Correcting a few myths about RePEc

March 16, 2016

RePEc has been put to many uses on the Internet, so it is natural that people are sometimes confused about what it does or really is. With this post, we correct some of the myths we have seen or heard about RePEc.

RePEc is a spider

No. A web spider visits every website and analyses what it finds there. This is what the large search engines like Google, Yahoo, Baidu and Bing do. RePEc only visits pre-specified locations on the Internet that participating providers have announced to RePEc. There, they have made available files that describe their publications, following instructions. This means that it is not sufficient to put a pdf file on a web page to have it appear in RePEc. It needs to be indexed by a publisher (which may be a university department, a research center, a policy institution or a commercial publisher, for example). If that is not possible, one may upload the pdf at the Munich Personal RePEc Archive (MPRA).

RePEc is biased against X and Y

RePEc welcomes all content, as long as it is related to economics and finance. If some content is not appearing, it is because the responsible publisher has not made the small effort to participate. If some field is underrepresented, it is not coming from a decision that RePEc would have taken. Quite to the contrary, we have been reaching out to non-mainstream fields of economics as they can get much broader exposure through RePEc, a fact we have even documented.

RePEc privileges the big players

Anybody can be on RePEc. Any institution that publishes economic research can have its output listed on RePEc, whether big or small. In fact, democratization of dissemination of research, both for publishers and readers, is at the heart of RePEc’s mission. It is true that almost all the big players participate in RePEc by contributing their material, and many small ones do, too. Cost should not be a detriment to participation, as everything is free on RePEc, both for contributing to it and for using it.

RePEc is all about rankings

RePEc primary goal is the wide dissemination of economic research. Rankings have been a tool to get to this, but the main purpose is to index as much as possible of the economic literature and provide tools for interested parties to search, browse or be alerted about what they want to know. Rankings have proven to be an excellent means to provide the right incentives for this. And, no, RePEc does not stand for “Reputation Economics” but rather “Research Papers in Economics.”

Why can’t RePEc staff do X?

Because there is no staff! RePEc has no income, and must thus rely entirely on volunteer work. RePEc is thus pretty much based on self-help: authors maintain their profiles themselves and publishers do the legwork to index their output. If you have a suggestion, we of course welcome it, even more if you can implement it yourself. Or look for volunteer opportunities.

The St. Louis Fed owns RePEc

No! RePEc is basically in the public domain. Anybody can use the data collected by RePEc to start a service. Examples are EconPapers, IDEAS, and NEP. More can be found on the RePEc website. The St. Louis Fed hosts several of those services, such as IDEAS and the RePEc Author Service, meaning it provides the server and the access to the Internet for them, but it does not mean it is owning or controlling them.

RePEc in February 2016

March 3, 2016

February is short, yet we got plenty of new archives joining RePEc: University of Krakow, Universidad Autónoma Gabriel René Moreno, Fatih Üniversitesi, Universidad de Oviedo,, FLACSO, University of South Africa, University of Tuzla, Asian Growth Research Institute, Libera Università Maria Ss. Assunta (LUMSA), Chamber of Financial Auditors of Romania. We counted Also, we now have an API for CitEc, our citation analysis project.

Finally, here are some milestones we have reached:
5,000,000 cumulative downloads through NEP
3,000 Twitter followers for NEP reports.

RePEc in January 2016

February 4, 2016

The new year is off to a good start: RePEc now indexes over 2 million works. Well at least according to IDEAS, which is more lenient with metadata errors than EconPapers, that will very soon get there. Also, we have launched a directory of economists on Twitter. Submissions are invited by tweeting one’s RePEc Short-ID to @RePEc_signup. Also, CitEc went through a site redesign. We welcomed the State Bank of Pakistan and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences as new RePEc participants. Finally, we counted 416,866 file downloads and 1,848,801 abstract views in the last month.

And here are the milestones we reached:

2000000 items indexed in RePEc
1400000 items indexed with an abstract
100000 NEP tweets

Twitter, Economics, and RePEc

January 29, 2016

Economists have been slow to embrace social media for professional use. We are used to write long papers, go a through extremely lengthly review process, and hesitate to take categorical positions (“it depends”). The quick and fleeting nature of social media does not seem to be a natural environment for economists. Yet, blogs have been active for many years with contributions that have helped discuss, explain and form policy. Some have provided platforms for research that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. And some have highlighted research that had flaws.

Social media is huge, and it can be a challenge for somebody who is interested in the economic discourse to find what is worthwhile to follow. Also, it is not obvious to find what social media had to say about a particular topic, especially if one wants to limit oneself to what “true” economists have to say. There is unfortunately a lot of noise in the economic debate, as almost everyone has a opinion that is not often backed by research.

RePEc has already tried to capture what is happening in the economic blogosphere. EconAcademics is a website that aggregates the discussion of economic research while monitoring about 1000 blogs. The idea here is to find those blog posts that link to research indexed on RePEc, on the presumption that they discuss research or use research to make a point. This is in contrast to a lot of the discussion of economics that very quickly veers into politics with little backing from actual research. EconAcademics thus makes those blogs better known that are more “seriously” into economics. The site can also be used to find interesting material for the classroom or simply to broaden once interests. We hoped also that this would encourage more discussions in the comment sections of those blogs. Anecdotally, this does not seem to have happened. Economists seem too busy to engage in any significant way in such discussions, with few exceptions. This is especially true when it comes to commenting papers. Blogs have not become a medium where a discussion can drag on for days (although it could have), as a careful reading of the papers would require.

What about Twitter? It would seem that the instantaneous nature of Twitter, as well as the 140 character limit of a tweet, would make it even more difficult to have serious and thoughtful discussions about research. It appears that economists recently have been warming up to the idea, and many prominent ones have joined Twitter and contribute thoughts on policy and current research. The difference with blogs is that Twitter somehow engages more discussion, and it also prompts interactions between people who would never have interacted otherwise: it makes everyone accessible. That said, one can also simply be lurking without intervening and learn from the discussion or the alerts. As we find from analyzing traffic to RePEc, Twitter can drive substantial readership to some papers. Another example is the previous post on this blog, that got substantial readership, almost all through Twitter.

How can RePEc help here? There are two ways. The first is that every new working paper that is announced through the NEP mailing lists is now also disseminated through Twitter (see for a list of all the available feeds one can follow). This has been in place for close to a year and has so far gathered a following of about 3000 users with a steady flow of further dissemination through retweets.

The second is that it is now possible for authors to add their Twitter account to their IDEAS author profile, thereby making their Twitter time line easier to find. All they need to do is to tweet their RePEc Short-ID to @RePEc_signup. This allows also to compile a list of economists present on Twitter, which we hope will grow quickly.

Economic policy is very much in the public sphere. Economists should embrace social media to steer discussions in the right direction, that is, in a way that is backed up by serious research. Blogs and now Twitter can be good tools for this.

“The Closed Marketplace of Economic Ideas,” a Rebuttal

January 8, 2016

In a Project Syndicate column, Federico Fubini makes the argument that the intellectual leaders in economics from ten years ago are still the leaders of today, and this despite the fact that we have had a financial crisis that was not predicted by the profession. I do not agree with this column on several fronts. As the argument was made using RePEc data, I feel obligated to set the record straight.

One may discuss whether the economics profession has really not seen the crisis coming. But even if this crisis was unforeseen, it is wrong to argue on principle that the best economists from ten years ago should not be considered to be the best today. Indeed, it is not the case that the whole profession is focussed on predicting financial or economic crises. Economics has much more to offer, just see the list of recent Nobel Prize winners or the large variety of fields covered by NEP, RePEc’s research alert service. Most of those fields have nothing to do with crises. For example, the leaders in auction theory from ten years ago are likely to be leaders now, the same applies to development economics, empirical labor economics, or environmental economics. Ten years is short in the evolution of scientists.

But beyond this mischaracterization of what the economics profession does, there is the issue with the use of the data to prove the point. Fubini uses the ranking of economists provided by IDEAS/RePEc, taking the December 2006 and the September 2015 rankings. But before looking at them, one has to understand what they measure. They are an aggregation of 23 (2006) or 35 (2015) criteria, almost all of which pertain to the lifetime output of the economists. Those that are not are four looking at readership statistics for the last months, and in the recent rankings six criteria discounting citations by their age. Basically, the accumulated research and citations that were considered in 2006 are also considered in 2015. There is obviously going to be high persistence among the best economists. And keep in mind that critiquing someone will earn him a citation.

What you want to do is using two datasets that do not overlap, one that considers publications until 2006, and one since that year. One can get very close by using another ranking, the one that considers only the publications from the last 10 years. In the following I will use the one that was published today and pertains to December 2015. We have thus only one year of overlap in the publication dates. And the results look quite different (I did this in a couple of hours, I cannot vouch the numbers are totally correct).

Incumbency rate by cohort
Cohort Fubini Better
Top 10 90% 70%
Top 20 95% 75%
Top 50 98% 72%
Top 100 94% 61%
Top 200 65% 42%

The rest of the arguments in the Fubini column also change quite a bit once you look at better data.

You must not be an economist. In fact, Lucas and Fama both moved up in the RePEc rankings during the period I examined, from 30 to nine and from 23 to 17, respectively. And the persistence at the top is striking across the board. Among the top ten economists in September 2015, six were already there in December 2006, and another two were ranked 11 and 13.

Lucas (Robert E. Jr.) and Fama actually dropped, Lucas from 30 to 33, Fama from 23 to … not being ranked in the top 10%. And in the top ten for December 2015, only three where there in 2006, another two ranked 11 and 13 in 2006 (the same).

Mobility in the RePEc rankings remains subdued even after widening the sample. For example, of the top 100 economists in September 2015, only 14 were absent from the much wider top 5% in 2006, and only two others had advanced more than 200 spots over the previous decade. Among those recently ranked from 101 to 200, just 24 were not in the top 5% in 2006, and only ten others had moved up by more than 200 places. The rate of renewal among the 200 most influential economists was as low as 25% – and just 16% among the top 100 – during a decade in which the explanatory power of prevailing economic theory had been found severely wanting.

Again with better data, this looks different. From the 2015 top 100, 41 were absent from the top 5% in 2006. Nine advanced more than 200 spots. For 101 to 200, 45 were not in the top 5%, and seven moved up more than 200 spots. Using Fubini’s definitions, the renewal rate is thus 51% in the top 200 and 50% in the top 100. Hardly a stagnation.

In the rankings of economists, by contrast, criteria such as gender or geographic origin confirm the overall inertia. Only four women made the RePEc top 200 in September 2015, compared to three in December 2006, and two were included on both lists. Likewise, emerging countries – which represent more than 90% of the world’s population, three-quarters of global GDP growth over the last decade, and nearly half of total income in current dollar terms – supplied just 11 of the top 200 economists in September 2015, up from ten in December 2006. And ten of those 11 – three Iranians, four Indians, two Turks, and one Chinese – have lived and worked in the US or the United Kingdom since their student days.

With better data, this changes as well. There are now seven women. Still too few, though. There are 18 economists from emerging countries: two Turks, one Egyptian, seven Indians, two Iranians, two Pakistani, one from Cameroun, two Chinese, one Bangladeshi. Eight of them live in an emerging economy.

I’ll let the reader judge whether there is still a “closed market place for ideas in economics.” But the picture certainly looks different from what Fubini seems to imply.

RePEc in December 2015, and a look back at 2015

January 7, 2016

The year ended on a calm note, as usual. Still we added a few participating institutions: Puey Ungphakorn Institute for Economic Research, Associazione Italiana per la Storia dell’Economia Politica, University of Essex (III), International University College of Turin, International Conference on Economic Sciences and Business Administration, Academy of Municipal Administration. For the RePEc services that participate in the statistics, we counted 416,271 file downloads and 2,093,294 abstract views in December 2015. Finally, NEP has a new report, NEP-PAY (Payment Systems and Financial Technologies). Over the past month, we reached the following milestones:

1800000 listed items available online
1200000 listed articles
700000 listed working papers
600000 listed working papers available online
7000 ranked institutions

Now looking back at 2015: close to 190,000 items were added, in part through the addition of 77 new participating archives. RePEc is now covering, among others, 240 more working paper series and 260 more journals. Several services are running on new hardware, in particular EconPapers and the RePEc Author Service. We have introduced an API. CitEc now offers citation alerts by economists. The RePEc Biblio accepts user suggestions. We counted 5,765,579 downloads and 23,781,746 abstract views over the past year.

RePEc Author Service getting upgraded

December 30, 2015

The RePEc Author Service is currently unavailable due to scheduled downtime. We are moving it to new hardware. The process should not take more than a few hours. Updates will be provided here.

Update: The service is back online. If you notice something amiss, please notify the administrator at this email address.


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