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Yep. Newspapers give you a very distorted picture of the world, because they publish "man bites dog", but not "dog bites man". Top economics journals give you a very distorted picture of economics, for the same reason. Gradute programs in economics do the same. They don't teach stuff we already know, but where no exciting new work is being done. They teach stuff that is exciting and new, and therefore likely to be wrong ;-)

Only vaguely on topic, but I wonder if we'll start to see more single, educated, 30-something men from China immigrate to places like Canada, Australia, etc. in part because they'll have fewer ties holding them back, in part hoping that in a country with more balanced sex ratios they'll have a higher liklihood of finding a spouse, and in part for the opportunity generally.

Is there any evidence of this so far?

Newspapers publish corrections when they get things wrong. Bloggers go in and do a quick edit and correct the mistake.

If academic journals are going to get into the business that we're in - exciting, new, and not infrequently totally bogus claims - they need to work out some way of taking down/correcting research findings when they are (a) wrong and (b) it matters - by which I mean that real people could be harmed by the continued circulation of incorrect information.

You might find this hard to believe, but I recently spoke to someone who didn't even believe that there was a gender imbalance in China. The truth is out there, but so are a heck of a lot of misconceptions.

Wendy, good question.

If you believe that women "fall in love where money lies" then the best strategy for a man looking to find a wife is to search some place where the incomes are lower than where he is right now. So guys in Beijing look for brides in the smaller cities, men in smaller cities look for brides in the countryside, poor farmers look for brides in N. Korea, etc. When it all shakes down, the single guys will be the poorest, least attractive ones - they're the ones who will hide in containers and take crazy risks in the hope of making a better lives for themselves somewhere else - and getting lucky

It would be very hard to test your hypothesis by looking at #s on Chinese immigration to Canada, for a somewhat complicated reason. A non-trivial number of Chinese-Canadian women are more likely to marry non-Chinese men. Relatively fewer Chinese-Canadian men marry non-Chinese women. Which means that there are "surplus men" in the Chinese-Canadian marriage market. So what's a guy to do? The simple answer is: find a bride in China and bring her here. So that would tend to make immigration flows from China to Canada more pro-female.

Isn't the lesson to be learned from this experience that cultural bias matters? Or that a method of research dealing solely with data mining is perilous?

Not quite to the same level as searching the grad photos of UCC for changing demographics, but if you look at the surnames of the author/editor etc you don't see anything that remotely resembles a Chinese surname until you get into the rebuttal/refutation stage.

China's one child policy, no doubt, was mentioned somewhere in the linked references. "Little Emperors" with four doting and increasingly wealthy grandparents tends to make single male Chinese less attractive partners, wherever they locate. A policy that is being relaxed/revisited (and was not universally applied in the past, it should be noted)

Something that has been elided here is that the concept of taking research by economists seriously when they are working in areas far removed from their field is deeply dubious in its own right. Research by economists into matters of biology and epidemiology should be given no more credence than research into economics by biologists.

Just visiting - "Little Emperors" with four doting and increasingly wealthy grandparents tends to make single male Chinese less attractive partners, wherever they locate.

I've heard that - despite the gender imbalance - in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing a lot of career minded, educated women are staying single (there are tales of the desperate ends to which match-making parents are going...).

Think about a 20- or 30-something Chinese woman's choices (the first one child babies turned 30 this year).

On the one hand - travel, career, minimal responsibilities.

On the other hand - think about the expectations of caring a one child woman potentially faces - her 2 parents, her 2 parents in-law, her husband, her children ... Given that choice, I would be tempted to stay single, go shopping, and watch Sex in the City with subtitles in Friday night.

I doubt if you lived in Shanghai or Beijing you'd need the subtitles. Maybe at the karaoke bar, however.

What I find disturbing about this story is that Oster was able to obtain a PhD from Harvard, get published in a top economics journal, and become a member of a prestigious economics faculty, all based on work that was discredited almost immediately. This is certainly not Oster's fault, but I think it leads to serious questions about the processes involved in publication and teaching positions.

Mike: "I think it leads to serious questions about the processes involved in publication"


but is it Oster's fault? Frances said "anyone with even a passing familiarity with the literature would know there was something suspicious about the Oster results".

Surely Oster should be more familliar with a literature that she's contributing to than Levit? Shouldn't that statement of Frances' be a stronger indictment of Oster?

Adam P - I've thought about this point. Three observations:

1. Lots of us do stupid things in grad school.

2. When one is totally obsessed with a topic - which you have to be in order to have the momentum to do a PhD thesis - it can be hard to get a sense of perspective. One falls in love with one's theories and is blind to their faults. Which is as it should be, because otherwise you'd never have the drive to get them written up and out there.

3. Academic success requires one to suppress one's own doubts. I have a paper that I'm about to go and work on right now - do I worry that my results are just being driven by a small sub-sample of the population? yes. Do I express those doubts in my paper? No. Did the journal editor express those doubts? - you better believe he did.

I'm reluctant to be too hard on people for responding rationally to the incentive structure within academia.

Absolutely: a retraction note should be uploaded to the electronic version of the journal--why not remove the article entirely if it's factually wrong?

Note: Oster was originally on the economics faculty website at U Chicago, but is now only on the Booth GSB faculty website at U Chicago... coincidence?

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