Friday, October 24, 2008

Asking forgiveness

Daniel Klein, is the editor of Econ Journal Watch, a publication which addresses controversies and discourse in economics. He, along with Peter Gordon, are putting together a symposium on preference falsification in economics wherein economists can bear their souls regarding their behavior in the professions, particularly regarding research:

The symposium will be edited by Professor Peter Gordon of University of Southern California. Authors who wish to remain anonymous in print will nonetheless disclose their true identity to Professor Gordon, who will serve as confidante of such authors. No one else will be privy to such information. Authors may need to disguise specific facts. Professor Gordon will verify all facts that are reasonably verifiable.

Professor Kuran will serve as an advisor to the project. In that capacity he may review some of the manuscripts at an advanced stage. He will not be privy to the identity of the authors.

The impetus of the symposium is to provide an outlet for exploring preference falsification and other forms of moral or intellectual compromise within the economics profession. Authors are encouraged to be introspective and personal, and yet impartial. The purpose of each essay should be to share experiences that speak to situations to which many can relate. We seek biographical essays that will help others understand widely shared problems.

In his or her essay, the author should clarify the kind of preference falsification in which he or she has engaged. For example:

  • Building models one does not really believe to be useful or relevant.
  • Making simplifications that obscure or omit important things.
  • Using data one does not really believe in.
  • Focusing on the statistical significance of one’s findings while quietly doubting economic significance.
  • Engaging in data mining.
  • Drawing “policy implications” that one knows are inappropriate or misleading.
  • Keeping the discourse “between the 40 yard lines” so as to avoid being outspoken; knowingly eliding fundamental issues.
  • Tilting the flavor of policy judgments to make a paper more acceptable to referees, editors, publishers, or funders.
  • Disguising one’s methodological or ideological views, such as by omitting revealing activities or publications from one’s vitae.
  • For government, institute, or corporate economists: Having to significantly play along with things one does not believe in.

Further clarifications:

  • Papers need not be anonymous. It is also OK to propose a paper in which you will write as your true identity.
  • The voice should not be bitter or conspiratorial. We are not interested in tales of mistreatment. Rather, we are interested in experiences of preference falsification that instantiate and illuminate broad cultural problems within economics.
  • Papers should be autobiographical reflections based on narrative. The style should be personable and plain. (For an example, one might consider the tone and style of this article by Michael Marlow.) Authors may wish to open their essays with reflections about why they became an economist.
  • Narratives must avoid accusation. Incidents should be suitably told in a generic way, without identifiers. Any flavor of “getting even” will disqualify a proposal. Any flavor of “this is how the world has been unfair to me” will disqualify a proposal.
  • Economists from academia, government, the policy community, and the private sector are welcome to submit proposals. Also, narratives about graduate studies in economics are welcome, even by young economists.
  • Economists from all parts of the world are encouraged to submit proposals, but everything must be in English.
  • Again, only Professor Gordon will know the true identity of authors who are to write anonymously.
  • If successful, the symposium will subsequently be turned into a book proposal, in which case selected papers would also be published in a book.
  • Though not crucial or necessary, prospective authors may wish to consult William Davis’s article “Preference Falsification in the Economics Profession,” which relates survey findings to Kuran’s theory of preference falsification.
  • Length is open, but probably most essays should be fairly short (1000-2000 words).

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