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From the link to Eschaton:

the realization that my new sucky blog would probably have more influence on the world than any academic work I was likely to do

One of the most depressing things I ever saw was the list of my citation counts for articles on which I had slaved for years and managed to publish in top journals...

Stephen: Yep. and I bet mine is worse than yours.

What was Stigler's(?) estimate of the average number of times a journal article is read? 1.5?

Almost none of the economists who read and even sometimes respond to my blog posts would ever have read me otherwise. And for non-economists, you can drop the "almost".

And that also works for the big names too, though less so. I had read Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong before, obviously. But I read a massive amount more of them now.

Or do what deLong does and post your assignments and reading lists to your blog. Then you are running your class and blogging and those of use way to far out of school to want to think about it can find out "what the kids are reading today".

Chris: but it would make me feel so inadequate. My readings and assignments are so boring in comparison. "Read the text".

But you can watch me live, Friday mornings 9.00-11.30 http://cutv.carleton.ca/support-and-services/webcast

My neighbour just sent me this link to a sociological paper on mediocrity:


It attempts to explain why people choose low quality/low effort as opposed to high quality/high effort. I was thinking of blogging about it but then I'd have had to work through the model, so I figured I'd just stick with my usual mediocre blogging style.

"But you can watch me live, Friday mornings 9.00-11.30 http://cutv.carleton.ca/support-and-services/webcast"

What kind of topics do you cover on this channel? Is it general interest, like this blog, or is it stuff more for students in your class?

Frances: I just skimmed the abstract of that paper. It sounds wrong, at first glance. Why don't they all just promise mediocre quality, and deliver it? maybe I should be a high quality scientist and actually read the paper, to see if they really do derive a counter-intuitive result. Nah, that would violate the norm. Plus, they are sociologists, which violates another norm ;-)

Ian: it's just regular intro economics for the students. Demand and supply.

Agree with the crack comment. When I decide to care about my blog/twitter numbers, I can get very obsessed.

The blog is good for me though, because I tend to be a perfectionist on published documents and presentations (or lectures when I was an academic). It has given me more confidence to just write, hit post, and realize that most people ignore the minor imperfections, focus on the big idea, and join in the discussion.

Wendy: agreed (except I never was a perfectionist, though that makes the argument even stronger).

When I read academic articles now, I think "Oh God, this would never work as a blog post. I would re-write it like this...and cut out all that prissy verbal crap". I find them just more annoying to read.

So Nick,

Do you think blogging and tweeting could change academic writing. Critiques I get (as a recovering academic) from the business community / my bosses on my work is to get to the point faster, start with conclusions, "we don't need to know all your thinking or evidence, one example will do." These are all probably traits of a good blog post.


Nick, please don't stop blogging. I did your ECON 1000 course over the internet in the summer of 2008 and my life has been changed forever. Now I work for a Member of Parliament and on occasion the random lesson-type posts you make have helped me to inform the MP's policy decisions.

Don't you see how you are blogging for the good of the country?

Frances, thanks for the link to the paper by the Italians. It's hilarious. Anybody who has an interest in Italian culture and society will enjoy it.

Nick, your question is answered at some length starting on page 11. The answer is basically that Italy is surrounded by a world that has higher standards, and the lip service to excellence is part of mechanism for coping with this gap.

Personally, I think you economists should be very grateful for Paul Krugman's example. He has convinced thousands, perhaps millions, through his column and blog that training in economics is highly relevant to most policy debates. Being an economist is a lot more sexy than it used to be! (He has also set a very high standard that would be intimidating to me.) His blog, unlike the column, allows one to click through to the primary sources, and has become a kind of continuing education in contemporary macro.

Back in the 90s I had a conversation with the New York art critic Hilton Kramer. He said to me that when he was younger, he could count on all of his students having read Edmund Wilson in the New Yorker, but that by the 80s it was Pauline Kael, the movie critic. I would have never guessed that a decade later it would be the public diary of an economist!

(By the way, you guys need to learn how to use the <a> html tags so you can make your links clickable!)

In some sense it reminds me of the internet when it first came out. Remember when there was all this worry about internet addiction in the mid 90s, college students staying up for days searching through this vast and fascinating new thing. But you don't hear much about it now at least in general, but now there are related things like Facebook addiction and blog addiction.

But it seems over time most people learn to use these things more sensibly, and the novelty starts to ware off. I had 70 posts my first nine months, 33 the next year, and just 10 so far this year (but probably still too many comments). But basically over time I think most people, or at least professional economists, will get to the neighborhood of the optimal amount.

But the optimal amount is pretty big for a lot of people. Writing a paper tends to be very narrow, very specialized. Policy and broader understanding of the economy is usually far broader and more dependent on intuition rather than mechanics. So it's really valuable to communicate and discuss with people expert in many areas. People at a large Ivy League department always had a huge advantage in that they could easily just walk down the hall and consult with top experts in a wide range of specialties when they came up. But few others had anything like that until the blogosphere, where no matter where you're at, you can discuss things with a New Monetarist at Washington St. Louis, a Keynesian at Berkeley, or an econometrician at Columbia. And you can challenge their ideas and they can challenge yours.

It can be a great thing, but you do have to be careful to keep it from being excessive, or very excessive, well past the point of marginal benefit equals marginal cost.

And it's crucial that blogging can do great good in affecting the opinions of the profession, and public policy. It can be a fantastic tool for confronting, debunking, and teaching.

"The blog is good for me though, because I tend to be a perfectionist on published documents and presentations (or lectures when I was an academic). It has given me more confidence to just write, hit post, and realize that most people ignore the minor imperfections, focus on the big idea, and join in the discussion."

Really an important point on blogging. Some ideas won't get out for years, decades, or ever, if you have to wait until you have time to turn them into a formal, highly polished paper (and some ideas, even though important, just can't be fancied up and mathed up enough to get published in a well regarded economics journal). Blogging lets you really get them out to the world and have them discussed, and a lot of them are valuable.

Richard: "...(and some ideas, even though important, just can't be fancied up and mathed up enough to get published in a well regarded economics journal)"

I think that is a really important point. Someone needs to flesh it out, and expand it. To what extent does the medium control what sort of economic ideas get discussed? (Or, if you like cliches, to what extent does the medium control the message?) And it's not just math. For example, some old ideas are good ones, but we might not discuss them in the journals simply because we don't have anything really new to say about them. So they get forgotten. Fiscal policy. Wicksell's cumulative process.

Gregory: I agree on Paul Krugman.

I keep learning, then forgetting, the html link thingy. Let's see:

I got an A-: (Just think: if you had gotten an A+, you might be the MP by now!)
Thanks very much for saying that. I won't stop. I will cut down a bit.

Wendy: I am deeply prejudiced against Twitter. On the rest, see my response to Richard's response to you.

Ha! If getting elected had anything to do with one's education we would be living in a much different world. Michael Ignatieff would be our PM, and even more of our economy would be under state control, or otherwise restricted. National daycare; national food policy [national energy plan?); moratorium on tankers on the west coast; national housing strategy; more employment insurance; higher corporate taxes; fewer reduced or eliminated tariffs; etc. If you read some of his articles for the Guardian in the 1990s his economic policy has always leaned heavily on government control, and little on common sense. So perhaps we're better off with those with less education getting elected? Or at least more economists getting elected.

Blogging (and does it "count" as research) gets to the heart of what academic research is all about.

If academic research is about generating new ideas, it shouldn't matter whether those ideas appear in Worthwhile Canadian Initiative, Canadian Public Policy, or Canadian Journal of Economics. What matters is that the ideas get read, discussed, and acted upon.

If academic research is about the professional prestige and promotion possibilities of the researcher, however, where the ideas appear is vastly more important than the ideas themselves. Because anyone can set up a blog and post any kind of crazy idea on it, there's no quality control. But it is hard to get a paper published in a top journal. So if an idea is published in a top journal it must be a good idea, and the person who produced it must be smart.

Ideally, blogging and academic research work together. My sister, Alice Woolley, who comments on this blog at times, is a blogger herself at Legal Ethics Forum. (Not all of her blog posts are about kinky sex, just the recent ones). Her blog posts were read by one of the top legal ethics scholars in the world, who then asked her to do a Canadian edition of his (best selling) legal ethics text.


Yes, here's an example. An insight I had that everyone in my department and others thought was great and important. But it was hard to math up and fancy up beyond a few paragraphs. Although, I do think it was possible, but I never had time to do it. So, it actually did get published somewhere, but just as a short letter in the Economists' Voice where it won't be seen much or have much impact. Here it is:

J. Bradford DeLong and Konstantin Magin’s July, 2006, article “Contrary to Robert Shiller’s Predictions, Stock Market Investors Made Much Money in the Past Decade: What Does This Tell Us?” gave several good reasons why “informed and aggressive” investors will not necessarily push prices all of the way to their fundamental, or efficient, level. One reason which was missing, at least explicitly, and which I have not seen yet in the literature, at least explicitly, is that a smart rational investor is limited in how much of a mispriced stock he will purchase or sell by how undiversified his portfolio will become. For example, suppose IBM is currently selling for $100, but its efficient, or rational informed, price is $110. It must be remembered
that the rational informed price is what the stock is worth to the investor when added in the appropriate proportion to his properly diversified portfolio of other assets. Such a savvy investor will purchase more IBM as it only costs $100, but as soon as he purchases more IBM, IBM becomes worth less to him per share, because it becomes increasingly risky to put so much of his money in the IBM basket. By the time this investor has purchased enough IBM that it constitutes 20 percent of his portfolio, the stock may have become so risky that it’s worth less than $100 to him for an additional share. At that point he may have only purchased enough IBM stock to push the price to $100.02, far short of its efficient market price of $110. Thus, if the rational and informed investors do not hold or control enough—a large enough proportion of the wealth invested in the market—they may not be able to come close to pushing prices to the efficient level.

at: http://ideas.repec.org/a/bpj/evoice/v3y2006i8n3.html

Richard: yep. Nice simple and important idea, clearly and simply presented. It has changed the way I think about the effect of informed traders. And if you could only have figured out a way to make it less simple, and present it less clearly, I think it could have made a paper in a top journal.

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