Econ Journal Watch

In the issue:

Where
would Adam Smith publish today?  Daniel Sutter and Rex Pjesky show that
almost no math-free research appears in top economics journals.

Theory
of what?  Dan Klein and Pedro Romero articulate the difference between
model-building and theorizing, and contend that most articles in
Journal of Economic Theory do not qualify as theory.

The
Internet and economic discourse: Dan D’Amico and Dan Klein examine the
websites of Harvard and George Mason economists, and ask whether the
differences speak of differences in character type.

Henrik Lindberg tells of the role of economists in liberalizing Swedish agriculture.

Daron
Acemoglu says the economic analysis of constitutions and political
structure has been revolutionized by Torsten Persson and Guido
Tabellini.  But Charles Blankart and Gerrit Koester argue that the new
political economics is not that new, and might be a step backwards.

Institutional
quality is all the rage.  So why doesn’t research in the top economics
journals make better use of the Economic Freedom of the World index?
John Dawson reports.

Development economics has discovered
important truths about trade, aid, property, and planning.  Ian Vasquez
recounts how the truths were advanced in the work of Peter Bauer, and
how the late-comers often neglect that learning.

Comments

Klein's and Romero's evidence of the "paucity of theory in the Journal of Economic Theory" is persuasive.

Actually having quickly skimmed the Klein and Romero paper I think it's, uh, not very good. Apparantly they think that articles in the JET are not theory because... they don't care about them! They "fail" 44% article based on that criteria. They fail another 41% because, apparantly the articles fail to adequately address the question of "Theory of What?". Reading their commentary it seems like the actual statement of the authors was "Theory of...whaaaa?". They levy the damning charge that in a particular theoretical article "There is no empirical content". Of course in this context, that charge is,I don't know how to put it otherwise, stupid.

The "Where would Adam Smith publish" article seems pretty silly as well.

sounds like you should start up "econ journal watch watch" there notsneaky! whattya say?

The evidence is mounting; Klein and Romero's piece is confirmatory of
other evidence.

If Klein and Romero's article didn't have a bibliograph that referenced
the work of others who had provided other consistent evidence, THEN I might
be sympathetic to the sarcastic tone of those doubters above. But as K&R are
not an island unto themselves, well the kindest thing I can say is
why don't you try doing your homework before taking the exam.

The bitterness of the uneducated criticisms of K&R above suggest
that K&R have in fact pierced the veil behind which so many models have been
passed off as theory in economics.

notsneaky,

You seem to be making my point for me unintentionally; to call an
article that builds upon so much good other work "silly", "stupid", and/or
"bunk" and then to admit that you are "not quite familiar" with
"a number" of the references is, I put it back to you, a "sleight of
hand" in terms of logical blogging.

Again: The evidence is mounting; K&R's piece is confirmatory of others'
evidence and reasoning.

notsneaky,

Your claim to know the quality of K&R's contribution to an area
that you admit a lack of much familiarity with is "at best" weak.

Hypocritically, you are critical of K&R for the same reason when you say
"the authors [K&R] are trying to evaluate research areas where they
have no clue as to what is going on, . . . " But unlike your case, in
which we have your admitted lack of familiarity with the literature,
in the case of K&R you provide no evidence for your claim
that they have "no clue".

Since there is nothing at all kind that I can think of to say about
hypocrisy,I will retire merely saddened that you are so unwilling
to take a closer look at an article that contributes to a literature
in which you lack depth.

P.s., as noted at the EJW website, we have invited the JET editors to respond to the piece. That is characteristic of EJW. We always invite the commented-on to respond, and give them full and free reign.

Notsneaky,

I think McCloskey's point that "size matters" is well taken. It is useful to question how one meausures indifference to the issue of size. Some proxies are better than others for measuring things. To the extent that McCloskey's proxy(ies) captures indifference to size it is useful. It often advances science to raise questions about the validity of various proxies.

To editors of EJW invite submissions of commentaries about things that appear there; of course those whose articles are commented upon are given the opportunity to rely. Since you are so sure that the Klein and Romero piece is "silly" "stupid" "bunk", why not debunk it in print? When errors are exposed, the chances of repeating them are reduced.

And given GMU economics department's quality, such poor articles are not surprising.

wet,

I happen to generally agree with notsneaky's view on this article, but I think your
criticism is seriously inappropriate.

Also, I would note that the space constraint issue is a very real one in most journals.
Editors frequently order authors to cut their articles down in length as the journals face
absolute space constraints. In many cases, candidates for being cut would be material that
the authors and editor would presume that informed readers of the article would know, including
the relevant discussions into which the article is placed along with its implications (and my
keeping track of JET suggests that, if anything, there has been an increase in the length of
the mostly verbal introductory sections that include the lit reviews in recent years).

Indiana J.

Well, I do not appreciate his use of language, which also seems uncalled for.
However, I agree that there are plenty of cases where the apparent lack of
discussion of "what the theory is about," and so forth is due to the paper's
not discussing some broader set of concerns that someone not conversant with
the literature would find useful. The problem here is that indeed JET is a
highly mathematical journal. As such, the editors assume that most people
reading the journal are coming in at that level of mathiness and most of those
reading individual articles are well enough acquainted with the theoretical
issues involved that they do not need a more general warmup. Again, a serious
factor here is the space constraint issue, and I repeat as someone who has
followed JET for a long time (and, yes, I admit, even pubbed in it) that it
has in fact gotten "better" in terms of having the papers provide longer,
strictly verbal, intros for those less up on what the papers are about, in
contrast to, say, the Journal of Mathematical Economics, where the papers
generally just plunge right in to the straight math with almost no warmup.

This problem occurs at the level of all journals. To pick on a lower level
journal (in terms of mathiness), should the Southern Economic Journal insist
that every paper published in it explain what the law of supply and demand
is for the benefit of any readers who wander in off the street who just
happen not to be acquainted with said law?

Dear Barkley and others,

Tonight, it seems like the conversation is taking place in two spots. I just posted a comment over at Econlog. Some of it pertains to Barkley's main point.

http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2007/05/truth_in_advert.html

But I think I am going to sign off. Let's do it at EJW--with more fullness and deliberation.

Dan

Barkley,

Thanks for your clarifications and discussion. Certainly the K&R article is arousing thought and reasoned debate and I believe that out of further debate, discussion and hopefully more EJW articles will come a clarification regarding the consequences of using long trains of mathematics to attempt to explain economic phenomena. This debate has been going on for a long time; Marshall in 1920 expressed trepidation about the usage of long trains. But the debate,so long devoid of quantification, has generated lots of heat and little light. This is changing because quantitative investigations are possible at lower cost now than in the recent past. Discussions of evidence will bring clarification. Ah, the future is bright.

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