A good year

I’ve been checking my publications and I’ve had 15 refereed journal articles published (in print or online) so far this year, which is the most ever for me (though I’ve read that Harry Johnson had 18 articles in press at the time of his death). There are a few more that have been accepted, and might make it through by the end of the year.

Thinking about there are a few factors that contribute to this happy outcome. One is random fluctuation. Last year was a little below average, and some papers that should have been published then slipped into 2006. Similarly, I expect 2007 to be a bit light.

Another is that, with the Federation Fellowship, I’ve tended to do more applied policy stuff, particularly on water. That’s easier to write and publish than theory pieces aimed at international journals (though I’m still doing those).

Finally, I’ve cut back on travel. While some travel is necessary, I think most academics would benefit from less time on the road and more in front of the computer.

What’s really good about this is that it allays the fear that blogging will have a bad long-term effect on my productivity. I think it probably takes time that I might otherwise have put into a book or two, but books are a high-effort, low-payoff exercise for economists, unless you have something you really need to say at book length.

28 thoughts on “A good year

  1. Perhaps most academics might benefit from less travel, but most of us are not lucky enough to have FFs. Most academics might therefore benefit even more from filling in less forms, sitting in less useless meetings, and, for those working in Australia in fields that don’t get tons of OS students, probably moving to a country like the US.

  2. Conrad, less forms and less meetings would indeed be beneficial. One of the odd features of the new managerialism is that, even though collegial government has disappeared, the number of meetings doesn’t seem to have declined.

    Taust, I think I’ve had some impact on water policy, though my views on the topic aren’t radically different from those of other economists, so it’s hard to tell for sure.

  3. JQ;

    a consensus among economists.

    A phenomenon worthy of study.

    Is the comsensus a result of the similar process to the process among commercial economists where there is no reward for taking individual risks so it is better to be among the pack and wrong than outside the pack and wrong.

    Or is economic theory in this area now part of the core belief of the profession and not easily open to challenge,

    Or have the economists at the table of the cafe latte policy elite been chosen to from only one economic theoretical base?

  4. Taust, virtually all economists think that prices are important and the role of prices in allocating water has been very limited so far. So the answer is “B”, part of the core belief.

    As regards caffe latte, if this is intended ironically, it’s not working for me.

    If you actually think there is such a thing as a cafe latte policy elite, particularly among economists, I suggest you return to your home planet immediately for an update.

  5. JQ;

    on my home planet policy is formed through the interaction of a network of policy elites.

    The most that can be said of any wider consultation is that it is typically done for the shortest time possible and on the basis of discussion documents that cannot be said to give anywhere the information needed for a person whose interests are going to be impacted to take an informed decision.

    Any surgeon giving the same quality of information would be at great danger of a legal defeat.

    Indeed the discussion documents are more typically of the form ‘this is the answer say yes approach’.

    Experts whose contracts may say they are paid advisors become de-facto decision makers.

    Unless one is a member of a recognised organised group (ethnic, victim, environment, industry sector) one has no effective voice except in the most limited circumstances.

    My home planet is considered backward (so backward other civilisations do not care to visit it). I would be most grateful if you would tell me how they do things on your home planet.

  6. Oddly, enough taust, things are much the same here on earth, the only difference being that the elite who actually run things tend to wear suits and are found in or around big businesses, banks and Treasury departments, while the people who drink caffe latte tend to sit in cafes and moan.

    We do, however, have a popular folk legend that it’s really the caffe-latte types who secretly run things – perhaps you are not the first visitor to bring us this story.

  7. Ah yes, the old “maximize the number of papers published per annum” game. While other countries have steadily moved away from such an absurd measure of academic productivity, Australia still clings to it.

    The problem with the measure is that it encourages a particularly insidious form of mediocrity. If you’re rewarded based on number of papers published, rather than quality, the optimal strategy is to publish the maximium number of papers possible at the minimum possible standard.

    There are countless Australian academics who have built their entire careers on that approach, and yet are barely known outside their home country.

    It is high time Australia moved away from the numbers game and towards the quality game; eg pick your best four papers from the past four years and be judged on that.

  8. JQ

    On resource allocation. Here governments apply resource rent royalties to all natural resources used for commercial gain. So anyone using water, air or sunlight pays a royalty of 30% of the economic rent associated with the natural resource.
    The Minister who first taxed air and sunlight gets very large footnotes in all our economic history textbooks but her name is not remembered much because no one reads economic history.

    This royalty was instituted after a Mineral boom turned into a bust and our provincial governments had to make up the hole in their revenues.

    We do have one problem which is how to go from regulated water, air sunlight to a pricing regime. We understand you on earth have experience in the collapse of centrally planned economies. So I wonder if the economists have developed an agreed way of managing the transition e.g. bust through or inch to a stop.

    We have special laws which prevent the development of ideology in our Treasuries. For some reason lost in history they are called the anti-Taliban laws. However they are quite successful in ensuring Treasury personnel think the issues through at least once a year.

    We have never really got control of the ideologues in the Environment Agencies, but Treasury just keep reducing their budgets. They continue to exist only because they find a new panic button every five years.

    The current panic is the exponential reduction in our magnetic field. Terrible things are going to happen and it is overdue to happen. Have you had that one yet?

    We appreciate our café latte policy elites. Once every ten years a good idea pops up (which is about the frequency in any research endeavour). So to help them in their sitting at the cafe table we give them a free issue of a sun hat and a wool cardigan each year.

    Greeting from the non-plant (otherwise known as Pluto).

  9. Proust, while it’s possible to pursue maximising strategies, there’s a pretty high correlation in economics at least between quality and quantity – the most published economists include people like Krugman, Feldstein and Stiglitz (not to mention the late Harry Johnson).

    And international reputation isn’t everything – it’s important to contribute to analysis of Australian issues even though it doesn’t do much for you in the international stakes.

    That said, I agree that in Australia we often focus too much on quantity. I think the optimal focus would be something like best ten articles in the last five years.

  10. Taust “the process among commercial economists where there is no reward for taking individual risks so it is better to be among the pack and wrong than outside the pack and wrong”

    There is a corollary to this. When the pack is wrong, the pack vilifies the messenger who delivered the right result.

    This turns up in the form of results being “outside expectations”, and therefore suspect.

    You can observe this in relation to company profit announcements and economic news releases. A good recent example is the column inches (is there a metric equivalent?) spilt on the last Oz GDP result.

    What should be worthy of study is the process of consensus / expectation formation. A couple of good papers or a bunch of mediocre ones might examine information discontinuities necessarily involved in “outside expectations” situations, and perhaps the role of the latte elite in failing to chatter up the correct answer!

  11. For God’s sake, you’re supposed to be an academic with a rudimentary grasp of English. It’s fewer forms and fewer meetings. You’ll never convince me you know much about anything if you don’t know the most basic rules of English.

  12. I think the optimal focus would be something like best ten articles in the last five years.

    I guess the optimal focus will be discipline-dependent. But 10/5 is a reasonable measure. That makes for 80-100 outstanding publications over the course of a career. Enough for all but the most extraordinary geniuses.

  13. John, congratulations. Averaging a paper every few weeks is quite extraordinary.

    At some point, you might consider putting down a few tips for success in academia. I had in mind something like Greg Mankiw did earlier this year. For example, you once told me that you have a daily word target, which I’ve since found a useful tool to try and follow.

  14. Believe me, Proust, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the quality of John’s papers – he’s usually near the top of the citation rankings amongst Australian economists, and when he chooses to write on non-specifically Australian issues (which I think he should more often) he generally gets into a top journal.

    I don’t know how you pump out so much, John – congratulations.

  15. congratulations john – don’t know how you do it. Taust, from my past diorect involvement in policymaking in government I can attest to the fact that John’s work has definitely had an influence. incidentally, there are some basics that economists do agree on – for example, that if we get pricing wrong through government subsidies, then markets won’t work well in resource allocation either – which apply to the water case. There are closed policy communities (read Marsh & Rhodes, Martin Smith, Atkinson & Coleman etc) but water policy in Australia is not one of them – there’s a high diversity of views and opinions. So one unfortunte consequence is that the views of economists on water pricing, although long recognised, are frequently ignored in practice and as a consequence we continue to misuse the resource.

  16. It’s hard to see how any significant contribution can be measured purely by the number of publications one has. As any academic knows, a paper in one journal might be worth a hundred of another in terms of the quality of the work.

  17. “Survey after survey shows that whether you measure your productivity in facts researched, alien spaceships vaporized, or articles written, adding an extra monitor will give your output a considerable boost — 20 percent to 30 percent, according to a survey by Jon Peddie Research.” link

    And if we go into the ABC file footage (private collection, no thanks to Robyn Watts of ABC Enterprises) what do we have here. However, even if it scales with the number of screens and we say the 30″ is equal to two the number of articles is still very high.

  18. Stephen;

    have the water economists tried seeking the Royal Society’s help to do a bit of gentle dissent supression?

    More seriously are there any promising technigues for managing competing self interests other than payment?

  19. Congratulations on your output. But wouldn’t we all be better off if economists published less and not more? After all, economics really isn’t a science; you can’t really replicate anything and thus can’t really do a good job of supporting any hypothesis one might have. Economists are really just offering opinions in the guise of scientific research.

  20. John’s output is amazing. This is ‘sucking up’ just fact. Coupled with his blog and his numerous community involvements its a great achievement. Well done John.

  21. “Economists are really just offering opinions in the guise of scientific research.”

    Up to a point, Richard. On economic matters they tend to be informed opinions, though – and god knows we suffer from enough uninformed opinions.

    The fact is that there are a lot of things virtually all economists agree on for the same reason natural scientists agree – overwhelming empirical evidence. stephen bartos just gave a good example – getting prices right is a necessary condition of efficient allocation. Economists will tend to disagree on how you do that, and whether it is a sufficient condition, precisely because the empiric evidence is mixed or just unavailable.

    I think it was Krugman who noted that economists’ views tend to be least influential where they are most agreed (eg globalisation tends to be good for workers in developing countries) and most influential where they least agree (eg effects of globalisation on workers in developed countries).

  22. Instead of being pleased, John, you should be feeling sheepish because of all those previous years where you were slacking off. Just think how much your output would have improved if only you took on extra academically-unrelated work to spur your academic output over the last 20 years! 😉

  23. Impressive! Congratulations JQ. I’m interested to know how many of them are co-authored? Does that speed up the process or slow it down?

    (I’m definitely getting another monitor!)

  24. Does empirical economics follow the scientific method?…

    Some activities of economists are valued more than others in the academic pecking order. Research trumps teaching. Journal articles often have more impact than books (unless you are well known as Mankiw or Krugman and can corner the ‘principes’ textb…

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