Jan 17, 2012

Krugman on the Econoblogosphere

So, the starting point for me, when thinking about how economics works as a discipline, is to realize that the traditional model of submit, get refereed, publish, and then people will read your work broke down a long time ago. In fact, it had more or less fallen apart by the early 80s.Even then, nobody at a top school learned stuff by reading the journals; it was all working papers, with the journals serving as tombstones. 
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And journal publication? Well, tenure committees needed that, but it was so slow relative to the pace of ongoing work that it no longer acted as an information conduit. I presented my paper on target zones at a 1988 conference; by the time it was formally published, in 1991, I had to add a section on the subsequent literature, because there were around 150 derivative papers already out there. 
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So now we have rapid-fire exchange via blogs and online working papers — and I think it’s all good. Work circulates even faster than it did then, there are quick exchanges that can advance understanding, and while it’s still hard to break in, connections aren’t as important as they once were and the system is much more open. 
But, you say, doesn’t this allow a lot of really bad economics to circulate? Yes, but is it really any worse than it used to be? As I’ve tried to explain, the notion of journals as gatekeepers was largely fictional even 25 years ago. And I have a somewhat jaundiced view of how the whole refereeing/publication system has ever worked; all too often, it seems to act as a way for entrenched doctrines to blockade new ideas, or at least to keep people with new ideas from getting tenure at a good school. 
The major problem I see now is the disconnect between promotion and the real nature of intellectual discourse in the Internet age. But the quality of the discussion, it seems to me, is if anything higher than it was in the good old days.
That is from this awesome piece by Krugman. As positive as he is about econ-blogs, he underestimates their benefits. For economists living in developing countries blogs are a great source of information about the current debates. Usually blogs link to the most recent working papers. Blogs give the opportunity to scholars working in developing countries to reduce the knowledge gap. In this regard however I have two questions: (1) Why other scholars do not blog as much as economists do? and (2) Why some regions of the world are more into blogs than others. I think Latin America lags behind. Regarding the first question, may be other scholars, anthropologists, for example, are more resistant to change. Blogging requires taking risks -- spending time in something that might not bring a return [it has brought great returns to me!!!]. May be scholars in other disciplines are more risk averse than economists are. I still don't have a good theory for (2). [All the scholars in the developing world should blog!!!]

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