Given the recent hubbub over the errors in Rogoff and Reinhart’s famous 90 percent debt-to-GDP ratio, perhaps it’s time for a serious re-examination of publishing practices in our field. Sometimes embarrassments like this can prompt us to action, and perhaps this one will.
While this particular error is squarely in the lap of Rogoff and Reinhart, I think it is symptomatic of a broad failure to ensure that empirical results are replicable, which is the “gold standard by which the reliability of scientific claims are judged” (National Research Council, 2001). The lack of replicability of empirical models in economics should be an embarrassment to a field that has been trying (mistakenly, in my view) to catch up with the big boys in the natural sciences.
The NSF requires that researchers who receive funding archive their data so that others can replicate the results, but many academic journals in economics do not. Perhaps we should follow the NSF lead in this regard. A number of economists do upload data to their own personal or university websites, making the data freely available to others – a great practice, but obviously insufficient. While referees and/or editors will sometimes ask for access to data when reviewing scholarly papers, this seems to happen far less often than it should; moreover, it is anything but uniform across journals and editors. Even those journals that have policies requiring submission of data do not seem to have particularly compelling incentives for authors to actually cooperate (in this 2007 paper, Daniel Hamermesh pointed out that the editor of JMCB sought data sets and documentation from authors with accepted papers in that journal, but only got about one-third of them).
Mark Thoma at Economist’s View linked to an NPR story asking how much we should trust economics. Given the lack of true transparency in empirical work, that’s a very good question indeed.
From Deirdre McCloskey, “The Faithful and Hopeful Economic Agent”:
[The political scientist James Q. Wilson] adopts the view of the Scottish Enlightenment, and the Aristotelian tradition before it, that ethics is a matter of habit and character, not continuous decisions under a rule of Reason. Like other virtues, he argues, faith is behaviorally instilled, working in tandem with genetic predispositions. Once instilled it is a feeling, a complaining conscience, what Smith called the Impartial Spectator. That is why Hutcheson and Hume and Smith in 18th-century Scotland claimed that virtues arose from “moral sentiments”: virtues are matters of a prepared feeling rather than a decision on the spot.
You begin, though, with a decision to cultivate the moral sentiments. You enroll with a free will at Annapolis and train your ethical muscles. Like a body trained to a sport, the present performance is both forward and backward looking, hopeful and faithful, both. The rule of reason, by contrast, insists on disowning the past, extracting you from your history. Utilitarianism insists on faithlessness.
Jon Hatzius on the rapidly shrinking federal budget deficit (from Calculated Risk)
Paul Krugman on Japan, and monetary policy in a liquidity trap
Robert Solow on Bernanke’s Fed
Barry Eichengreen on the use and abuse of monetary history
The latest John Bates Clark winner, Raj Chetty
Not quite yet, perhaps, but things do not seem to be going well. Here, courtesy CNN, is the percent change in quarterly PC sales, which just suffered the worst drop in history.
In preparing for some upcoming classes on the Coase Theorem, I came across a few interesting tidbits that I’d seen before but I thought would be worth posting.
This, from George Stigler, on Coase’s ability to persuade some skeptical colleagues:
We strongly objected to this heresy. Milton Friedman did most of the talking, as usual. He also did much of the thinking, as usual. In the course of two hours of argument the vote went from twenty against and one for Coase to twenty-one for Coase. What an exhilarating event! I lamented afterward that we had not had the clairvoyance to tape it.
And the fraction of his total publications that have become true classics is astounding. Just consider that two of his twelve notable papers – “The Nature of the Firm” and “The Problem of Social Cost” – are among the most well-known papers of the 20th century (and they used little or no mathematics – imagine that).
By the way, Coase is apparently still going strong at the ripe old age of 102.