The Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis is hosting a conference on the challenges of economic information and data. The event will take place September 29 and 30, 2014, and will feature Hal Varian (Chief economist, Google) and Neil Fantom (Open Data manager, the World Bank). Submissions are invited until July 9, 2014. The conference’s website is here
I just learned about a new journal with a new concept that sounds interesting: Royal Society Open Science. It has a review process and will publish all articles which are scientifically sound, leaving judgement of importance and impact to the reader.
This seems apposite because printing costs and distribution costs are practically absent in the Internet age. So there is no big point in rationing publication space (that is not scarce anymore) by “importance” or “impact”.
Unfortunately this journal does not cover economics.
Likely the most frequent request RePEc is getting is an author who wants us to add some publications to the database and wonders why our “spider” has not picked them up. The second most frequent is a publisher wondering why RePEc is neglecting to disseminate its output. The problem is that this is not at all the way RePEc functions. This short post provides the basics of how the metadata (the data describing the research documents) gets into RePEc.
The principle is that metadata comes directly from the providers. By providers we mean commercial publishers for their books and journals, or university departments for their working papers, or research centers for their papers, or policy institutions for their various publications. Thus, RePEc does not have a spider that surfs the entire Internet and tries to infer what it is that it stumbles upon. Rather, RePEc knows exactly where to look for the information that has been formatted in a way to optimize its usefulness. And if an author finds some publications are missing, it is either because the provider is not (yet) participating in RePEc, in which case it can follow these instructions, or because the provider has incomplete data, in which case a technical contact is listed on the RePEc page of the relevant journal or series and can help.
Why is RePEc data collection organized in such a way? We want RePEc to be free for all, so it needs to be set up in a way that does not generate costs. Thus, we put the burden of indexing on those who benefit the most from it, the providers. And close to 1700 are willing to do so. Any remaining central duties are picked up by the RePEc team.
RePEc offers various tools to keep abreast of latest research developments in economics. Keep in mind that due to the unusually long refereeing and publication process in this field, following what is coming out in journals is often not the best way to keep current. The research frontier is advancing with working papers, and this is why RePEc puts a special focus on those. Note that all resources below are free, as always for RePEc services.
NEP (New Economics Papers) offers email lists and RSS feeds that disseminate approximately every week the latest online working papers across over 90 fields. Field-relevance is determined by volunteer editors who pick the appropriate papers among all working papers newly listed on RePEc during the previous week. Note that if you think a topic is not appropriately covered, you can volunteer as editor of a new report.
MyIDEAS allows you to follow new additions to JEL codes, author profiles, series and journals. This is done through the creation of an account on the IDEAS website. Once logged in, you can add the relevant items while navigating the site.
EconPapers allows to limit the search results to documents added recently to RePEc. Use the “Modified last” selection at the bottom left of the search form. One can also limit the list of items by JEL code and recency here.
EconAcademics follows the latest discussion of research on the blogosphere. While it does not necessarily mean this is the most recent research, it is often the case.
A graduating economics PhD or doctoral student who is looking for a job in academia or policy circles is typically doing so with a “job market paper.” The JMP is the one that many recommendation letters from faculty focus on, it is the one that is mostly talked about in job interviews, and it is presented during campus visits. It is thus fair to say that the JMP is the best this student has done so far, and a lot of effort goes into this paper. Shouldn’t this work then be more widely disseminated than a few recruiting committees?
We are thus introducing the Job Market Paper archive on RePEc. Job candidates can upload their paper, which gets the standards treatment of any new working paper in RePEc: it gets listed on the many services using RePEc data, including the websites EconPapers and IDEAS, as well as the email notification service NEP. In addition, the papers are hosted by a RePEc server for posterity. This is important, as job market candidates tend to find jobs and often move their web page as a consequence, resulting in broken links. Finally, the presence of the papers in this series clearly identifies the author as a new economist one may want to look at for a hire. Recruiters can simply follow what is new in this archive.
As expected, certain restrictions apply. To learn more, see here.
This is the usual story: Once a free or reasonably priced journal is successful, it is bought, prices are raised, and access restricted. The lure of money is too tempting.
The most recent case concerns the BEPress journals that had pioneered open access in economics (well, actually quasi-open access, but this was acceptable). Aaron Edlin has sold them to DeGruyter, and quasi open access turned into gated access. The author’s rights are disregarded, of course.
We see here that well-defined property rights might bring about economic inefficiency: If a journal can be sold, it will be sold and turned into a goldmine, even if this is inefficient from an economic point of view. This can never happen to RePEc, as it is not owned by anybody. Under the presumption that open access is economically more efficient than gated access, ill defined property rights contribute to efficiency.
As an author make sure that you publish in a journal that cannot be sold, or is unlikely to be sold. Perhaps the existing free journal software should carry a clause that free use is permitted only for open access journals, and other uses are permitted only on paying a stiff fee. This would make credible to the authors that their work remains accessible and would solve the problem even with well-defined property rights, but this is unlikely to happen.
This letter calls attention a recent trend in economics publishing that seems to have slipped under the radar: large increases in submissions rates across a wide range of economics journals and steeply declining acceptance rates as a consequence. It is argued that this is bad for scholarly communication, bad for economics as a science, and imposes significant and wasteful costs on editors, referees. authors. and especially young people trying to establish themselves in the profession. It is further argued that the new “Big Deal” business model used by commercial publishers is primarily responsible for this situation. Finally it is argued that this presents a compelling reason to take advantage of new technologies to take control of certifying and distributing research away from commercial publishers and return it to scholarly community.
According to Conley,
The purpose of academic journals is to facilitate scholarly communication, filter for errors, and maintain the record of scientific advance.
This is, in my opinion, an idealized conception that does not reflect the purpose of economic journals anymore. For economic research, the current economic journals are largely redundant. Conley himself notes this:
I seldom actually read journals any more. I research topics using Google Scholar, RePEc, SSRN, and so on. It is inconvenient to sign up with publishers to get tables of contents emailed to me or to login to my university’s library web portal to search a journal issue by issue. I find it adds very little value over a more general search in any event. In short, certification remains important to help people gain tenure and promotion and to get a sense of the quality and centrality of individual scholars. However, neither certification by a journal, nor the collection of similar papers within the bound or even electronic pages of a specific journal has very much meaning to me when I am trying to understand where the debate in a subfield is at any given moment. As a result, I was beginning to come to the conclusion that while they are irritating, commercial publishers are “mostly harmless” to the research enterprise itself as publishing itself is becoming mostly irrelevant.
This coincides with my own observation: researchers don’t need journals. The main purpose of the journals is currently to ease the work of hiring committees. People publish in order to get a job. The wish to communicate new findings appears secondary in most cases.
Journals could serve worthier aims, however: they are needed by students, college teachers, and others who would like to obtain reliable information but can not as easily separate the wheat from the chaff as active researchers can.
The important point Conley is making is, however, that the current journal system, although largely irrelevant for research, is nevertheless
bad for scholarly communication, bad for economics as a science, and imposes significant and wasteful costs on editors, referees. authors. and especially young people trying to establish themselves in the profession.
I fear, however, that John Conley’s suggestion to increase the number of journals would not improve the situation very much. As long as hiring committees use the reputation of journals, rather than the reputation of individuals, a useful system of “communication, filter for errors, and maintain the record of scientific advance” is practically blocked.
What can be done besides increasing the number of journals? Here some further suggestions.
1. Hiring committees can restrict the number of papers to be considered for judging an applicant to, say, three and disregard all other writings. This may help to reduce the number of publications and thereby reduce the need for further journals; it would also tilt the quality-quantity trade-off in favor of quality. (I think this has been a practice in Berkeley.)
2. Hiring committees that feel incompetent to judge the substantive quality of a contribution and have to resort to statistics of some sort may turn to citation counts of individual authors, as obtainable through Google Scholar, Web of Science, or RePEc). This is a better solution than the the current practice of relying on the prestige of journals and would take account of the fact that many papers in top journals are not so good, and medium-quality journals publish excellent articles.