Wednesday, 14 November 2018

The emphasis on publishing in the top five economics journals

James Heckman and Sidharth Moktan (both University of Chicago) have a new NBER Working Paper (ungated version here) on publication in the "Top Five" economics journals. The top five (T5) journals are generally considered to be the American Economic Review, Econometrica, the Journal of Political Economy, the Quarterly Journal of Economics, and the Review of Economic Studies (although some would quibble over the latter, preferring the Review of Economics and Statistics). Why worry about this topic? Heckman and Moktan explain:
Publication in the T5 journals has become a professional standard. Its pursuit shapes research agendas. For many young economists, if a paper on any topic cannot be published in a T5 outlet, the topic is not worth pursuing. Papers published in non-T5 journals are commonly assumed to have descended into their "mediocre" resting places through a process of trial and failure at the T5s and are discounted accordingly... Pursuit of the T5 has become a way of life for experienced economists as well. Falling out of the T5 is a sign of professional decline. Decisions about promotions, recognitions, and even salaries are tied to publication counts in the T5.
There are many points of interest in the working paper, where Heckman and Moktan show that:
...publishing three T5 articles is associated with a 370% increase in the rate of receiving tenure, compared to candidates with similar levels of publications who do not place any in the T5. Candidates with one or two T5 articles are estimated to experience increases in the rate of receiving tenure of 90% and 260% respectively, compared to those with the same number of non-T5 publications.
Their results are based on data on the job and publication histories of tenure-track faculty hired by the top 35 U.S. economics departments between the years 1996 and 2010. This makes them of less relevance to non-U.S. PhD students going into the job market (although publishing in T5 journals will still be a strong signal of quality for those students).

Of interest to many are the results by gender, which make for disturbing reading. In particular, Figure 9 shows the probability of moving to tenure for different numbers of T5 publications, by gender:

Based on that figure, it is no surprise to find that:
...male faculty reap greater rewards for T5 publication - the same quantity of T5 publications is associated with greater reductions in time-to-tenure for male faculty compared to their female counterparts. Gender differences in T5 rewards are not attributable to gender differences in the quality of T5 articles.
The last point is particularly troublesome. Female faculty producing the same quality of research are clearly not being treated the same (not a unique finding - see some of my earlier posts on this point here and here).

The figure above clearly shows that, regardless of gender, T5 publications are valuable. Heckman and Moktan stop short of calculating how valuable they are though. A 2014 article published in the journal Economic Inquiry (ungated earlier version here), by Arthur Attema, Werner Brouwer, and Job van Exel (all Erasmus University Rotterdam), provides a partial answer to this. Based on survey data from 85 authors of economics journal articles, they used a contingent valuation survey to answer the question of whether economists would be willing to 'give their right arm' for a publication in the American Economic Review. They found that:
...sacrificing half a right thumb appears to be a better approximation of the strength of preference for a publication in the AER than sacrificing a right arm.
Given the lower payoff from a T5 publication, presumably women would be willing to give up much less than half a thumb.

[HT: Marginal Revolution]

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