Sunday, April 28, 2013

AER publication = 0.77 years of life

What would you give for a tangible achievement that carries enormous professional prestige?

If you’re an economist, and the achievement is a paper published in the American Economic Review, the answer seems to be three-quarters of a year of your life. Or, looking at it a different way, about three-quarters of a thumb. ...

The researchers–Arthur Attema, Werner Brouwer, and Job van Exel–conducted a survey of 69 of their colleagues (a small number, they concede). All had already published at least one recent article in one of six major economics journals.

In their questionnaire, they described an admittedly far-fetched scenario. If a medicine existed that would give them a day-long surge in brainpower—enough to formulate an article good enough for one of four major journals—would they take it? If so, would they still do so if they knew it would slightly reduce their lifespan? ...

Specifically, the average study participant was willing to give up 0.77 years for a paper published in the American Economic Review, but only 0.55 years for the Quarterly Journal of Economics, 0.42 years for the Review of Economic Studies, and 0.38 years for the European Economic Review.

Interestingly, the researchers found this willingness to give up a few months was not related to any anticipated higher income such an article might bring. ...

A separate, only slightly less macabre question measured the value of their thumb. Right-handed economists were asked: “Suppose you can live either 20 more years without your right thumb, or a shorter period with your right thumb. How long should the latter period be such that you are indifferent between these options?” (Left-handed economists were asked about their left thumbs.)

The researchers found that, on average, study participants were willing to give up 1.02 years of life in exchange for keeping their dominant-hand thumb. Since they’re willing to give up 0.77 years for publication in AER, “we can infer that a publication is worth about three quarters of a thumb,” the researchers conclude.
--Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard, on work-life tradeoffs. HT: ACT