EJMR Is “Refreshing” ?!?@/!?

One consequence from my rant on peer review from a few weeks ago was that I heard from some esteemed colleagues who simply could not believe that I found Economics Job Market Rumors to be a refreshing read. I think they felt that I had either very poor reading habits or had totally lost it.

I went to my Harvard office this morning for the first time in weeks and after carefully locking the door, turning out all the lights, and opening the Tor browser to hide my web surfing habits, I dared click onto the Economics Job Market Rumors forum. And what do I find? A post that illustrates why I find the site refreshing indeed. The post was the (fake) abstract for a forthcoming paper entitled “The Very Short-Run Health Effects of Pokemon Go: Evidence From GPS Data,” and the abstract reads as follows:

We estimate whether walking burns calories and causes individuals to lose weight. Using Pokemon Go as an instrument for miles walked, we find that exercise reduces one’s body mass index. The effects are largest for individuals who weigh the most in the baseline and for Hispanics. Initial estimates indicate that one hour of Pokemon Go will increase future income by $3,652 per year.

The abstract perfectly encapsulates the sterility and triviality of the cute-onomics that has overwhelmed the empirical side of the economics profession, down to the way its title “Blah Blah Blah: Evidence from Blah Blah Blah” reflects the papers that now get published in top journals. Look at the current issue of the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, where 6 of the 10 papers religiously follow the template.  (Thank you, you know who, for pointing this out to me months ago). I am certain that the Pokemon Go natural experiment will provide very precise estimates of a totally irrelevant economic question.

Some advice to the young bro or broette who came up with this classic. Write four or five such abstracts. Do what your elders do–hire an army of RAs to collect the data that would enable you to turn yourself into a reg monkey. And write the papers. You’ll be a shoo-in for Clark medal in a few years.

A Rant on Peer Review

I have a few pet peeves. One of them is how “peer review” is perceived by far too many people as the gold standard certification of scientific authority. Any academic who’s been through the peer review process many times (as I have) knows that the process is full of potholes and is sometimes subverted by unethical behavior on the part of editors and reviewers.

The reason I bring this up is because of a brewing scandal in my own discipline, economics. There has been online discussion about this for over a month, but I’ve delayed this post both because I’ve been traveling too much and because I was hoping for a resolution before I wrote anything down. But as a junior economist recently told me: “The relative silence by senior economists regarding the editorial handling of this paper has been deafening.” So here it goes.

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