Long and variable lags

In economics, the typical time from submission to acceptance is now around 9-12 months. After acceptance, it generally takes another 6-9 months before a paper appears in print. Consequently, if a paper of mine hasn’t yet been accepted by a journal, there’s only a slim chance it will appear in print this year. In 2006, I had 8 papers published in peer-reviewed journals. In 2007, I have 6 forthcoming papers in peer-reviewed journals. I might get one or two more over the line, but it’s unlikely to be double-figures this year. I still have a way to go before getting near John Quiggin’s 15 in 2006.

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13 Responses to Long and variable lags

  1. invig says:

    pity blog posts don’t count hey andrew 🙂

  2. John Barrdear says:

    It’s an impossible question to answer, I know, but …

    Pretending that you had full tenure, how many papers would you like to be publishing per year? Would you happily produce fewer papers of higher quality? How about fewer papers that were published in more highly ranked journals?

    In short: Where is your personal optimum in balancing volume, quality and visibility?

  3. The high price of academic journals and the very long time periods before publication than Andrew mentions means that journals are now quite peripheral to public debate; for academics it tends to be their working papers that count in that regard.

  4. conrad says:

    I wish _all_ Australian academics would stop using N counts to describe their research, and start using the American model, where it is quality over quantity. I shudder to think how many trees were killed just so people could collect DEST points just for the purpose of pleasing administators, and I’m glad the RQF is going to make all those bits of junk many people seem to feel obliged to write as worthless as they really are.

    Why not start using H counts or something that reflects quality instead e.g., “My H count went from 15 to 17 this year”, “3 papers I have have collected more than 50 citations”, “I only published 1 paper in the last two years, but it was in the top journal of my field” etc. This is clearly far more meaningful.

    Using N counts just encourages people to publish in the Australian Journal of Junk and Crapology, and all its other relatives.

  5. invig says:


    I agree entirely, except to say that Americans have refined their own art of crapology whereby they put huge numbers of authors on a paper, and make sure they mail/email anything they get published to anyone they’ve ever met, who then cites their work, just as they cite theirs.

    We truly are clever monkeys.

  6. Anthony says:

    “I wish _all_ Australian academics would stop using N counts to describe their research”

    Conrad, I’m not sure that Andrew or other academics are using numbers of publications ‘to describe their research’. Sure, I sometimes ask colleagues ‘what are you researching?’ and they reply that they’re busy writing an article for such-and-such a journal and I get a bit peeved and want to say ‘that’s not what I asked you’. Research is about thinking and reading and talking to people and a whole lot of other things basically about finding out stuff that people might not yet know. I gather that ARC Discovery Grants are called that for a reason: the word ‘Discovery’ is more than ornamental.

    So publications are but one output from research. And sure, in principle I can’t object to an audit system that tries to measure quality of output rather than quantity, but in practice attempts to measure quality have their own problems as Invig points out and as, I’m sure, we’re all about to discover with the RQF

  7. conrad says:

    Anthony, I pretty aware of what research is about. I’m also aware that someone with, say, 5 good papers in linguistics, is probably higher up in their field than, say, someone with 10 good papers in psychology (let alone 50 crap ones).

    Also, are you talking about the same ARC Discovery grants as the ones the Australian government issues? I thought the best way to get them was to write-up work you had already done and make sure you are friends with potential reviewers.

  8. Andrew Leigh says:

    Conrad, economics is basically at that point already. I’ve heard people described (both in Australia and the US) as ‘a ReStat, an AER and two QJEs”. No mention even of the field that the person works in.

    From a career standpoint, my optimal strategy would be to focus only on writing one paper every two years, and getting it into a top-tier US journal. But (a) it’s a high-risk strategy, and (b) I don’t think I’d be as happy that way. To answer John’s question, I’m doing exactly what I’d do if I had tenure. I love my job, and feel extraordinarily lucky to have it.

  9. Anthony says:

    Conrad, I’m prepared to be as cynical as you about the ARC grant system, but it just highlights Invig’s point. The ARC system is at least partly based on peer assessment of quality research, and you’re right, it can be subverted, and probably the RQF, which you pinpoint as offering a solution, can no doubt be subverted in much the same way.

    My overall point in referencing the Discovery Grants system was not to laud it as the best of all possible systems but just to emphasise that, aspirationally at least, research is about discovery and perhaps we focus too much on articles etc as being the research when they are only an output of research.

    On second thoughts, perhaps we shouldn’t be too cynical about the ARC. Someone once said that for most of its history its due diligence processes meant that by international research fund standards it had the most rigorous system for distributing the smallest amounts of money of any comparable fund in western economies. That was, of course, before it became necessary to have your research proposal cleared by Paddy McGuiness and Andrew Bolt et al. “Making sure you are friends with potential reviewers” just won’t cut it any more.

  10. Christine says:

    Stop it. Just stop it. It doesn’t matter that there are people who are more productive than you on whatever count. Think about the less productive people for once!

    On the measures point: of course quality matters, but quantity is not a bad indicator either. It does matter, for instance, that there are people willing to do work on issues in the Australian / Canadian / New Zealand economies, not to mention the even smaller and more boring (to the US academics who run most of the journals) countries, even if that work won’t be published in the top journals. It also matters that there are people who are willing to engage in public debates, even if that wins them no points at all. Going by the extent of the blogospheric debate and by regular media ‘appearances’ Australian academic economists seems to be doing remarkably well on that front.

  11. conrad says:


    I don’t think the RQF is a solution (thats far too nice a word) — its just a different measure that is better than the last. I think people will try and cheat any measure and any measure can be cheated. One of the ARC categories I am in, for instance, is lumped into a category where the average impact of the average paper is probably 2.5 times the amount of my field (I have the benefit in the other field which my university doesn’t use).

    Also, I’ve had experience with 5 different grant systems (albeit only decent experience with 3 — including one where we did get evaluated), and the ARC is certainly not even close to the best of them. I agree on you about research, its just it never works out that way, and the system in Australia is basically set up so it doesn’t work that way. Its common, for instance, with NHMRC grants (easier to get than ARC) to submit preliminary data — so what you are really saying is we have done the work, got the results, but need the money for a bit more power in our study to find the same thing (you wouldn’t the cash otherwise), rather than pretending you haven’t done the work. Try submitting something weird and wonderful and see how far it gets (particularily if you have enemies in the system).

    Christine — I agree with you too, my complaint is against the bureacracy (whether internal or external) that forces people that don’t want to to publish junk (which they do). Linguistics is a great example of your point. Very low impact, people don’t publish much, often very specific, but culturally very important (e.g., languages of Papua New Guinea). Its also a good example of a field where a lot of the practical applications only exist because of work where no-one made any money.

  12. I hate to defend DEST on anything, but the current system may well be the lesser of three evils – some academics publishing weak papers in low-impact journals (the status quo), even more academics than now doing nothing obvious for much of the year (the previous status quo) and another costly bureaucratic extravaganza designed to assess quality more than quantity in the Research Quality Framework (coming, unless headed off by a Labor victory).

    In any case, reputation more broadly has never depended on quantity alone.

  13. Sinclair Davidson says:

    Actually most of the deadweight costs of the RQF will be incurred irrespective of an ALP victory (or not) later this year. An alternate to the RQF would have been for universities to apply to have (some) individual academics ranked on a five star basis and then have universities compete on the basis of how many 5 star’s etc. they have. This would promote greater transparency in the system and would be far less cumbersome than the current model. It would also be individual based and not group based – something we might expect from a government that pretends to celebrate individualsim. (It would not necessarily assist in allocating block funding – but it would be easy to come up with some or other arbitrary model based on the number of stars).

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