How to succeed as an academic economist

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A blog par­tic­i­pant (Lyon­wiss) recent­ly made a com­ment about the gen­er­al state of aca­d­e­m­ic eco­nom­ics that was so “spot on” I want­ed to share it more wide­ly. I have of course fol­lowed the exact oppo­site of the con­ven­tion­al route to pub­lish­ing suc­cess that Lyon­wiss out­lines here–and I’ve encoun­tered the neg­a­tive con­se­quences he notes, of rejec­tion by neo­clas­si­cal ref­er­ees and edi­tors.

Here is Lyon­wis­s’s fool­proof for­mu­la for pub­lish­ing suc­cess in aca­d­e­m­ic eco­nom­ics:

Aca­d­e­mics wants to write research papers and have them pub­lished. Uni­ver­si­ty bureau­cra­cies are not only bean coun­ters, they are also paper coun­ters. Pro­mo­tion depends on the num­ber of papers pub­lished. Pub­lish­ing papers is not the same thing as actu­al­ly doing research.

Hav­ing read far more  eco­nom­ic papers that I care to admit, I have worked out the “secret” for­mu­la for achiev­ing a volu­mi­nous pub­li­ca­tion record in the sub­ject. The “recipe” for pub­li­ca­tion suc­cess is as fol­lows.

Step 1: Cite the work of as many poten­tial ref­er­ees to your paper as pos­si­ble, as this will soothe their egos and shows that you are one of them. Make sure that your paper is seen as mere­ly an exten­sion of the work of one of the gurus and you are not going to “rock the boat”, chal­leng­ing the estab­lish­ment.

Step 2: For the bulk of your paper, bam­boo­zle your readers/referees with a com­pli­cat­ed mod­el or argu­ment, mak­ing any assump­tions you need (how­ev­er unre­al­is­tic), because Mil­ton Fried­man has already cov­ered you with his essay on “the method­ol­o­gy of pos­i­tive eco­nom­ics”. If you have enough com­plex­i­ty in math­e­mat­ics or argu­ment, it is like­ly that the reader/referee will not both­er to fol­low the heart of your paper in detail.

Step 3: It is vital­ly impor­tant that in your con­clu­sions that you only make mod­est claims in sup­port­ing the sta­tus quo, such as eg the evi­dence or the mod­el lends sup­port to the effi­cient mar­ket hypoth­e­sis or glob­al­iza­tion or what­ev­er. Quite often, your con­clu­sions do not have to fol­low from what you did in Step 2. Any strong con­clu­sions, par­tic­u­lar­ly when chal­leng­ing the sta­tus quo, will lead a much clos­er scruti­ny of your paper by the ref­er­ee, who is tak­ing a career risk in accept­ing your paper. As the addi­tion­al effort is not per­son­al­ly reward­ed, the eco­nom­i­cal­ly ratio­nal action for the ref­er­ee is to sim­ply reject the paper.

This “recipe” leads to career suc­cess for many, as there are thou­sands of papers pub­lished by many eco­nom­ic pro­fes­sors who have made lit­tle dif­fer­ence to eco­nom­ics in any way which mat­ters. The “Egg and Krug” paper is good exam­ple of the “recipe” in action. Read­ing between the lines in some of what Krug­man wrote, I sug­gest that he appears to admit to play­ing such a game.

Aca­d­e­m­ic col­lu­sion in part­ly caus­ing the glob­al finan­cial cri­sis has been doc­u­ment­ed in the “Inside Job”, which won the recent Oscar for best doc­u­men­tary. Noth­ing real­ly sur­pris­ing there, but worth see­ing nev­er­the­less. The fraud involv­ing acad­e­mia is prob­a­bly quite exten­sive, e.g. the recent res­ig­na­tion of Gut­ten­berg, the Ger­man for­eign min­is­ter. Full marks to Steve for fight­ing such an aca­d­e­m­ic fraud.

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About Steve Keen

I am Professor of Economics and Head of Economics, History and Politics at Kingston University London, and a long time critic of conventional economic thought. As well as attacking mainstream thought in Debunking Economics, I am also developing an alternative dynamic approach to economic modelling. The key issue I am tackling here is the prospect for a debt-deflation on the back of the enormous private debts accumulated globally, and our very low rate of inflation.