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Texas vs. Science

This is from the Guardian: Officials in Rick Perry’s home state of Texas have set off a scientists’ revolt after purging mentions of climate change and sea-level rise from what was supposed to be a landmark environmental report. The scientists said they were disowning the report on the state of Galveston Bay because of political interference and censorship from Perry appointees at the state’s environmental agency. More details here. The public officials changed any reference to climate change, sea level rises, human influence and global warming form the draft report. In response, all scientists associated with the report withdrew their names from it. I guess that last bit is the good news. The bad news is that politicisation of science is no news anymore.

Creative bureaucracy?

Searching for blogs about the study of bureaucracy, I came across the intriguingly-titled: “Creative Bureaucracy“.  That got me excited – we badly need more info about the creative side of bureaucracies. My enthusiasm quickly disappeared, however, after noting that the blog had two posts for the last three years. I guess, bureaucracies are not that creative after all 😉  

The ‘Nobel’ prize for Economics, VAR and Political Science

Yesterday the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel  was awarded to the economists Thomas J. Sargent and Christopher A. Sims “for their empirical research on cause and effect in the macroeconomy” (press-release here, Tyler Cowen presented the laureates here and here). The award for Christopher Sims in particular comes for the development of vector autoregression  – a method for analyzing ‘how the economy is affected by temporary changes in economic policy and other factors’. In fact, the application of vector autoregression (VAR) is not confined to economics and can be used for the analysis of any dynamic relationships. Unfortunately, despite being developed back in the 1970s, VAR remains somewhat unpopular in political science and public administration (as I learned the hard way trying to publish an analysis that uses VAR to explore the relationship between public opinion and policy output in the EU over time). A quick-and-dirty search for ‘VAR’/’vector autoregression’ in Web of Science [1980-2011] returns 1810 hits under the category Economics and only 52 under Political Science (of which 23 are also filed under Economics). This is the distribution over the last decades: Time period – Econ/ PolSci 1980-1989 –   13/1 1990-1999 – 406/15 2000-2011 – 1391/36 With all the disclaimers that go with using Web of Science as a data source, the discrepancy is clear. It remains to be seen whether the Nobel prize for Sims will serve to popularize VAR outside the field of economics.

The present and the future of academic publishing

Academic publishing remains one of the most mysterious industries to me even after being caught in its web for a while. I have found no better presentation of the idiocy of the whole system than this video: more here Unfortunately, recent development (at least in social science journals) do not make me very hopeful about the future. Economic journal are abandoning double-blind review (see for example here) and Political Analysis, which prides itself to be the number one political science journal, recently announced that it will do the same (there does not seem to be an official announcement yet on the site of the journal). According to the new policy, the identity of authors would be revealed to the reviewers (who remain anonymous). The main argument for doing so is that in many cases the reviewers can guess the authors anyways. It is puzzling that economists and analytical political scientists of all people would fall for this argument – even if many reviewers can guess/google the identity of the authors, double-blind review is still a Pareto improvement over single-blind review: while it may not work in all cases, it doesn’t hurt in any. I would rather encourage more accountability on the side of the reviewers. Anonymous or not, manuscript reviews should be public documents. Why not attach them to the digital copies of the articles when published (or even better, when rejected)? I can see no harm in making the reviews publicly available by default.  Instead, after serving as a reviewer…

The deterrent effect of the death penalty

Does the death penalty lead to a lower number of homicides? A recent paper by Charles Manski and John Pepper argues that, on the basis of existing US data, we do not know. Both positive and negative effects of the application of the death penalty are consistent with the observed homicide rates in the US. The argument itself is not new (see for example this 2006 paper by John J. Donohue III and Justin Wolfers) but Manski and Pepper’s text is still very interesting and highly instructive. Manski and Pepper strip the problem to the core. Say we only have four observation points – the average yearly homicide rates for ’75 and ’77 in two sets of states that either did (A) or (B) did not reinstate the death penalty after the moratorium was lifted with the 1976 Gregg decision. So in 1975 both sets of states did not have a death penalty while in 1977 group A had reinstated it. I reworked the table with the rates into the figure below. The red dots show the homicide rates in the ‘death penalty’ states and the blue ones in the remaining ones. The authors show that on the basis of these four numbers, there are at least three point estimates of the effect of the death penalty that we can derive from the data depending on the assumptions that we are willing to make. First, we can assume that the selection of individual states into the two groups (‘death penalty’…

Rules of Reason, Reasons of Rules

This blog is about the uses of abuses of research on public policy and administration. It is about the Rules of Reason – the rules that guide the production of social science and that structure the design of academic research. But it is also about the Reasons of Rules – the reasonableness of social rules and the (ir)rationality of public institutions.