Markets in Everything: AER Publication

From EJMR:

I have a new paper that I consider my best work. For a variety of reasons, the marginal return professionally for this paper is very small for me. But I think it has an excellent shot a top
journal, I would estimate 1/3 at the AER (I have published there before). So I am offering it for sale. Here are the details:

1. This paper is not yet posted on my website. It has not been circulated and I have not yet presented it.

2. The paper is applied micro although I will sell it to anyone.

3. Email bids to Use a fake account and make sure to send no revealing information.

4. Your bid is for an AER or QJE. If it ends in Restud, you pay 65%. If it ends in the Journal of Labor Economics, Journal of Public Economics, or EJ, you pay 35%. Other journals are negotiable. You can choose the submission path as long as it starts with one of the top journals.

5. I will contact the winning bid (or highest real bid) to arrange an in person meeting in Philly at the meetings. We will never leave a paper trail.

6. Half of payment is due with a revise and resubmit. I will also make the needed changes. The final half is due with final acceptance.

7. Spare me any discussion of the ethics here. I am dead serious and I will not be commenting further on this thread.

The whole thing could be a troll or an experiment but let’s assume it’s real. An AER could easily be worth 50k, especially for someone early in their career but that’s for one you wrote yourself. An AER written by someone else has a significantly lower expected value since, if revealed, it may end your career. Moreover, suppose the buyer, as unlikely as it seems, takes advantage of the big push and makes it big on their own. Is the buyer not then vulnerable to blackmail from the seller who already has signaled their ethics? I can see this appealing, however, to the scion of some dictator who could afford to pay well over 50k and also afford to make the seller pay if the secret is revealed. Caveat emptor and also caveat venditor. True, there are not many econ PhDs among the dictator set but there are a few and sadly this kind of thing does have precedents.

P.S. I did like the discounting by journal, a nice, accurate touch.


All this needs to be complete is a Kickstarter to buy authorship.

He's in/near Philly, econ PhD public/labor, has a website and has published at AER.
How many people can that be?

Not necessarily (or even likely) in Philly. He suggests meeting at the 2014 AEA annual meetings in Philadelphia - attended by over 10,000 economists annually. Every economist I know has a website of some sort, but I don't see any indication from the ad that the seller has one.

Given the source, I highly suspect a troll.

Yep. Troll or an experiment.

If he was real, he wouldn't risk posting it so publicly and attracting malicious contacts who would just want to meet to out this guy.

"Moreover, suppose the buyer, as unlikely as it seems, takes advantage of the big push and makes it big on their own."

...or just buys all their work. Marginal benefits to a new researcher searching for tenure are higher than marginal benefits to an established researcher, so there should be a market for this.

"Is the buyer not then vulnerable to blackmail from the seller who already has signaled their ethics?"

The seller would take a rep hit too.

Not necessarily. The blackmail might take the form of "You are going to submit the paper I've attached, which references and extends the model I published last year."

Or maybe "You are going to submit the attached criticism of my paper from last year. I will reply with a brilliant refutation, of course, but I will be very complimentary of your insights."

I wonder how much #2 happens anyway, even absent blackmail. Refutations and counterrefutations are a great way to milk additional publishable papers out of a single idea.

The point is that the seller would take a rep hit if they revealed the scam. Thus, it is doubtful that they have power to blackmail you to do anything.

I don't think the deal works: Either the buyer has to pay for the paper sight-unseen and trust that it is indeed AER worthy. Or the seller has to show some non-trivial part of the paper to a potential buyer.

If a buyer rejects the deal after seeing the paper, the paper loses most of its value: The number of people who can identify the paper after its publication has doubled. It may also be possible for the rejecting buyer to reconstruct the some paper's contents as his/her own work.

Wouldn't it make better sense to sell co-authorship?

There is no problem for the buyer, because, according to the terms, no payment is due until there is initial acceptance.

It doesn't appear to work at all for the seller, though. The buyer can just submit the paper and never pay, and the seller has no recourse.

The seller can tell the journal it's his paper, that he shared a draft with the buyer (which is a common thing to do), and that the buyer then stole it. He can back this up with proof - drafts, code, whatever.

Doesn't this mean the buyer can never trust the seller?

The credibility of the seller's story about having been ripped off decreases the longer he waits to come forward. He can always come forward and discuss the actual transaction, but that makes him look bad as well.

I'm not sure if there's a specific way to make it work here, but there's been a lot of research on zero-knowledge proofs for exactly this situation.

Again, I can't think of a protocol here (since the paper isn't a math proof), but it would probably involve "bit committing" to the content of the paper (i.e. revealing it in form that's not understandable but for which he can later prove came from the plaintext version of the paper, like putting it through a crypto hash) and allowing the potential buyer to decrypt random portions of it.

Unfortunately, that also leaks information about what the sold paper would be about.

So you'd have to adapt it somehow to maybe "bit commit" the author to the paper he's selling *plus* several dummies, in which case the "real" one is only identified when you choose to buy. And so on and so forth.

Can I short this?

Only if I can short "One Thing" by New Direction.

Can technical papers be commodified?

looks like John List wants to get another AER paper out of econ grad students responding to this ad. $50k is a total low ball for an the downside is a Wall Street job that pays even more.

not long ago EMJR had a thread on the body parts they'd give up for an AER (I think there was an inspiring paper behind this) and it was kind of surprising. broken, broken publication/tenure point system. oh and this is how budding economists spend their free time!! I like the backward dating or professional snark threads more than let's pretend to be 'real' economist threads.

Ah, the body parts to pubs arbitrage market, I know it well. Inorganic chemistry students sometimes give fingers or an eye.

Wait a second, my advisor(s) get their names all over my papers and that is a career necessity. Oh, and they don't pay me a thing.

True story:
Seminar speaker: "We, or I should say my grad students did a lot of work on this"
Prof in Audience: "I should hope you didn't do any of this work, heh heh heh"
Seminar speaker: "Of course not!"
Audience laughter

There are "ethical" ways to do this, it's called getting tenure in a hard science.

You can have a perfectly normal career in academic economics... or... you can have whatever's in this box!

The whole thing could be a troll or an experiment but let’s assume it’s real.

Sounds like the standard exchange PhD students make.

Buy this and a blackmailer can tax you of the remainder of your career.

P.S. I did enjoy his assumption that every economist would know how to "Use a fake account ".

As long as the blackmailer is the author, then that is just financing.

This smells utterly phony to me.

Do AER-level papers just appear out of the blue? That is, if I submit a paper isn't it normal that I would have a trail of seminar presentations and discussions, at my own school and maybe elsewhere, of the work, early drafts distributed for comment, whatever? I doubt that. How is someone early in their career, or late for that matter, going to publish a paper that no one, colleagues, advisers, etc., knew they were working on, that they never discussed with anyone?

And what happens when people start to ask questions about your assumptions, or your methods, or want you to explain your data?

How much of that is actual value-added to the paper, networking, or just the game? One thing is that you'd want to do all the networking yourself and have to do the game. That might be in the fine print.

Some is value-added. How much I don't know, but it doesn't matter. My point is that if you don't go through all that people will smell a rat.

The (un)ethics of this are not obvious at all. I think payola is both socially efficient, if ethically questionable. I think this falls in the same class. Considering the nature of the act, many are tempted to compare this with data fraud. And the underlying reasons why this exists (academic tenure system, etc.) might be the same.

but so long as everything in the paper is novel and correct, the transaction is economically efficient. Payola works iff the DJ can convince listeners that he naturally selected a particular record. So if he plays awful crap confidence is immediately destroyed and in the future he will command less payola cash.

The analogy here are the credentials of the author. For example, as a recent HS graduate it is insanely unlikely I can naturally convince an audience I authored this paper. And, if I did, I would soon receive so much attention that my incompetence in the subject would be immediately evident. On the other hand, a well-studied undergraduate or early PhD might be able to credibly convince the economists who read AER (redundant..) and hence the transaction will not break.

Therefore, even if this is more valuable for me as a young person than someone older (I would be presumed genius and granted all sorts of access to future authorships) in the long-run it won't open any doors. On the other hand, for someone slightly older, early an academic career it will.

Suffice to say, the ethics of this are not as obviously negative as it might seem at first.

Yes, the whole reason this transaction would take place is if the two people transacting believe they'll both benefit. The problem isn't that they won't benefit, it's that other people will be hurt - the employer who because of these deceit gets an employee who is less productive and less honest than expected and the more productive and more honest graduate student who doesn't get the job.

Right. That does strike me as rather unfortunate. But only as bad as good ol' payola.

I don't get your argument. All you have demonstrated is that it may be easier for some people to perpetrate a fraud than others due to credibility reasons.

The unethical part of it would be someone would be passing off work as his which isn't his. AFAIK journals even make you sign a form that essentially says this. So clearly you would be guilty of lying and misrepresentation at a minimum.

I don't know how flexible your definitions of ethics are but to me it clearly seems unethical.

The conventional wisdom that this is a huge ethical problem is correct. While the transaction in isolation might not hurt anybody, it doesn't occur in isolation--the whole point from the buyer's perspective is to create a reputation on false pretenses.

Even if this reputation only lasts for a short time, it could have major consequences--the buyer could receive lots of grant funding, get tenure, etc. on the basis of this paper. Lots of people could waste a lot of resources as a result.

You're right – but there's a lot of self-correcting negative feedback at play (

"In fact, this brings curious contradiction to the application of “you make the system, the system makes you” type criticism to purchasing papers. The more you purchase papers, the more you disincentivize others from doing the same. Negative feedback cleanup!"

You said, "Even if this reputation only lasts for a short time, it could have major consequences–the buyer could receive lots of grant funding, get tenure, etc. on the basis of this paper. Lots of people could waste a lot of resources as a result."

That's something I discuss in more detail in the post, but don't you think that's more a criticism of the system itself than the transaction? Credentials should not play so important a role in academia; as economists know prevalence of credentialing (or worse licensing) creates market failure.

Rahul said, "AFAIK journals even make you sign a form that essentially says this. So clearly you would be guilty of lying and misrepresentation at a minimum."

That's true.

I'm quite confused by this response. A high-profile publication is not a "credential". It is an actual achievement--evidence of your ability and a record of your previous performance. Ability and previous performance are exactly what hiring/funding decisions SHOULD be based on in an ideal world. This is an example of the market working, not an example of the market being broken.
The deception in this example is what breaks the market.

I don't think your arguments about it being "self-correcting" make sense, but even if it is self-correcting, lots of people may be defrauded and harmed in the meantime.

"Daily Number: 85% of Americans ages 18 and older use the internet at least occasionally." Which part of the argument? But yes, you're right, in the short-run there's harm (see the second comment on the post).

"I’m quite confused by this response. A high-profile publication is not a “credential”. It is an actual achievement–evidence of your ability and a record of your previous performance. Ability and previous performance are exactly what hiring/funding decisions SHOULD be based on in an ideal world. This is an example of the market working, not an example of the market being broken. The deception in this example is what breaks the market."

I disagree. A lot of the discussion here is about the signaling effect of having a "publication", which is effectively a credential. By the way, I support Ivies etc. auctioning seats for a much larger % of the class they do. So I suppose we have some *very* different priors, here.

It used to be true that at the very top departments, your tenure was decided by your papers with only minor regard to WHERE they were published. The committee would read your stuff and judge it. Hence, guys with tons of top 3 pubs might get denied if the brass thought they were minor contributions whereas someone with only 4-5 pubs might get tenure even at the top 3 schools if people felt the papers were important enough. I believe there are cases of people getting tenure at top 20 depts with only one to three pubs while others at the same time were getting fired with a dozen or more.

The unethical nature is quite obvious.

This is akin to resume fraud. It may "open doors" for the buyer, but so what? Those doors should be open for those who have done their own research, not bought it. That, by the way, also makes the transaction inefficient.

Well something like this can also make you eternally famous if done right!

For example, l'hopital's rule was bought by Guillaume de l'Hôpital from Jakob Bernoulli for use of his name.... a few centuries later when this was discovered and there were debates to rename the rule, one mathematician said "L'hopital should be allowed to keep his name on the rule, after all he paid for it!"

As usual, the econs lag behind the maths........

$66,666.66 would seem an appropriate bid.

It's a troll or an experiment, almost surely.

The beauty of the rent-seeking tenure quest, paid for by the government-backed non-dischargable loans of the young and foolish. If only this were real.

Maybe it is not genuine, and not an experiment, and not an opportunity for blackmail, and not even malicious.

Maybe it is a satire, presenting a commom critique of modern "neoclassical" economics, to wit, that the outlook of the economics profession is mercenary, amoral, and cold, indifferent to commonplace notions of virtue and honor and integrity, devoid of conscience. Judging from the fact that you presented this "offer' and there has been so much comment, the satire has succeeded. Next offer, selling Irish babies for food to resolve the Malthusian trap.

"... indifferent to commonplace notions of virtue and honor and integrity, devoid of conscience."

Economists would be a very laudable bunch if this were true!!

"The age of chivalry is gone. -- That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded"

I wrote that 223 years ago.

Whew! At first, I thought it was YOU making this offer and then as I read on, I realized it wasn't. But for about 20 seconds, my view of you dropped like a stone. As I said, whew!

I'm betting on "experiment". You want to find out how much of a factor name and reputation (in particular YOURS) are in publishing. Probably inspired by an article yesterday that showed many manuscripts resubmitted to the journals they were published in under different names were rejected as having "serious methodological flaws".

I'm guessing this is correct - and reviewers will be much harsher scrutinizing the work of an "unknown".


And do you think that anybody is foolish enough to think that the AER or QJE or even JEBO or Exprerimental Economics would publish a paper based on such an experiment? Not.

Rosser, You underestimate the foolishness of anybody. Foolish you are.


I edited JEBO for a decade, and while we would publish weirder papers than the other three, even we would not have published such dreck from such an unethical and problematic "field experiment." This is just a troll entry anyay, and anybody who thinks otherwise is foolish.

I add comment here:

Though, retrospectively, I think I would add this is a self-correcting system in the classical sense. If the erosion of credential value (as inevitably happens if this paper sale becomes larger and more pervasive) is large, the value of buying a paper will collapse. And if that collapses, people will regain faith in the value of credentials. And the rest is history (repeated).

So how do you feel about job applicants lying on Resumes about Work Exp.?

That's self-correcting too, and the eventual equilibrium is no employer trusting a Resume at all.

Signals add value because they reduce search costs and lead to better matches by reducing asymmetric information. Until people regain faith in the value of credentials (assuming that happens), there is a major loss. This is assuming, of course, that getting published in AER is a valid signal and is actually more likely to happen to good economists than bad ones.

the more publicity this gets, the more likely it will fail.
I guess Alex is helping that the market outcome does not prevail!

This reminds me of an Onion headline a while back, something to the effect of: "Economics major decides optimal allocation of resources is to self"

The comment in the EJMR thread is just brilliant:

"is there a discount if I buy it twice?

Congrats to "Economist b654".

That was a dumb comment. The good involved is discrete, and sold via a one period auction.

Exactly. We aren't talking about Psychology journals here.


And your comment is not only dumber but ignorant and lacking in humor. The reference to Bruno is to Bruno Frey, who had to publicly apologize to the JEP for self-plagiarism not too long ago.

Don't forget Bruno Frey cited one Barkeley Rosser in saying, if you plagiarize yourself it is not plagiarism.


You are wrong. I said that it was not as bad as conventional plagiarism, but that it was still unehtical and unprofessional and should be avoided. In fact, I published in JEBO the first of the 4 papers in the Titanic series that Bruno and crew got in trouble for. It was the one published in JEBO that was arguably (self)-plagiarized. Please get your facts straight before you shoot off your mouth on such an issue again.

So how is it different from all the prominent authors/think tanks/politicians hiring researchers/specialists/data analysts to work out the details for their publications?

I've seen a number of online paper mills making exactly this argument yet so far I've not seen many convincing rebuttals. There is certainly nothing wrong in the act of hiring other people to produce a work for you. It is only wrong if you sell it to someone who specifically (meaning, contractually and legally) asks for your "own work". The question shouldn't be about the guy who is selling his paper, it should be whether AER/QJE have the specific clauses in their submission policy that you can't hire help from others.

Wouldn't making the "real" author a co-author solve the whole problem? I mean, you review it and add your own touches, there, you've done exactly as much as advisers do on papers they put their names on, right?

My sentiments exactly. I didnt see this until after I posted pretty much the same comment.

For the record, despite the author's claim, it's not me.

If anyone wants to buy insurance to cover this purchase let me know.

Why not sell rights to co-authorship? In a way thats kind of like paying top dollar to go to an elite school, right?

That's actually a better idea than selling the paper itself. Co-authorship is often honorary anyways, so you could plausibly claim you did nothing wrong. How would you prove a co-author didn't contribute to the paper anyway.

I think it's a grad psychology student who wants to publish a paper.The econ students on econjobmarketrumors have been discussing this for a week, for example: "Sociology troll strikes back. Watch how these bids are soon published in some psych journal."

This may be a candidate for Caplan's Kaldor-Hicks assignmnet. Buying up all economic papers with the express purpose of preventing them from seeing the light of day may indeed produce significant positive externalities. Maybe I should start a not-for-profit to do just that.

If this is real, here's the core problem:
"I have a new paper that I consider my best work. For a variety of reasons, the marginal return professionally for this paper is very small for me."

Why is there no professional incentive to put out your best work?

For a variety of reasons, obviously.

Seriously, though, this is not a core problem. It is easy to imagine plausible scenarios.

Maybe the author is fed up with economics and wants to quit and follow his/her dream of opening a pancake restaurant, or backpacking through South America, or whatever.

Maybe he/she just got fired due to a scandal, having no career future despite the quality of the work.

Maybe his/her spouse is also an economist, and this paper will disprove her/his life's work.

correction: I should have asked "Why is there very small professional incentive to put out your best work?"

A possible answer that occurs to me straightaway: Suppose you have a series of mathematical machinations published in top journals that have never and will never yield any operational insights; what is the value of another mathematical machination published in a top journal that will never yield any operational insights?

Well then his career would still be better than yours.

Man-baby: The question remains an open one; the future is uncertain and as I plan to work at least another decade, the payoff of my current stock of publications and those forthcoming remain unknown and unknowable at present. Time will tell whether my academic accomplishments are of greater or smaller import than the clever manipulators of non-operational lemma-laden manuscripts. Time will tell, yes, but IMO the odds in the long-run are in my favor

I'm interested in what mechanisms you might set up to prevent future blackmail. A number of ideas present themselves:
-Have various third parties make accusations, thus reducing the credibility people would tend to attach to any such claim. Might have legal difficulties, though, in particular libel threats.
-Obliterate the evidence that it was written by the actual author. But how would the buyer guarantee that this had been done? Considering the sums involved, destroying the computer upon which it was written would be a relatively small transactions cost, but you'd also have to make certain there were no memory sticks, CDs, or online files storing it either. This would seem far harder, if not impossible.
-Create a massive disincentive for the seller to go public, for example by having a third party hold onto a large sum of money in trust, to be returned to the buyer if the transaction becomes public knowledge. However, this raises the question of what the seller is supposed to gain from the transaction. Suppose the sale is for $50k, and $35k of that is held in trust; add in a bribe for the third party, and the seller really doesn't gain that much.
-Make the payment over time; that is, say, make the payment $2500 per annum, adjusted for inflation, in perpetuity. This falls apart if there is a severe discrepancy between the annual blackmail value of a reveal and between the agreed price. Perhaps a way of averting this would be to set the price at a set percentage of the buyer's earnings, so every year they pay the seller 5% (say) of their total income.

Aside from this, RAstudent's idea of merely selling the co-authorship sounds like a stable arrangement.

I do not understand how an AER is worth $50k. Is it because they would become more employable with this added credential? Can someone explain this?

Exactly. An AER paper would help you get tenure or tenure at a better place. In terms of lifetime income, it could be worth a lot more than 50k

I am a journal editor and I'll publish it for $35K.


I really hope that the paper is on sealed bid auctions amongst informed bidders in ethically questionable circumstances with the possibility of reputational loss.

It was not unknown for mathematicans to do this in previous centuries. If memory serves me right L'Hopitals Rule was discovered by one of the Bernoulli family.

If this IS a real offer, it's value to me is negative. The seller says it is worth little to him/her, but is his/her "best" work. This indicates that the authors whole line of work is probably, like so many things in "top" journals, mathematical manipulation without the remotest chance of leading to operational propositions.

Even if it is not useful in the real world, work that is worthy of being published in a top journal would still likely help your career.

And it is not specified why the work is not worth much to the seller. There could be any number of reasons relating to their personal situation, rather than the value of the work itself.

All this is speculation; these matters are unknown and unknowable. My speculations were to make a point that there are many mathematical machinations published in "top journals" as "economic theory" that have no operational connection to the real world and hence are useless in explaining anything. Yes it is probably true that career advancement might be achieve via publication of mathematical machination published in a "top journal" as "economic theory"; but this is just another indication of inherent weakness in the health of the economics profession writ large, IMO.

You keep forgetting that no one cares about your opinion.

Man-baby: There is no evidence to support your bald-faced ad hominem.

Alternate reaction:

Offer him threepence, that he must needs make gain from what he knows...

This may be "unethical" but it does have good side-effects. First, it means that publication in the major journals will be discounted by the probability that it is not the author's own work. Second, since publication in lesser journals is less likely to be fraudulent it will count for relatively more. Third, this will tend to break the control of the top brass over the profession because much of it comes through control of the major journals. Keeps looking better and better to me!

The paper will be written analyzing the data responding to this ad. Ownership of the above e-mail address will transfer upon payment, and will be sufficient to prove that the "owner" was in fact the person who posted the original ad. The paper will be written as if no transaction took place.

Clearly a fake.
- the marginal return professionally from an AER is never small. Even if it's not going to get the author tenure, a promotion or a large salary increase, it generates status, respect, and professional prestige. The thrill of being respected by one's peers *never ever* goes away.
- It's extremely difficult to publish in a top 5 journal - see . How many applied micro (labour/public finance) people can be certain of a 1/3 shot at an AER for a single-authored paper? How many of these actually need the money that they'd get from this? Zero.
- No one does their best work when they're so well established professionally that they no longer care about having an AER. Most of us do it before 40.

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