Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Blogging About Economics: Positive Externalities

Once upon a time, four development economists decided to start blogging. At the same time, two of them wondered whether blogging had any impact or was at all worthwhile. To make a long story short, they decided to research the issue, and made an experiment out of the launch of their own blog (abstract):

The Impact of Economics Blogs
McKenzie, David; Ozler, Berk

Summary: There is a proliferation of economics blogs, with increasing numbers of economists attracting large numbers of readers, yet little is known about the impact of this new medium. Using a variety of experimental and non-experimental techniques, this study quantifies some of their effects. First, links from blogs cause a striking increase in the number of abstract views and downloads of economics papers. Second, blogging raises the profile of the blogger (and his or her institution) and boosts their reputation above economists with similar publication records. Finally, a blog can transform attitudes about some of the topics it covers.

The authors find only anecdotal evidence that economic blogs actually impact policy or policy debates (*crushed ego here*), but that blogs are effective in disseminating research and raises the professional standing and profile of the blogger(s) as well as his or her parent institution. One strange finding: apparently few female economists either blog or read economics blogs.

If there’s a criticism I have of this study is that we might have selection bias here – the study was based on the top-50 economics blogs with public traffic logs. That means that there’s a potential “halo” effect involved with respect to reputation i.e. how much of the effect is due to being a successful writer, as opposed to being a good economist, a point that is partially addressed in the paper’s conclusion: quoting Tyler Cowen, in general economists don’t start blogs despite the reputational boost…

“…because they can’t, at least not without embarrassing themselves rather quickly, even if they are smart and very good economists.  It’s simply a different set of skills.”

But the main conclusions are clear: if you’re an academic economist and want a wider audience for your research (read: more citations), there are worse avenues than starting a blog. The paper found that research being linked to from a popular blog was worth multiple years worth of additional readership. Better yet, get your university to fund blogs for the whole faculty, something along the lines of which publishes prĂ©cis of new research papers.

Time to brush up those writing skills.

Technical Notes:

McKenzie, David and Ozler, Berk, "The Impact of Economics Blogs", The World Bank, Policy Research working paper: no. WPS 5783, August 2011

1 comment: