All FSI Publications Journal Articles China Economic Review

Publishing and Assessing the Research of Economists: Lessons from Public Health

We highlight a growing concern in the economics profession that young scholars face incentives that are misaligned with conducting research that furthers knowledge and addresses pressing policy problems. The premium given to publication in top journals leads to an emphasis on exhaustive treatment of narrow questions. Detailed, robustly identified studies of novel questions are of undeniable value; however, the opportunity cost of producing such studies is large in terms of research quantity and policy relevance. For economists who aim to achieve what we view as the ultimate goals of academic research (enhancing understanding of the world, solving social problems, and building foundational knowledge to enable future breakthroughs), we offer some insights from publication philosophy in the field of public health. We discuss how public health has developed norms around publishing that are more successful in meeting these ultimate goals. We then offer thoughts on potential lessons for young economists in China and the economics discipline.