Oh, the wiki

When I went on the job market for the first time two years ago, I was advised not to consult the economics job market rumors forum. Given that I had no idea what it was, I immediately went and consulted it, only to have my spirit broken by the rank misogyny, stress, and trolling that dominated the forum. EJMR is still full of a lot of that crap, but it’s growing up in a way that I think has the potential to be beneficial to economists and the economics profession.

In particular, EJMR this year redid “the wiki”, or the crowd-sourced table of calls made to applicants on the job market each November and December. The redesign, and incorporation into the EJMR framework, has actually been incredibly user-friendly and informative. Yes, it sucks to hear that Dream University XYZ called someone and didn’t call you, but it’s really nice not to be waiting for them to call anymore. It’s anonymous, but usually updated incredibly rapidly. I’ve received emails or phone calls and went to check the wiki within minutes and seen it updated already.

More proof that EJMR has grown up a bit comes in the form of the recently added journal wiki, which I think is absolutely brilliant. Economics, from what I know, suffers from one of the longest (and most excruciating) publishing cycles in academia. My astrophysicist friends complain that their papers take eight months to get out and my eyes pop of my head. Try two years. Or three. The wiki itself is still kind of a jumble of information and lacks a good way to aggregate data. For instance, it would be useful to be able to find mean and median response times and see the number of entries for a given journal. The data is easily copied and pasted into Excel, so one could feasibly take all the information for a given journal and perform those quick data summaries oneself. Though it would strip away some of the anonymity, it would also be nice to know where those papers were eventually published. But perhaps I’m asking too much.

The journal wiki is similar to the jobs wiki in that it’s anonymous, crowd-sourced, and voluntary. The big difference is that while one school made 20-30 phone calls and only one person had to post the outcome, each journal submission and rejection is separate. You can’t rely on another person’s entering your rejection. The journal wiki poses a larger free-rider problem because each of piece of information is only controlled by a single individual (or author group). I imagine that despite the collective action problem, it will still gets high levels of participation. In fact, it’s already quite filled out and has only been up a few days.

I’m all for more information. I’m all for making publishers and referees more accountable. I also wonder if it won’t push some better papers to lesser known journals. With a clear time-to-publication advantage, lower-ranked journals could attract better papers and upset the hegemonic closed circle that tends to dominate the highly ranked, very slow to publish journals. It could also damn those papers to obscurity, but it will be interesting to see if it has any effect on overall response times and time-to-publication.

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Women in publishing

These charts on female writers, book reviewers, and editorial staff have been floating around the internet for a few days now. The quick take-away is that women are far underrepresented in the major publications that promote and review literary works, non-fiction, and poetry. Mother Jones was quick to point out that the gender make-up of their staff and contributors is much more equal.

The comments are also worth reading. As of my last reading, there was really only one comment that seems to be trolling and the rest are genuinely reflective and thoughtful. One theme that is continually repeated is that in order to judge these numbers, we must look at the number of submissions. If women are not submitting at the same levels of men, then clearly their books will be reviewed less frequently. And while this doesn’t touch why there are more men on editorial staffs, it does start to get at some of these differences.

The author of the blog post goes into this in more detail on another page, and so some of what I’ll say here may seem to be merely echoing, but going back to submissions is not sufficient to determine the source of the imbalance. Once we have submission numbers, the question becomes, why do submission numbers look like this? My guess is that yes, female submission numbers are lower. But merely knowing that this kind of imbalance in submission exists does not preclude discrimination. If women writers know about the imbalance in the final product, it might scare some of them away from submitting in the first place. In this case, we might see that the quality of women’s submissions would be much greater than that of men, on average. Quality, I’d argue, should be more important than quantity in determining the outcome of publication or not.

Reading it also reminded me of @katinalynn‘s rant on long fiction the other day. In reference to recent long books by Bolano, Franzen, and Murakami, she notes “All three of these books received great acclaim before they ever hit bookshelves, in no small part due to each author’s past success.” Success in publishing (and in most fields, actually) is incredibly dependent on what you can show that you’ve already done. This New Yorker story on the plagiarism of Q.R. Markham quotes literary types as being more accepting of his work, or in awe of it, because he had published a poem in an Best American Anthology Poetry. One good publication and you’re much more likely to get the next.

This is partly a signalling issue. If someone gives us a signal that they are good, and someone else has no signal, we assign lower levels of risk to the one with the signal. Someone else has essentially done the work of evaluating this person for us, so we do less to actually evaluate them on merit. Whether we intend to or not. Thus, success becomes entrenched and one good turn leads to another.

Boycotts are all around us

There has been quite a bit of talk lately about boycotts, in the academic world, in the foreign policy world, and in the consumer world.

Academics are signing on in rather large numbers to a boycott of the journal publisher Elsevier, for practices they view as stifling to creative and innovative thought, and access. The original call to boycott is here, the Chronicle article is here, and if you Google the thing, you’ll find dozens of blogs and articles talking about it. It doesn’t seem to have hit economists too hard yet, but I imagine it’s going that way.

In foreign policy, all the talk is about boycotting oil from Iran in order to ensure that they don’t get the bomb.

Finally comes the Apple boycott, rocking the consumer world. The NYT came out with a an article last week exposing exploitation of workers and unsafe working conditions in China by Apple. Combined with the conflict minerals stuff, some people are hoping to end their iAddictions. Others, of course, want to point out that the whole thing is ridiculous.

Of these, Iran is definitely the silliest. Oil is a fungible commodity. If we don’t buy it from Iran, we have to get it from someone else, say Norway. Thus, another country who formerly bought from Norway, will now buy it from Iran. Iran will sell it to someone else, perhaps at slightly higher transportation costs, but they still will sell it. (Update: Off the wire blog goes into this in a bit more detail here.)

I’m not entirely sure what to make of the Elsevier boycott. I am all for voting with my dollars, and my time, but I guess this feels big because it is inextricably linked to my profession and my sense of self. As graduate students, we are shown over and over again that the path to success is publish, publish, publish, get tenure, and be satisfied. But I can’t help but think that all of this is changing. It’s like the rug is being pulled out from underneath me. It’s not the end of the world surely, but I’m not sure what an open-access academic content world is going to look like. I’m sure that functionally, it won’t change much for most people. But for academics, it’s likely to change a lot. And that’s scary on some level, even if it’s also exciting and desirable.

I’m going to mull over my thoughts on the Apple boycott a bit more, but they certainly seem to be all around us, don’t they?

Update on Fun Wednesday Reading: I’m in the midst of Innes, Rob. “A Theory of Consumer Boycotts Under Symmetric Information and Imperfect Competition.” The Economic Journal, 116 (April) 355-381.

h/t @mflbellemare