by the rise of research audits that rank economics departments with an emphasis on the ratings of the journals in which their members of staff publish. It can prove catastrophic for economists who take a serious interest in the real world.

Another telling sign of what real-world economists have to deal with is the fact that at the same meeting we had nearly 600 applications to deal with. While this is for a university ranked in the world top 100 and top three or four economics departments in Australia, the situation is likely to become increasingly common for those whose institutions use the online ‘Headhunter’ job application/candidate reviewing system that makes it easier to apply for all the entry-level jobs available on the system rather than to be selective. We increasingly have a global auction for assistant professors/lecturers, whereas in the past, at least for those of us outside of North America, the market was much more segmented and application piles much smaller. The result is that each institution ends up having to shortlist far more applicants than under traditional systems in which applications were more carefully targeted. (My own institution shortlisted 42 for interview at the AEA meeting, from whom perhaps a dozen might be selected for a ’fly-out’ to an on-campus presentation and interview.)

In this situation, information overload is a major factor and initial screening processes will rarely be conducted in depth if assessors each have several dozen (on in some cases, a hundred or more) applicants to assess in order to get three or four verdicts on each applicant. Worse still, applications are becoming increasingly hard to differentiate : virtually all are from mainstream economists whose ‘job market’ papers and other working papers all display mathematical and/or econometric expertise and highly supportive references that attempt to save the assessors the trouble of reading the papers by summarizing them. The only way recruitment committees can cope with the information overload is by focusing on familiar signals, such as what they know of the quality of the applicant’s institution, familiar referees, or where the applicant has published. Those who come from lower-tier institutions will attract little interest from higher-ranked institutions but the lower-tier institutions that will be more likely to be willing to hire them may not be particularly familiar with the institution where they are doing their PhD.

How, then, might you increase your chances if you are a real-world economist, especially if, as is likely, you aren’t at a top-tier institution with big-name referees? A certain amount of stealth may be required here, as even factors such as whether or not one’s papers seem to have been written using Latex send signals about the kind of economist you might be and hence what kind of things you may be able to publish, and where.

Be aware that if you have published in second- or third-tier journals this could count against you with higher-ranking institutions that are comparing you with those who have not published at all: such publications may be seen as a sign that you will never publish in higher-ranking journals. Particularly problematic will be publications in journals that are clearly non-mainstream as they send strong signals about being the wrong kind of economist. So, while publications can help increase your marketability in the right context, other things equal, it can also be dangerous to get into print too early, especially if this involves showing one’s ‘true colours’. The trouble is, you may need to appeal to non-real-world departments of economics in case you cannot win a position in a real-world department, so a CV that suits the latter but is not quite good enough can then mean disaster with the former. Until they have got a job, heterodox economists who have empirical work would probably be wise to try to package it without an emphasis on its heterodox nature and submit it to normal applied journals rather than those whose titles mark them out as heterodox. If the methodology is unusual, explain why it was adopted but in a positive way rather than defensively; find areas of overlap rather than difference where it will help you win referee support.

More important, perhaps, is to be aware of the importance of social networking in getting your academic career happening. Here, I’m not suggesting focusing on using Linked-In (though this may turn out to be important) but to recognize that you can give yourself an edge by setting out to build relationships with academics outside your current institution: send your work to those whose own work has influenced it, making clear the influence that they have had. You are likely to be surprised by the warmth of response, constructive comments and suggestions. Having a bit of email interaction behind you gives you a basis for approaching your heroes with more confidence at conferences. By developing these connections, all manner of opportunities may open up to show your capabilities or ‘get a leg up’ in the publication race, and in potentially influential referees whose names will stand out on Headhunter. Remember that, in evolutionary terms, the life of an academic is about passing on one’s intellectual contribution (more akin to memes than genes) and that the senior scholars therefore need to cultivate the next generation. While the very top-tier don’t have to worry about doing this and may be too busy to take under their wing those who approach them out of the blue, others will be flattered to be contacted in this way and will responded dutifully.

The challenges are rather different if you have been in the game some time and are trying to ensure your tenure or get promoted. The external contacts that you have built up may be willing to serve as referees but within the internal labour market there is no guarantee that they will actually be asked for their reports or that reports that are sought will carry the sort of weight that you might hope.

The problem is that if you have half a dozen real-world economists of note lined up to be referees, they will be expected all to offer glowing reports, so your employer may canvass opinion more widely. The probabilities are that if they do this, they will end up with preponderance of reports from mainstream referees who actually do not know your work very well, much as happens when research grant applications are refereed. But your application may not even get as far as being shortlisted because you have not been able to garner enough internal support. If you have a senior but lone real-world economist arguing that your work is outstanding and half a dozen mainstream economists damning your many contributions with faint praise (e.g. by saying that they are, at best, ‘solid’ because they are not in top-tier journals), the promotion committee may simply decline to shortlist your promotion application without seeking external references. If they have any notion of the politics of the situation, they will realize that taking up external references will merely reinforce the split of opinion rather than telling them how to resolve it.

If this is how things work as far as refereeing is concerned, then you will only find it worthwhile applying for promotion if you can (a) get support from senior mainstream colleagues, and/or (b) comprehensively demonstrate that you are already performing at well above the norm for the grade to which you are trying to achieve promotion. The challenge is to ensure that attempting the latter does not alienate the senior colleagues by demonstrating the limitations of their achievements.

For real-world economists, the advent of Google Scholar provides a great opportunity to establish the impact of one’s work. But it must be used carefully. Google Scholar picks up citations from a much wider range of sources than other citation systems. This makes it the best citation system for showing the impact of real-world economics: it is great at picking up citations in books, book chapters, lower-tier journals and published reports by government agencies and consultants. It thereby readily exposes the relative lack of impact of many papers that are published in high-ranking journals but only referred to by a very specialized audience in other journal articles. You will find it surprisingly easy to demonstrate how well you shape up compared with your mainstream colleagues by compiling statistics from Google Scholar. However, it is probably wise to compare yourself with the best performers amongst your higher-grade colleagues rather than brining out the limited citation achievements of the rest of them. You can also show how you compare with recently-promoted staff in rival institutions and how you are doing better than your colleagues of similar rank.

The latest iteration of Google Scholar also enables you to create your own citation profile and readily cranks out usable statistics for your portfolio of cited works (my own one can be viewed here as an example). As more scholars register to do this it will become much easier to make relevant comparisons rather than having to spend hours doing the work manually. However, a particularly important feature of the new version is that it gives a year-by-year profile of citations for one’s work, both in total and for individual publications. Copies of these charts could be included in a promotion application to demonstrate the rising trend of annual citation rate and also to demonstrate that early work, that are likely to have accrued higher citation counts, have not passed their ‘use-by dates’ and are continuing to make an impact. It is to be hoped that Google Scholar may sooner or later also produce results with self-citations removed; in the meantime, it is be wise to count these manually and include a note spelling out their incidence.

These days, success in winning competitively-awarded external research grants is a major way for real-world economists to win support from mainstream colleagues. To the extent that members of funding committees come from a wide range of disciplines rather than consisting only of economists, real-world economists may have a bigger chance of winning grants than they have of getting papers in high-theory journals. Papers based on findings from grant-funded projects may provide a means of getting acceptable-looking quantitative work done and hence, if they is packaged in a non-oppositional manner, if may be possible to get them accepted in high ranking generalist journals. The crucial issue here seems to be to do with timing. If you have success in winning a major research grant at a time when senior mainstream economists are not having such success, it may provoke jealous reactions when they come to evaluate your case for promotion. They will be more likely to say what a wonderful achievement it is if they have recently won their own major grants. It may also pay to delay applying for promotion until you are close to the completion of the grant-funded project (but before you have had to try to raise further grants) so that you can demonstrate your skilful use of the funds in terms of accepted publications (ideally, on a rising trend in journal status) and ‘engagement’ for the university by getting media coverage for your real-world findings.

To get support from senior non-real-world economist colleagues, and to win publications in more widely read journals, real-world economists would be wise to cease applying factional labels (e.g., feminist, institutional, Post Keynesian) to the work that they do and be advocates for their work in a way that is non-combative. We use these factional labels to find like minds and we are accustomed to fighting against the oppressive forces of mainstream economics. However, if we thereby confess to being aligned with eccentric minorities (about whom most mainstream economists know rather little), then we limit our acceptability. So, simply tell it like it is and if it departs from standard approaches explain the case for doing so with a positive spin that does not denigrate traditional, more restrictive work but at the same time shows the opportunities that open up by doing things a bit differently. Try reminding the readers and referees that contexts differ and show why your approach seems sensible for the context in question, without saying that you would never use traditional approaches in any context, even if that is actually the case.

If it still proves impossible to get work published in the high-prestige journals, then carefully make your case—not by emphasising that your work is in heterodox journals but with reference to the impact factors of the journals in which you have published, how these compare with selected journals of the kind your mainstream senior colleagues rate highly, and what the impact factor trends look like for the journals in which you are publishing. If your key works are your books, then explain how they constitute a major integrated body of work compared with what would have been achievable via separate articles and demonstrate this via their relative citation impact.

In short, a key thing to be doing to win promotion in face of potential hostility from non-real-world economists is to demonstrate that in terms of key performance indicators you are on an upward trend and that (despite not being mainstreams) your contribution to economics compares well against mainstream work on these indicators. It is easier than you think: the mainstream may largely ignore heterodox work, but its real-world nature means it gets picked up much more widely.

Finally, do not forget that, as you get further up the academic ladder, leadership is going to be valued more and more. The rising trend may show you are getting more influential and capable of making things happen, but consider what else you can say about your capabilities as a leader. This is where, having been an unswerving real-world economist you may have an advantage: you’ve been taking academic risks, leading by example and not being afraid of going against the grain. Portraying what we do in terms of leadership rather than slavishly following mainstream dogma carries a wholly different air than giving the impression of being embattled and increasingly pushed into a corner.

(Some of the points made here regarding promotion processes emerged in a very helpful conversation I had recently with the University of Queensland’s outgoing Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor, who was also the chair of the University’s Professorial Promotions Committee. However, the usual disclaimer applies. For further discussion on the issue of marketing non-mainstream economics, click here for a paper by Ti-Ching Peng and myself.)

  1. Robert R Locke
    December 19, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    I think, as an historian interested in business and managment history who is only recognized as an “economist” because real-world economists have let me into their bigger tent, that it is important that real-world economists get jobs as economists because the work of orthodox economists is so notoriously useless to people in management studies interested in how economic organizations actually function. If it is impossible to get the orthodox economists ensconced on editorial boards of prestigious journals or in chairs of economics in big name universities to pay any atttention to heterdox economics, maybe the real-world economists could succeed better by enlisting the help of noneconomists in management schools and social science departments. Only if the outsiders threaten the orthodox economists’ rice bowl will the people who want economics to be a positive influence in social science and management studies have a chance to succeed.

  2. December 20, 2011 at 3:30 am

    It sounds like Hollywood to me!

    • December 22, 2011 at 12:40 am

      Helga,

      I think this is a rather good analogy, for in Hollywood it matters crucially which company one keeps and whether one’s fortunes are rising or declining. My mainstream colleagues are trying to spot future ‘stars’ of economics and then work out which ones they have a hope of attracting. Because my institution is in the top 100, not the top 20, it is assumed it would be hard to get future stars that are rated as 9 or 10 out of 10 on the Headhunter scoring system, whereas an average rating by colleagues of 6.5 to 8 may look within reach and therefore worth an initial interview (though of course those with a 9 or 10 get sent letters saying that their star potential has been recognised so please get back to us if a job doesn’t materialize for them in an institution in the very top tier). Those who seem to have potential to publish in, at best, ‘B-grade’ journals aren’t going to get a look in with the better resourced institutions and are thus like actors destined to be stuck in B-movies unless they can shake of that image or get lucky and deliver something that somehow gets picked up bit-time despite not being in widely-read journals. The challenge is to work out how to reach a wider audience without selling out, but it may not be impossible — see my reply to Ricardo’s comment.

  3. Ricardo Sequeiros Coelho
    December 21, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    What this article basically says is that heterodox economists should pretend they’re not really heterodox until they find a job. While I can understand that some people opt to “lay low” until they get a job, I disagree with the strategy.
    I’m now working as a research assistant. I got the job using the opposite strategy recommended here and making it very clear in the articles I write what my position is, which is something that I think all academics should do, for the sake of clarity and honesty. So my case illustrates my maxim: a lot of doors are shut when I go against the orthodoxy, but then again these are not the doors I want to see open.
    Let’s say that I had followed the strategy recommended here. I would make some empirical work and evade all acts that would lead to my classification as a heterodox. I would try to publish on orthodox journals. Let’s say also that I’d get a job using this strategy. I’d get a job as a orthodox economist, of course. The chances of having the autonomy to escape the orthodoxy would be nill. And so I would wait until I was a senior researcher with a contract to start doing what I like to do. After decades doing orthodox research. Not only I’d be miserable by then but also I’d be seen as a senile old man.
    If I cannot do heterodox research then I don’t want to do research. What’s the use of doing research if I have to lie about my convictions, if I have to follow methodologies with which I strongly disagree and if I’m not making a difference?
    My advice for junior researchers wanting to become non-orthodox economists is simple: be yourselves. There are a lot of good places to work if you do just that. In fact, those are the best places to work. You certainly don’t want to spend the rest of your life disguised as an orthodox, do you?

    • December 22, 2011 at 12:15 am

      Ricardo,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m not suggesting compromising what we do but being careful about how we market ourselves and our work. Labelling what we do as ‘heterodox’ always puts us on the defensive and risks causing mainstream economists to be on guard when otherwise they might not have been. Many mainstream economists are so cut off from economic debate and soo poorly educated that they have no idea about the existence of alternative approaches that are opposed to what they do. Given this, it is best to present one’s work as an appropriate way to make advances in the context in question and not package it as coming from a particular camp. For example, currently I’m working on how people choose between mobile phone plans. In Australia the choice set runs to over 800 plans even before one starts taking account of all the phones that can be bundled with the plans. Clearly, this is computationally completely beyond being a case where the consumer can be a rational optimising agent of the kind normally assumed. An alternative way of looking at how the consumer copes is in terms of the use of simplifying decision rules and if exploring how well plausible rules work we have no particular need to present the analysis as ‘heterodox’ or even as ‘old behavioural’ or as though we are rejecting the conventional approach in all contexts. Rather, we simply recognise that here is an example of a context in which it may be important not to assume the consumer is perfectly ‘rational’ in the traditional sense, and then draw on existing literature for alternative perspectives. If the work is presented in this way, constructively rather than with an emphasis on it coming from a perspective that the mainstream normally oppose, it has a far bigger chance of getting into widely read journals and influencing mainstream economists so that they become more inclined to accept and try the methods of real-world economists. This is far less likely to happen if we keep positioning our work in an oppositional way and place it in journals that the bulk of the profession do not read.

      Being openly heterodox will help you get a job — as it clearly has — if the job is bineg offered by a heterodox department, but you can do that anyway by targeting such departments and explaining that the work you’ve done comes from a particular non-mainstream perspective and that you have succeeded in infiltrating more mainstream journals by carefully packaging it. However, if you are conspicuously heterodox you will find it hard to get anywhere with the wider range of jobs available elsewhere, often in far better resourced institutions and with better longer-term prospects.

    • Alice
      December 26, 2011 at 10:49 am

      I totally agree Ricardo. The basic thrust of this article is to pretend you are orthodox until you get a job.
      Pretty damn weak tactic IMHO. But..where are the alternative models to the ones that have been failing mankind en masse?

      Where are they? For economists to be cowards and and pretend to be orthodox and pretend there is nothing wrong with current economics and then sneakily practise what exactly – half way measures? Watered down orthodoxy? If anything the orthodox amongst us should be now sitting down and having tea with the Dean and discussing their short futures in academia.

      It should have happened long ago.

  4. December 26, 2011 at 4:26 am

    While actually sustaining much more respect for all the hard work and truly excellent accomplishments of RW economists who’ve managed to survive and maintain some integrity somehow, it now seems absolutely certain that the field can only suffer further degradation without unanimous recognition and acceptance of a fundamental theory of economics based on a truly holistic view of all the causes, generative & functional principles, contributing factors & circumstances that give rise to “economic” effects.

    If there are any RW economists out there with more ethical integrity than egoic mania, then there should soon be lots of creative, critical comments on the Fundamental Theory of Economics & Natural Values at > http://mm-greenbook.blogspot.com/p/awareness-value.html EcotectureNOW.wordpress.com/unmoney < Merry Christ mass & happy New World

  5. Anon Ymous
    December 26, 2011 at 11:00 am

    This was an enlightening post for a junior economist who thinks in a heterodox way but who targets mainstream journals. The problem of signalling to heterodox friendly departments while remaining presentable to the vast majority of open academic jobs is a difficult one. (Especially the advice to junior people here, basically disguise your identity.) I am interested to know if there are venues to talk in person about heterodox ideas without “blowing one’s cover?”

    Another issue I have encountered in talking with senior “hets” is that there seems to be a siege mentality about their own methodology, which redirects the conversation from actual economics. It often also seems that het proponents are in positions to which no viable career path exists (with the current publication pressures and environment as mentioned). In all honesty, I doubt many heterodox faculty with pre 1990s PhDs would be viable if forced to enter the current job market. This is a terrifying thought for junior het faculty as even if a TT job is obtained, one understands that one must overcompensate for the tenure committee/re-entry to the job market which amounts to even more publication in mainstream journals. I would like to get feedback on this from a North American viewpoint as there is a big difference with other markets — being het likely means being hired at low ranked departments, and one faces serious job insecurity if you cannot make tenure/publish to appeal to other departments (tenure denial from low ranked school likely implies an end to research related work).

    Finally, I would be interested to see more discussion of how much employment difficulty comes from “methodological approach” vs “ideology.” I have noticed that when authors apply a neoclassical paradigm but come to the wrong conclusions (theoretically or empirically) they are shot down and either harassed to come to a different conclusion, or simply censor the result. If generally true, this is a good test case for whether it is feasible to be “non-combative,” as even when the methodological ground is ceded to dress up a het idea in neoclassical clothing, the conclusions are still a serious barrier to publication. Any advice on how to surmount the “political” difficulty within one’s publication strategy for a junior in search of tenure?

  6. Jim32
    December 30, 2011 at 6:51 am

    why should grad students and academics on the job market listen to the advice from someone who after being in academia for at least two decades is only an Assoc. Prof. at UQ?

    • December 30, 2011 at 11:13 am

      Jim,

      I was wondering how long it would take for someone to pose this question.

      I was actually full professor of economics for a decade in New Zealand, a postion I was offered in 1990, at the age 35, before the research audit madness descended and made life so difficult for non-mainstream economists. At that time, with far less experience and far fewer publications, I was getting shortlisted for most of the positions for which I applied and the position I accepted was in one of my favourite cities (Christchurch, sadly wrecked by recent earthquakes). However, after a decade of fighting unsuccessfully to ensure a pluralistic approach, having to deal with a long tail of weak student, trying to do research with limited library resources and time-consuming administrative work, I decided I would move on to an environment in which there was a pluralistic head, brilliant library, able students and limited administrative demands, even if it it didn’t entail a professorial position, and that what what was available at UQ. It involved no cut in real pay because NZ salaries had been stagnant. So, one further lesson is that status isn’t everything; to me, it’s more important to be able to get the economics done than what one’s title is.

      The next additional lesson is that institutions that can offer a great teaching and research environment generally make internal promotion very difficult because they know that their staff will be reluctant to move to lower-tier institutions. I did not expect internal promotion would be easy. Such an institution also sets limits on how frequently one can apply for promotion to a full professor position: if you are unsuccessful, you can’t try for another three years. Timing is therefore crucial, and I waited to apply until this year, by which point I had won a large research grant, got my PhD students to the completion stage, and caught up with writing journal articles after taking some time out to do a pluralistic textbook.

      However, while I was doing this, departmental politics changed and the mainstream took over in a cumulating way. Thus, when I had got my CV to where I judged I had the best chance (and in the knowledge that no-one from the faculty had hitherto succeeded in winning internal promotion to a full chair via the regular process — i.e. without first getting a job offer from elsewhere), the recently-hired mainstream professors advised the new mainstream head of school that I wasn’t suitable for promotion, in contrast to the glowing report by the former head (now my supervisor). This was despite me documenting my citations relative to theirs and a steady publications record that includes 8 books, 9 edited books and nearly 60 journal articles or book chapters, past editorship of the Journal of Economics Psychology, and all the senior-level administrative experience. The application got n nowhere, and that I why I had the meeting with the chair of the Professorial Promotions Committee that I acknowledge at the end of the post. I made it clear to hin that I was looking for advice that I could share with the wider community of those who do real-world economics and don’t publish mathematical models of artificial worlds in journals that are ranked in the top tier.

      So, the less experienced real-world economists of today should perhaps listen to me because I have been around long enough to have a strong sense of just how difficult things have become for those who don’t play the game according to the dominant rules — even if you have half a dozen of the very top heterodox economists waiting to write reference letters. I have also worked in a variety of grades of universities with very different resource conditions. After seeing how things have got, I see little chance for non-mainstream economists to get jobs and prosper in departments where they will get good research environments (and won’t be under chronic pressure to dumb down their teaching/inflate grades) unless they operate with stealth and market their work very carefully rather than being bold and open about their departures from the mainstream research programme’s hard core axioms and rules of conduct.

  7. BruceP
    December 31, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Hi Pete,
    this is a nice post and there is some interesting insights there regarding the promotion game as well as you own recent experiences. I have to say that Jim32 above posts an interesting question, and (correct me if I am wrong but) after scanning your publication record, I could only find one reasonable journal outlet (The Economic Journal) that you have published in?
    From my experiences in the US, in the modern academic world we have graduate students with some top papers coming out (top 5 general interest journals).

    • January 1, 2012 at 7:44 am

      Bruce:

      It is the journal rankings that are the key problem for the Real-World Economist. On the Australian ranking system used in the last ERA audit, the journals you have in mind are on the A* list, which does not include any heterodox journals. My 2011 paper in Research Policy is A* but that is on the ‘A* interdisciplinary list’. For openly heterodox journals, the best you can get into are on the A list, such as the Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Cambridge Journal of Economics, Journal of Economic Psychology, Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, Journal of Economic Issues, Journal of Institutional Economics and Journal of Economics Behavior and Organization. You will have noticed that I’ve published in first four on this list, while my in-press paper in the Journal of Business Research is in an A ranked interdisciplinary journal. However, if one can’t get support from senior faculty if one hasn’t published recently in A*-ranked journals, then there is absolutely no hope of getting senior-level promotion (regardless of one’s citation scores) unless can find ways of packaging one’s work so that it gets into the journals on the A* list in the manner of the future ‘stars’ among current or recent graduate students (that my colleagues would rank as 9 or 10 out of 10 on the Headhunter scale for our shortlisting, such as those at Princeton who’ve already got something in Econometrica and who would be viewed as out of reach for my own institution to attract at entry-level). This is why the Real-World Economists have to work out ways of getting their work past mainstream referees and into the mainstream journals if they are to get into good departments or keep getting promotion. They must stop acting with a siege mentality and aiming their work primarily at each other.

  8. merijnknibbe
    January 1, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Earl, Bruce,

    Let’s put these journals to the test. How many economic articles make it to the ‘Science’ breakthrough of the year list….

    And books may count for something. Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, even Paul Samuelson, Rogoff and Reinhart, David Graeber – they all became famous and influential because of their books. As wel all know, however, books are irrelevant, for reasons unexplicable to me. So, lets put the rankings to the test.

    And there is the language thing. The best book you can read about the historical development of the historical standard of living is – to my not totally inconsiderable knowledge – Paping, R., ‘Voor een handvol stuivers. Werken, verdienen en besteden: de levensstandaard van boeren, arbeiders en middenstanderd op de Groninger klei, 1770-1860’. But who knows this? In my view, it’s part of the job of a scientist to find out about such kind of studies, by the way.

    So, don’t focus too much on rankings. Focus on economic science.

    By the way, all these breakthroughs of the year are (except for mathematics) EMPIRICAL findings… Samuelson, Sargent and Lucas would not even make the shortlist. The Bureau of Economic Analysis or any other statistical office might.

    • January 4, 2012 at 7:46 am

      I agree entirely that we shouldn’t focus on journal rankings. The trouble is, the research audit and promotion processes seem to focus on rankings rather than the scientific status of one’s work, so economists in the job market need to be reminded of this.

      I also agree about the role of books, which often become the key references and get cited far more frequently than articles that cover some of the ideas that are integrated in books developed from them. Unfortunately, the ‘three essays’ format that increasingly is being used for PhDs means that young scholars are far less likely to get into the habit of writing books. Those who do write traditional dissertations and turn them into books may be wise to bear in mind that they could have carved the dissertation into journal articles and received more kudos from mainstream appointment and promotion committees. However, for heterodox economists sticking to the traditional book strategy may have advantages compared with publishing papers in journals that the mainstream economists don’t rate highly. With careful choices of title, books may stand a bigger chance of being read by mainstream economists.

      The language issue is a good one to raise. Related to it is the issue of parochialism even within the English-language literature. For widest audiences, publish in English in the US and if one is publishing a book, a top-ranking US university press will help win standing.

  9. Billy
    January 6, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Peter,

    so given the procedures in place at your current university, you have to wait another 3 years to apply for promotion???
    And then if the mainstreamers are around again, it may be not good news. Seems a bit discouraging?

    • January 8, 2012 at 10:30 pm

      Billy,

      I shall be following the advice in this post to try to improve my chances if I am in the same position in three years’ time!

  10. Robert R Locke
    January 6, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    Understandable that people actually in “economics” should voice the concerns that you have .But if economics is to be a big tent that includes people who are not orothodox economists or operate in their promotion and tenure domain — and on the principle that war (economics) is too important to be left to generals (economicsts) — then I suggest a way must be found in academia to include people who are interested in economics but are not economists in the tenure and promotion decision process in departments of economics. If you wait for orthrodox economists to reform themselves, they’ll win the battle.

  11. Dave Taylor
    January 7, 2012 at 4:01 am

    Reviewing this discussion (away, but near Peter’s UQ!), Robert’s last comment reminds me of a non-commissioned officer I knew, so much more competent than his seniors I wondered why he hadn’t sought a commission himself. “Because that would have stopped me doing the job that needed doing”, he replied. More than thirty years on, I still honour and seek to emulate his integrity.

    I am not, then, myself an academic seeking office; I’ve been following Ricardo’s line at #4. Even then, I could see that economists (and not just economists, so they don’t need to feel bad about it) were failing to understand the fundamentals of language, mathematics and logic. Early retirement gave me the opportunity to try and do for economics what needs doing in light of what Michael Montery says here about the need for a new paradigm: “[I]t now seems absolutely certain that the field can only suffer further degradation without unanimous recognition and acceptance of a fundamental theory of economics based on a truly holistic view of all the causes, generative & functional principles, contributing factors & circumstances…”. What I had to contribute were insights (from information science) into why and how that is actually possible.

    What I have been ABLE to contribute seems to have been zilch, for reasons this thread makes very clear. Jim32 at #9 makes the point brutally, and I’m obliged to Peter for his appreciative answer. I would have reminded Jim of George Bernard Shaw’s comment: “Those that can, do; those that can’t, teach”. The paradox is that only those who have difficulties take the trouble to look for and so find ways round them, and I think in that respect Peter is exceptionally well qualified to offer advice. For those caught up in the system of wage slavery, “not invented here” is bad news.

    The difficulty, though, is that we are not clearly enough differentiating TWO jobs which need doing: the primary one of maintaining the economy in working condition, and the secondary one of maintaining the capability of the economic profession to do both jobs, i.e. keep up with an evolving context and teach the rising generations of practitioners how to do so. Over the years I’ve reached the conclusion that Academia is the place for RESEARCH and clarification of PRESENTATION, but the place to SEARCH for UNDERSTANDING is among the struggling practioners and technologists of the ever-changing Real World. What seems to have happened (since around the time of Hume?) is that ‘research’ has been applied only to ‘facts’ (things already ‘made’ including “lies, damned lies and statistics”) and not to developments in linguistic, physiological and biological understanding since C E Shannon’s discovery of dynamic logic and founding of information science. Of course – re Merijn at #13 – academic communicators have never understood the practical concerns of Shannon, so you don’t often find “The Mathematical Theory of Communication” quoted.

    Back with Robert at #1, history is surely essential for research into what has already been discovered, misinterpreted and/or forgotten. So, however, is the future, for which we plan and do things, and without which history is so much “water under the bridge”. Surely the truth which matters in economics is not whether the books account for past facts but whether our program – despite our different needs, hackers, and inevitable mistakes – will produce sufficiently right outcomes? That involves understanding how two-dimensional (active, yet in other senses static) information systems work: not knowing lies, damn lies and one-dimensional ‘Bayesian’ statistics.

  1. December 24, 2011 at 10:39 am

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