The ABCs of Economics

I’ve been meaning for some time to mention an article in the SMH a few weeks back week, discussing the happiness paper that Justin Wolfers and I wrote. What caught my attention wasn’t the substance of the newspaper article, but its assumption that the first-listed author (in this case, me) must be the lead researcher.

New research, led by Dr Andrew Leigh of the Australian National University, has analysed a mass of “happiness” data obtained over the past six decades.

But that’s not the way we typically do things. As Joshua Gans explains it:

Economics stands in marked contrast to other disciplines in the social and natural sciences in this regard. The alphabetic norm means that co-authors elect to send no signal to the market regarding who contributed what to the paper. But this is in an environment where the both sides of the academic labour market would value such attribution. The ultimate reason postulated for the lack of a signal is the potential harm an alternative signal would have on co-authors with names “lower” in the alphabet; especially when the market places weight on the fact that an alphabetical ordering signals little. This harm is greater than the potential gain to the other co-author from providing such a signal, and hence they agree to follow the alphabetic convention.

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6 Responses to The ABCs of Economics

  1. cba ;) says:

    have you read Robert K Merton’s “matthew effect”? some nice observations on the way scholarship is awarded and credit assigned.

    Click to access matthew1.pdf

  2. Andrew Leigh says:

    Interesting stuff, tks.

  3. Christine says:

    Or possibly they just thought they’d reference the one who seemed to be Australian (without having checked up on it in any detail)? But the alphabetical order thing is interesting. Luckily I’m not so far back as ‘Wolfers’ (not that it seems to have hurt him much just yet).

  4. In most other disciplines the Professor will be the first name and claim it as his (occassionally her) paper.

    The minimum requirement used to be strictly adhered to, in that the paper must have at least been carried past the Prof’s office door sometime prior to publication. Some controversy exists as to whether the Prof needed to be in the office or in the country at the time.

    In keeping with the electronic age it is now only required to have emailed the Prof’s P.A. with a draft at some stage.

  5. Andrew Leigh says:

    Christine, have you noticed that Wolfers’ most frequent coauthor is Eric Zitzewitz?

  6. Christine says:

    I hadn’t, Andrew – thanks so much for a lovely morning laugh.

    Just realised there might be a benefit in this for late-alphabeters. They should be highly sought after co-authors – if you know of two people of the same general quality and interests, you’d try to pick the later one for a co-author. They should therefore should find it easier to get more publications. Do late-alphabeters find it easier to get tenure?

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