When economists make mistakes and pressure of publishing..

Jessie Romero writes on this topic which has been a nuisance for sometime. There is too much pressure to do research to get promoted in econ academics. This is leading to all kinds of shortcuts and issues for the profession. And then at the end what do we really get? More and more abstraction and away from reality kind of research. Economic research has proliferated big time and if much was indeed so useful then world should have been a much better place.

Starts with the famous Rogoff and Reinhart error:

In 2010, Harvard University economists Carmen Reinhart (then at the University of Maryland) and Kenneth Rogoff published a paper concluding that economic growth stagnated when a country had very high public debt. “Growth in a Time of Debt” has been cited more than 250 times and was widely referenced by U.S. and European policymakers advocating austerity measures following the Great Recession.

So it made headlines in 2013 when Thomas Herndon, a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, discovered a spreadsheet error in Reinhart and Rogoff’s work — an error that Herndon, in a paper with his professors Michael Ash and Robert Pollin, said disproved the negative relationship between large debts and growth. (Reinhart and Rogoff have acknowledged the error but don’t believe it alters the substance of their conclusions.)

“Growth in a Time of Debt” was published as part of the proceedings of the American Economic Association (AEA) 2010 annual meeting. While conference papers are reviewed by editors, they aren’t subject to a formal peer review, the traditional imprimatur of academic publishing. But peer review isn’t necessarily intended to catch simple data errors, and sometimes economics articles — including peer-reviewed ones — are later found to contain mistakes of one kind or another. Such incidents have raised the question: Who’s checking?

To conduct a peer review, the editor of a journal asks other experts, known as referees, to read a paper to ensure that it’s an important contribution to the field and that the conclusions are credible. Referees remain anonymous to the authors, so they feel free to offer their honest opinions.

Traditionally, social science journals also have maintained the authors’ anonymity during the review process to prevent a referee from being swayed by an author’s reputation (or lack thereof). But the wide dissemination of working papers online has made it easy to learn an author’s name by entering the paper’s title into a search engine. That led the AEA to drop such “double-blind” reviewing for all of its journals. An added benefit is that knowing who the authors are could help referees identify potential conflicts of interest.

Sometimes the system can be gamed. In July, SAGE Publications announced it was retracting 60 papers from theJournal of Vibration and Control, a well-regarded acoustics journal, after the discovery of a “peer-review ring.” A scientist in Taiwan had created more than 100 fake identities in an online reviewing system, which authors then used to write favorable reviews of each other’s — and sometimes their own — papers.

Nothing so nefarious is known to have happened in economics, but sometimes a discipline becomes clubby, says Penny Goldberg, an economist at Yale University and the editor of the American Economic Review. “Then you can end up in a bad equilibrium where people support each other and recommend acceptance even if the papers aren’t very strong.”

It is of course a club. Most papers in top journals come from select schools with a one world view.

A more important change would be to promote teaching. It is bizarre that teaching has been sidelined as an important activity for academicians in economics (not sure about other disciplines). Teaching should be considered as important and incentivised. Over doing of research on 3-4 topics will only lead to pressure and errors…

And then  nothing really happens when econs make errors. Especially big econs in big univs…


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