Tuesday, 20 November 2018

The value (or lack thereof) of low-ranked journals in economics

Last week I posted about the emphasis in economics on publishing in the 'Top Five' journals. Not everyone can publish there, obviously, due to space constraints. And even top economists can't publish every paper in the Top Five. So, what is the relative value of lower-ranked journals?

In a 2017 IZA Discussion Paper, Nattavudh Powdthavee (Warwick Business School), Yohanes Riyanto (Nanyang Technological University), and Jack Knetsch (Simon Fraser University) take that question a step further. They ask whether publishing in lower ranked journals might have negative value. That is, publishing in low-ranked journals might lower other economists' perceptions of the quality of an academic CV.

This idea harks back to a 1998 paper by Christopher Hsee (ungated version here), which showed that (quote is from Powdthavee et al.):
...people shown a set of dinnerware having 24 pieces in good condition, were willing to pay significantly more for these than another group of people were willing to pay for a set that contained 28 pieces in good condition but with another 11 that were broken.
Using survey data from 378 economists from economics departments in the top ten percent worldwide, Powdthavee et al. find something similar:
...it appears likely that the inclusion of lower ranked journals on an individual’s publication list will have a negative impact on the assessment of such lists by other economists. We found statistically significant differences between the higher average 1 to 10 rating that respondents gave to both lists having only eight higher ranked journals, and the lower average rating that other subsamples gave to lists containing all of the same eight higher ranked journals plus six more lower ranked ones.
Specifically, adding lower-ranked journals to a list that included two Top Five journals lowered the average rating from 8.1 out of 10 to 7.6 out of 10. Similarly, adding lower-ranked journals to a list that didn't include any Top Five journals lowered the average rating from 7.0 to 6.3 out of 10. However, it's not all bad news. When CVs including and excluding the lower-ranked journals were rated jointly (that is, the survey respondents saw both CVs), the effect went away. So, when CVs are being compared, the negative effect disappears. However, Powdthavee et al. note that:
There are, of course, occasions in which is it the results of joint valuations that will matter to final outcomes. Perhaps most easily imagined are comparisons between candidates for a position or honour – Candidate X vs. Candidate Y. But most others, such as those involving promotion, tenure, and selection of consultants and other experts, seem to be ones more likely to turn on results of single valuations. Further, even in cases of Candidates X and Y competition over a position, it is largely the results of single valuations that determine whether a person becomes a Candidate X or a Candidate Y.
It makes me wonder though, how publications outside of economics journals affect the perception of a CV. As someone with an appreciable number of publications outside of economics, of course I have a vested interest in knowing the answer to that question.

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