Academic's reputation now back in the black

A feisty US-Canada dispute initiated by our very own Joshua Gans now seems to have been resolved. For those who haven’t been following it, here’s the history.


This one is for the clearly I have now seen it all category. From Robert Oxoby at the University of Calgary, a paper entitled “On the Efficiency of AC/DC: Bon Scott versus Brian Johnson.” From the introduction: “… with respect to the rock band AC/DC, who is the better vocalist: Bon Scott or Brian Johnson? … In this paper, we explore this issue. Since it is difficult to ascertain which vocalist was better given the heterogeneity of musical tastes, our analysis does not focus on the aural or sonic quality of the vocalists’ performances. Rather, using tools from the field of experimental economics…”


This Is What Happens to People Who Listen to Too Much AC/DC… They grow up to write economics papers like this one, which looks at whether participants in lab experiments get closer to efficient outcomes when exposed to one lead singer of the rock band AC/DC versus another. I hope for this guy’s sake he has tenure. (Hat tip to Joshua Gans.)


I was curious why I was getting email about this paper. To ease everyone’s concerns, yes the paper is a joke. The paper was written using old data from a grad student studying the effects of different genres of music on behavior (following previous research identifying the effect of different genres on heart rate, etc.; her original interest was on the use of music in behavior therapy). She abandoned the project and has since disappeared from her program. The AC/DC spin was due to a mistake in the protocols: different songs were played in two sessions. As far as I know the grad student paid for the experiments. I wrote this piece while delayed in the Vancouver airport. Costs to Canadian taxpayers, zero. Making the Freakonomics blog… priceless.

A paper written during an airport delay? Now that’s impressive.

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6 Responses to Academic's reputation now back in the black

  1. I repost here from my comment about the paper at

    first off.
    It’s been carried out on canuck Uni students in 2007. We can assume this means 18 to 22 years olds born in Canada in the years 1985 – 1989. Avoiding the question “wtf would they know about music” as the study did just imagine what these poor buggers had to listen to in utero from their parents vinyl collection, Bachman Turner Over Drive and Heart and what they had to listen to on the Canadian radio, Bachman Turner Over Drive and Heart . Not quite child abuse but hardly a benign input to a yet to be formed neural pathway.

    an australian study, even if based on a similarly deprived cohort, would have a naturally much higher ranking for BOTH Bon AND Long Way TTT.

    The study is not replicable here and therfore should not have been published.

    Even on its own miserable terms the study is flawed. The “researchers” should have held the song constant. The band and song could be held constant with only the vocalist changing. Then we might be able to look a the results.

    Other than an obscure blogger from an Australian backwater, a Mr S Cronin, who on earth creates public policy while listening to ACCADACCA. [saying Pauline Hanson will not impress the examiner]

    In further design flaws I wish to point out that no acdc listener would play a wuzzy game involving offering $10 to a person. Get real. At least make it realistic. Say $50 in return for a bottle of Bundy, a baggie or a couple of cones and a few rohyies to recover tomorrow.

  2. christine says:

    I met Rob once. He does some interesting research (eg: “”Partisan Competition, Growth, and the Franchise”, “Mine and Yours: Property Rights in Dictator Games”), and does appear to have a sense of humour. As anyone who read the conclusion should have realised pretty quickly. (“Our analysis has direct implications for policy and organizational design: when policymakers or employers are engaging in negotiations … and are interested in playing the music of AC/DC, they should choose from the band’s Brian Johnson era discography.” As FXH points out, patently ludicrous premise.)

    Also covered at “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative” blog, which in perhaps the most offensive comment of the whole episode, suggests that drinking Canadian beer contributes to writing and I guess understanding good ‘joke’ economics papers. Someone should start a blog war on that.


    FXH: You cannot (though you may want to) forget the other stuff the Canadian students were likely forced to listen to on the radio while growing up: Celine Dion, Bryan Adams. The horror.

  3. Damien Eldridge says:

    Don’t forget Shania Twain!!!

  4. Damien Eldridge says:

    Actually, I must confess, I do have CD’s by both Brian Adams and Shania Twain in my collection.

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  6. christine says:

    Damien: brave of you to admit it. Very brave.

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