What are the top economics journals?

by on June 14, 2006 at 5:29 am in Economics | Permalink

Here is one recent ranking, courtesy of Newmark’s Door.  My view is simple.  The American Economic Review and Journal of Political Economy are the two most important journals.  The former will have more pieces with careful testing and design, but the latter has more conceptually important articles.  I find the JPE more enjoyable.  The Quarterly Journal of Economics has brilliant pieces which can tend toward the unsound or have imperfect execution.  Econometrica, while it remains a clear third or fourth in rank, is less important than it used to be, perhaps because pure theory has declined in influence.  For this same reason, the Rand Journal and Review of Economic Studies, while both still very good journals, have lost their previous luster.  Journal of Economic Theory mattered in the 1970s, but it has fallen off a cliff.  After that you have the top field journals, which of course vary by field.  Journal of Economic Perspectives and Journal of Economic Literature serve important functions, and are both fun and instructive to read, but they are rarely venues for presenting new ideas.  They report how new ideas have been interpreted and digested.

Science journals, especially Nature, are starting to become more important for economics.  My favorite field journal is the Journal of Law and EconomicsJournal of Finance is of very high quality, though finance is a world unto itself.  The relative returns to the top few journals have risen greatly in the last fifteen years; many more schools require publications in those journals for tenure than before.

Tony Vallencourt June 14, 2006 at 8:51 am

Wow. Let’s just point out that that is an absurd ranking. Ranking based on cite count is just not an ok method anymore. It may have been in the past, pre-internet, because you didn’t see articles until they were published. But now, by the time a good article is published, it has been cited many, many times as a working paper. But whatever journal then publishes that article presumably is not given credit for the previous citations. Or, rather, the “impact” of an article is not properly captured by counting only the citations after publication. So then ranking journals only by citations after publication undervalues the “impact” of the articles it publishes.

This wouldn’t be a problem if this undervaluing was proportional, except for the fact that the best articles are the disproportionately circulated before publication, and thus are going to disproportionately cited before publication.

Tony Vallencourt June 14, 2006 at 10:12 am

OK, maybe I didn’t think that out fully. But I firmly believe that this method of ranking, in the day of the working paper, is useless. The bias I outlined may not be the main problem (but it will cause some problems), but there’s a bigger one: it’s also the case that most citations happen early in an article’s life, and thus those journals that get papers out earlier are going to do better, but without a good reason. This is doubly a problem, because it seems to me like the best articles spend years as working papers (even if they tend to get accepted on the first try) and the best journals spend more time in revisions.

The exception to long turn-around times in top journals is the QJE, where you get very fast service. And that is the one that does best in these citation rankings. (FWIW, I also generally agree with Tyler’s rankings, though I still hold RAND in high regard; it’s become more empirically minded in recent years, and a lot of good empirical IO papers have come through there.)

jmcclure June 15, 2006 at 10:27 am

Tyler,

You wrote: “Econometrica, while it remains a clear third or fourth in rank, is less important than it used to be, perhaps because pure theory has declined in influence. For this same reason, the Rand Journal and Review of Economic Studies, while both still very good journals, have lost their previous luster. Journal of Economic Theory mattered in the 1970s, but it has fallen off a cliff.”

A point that you seem to be missing is that what you call “pure theory” is a set of articles that are so mathematically complex that they are highly unlikely to ever yield operational insights, for exactly the reasons that Donald F. Gordon explained in: “Operational propositions in economic theory”, Journal of Political Economy, 1955, vol. 63, pp. 150-161. For a recent empirical investigation of Don Gordon’s predicted negative relationship between mathematically complexity and operationalism see Coelho and McClure’s 2005 article in the Southern Journal of Economics, Vol. 71, no. 3.

jim June 20, 2006 at 9:31 am

From the EJW homepage:

“The electronic triannual Econ Journal Watch publishes Comments on articles appearing in economics journals and serves as a forum about economics research and the economics profession. EJW watches the journals for inappropriate assumptions, weak chains of argument, phony claims of relevance, and omissions of pertinent truths. Pointed, constructive criticism requires an independent forum and an accessible and timely medium. Other material including essays, reflections, investigations, and classic critiques speak to the nature and character of economics. EJW applies theories of failure—market, government, organizational—to the practices and institutions of economists.”

jim June 20, 2006 at 12:49 pm

Barkley,

The thing you want to remember is that although there has been an explosion of new journals, that each new journal arising not only attracts cites, but makes them. That is, the situation is not analogous to say a new gasoline station opening in a town with a stabe population.

Barkley Rosser June 20, 2006 at 4:34 pm

jim,

What kills your argument is that the citation rate of your
favored engine, EJW, is nearly zero. Almost nobody cites it.

I do not see that one needs to argue that the AER and the JPE
have “declined,” if the Journal of Econometrics and the Journal
of Public Economics or the Journal of Economic Perspectives is
going up. There are simply more papers being written and published
and not enough room for them all in the “top journals,” whatever
those are. Maybe all these extra papers are not as good as those
wonderful ones that needed commenting on in the good old days.
But if in fact there are simply more high quality papers, it
may be only a relative decline that is involved for the top
journals, not an absolute one as implied by the posters here.

Barkley Rosser June 20, 2006 at 6:20 pm

jim,

I know because I keep track of up-to-date citation studies,
and it is not on them.

Now, there may be a problem with those because the studies
may arbitrarily leave it off because it is not in SSCI or
whatever. However, I have another source, possibly imperfect.
I edit a fairly general journal that gets about two submissions
a day. I see lots of bibliographies. I think I have seen it
cited once. That is not very impressive.

jim June 20, 2006 at 8:53 pm

Barkley,

You wrote:

“I edit a fairly general journal that gets about two submissions
a day. I see lots of bibliographies. I think I have seen it
cited once. That is not very impressive.”

So you work for a competitor of EJW, is this correct? If you are a normal
person, you are loyal to your current employer and may not be completely
objective.

I must admit, though, in all honesty that having published a number of
articles in EJW, I may not be completely objective either.

jim June 20, 2006 at 9:26 pm

Barkley,

Again, the day is new for EJW and the other electronic outlets. Time will tell us which of us
is correct and incorrect.

Max November 1, 2006 at 5:31 pm

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photo January 10, 2007 at 6:55 am
Anonymous October 14, 2008 at 1:40 am

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