Publication lags

Among the many thoughts prompted by the bushfire disaster one relates to the shift from the “Defend or Leave” approach that was recommended in the 2000s, to the current policy of “evacuate before it’s too late”.

In the aftermath of the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, I did some work on this topic with a colleague, Tyron Venn. Our conclusion was summarised in the title of our paper “Early evacuation is the best policy“. We included a discussion of how climate change would make the problem worse.

When we first adopted this title, it represented advocacy of a radical shift in policy. But the time taken to prepare the paper, followed by several rounds of refereeing, and getting it published meant that, when it came out in 2017, it was old hat. And the referees raised so many quibbles about the climate change section that we had to drop it.

I don’t really know how to deal with this problem. Peer review is essential. But the process is so slow, particularly in economics, that papers addressing current policy problems can’t easily make it through in time to be relevant.

10 thoughts on “Publication lags

  1. Whenever these comments come up from fields with slow peer review, I wonder why it is the case that these cultures persist. In my field (optics) we routinely get peer review in three weeks, and from submission to publication in two months. Papers that require extensive revision might be another few months, or if people work their way down the chain of journals that also takes time.

    On the other hand, other fields have *years* of lag between submission and publication. Why?

    (This seems like more of an economics problem than a physics problem….)

  2. Perhaps the problem is that economists have been brain-washed into thinking (or brain-washed themselves into thinking) the only things worth doing are those things where they get something out of it personally. Since there is nothing in it for them to peer-review someone else’s paper in a timely fashion, this and other community-minded actions get the lowest priority.

    Of course, it then comes back to bite them in the backside when their own papers take years to get reviewed.

    People in other disciplines, like physics, not having had the benefit of an education in which they are taught that it is best for society if everyone selfishly pursues their individual interests, foolishly act for their benefit of their community and do their peer reports in weeks.

  3. Peer review must be tricky for economists! Can’t do opportunity cost and money creation, and policy being won by the losing (the argument on evidence) side. Excellent review…

    “Almost all of the money circulating in Britain at the moment is bank-created in this way. Not only is the public largely unaware of this, but a recent survey by the British research group Positive Money discovered that an astounding 85 percent of members of Parliament had no idea where money really came from (most appeared to be under the impression that it was produced by the Royal Mint).”

    “What it reveals is an endless war between two broad theoretical perspectives in which the same side always seems to win—for reasons that rarely have anything to do with either theoretical sophistication or greater predictive power. ”

    “It was as if a kind of entente cordiale had been established, in which the technocrats would be allowed to live in one theoretical universe, while politicians and news commentators would continue to exist in an entirely different one.”

    Against Economics
    David Graeber

    Money and Government: The Past and Future of Economics
    by Robert Skidelsky

  4. What are the acceptance rates at decent economics journals? Decent philosphy journals have acceptance rates below %10 and often below 5%. Our refereeing is also absurdly slow. Even so, it shouldn’t take 7 years to go from submission to publication. I guess on average – taking into account rejections and the need to find a new journal – the entire process tends to take me about 12 months until early online appearance. Do you not have early online?

    Of course, philosophy papers are rarely time critical.

  5. I haven’t been exposed to this process personally, but it strikes me that part of the problem is that reviewers have too many options in front of them. I suspect if they didn’t have the opportunity to request revisions they would actually end up accepting more papers. If there was a policy of maximum one round of revisions, and reviewers knew that, surely they’d wave things through in the belief the paper was worth publishing, even if not quite perfect, whereas allowing repeated revisions means that papers bounce back and forth for limited additional benefit. Doesn’t behavioural economics have anything to say on the topic?

  6. Seqaugur, that’s been proposed by some. It has costs as well as benefits: papers often improve during the review process. All going well, even rejections lead to improvements.

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