Yes, top institutions hire some of the most talented and creative researchers. But it does not mean that the talented and creative researchers are only found in top institutions. Beware of the fallacy of composition.

Academia is not a meritocracy. Who your parents are, how well you know the milieu before entering it, who your adviser is (and how he.she adivsed you), where you graduated from, all of this has an impact regardless of your own talent or hard work. It seems to me that things are even worse in economics.

Bad elitism has at least two channels:

  • overfocus on affiliation
  • overfocus on “top” journals and capture of the so-called journals through lobbying


Too often, economists judge an idea on the affiliation of its author, instead of its inner value.

Anecdotal evidences

"There's a kid at Harvard"

Nathan Lane, 17 January 2019:

While studying in Cambridge, I once gave a conference talk. A giant in my field was in attendance and gave me nice input. 1/N

Long after my affiliation changed, I presented the same slides at another large conference. The only difference: my affiliation. 2/N

The Giant happened to be in attendance again. He seemed pensive. 3/N

After my presentation he came up to me, patted me on the back and said… 4/N

“Sorry, but there’s a kid at Harvard doing a similar study. It’s much better.”

He didn’t realize we were the same person. 5/N

I recall the aha moment: realizing that the benefit of a doubt hinges on these affiliations and capital. As someone who never thought I’d go to college, or grad school, I was naive about just how deeply these things matter/mattered. I’m still learning how internalized they are.

"Don't waste talking to people from less known institutions"

Johanna Rickne, 18 January 2019:

At the first EALE mentoring event for junior women Economists, we were told to not ”waste time” at conferences talking to people with badges from less known academic institutions. I felt super bad since I came from a completely unknown place myself >_<

Gah, I now realize that I wrote the wrong conference! This was at the EEA.

Top journals

A different set of issues are related with the difficulty to publish in top journals.

  • Acceptation rate is low
  • For some of them, the probability to get published depends on how well you lobbyied (or know) the editor

Low acceptation rates

Stefano DellaVigna, 25 April 2018 (1, 2, 3 and 4):

We have a 2018 update to “Nine Facts about Top Journals in Economics” (JEL) with David Card, since a few people had asked about page length, submissions, and acceptance rates. Fact 1: Submissions keep increasing fast, at all journals now also including JPE. AER has the most subs

Fact 2 on Top Journals: Number of article published flat at about 300/yr in last 5 years. AER, which increased # articles published in 2011, publishes twice as many articles as RES, QJE, EMA, JPE and thus has 40% market share among top-5 journals

Fact 3 on Top Journals: Given facts 1 and 2, acceptance rates in top journals keep declining, are at 2.5% for QJE, 3% for RES, 4% at JPE, 5-6% at AER and EMA

Fact 4: Journals continue on the trend line of increased page length and higher number of coauthors per paper. Journals are quite similar in page length increase. AER also increased despite page limit (now removed).

Nic Duquette, 21 January 2019:

Google says that Science and Nature have acceptance rates around 7%. Remarkable to think five top journals of a single social science are pickier than the two top journals spanning all of science-science.

Gina Pieters, 26 April 2018:

Top 5 econ journals now have an acceptance rate of 2.5%-6%. Below a certain acceptance rate, publication in a journal (or rejection from it) communicates details about the authors network, and not about their research.

Lobbying of the editorial board

Myself, 15 January 2019:

It’s so gross that I’ve noticed first hand papers getting rejected in journals because they are too close to papers that PhD students of some high profile researchers are about to submit.

Yeah, you read it correctly. And I’m talking of a top journal.

Is this science?


Follow up on the previous tweet, 17 January 2019:

In this case, internal communications between the editorial board were accidentally forwarded to the person who submitted the paper that was rejected. This is how we learned the real reasons for the rejection.


Another channel (or a symptom?) of bad elitism is the lack of representation at the head of the American Economic Association.

I'm not sure it's actually a channel, it may be that people from lesser known places self-censor themselves and don't even try. It could also be that you can't get the position if you don't have the proper network.

Jake Vidgor, 14 January 2019 (the thread is incomplete, it lacks illustrations. I will add them later):

Now let's talk governance. The current president of the American Psychological Association is Dr. Rosie Phillips Davis. She is the first woman of color to lead the organization.

Dr. Ben Bernanke is the current president of the AEA. He is the 117th white male to hold the office.

Bernanke was trained at MIT, as were 7 other AEA presidents over the past 20 years. He spent his academic career at Princeton, as have 4 prior presidents in the past 20 years.

Davis earned a doctorate at Ohio State and serves on the faculty at the University of Memphis.

Dr. Davis ran against 4 other candidates for the position of president and wrote the candidate statement that appears here.

Dr. Bernanke ran unopposed. His candidate statement also appears here. [Bernanke didn't have a candidate statement]

The AEA is governed by a 21-member executive committee. Of the 21 current members, one-third were trained at a single institution (MIT). 18 were trained at elite private universities.

The APA has a 15-member board of directors. Four members were trained at private universities.

One seat on the APA board is reserved for a graduate student, another for a non-psychologist.

There are no such reservations on the AEA executive committee.

Beyond the board of directors, the APA has a legislative body, the Council of Representatives, with members from each subfield and each state.

There is no analogous legislative body in the AEA.

The AEA bestows honors on certain members, including the prestigious Ely lecture ably delivered this year by @davidautor. Autor is the 6th consecutive lecturer drawn from the faculty of either Harvard or MIT.

Correction, 7th!

But as economics searches for solutions to its problems of exclusivity and hostility to those not traditionally represented in the discipline,

perhaps it should start at the top.

How to fix bad elitism

Trevon Logan, 17 January 2019:

Something must be done about the over-inference from weak signals in the profession. Especially when the signal to noise ratio is so small.

Regarding journals, a few options are possible:

  • less submissions
  • more real estate, i.e. journals published more frequently
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