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What I see in the dialogue between Nick Rowe, Scott Sumner, Paul Krugman, Arnold Kling, Tyler Cowen and other macro blogger is this: blogging allows them an extended and multi-pathed conversation which provides real scientific results -- the learn that they are using the same words to mean different things. Case in point -- many of them have recently explicitly said that they are meaning different things by AD and AS, and the interaction of these with changes in the money supply and interest rates.

These people have published and read countless papers on the topic in the journals -- and they never discovered this from that "formal" process of "real" science.

The point is philosopher of science Larry Wright's point -- conversation is VERY helpful when the issue is the hard stuff, and especially when the issue is differences in understanding of the hard stuff.

And most of what matters in economics is progress on the hard stuff.

Studies show that people simply don't read most of the journal literature, and stop reading it almost as soon as it has been published. I.e. it's dead to science once it hits the stacks.

In short, blogging macro economists have explicitly said that they have discovered via blog back and forth that they are using the same scientific words to mean different things. Example -- they are beginning to understand how they are meaning different things by AD & AS and the interaction of these with changes in the money supply and interest rates, etc.

Conversation advances understanding.

Often, journal publications merely add to the dust catching pile of journals in the stacks.

Pete,

I think Scott Sumner is the perfect example of someone who was unable to influence his peers through traditional means who has used blogging to clearly do exactly that. Do you deny that he has effectively used blogging to shape the debate among economists?

Not arguing against your main points, just saying you may also be underestimating the role blogging can play.

I defy anyone to deny GWAR's Pete Seeger infuence!

Pete is correct to write that the primary responsibility of the academic qua academic is to advance the theoretical discussion (to get over the advantage line) and put the results into the academic literature. It would help if the journals restricted their contents to papers that achieve that objective, because they would be much thinner.

It is great if the pioneers are also willing and able to communicate to other audiences, the more the better, but if they don't do the communication thing, other people should - the second hand dealers in ideas.

Everyone has to decide how to allocate their time to the things they do best, the things they like doing and the things that most need to be done. Given good fortune the three may coincide but fortunately given the division of labour nobody has to do everything.

Blogging can also help one think things in a public forum. A blog like this gets plenty of feedback, and that can help. Blogs like mine, with far less traffic and feedback, may just allow one to think through an idea, to be picked up and used later. I have reams of paper with quotes and sentence-length to multi-page thoughts. Most of these are ending up on my blogs.

For me the articles I write help me sort out ideas in my mind. Then blogging makes more sense because I have more than the quick idea to fall back on. But blogging also helps me formulate a germ of idea that I may more fully develop in another venue. I also can gain insight into how other academic think when they are forced to say things simply.

Nevertheless, I can imagine the growth of a "new intellectual" who reads academic articles, but may not write any, and blogs about them.

Ultimately, affecting public discourse may affect policy even as many economists continue to spin their wheels. What I am really saying is that many, clearly not all, economists are engaged in a worthless academic enterprise and we need not worry about convincing them of anything.

Not arguing against your main points, just saying you may also be underestimating the role blogging can play.

The first two groups seem clear:

SCIENTIFIC PEERS = led by journal editors conversations take place with reflection and sources with all the i(s) dotted and t(s) crossed.
STUDENTS = Classroom, of which a blog is a type of classroom, led by a proposition and responded to by the intellectually curious and the skeptical. Thick and dirty.

The second two groups I am less clear on. Where do these groups go for information? What format is best for these groups?

POLICY-MAKERS = I am unclear how policy makers can be influenced. Thin pragmatic discourse.
GENERAL PUBLIC = change the number of informed people in the crowd? Popularizing?

Peter Medawar, Nobel in medicine and great popular writer, referred to the "beating of invisible tom toms" that keeps leading scientists in touch with the hot ideas. That was long before the internet and the great thing about blogs and websites is the way ideas can be on display years (and attracting feedback) before they get into the professional literature. It also means that independent scholars, people who are isolated in their faculty or living in out of the way places can find a community of scholars.

"our #1 priority as economic scientists is the communication with our peers in the scientific community."

This is something that intrigues me about academic professors. What is the "virtuous professor"? What are the moral obligations of a professor? Are you an economic scientist first and a professor second? I find it somewhat odd (and extremely frustrating during my law school days) that the student is not the #1 priority for an academic professor. It is unacceptable for a professor, especially a thesis or doctoral advisor, to fail to respond to emails, etc. But this is the norm in law schools, even for graduate law students pursuing LLM degrees that require a thesis. I do not know what it is like in economic departments, so I may be off the mark. Either way, the students are responsible for the ability of professors to receive the salaries (including life-style income) they receive. So what are the obligations of the professor / academic? Who should be your priority?

"A recent comment by a PhD student at Stanford attempting to answer the question as to why so many faculty at GMU blog, argued that it was because of the low academic standards at GMU expected of faculty."

So does the fact that John Taylor blogs mean that Stanford has similarly low standards?

"So my frustration with blogging is that sometimes it leads individuals to forget the ultimate responsibility of the economist --- which is to persuade our professional peers."

I'm with Hume on that. I think the ultimate responsibility of professors is to teach their students.

Besides, I have rarely seen any group of people who are worse at the art of persuasion than academic economists. They think facts change minds. They don't.

If you really want to persuade other academics of anything, hire a good PR firm.

The Stanford Ph.D. student misses the mark. I read blogs in fields that overlap with mine (strategic management). Although a prolific reader, I simply can't keep up with all the topics I find interesting. Blogs written my accomplished scholars are a great way to see what is going on in such topics. I look to see what bloggers have published (nosy, curious). Suggesting GMU faculty (and alumni) don't publish enough is laughable.

There is no reason to go to GMU if the professors aren't doing their academic work. Go to a community college if you want student-centered professors.

However, McKinney is right about the issue of professional persuasion. Most people have an emotional attachment to their theories that they develop over time, and which becomes impenetrable to facts and reason. One can change people's minds only with great difficulty, through the manipulations of those emotional attachments -- or by teaching enough students, who can persuade others still young enough not to have developed emotional attachments to their ideas.

It is the rare person who doesn't develop these kinds of attachments. I see it all the time in people who get terribly upset during intellectual discussions, wanting their ideas to be right far, far more than they want to adopt a view of the world that is correct.

Is the reason why there are so many bloggers at GMU because of the bias among peers, policymakers and media that their scientific impact is so low that they have to find other means of communicating?

When I read the research done on bias in US media and US academia it makes me wonder.

"Social Scientist Sees [Liberal*] Bias Within"
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/08/science/08tier.html

Haidts research can be accessed through a Reason article

"The Science of Libertarian Morality"

http://reason.org/news/show/the-science-of-libertarian-morality

"Haidt and his colleagues eventually recognized that their Moral Foundations Questionnaire was blinkered by liberal academic bias by failing to include a sixth moral foundation, Liberty."

---------------------------------------

* Since I come from Sweden and now lives in the US I equate the US Liberal, capital L, spectrum to be comparable to European SocialDemocrats, European Democratic Socialists and Greens.

Troy's comment,
"Most people have an emotional attachment to their theories that they develop over time, and which becomes impenetrable to facts and reason."

reminds me of the vocation versus profession discussion. In the management academy, the curious vocational sorts seem overwhelmed by the self-promoting professional sorts. Although good scholarship rises to the top one way or the other (or so I like to think).

One of the points that has been missed in all of the above is that blogs like this (and Cafe Hayek and MR) often post links to online professional journals and articles. A link to Dan Klein's Econ Journal Watch routinely shows up on GMU blog sites. This creates obvious opportunities for discussions among professional economists, between professors and students, and between other types of people who would typically not engage about professional journal articles. For all who agree that growth is stimulated by interchanges, exchanges, trade, transactions and other dealings between diverse groups this would seem to be, potentially, one of the most important benefits of GMU blogs. (While the difficulty in measuring such benefits may obscure them, those who blog here should have no a priori reason to doubt the power of uncoordinated emergence).

As a consumer of economics I can say that a good quality post in blog could be stimulating. In particular if I even have the possibility to get an answer from the author.
I think (please correct me if I'm wrong) that also in academia many times economists read "abstract + conclusion" and few more. Many times, when I am interested on a topics I have to look for many papers, then to make a choice and group them before reading carefully. I find it so time wasting. Viceversa a good and long post with references and links could provide me direcly a well made path.
I prefer to look for papers written by authors which wrote also books that "shaped" my mind or raised interesting questions from my point of view. Bibliography and footnotes sometimes offer me precious hints for further readings. In general, without books few progresses are possible.
I don't know who complain about blogging, but I think that when mainstream economists will be enough skilled about programming I will see precompiled DSGE attached to their emails or downloadable from their web page and maybe some software like "SimGDP". All that they needed is a friendly platform, a wide and shared set of data, something like an open source environmend and then push start.

Re the comment of the PhD student at Stanford and more conventional academic careers, the time lost through blogging is likely to be less that the academic time forgone by more agreeable and less iconoclastic academic economists who serve on the council of economic advisors, and in sub-cabinet and other government jobs, and in consultancies to governments and rent seeking corporations.

"There is no reason to go to GMU if the professors aren't doing their academic work. Go to a community college if you want student-centered professors."

It's unfortunate that this is the only "argument" produced in support of the regular practice of neglecting students.

If you want to change the economic profession, focus on the students. Few older economists bought Keynes' snake oil. The Keynesian revolution came from the young Turks.

Keynes was a terrible economist, but he was a master salesman. Noticed he rarely offered evidence for his ideas. Keynes' genius was to ridicule his opponents, not debate them. Ridicule of the establishment captures the youthful imagination like nothing else.

"There is no reason to go to GMU if the professors aren't doing their academic work. Go to a community college if you want student-centered professors."

Whoever said this suppose two things that are complete rubbish: 1) That GMU professors aren't doing their academic work; and 2) that community college profs are perfect substitutes for GMU profs.

Again this is complete rubbish. If GMU were not such an up and coming threat to the status quo, such snark would not emerge. That is, this sort of rubbish is prima facie evidence that GMU is an emerging up-and-comer. How appropriate is the emergence of the school specializing in scholarship on emergence!!! How's that for jumping the snark?

Market for education is heavily distorted by government subsidies, and that is what makes it possible to say that the main task of economics professors is to talk to other professors. In any sane and honest market the role of professors would be to teach students, and everything else would be no more than a byproduct. Research and publications could be useful for signaling purposes, but teaching would be what really matters.

I hate having to take my lumps from journal editors and referees--and I get a beating regularly from them--as much as anyone. And yet, there's a discipline that comes from writing for the journals for which there's no close substitute.

But the discipline comes in only when your work gets judged by editors and referees who don't know you from Adam: in this respect certainly there are journals and there are journals. If it's a matter of dealing only with those who one knows (or probably knows) personally, then the advantage over just putting stuff in a blog isn't so clear.

I say this despite wanting to tear my hair out almost every time I read a referees report. Most such are maddening; but if the process causes one to revise at all, it is likely to result in a paper that's better rather than worse.

Jim,

You need to go back and read the original posting, in which the context should be clear. Since I am the one who posted that comment, let me clarify

The context is that professors should be focused on teaching students rather than doing academic work. This is completely ridiculous, because, "There is no reason to go to GMU if the professors aren't doing their academic work. Go to a community college if you want student-centered professors." If someone wants professors more concerned with students than with making real contributions to economic knowledge, then go to a community college. I would rather go someplace where there are people doing groundbreaking work, so that they are adding value to both the study of economics and to what they teach. They may be less focused on students to a certain extent, but they are more focused on increasing knowledge, making them better teachers overall. And such professors are more likely to want to talk about their new ideas, making them better for the student who wants to learn.

Blog or perish!!!

"If someone wants professors more concerned with students than with making real contributions to economic knowledge, then go to a community college."

This is, of course, a false dichotomy.

"I would rather go someplace where there are people doing groundbreaking work, so that they are adding value to both the study of economics and to what they teach."

That is fine. But your idiosyncratic desire to be around those making contributions has nothing to do with either (1) the product offered by universities in the (supposed) market for higher education, and (2) the moral obligations of "the professor."

"They may be less focused on students to a certain extent, but they are more focused on increasing knowledge, making them better teachers overall. And such professors are more likely to want to talk about their new ideas, making them better for the student who wants to learn."

This is, of course, blatantly fallacious, and one of the pitfalls students, especially grad students, are warned against from the beginning (the warning usually from other students already battle-worn in dealing with absentee advisors). The status of "important and interesting academic" does not even have a correlation with (let alone causation) the status of "good professor."

Professors would love to think that they are fulfilling their moral obligations by making a contribution to theoretical knowledge. This contribution may be a valuable goal worht pursuing, but the means they use to achieve these ends is, I think, open to discussion. As an attorney, I would love to think that my clients simply provide me with the salary to further what ever my interests are, and my obligations to them in return is of minor importance. This is nonsense. Yet professors hold this mentality without any serious discussion and self-reflection. And your response is characteristic of those in the academy, a simple wave of the hand and reference to community college, indicating a complete indifference to this issue.

So I am not persuaded by your argument, that there is a trickle-down effect that students should be thankful for. Empirically, this is plain false. I am interested to see a response defending the neglect of students' interests as a form of moral sacrifice for the scholars' pursuit of knowledge. Or perhaps a Caplan response that "education" is simply signaling, and what professors do does not matter anyway. I think these are bad arguments, but I am curious to see what it would look like.

My favorite journal remains the cross-disciplinary, open peer commentary journal _Behavioral and Brain Sciences_. Is there are journal in existence which contributes more to a broad and sophisticated understanding of the frontiers of science?

If they added a blog they might really have something ..

"BBS is the internationally renowned journal with the innovative format known as Open Peer Commentary. Particularly significant and controversial pieces of work are published from researchers in any area of psychology, neuroscience, behavioural biology or cognitive science, together with 10-25 commentaries on each article from specialists within and across these disciplines, plus the author's response to them. The result is a fascinating and unique forum for the communication, criticism, stimulation, and particularly the unification of research in behavioural and brain sciences from molecular neurobiology to artificial intelligence and the philosophy of the mind."

http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayJournal?jid=BBS

Troy, it's important for academics to do groundbreaking work, but you don't have to be in the classroom of that academic to know about it. If it is truly groundbreaking, others can read about it pretty soon after they finish writing a paper on it.

Pete's point wasn't about doing groundbreaking work, but persuading other academics. Most academics made up their minds about what is true and not true in econ as an undergrad under the influence of a well-like prof. After getting their PhD, they are very unlikely to change their minds except on minor areas. They won't change their "paradigm" at all.

So while it's nearly impossible to change the minds of the old Keynesians, it is possible to mold young minds and that's where academics should concentrate their efforts, not on fossilized old farts.

It's not an either-or choice. The complaint was that professors are too busy doing academic work to bother with students. That's nonsense. My response was that if you want someone who's so freed from acadmic work that they can spend all their time on students, there's only one place to go. And it's not a university where people are doing academic work. The student-only professor is only ever going to regurgitate what is already known; the one doing academic work is going to have new ideas. If they are a bit less student-centered, that's better than not doing academic work. At research universities, the job of the professors is 1) academic work, 2) train grad students, 3) teach undergrad students. In that order. Grad students are sensibly going to search out those they can work with in areas of interest in them -- that means, a professor doing original academic work. The only reason to go to GMU is because of the academic work the professors are engaged in. That's what differentiates it from other colleges or universities. If they are not doing that work, they are no better and no different from a community college.

Troy, I agree. I'm just saying that the advantage a student enjoys in having a prof who does great research is not significant because of rapid communications. A community college instructor can read the research and pass it on to his class.

They can, but do they?

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