C&B Notes

Short And Sweet

Academia is not noted for its pithiness when publishing research findings.  Short, concise, and easy-to-understand writing is a dying art.  A new economics journal hopes to provide an option for readers looking for quality over quantity.

A backlash is building against inflation — the kind showing up in economics journals.  The average length of a published economics paper has more than tripled over the past four decades, and some academics are sick of wading through them.  At this year’s American Economics Association conference, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor David Autor compared a 94-page working paper about the minimum wage to “being bludgeoned to death with a Nerf bat” and started a Twitter hashtag, #ThePaperIsTooDamnedLong.

Let’s get to the point: Economists want economists to talk less. The AEA announced last year it would launch a journal dedicated to publishing only concise papers, at least by economists’ standards — nothing longer than 6,000 words, or about 15 double-spaced pages.  “Certainly not all papers should be short,” said MIT economist Amy Finkelstein, founding editor of what’s being called American Economic Review: Insights.  “But on the other hand, not all papers should be long.”  She noted that seminal 1950s papers by Paul Samuelson and John Nash took only a few pages to convey findings on public goods and game theory; both men later won the Nobel Prize in economics. Some journals today seem wary of publishing such quick reads…

Longer papers can include more-robust statistical analysis, engage in multifaceted arguments or address complex topics.  Some economists speculate paper inflation is also the product of the laborious peer-review process, in which other economists act as referees and read drafts, then demand any number of additions before publication.  “That would all be fine if it was costless to write papers and costless to read papers,” Mr. Autor said.  “But neither of those are true.”


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