Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Member Blog: David Zilberman



What I learned about research strategies and authorship

Before I came to Berkeley, I consulted my cousins, my professors and my friends on the secrets for success in PhD programs. Most suggested that you have to work hard, but not too hard, and you must have a life. They also emphasized that achievement in class is important, but the most important thing is to write and publish good papers. But what are the strategies one should follow when writing papers? What about authorship and publication outlets? After many years of experience, I have some ideas that I would like to share.

Papers start with inspiration, the process that stimulates you to do something creative. I believe that economists may be inspired by reality (desire to answer a specific problem or general puzzle that they encounter), literature, and data. Some of them are motivated by issues and others by methodology. I will explain the three approaches – reality, literature and data – based on my experience. I tend to be inspired by reality, maybe because my first serious job as an adult was a computer programmer and system analyst responsible for a payroll system. In that job, clients present you with problems (for example, how to pay certain employees a premium for unique effort), and you need to figure out the best solution.

When I came to Berkeley, I was assigned as a research assistant on a project that analyzed the impacts of new animal waste regulation in California. I was asked to suggest a basic research strategy.  I found that there was very little literature on the economics of animal waste, which was good because if we were creative then we would be noticed. Animal waste wasn’t my dream topic, but it presented an opportunity. We met with dairymen and farm advisors to learn their perspectives. I realized that they were very diverse in their technologies and banks wouldn’t provide credit for improvement of their animal waste practices. That led us to develop a rough mathematical model assessing the impact of the regulation; and Professor Ethan Hochman refined the model and linked it with the literature. We obtained farm-level data, applied the models, and after a few rejections from journals (an essential element of the publication process), we were able to publish several papers that actually helped me get my job at Berkeley.

I have followed this strategy most of my career. When someone asked me to assess the potential of drip irrigation in California, I started with a literature review (it was minimal), met with farmers and realized that people mostly used drip as a way to improve the water-holding capacity of their soil. I built a conceptual model based on this knowledge, and got data to help explain adoption patterns and estimate their implications. More recently, when I learned that governments intended to support the use of corn to produce biofuel, I started analyzing the impact of these biofuel policies on fuel and food prices and other factors, which made some noise. I realized too that when you start looking at a problem, you may need to team up with experts who complement your knowledge. For example, when I studied pesticide regulation, I collaboration Andy Gutierrez, an entomologist, and Bob Spears, a public health expert. Now that I study supply chains, I reached out to Tom Reardon who has studied the transformation of food systems around the world.

Many important scholars have been inspired by the literature. They may identify a major shortcoming in a body of knowledge and suggest an alternative. For example, Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman and the late Amos Tversky found major important shortcomings in the economic literature on decision making under risk and laid the foundation to modern behavioral economics. The recent Nobel Laureate in Economics, Richard Thaler, built on their work, found further shortcomings in current mainstream economics, and expanded the range of issues covered in behavioral economics by developing a new policy approach based on “nudging”. Similarly, Paul Romer, the chief economist of the World Bank, found that the traditional model of economic growth didn’t give sufficient attention to innovation and learning. He developed the endogenous growth theory that emphasizes the role of positive feedback and spillover among innovations, and the important role of supporting research, development, and education in fostering economic growth. Many applied economists are inspired by availability of new sources of data. Availability of fine-scale weather data over space and time enabled Shlenker and Roberts to creatively estimate the impacts of climate on crop yields. Availability of data from a national testing program of Israeli elementary school students in Israel enabled Angrist and Lavy to write a classic paper showing that lower class size improved students’ performance. Of course, many research ideas are inspired by multiple factors – for example, a combination of a literature that cannot explain the changing reality or availability of data to solve puzzles in the literature, etc.

Over the years I realized that I do not like to do research by myself, I like to work with others: argue about modeling, discuss potential research strategies, and have fun. In this regard, the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at Berkeley has been a great place for me to be.  When I arrived to Berkeley, we had a coffee-room where students and faculty exchanged ideas that led to joint papers benefiting everybody. One of the professors, Andy Schmitz, was very good at generating ideas and writing narratives, and his partners contributed to the technical aspects. Some mocked these collaborations as “the blind leading the deaf” but they resulted in many beautiful papers and launched successful careers. I felt blessed to collaborate with dozens of students, post docs and faculty members. It enabled me to achieve much more than I could have otherwise, established lasting friendships and helped my collaborators build their skills and become better scholars. Single authorship is of course fine – but do not make it a norm. I observed over the years that students with a few good papers, strongly supported by their co-authors, are likely to succeed in the job market just as much as anyone.

The issue of authorship has been with us forever. When I was a student, I realized there are many benefits to co-authoring with other students and there is nothing wrong in having a co-authored ‘job market’ paper. Now, job market presentations should naturally have only one author, with acknowledgements to co-authors. Furthermore, sometimes job market presentations may rely on multiple papers if they are related, and present a coherent vision. The most important rule I learned is that it is important to acknowledge partners generously and to avoid ignoring an important contributor. I was born a “Z,” which some academics consider as a curse but it really served me well in the army where being last relieved me from, or delayed, unpleasant tasks. If people contribute more or less equally, I believe in alphabetic ordering of authorship. Sometimes it is worthwhile to mention authors’ contributions in a footnote. Most importantly, when I write a letter of recommendation for a student and they did much of the work, I make sure everyone knows it. I always admired the professors that did the same for me.

Finally, where should one publish to have an impact and get noticed? In economics, we always have the Top Five[1]---mainstream, high-prestige journals in which everyone strives to publish. I was fortunate to have a few publications in some of these journals, which undoubtedly helped. But I realized that some of the best and most influential publications in specific fields, like agricultural or environmental economics, are actually published in field journals – like AJAE, JEEM, JAERE, and many more. The wider adoption of citations provides alternative measures to assess impact and suggest that the Top Five do not have a monopoly on quality. I actually find that economic work on important issues may have larger policy and academic impacts when published in non-economic and specialized journals, such as Science, Nature Biotechnology, and Global Change Biology, to name a few.

In one of our papers, we observed that people select their career in pursuit of Fame, Fortune and Freedom. The extent that academic jobs bring you fame and fortune is questionable – but I have no doubt that one big advantage is the extra freedom to pursue your own ideas. But there is also another ‘F’ – fun – that doing research can bring. So in retrospect, it doesn’t matter that much if you do it by yourself or with a group, if you publish in a leading general or field journal, but a good research strategy should allow you to reach your potential, and to pursue the beneficial and the enjoyable.


[1] American Economic Review, Journal of Political Economy, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Econometrica, and Review of Economic Studies

Monday, October 16, 2017

Members in the News: Klinefelter, Ward, and Singerman

Danny Klinefelter, Texas A&M University
Illinois Farm Kid Becomes Globally Admired Ag Economist
By: AgWeb- October 12, 2017
Danny Klinefelter worked at Texas A&M University and the Farm Credit System before returning to A&M after the 1980s financial crisis. He founded The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers (TEPAP). The program has had over 2,500 participants from 45 states, six Canadian provinces, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, Paraguay and Uruguay.

(Continued...)
Read the entire article on AgWeb

Barry Ward, The Ohio State University
Bumper profits aren’t in the picture for Ohio farmers, experts say
By: The Columbus Dispatch - September 21, 2017
“Is 2018 going to be better? No,” said Barry Ward, an Ohio State University Extension assistant professor in production management, during a talk on Wednesday at the annual Farm Science Review in London.

“I feel like a broken record up here the last few years. Five-dollar corn is not in the picture, and it’s another year of tight, low or negative (profit) margins for everyone.”

(Continued...)
Read the entire article on The Columbus Dispatch

Ariel Singerman, University of Florida
Florida orange crop expected to be lowest in 75 years
By: Tampa Bay Times- October 11, 2017
"Production has been pretty severely affected by it," said Ariel Singerman, assistant professor of agricultural economics at the University of Florida.

According to Singerman, production plummeted 70 percent since about 2003, just before the first instance of greening in Florida was discovered in 2005. At that time, Florida orange yield was forecasted at 242 million boxes for the 2003-2004 season.

(Continued...)
Read the entire article on Tampa Bay Times

See other Member in the News items

Know another AAEA Member who has made statewide, national, or international news?
Send a link of the article to
info@aaea.org or ascheetz@aaea.org 

What research and topics are you working on? Want to be an expert source for journalists working on a story? We want to hear from you. Contact Jay Saunders via email, jsaunders@aaea.org.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Members in the News: Harper, Mintert, Plastina, Lusk, Mullally, Salassi, Lewis, and Cook

Jayson Harper, Pennsylvania State University
Farmers say Maria wrecked bright spot of Puerto Rico economy
By: The News Observer, The Chicago Tribune, Akron Beacon Journal - September 29, 2017
Jayson Harper, a professor of agricultural economics at Penn State University, spent three months in Puerto Rico in 2014 and said the hurricane has destroyed the high value crops that farmers produce, some which take years to replace.

(Continued...)
Read the entire article on The News Observer, The Chicago Tribune, Akron Beacon Journal

Jim Mintert, Purdue University
Producer optimism about the future wanes in September report
By: Markets Insider- October 3, 2017
"Although the decline in the Index of Future Expectations was modest, it could be an indication that some of the optimism that surfaced among producers in late 2016 and early 2017 is eroding," said Jim Mintert, director of Purdue's Center for Commercial Agriculture and principal investigator for the barometer. "One of the drivers of the jump in producer sentiment after the 2016 U.S. presidential election was a sharp increase in expectations about the U.S. economy. But the last two times the barometer survey has posed questions about the overall economy, respondents were noticeably less optimistic."

(Continued...)
Read the entire article on Markets Insider

Alejandro Plastina, Iowa State University
Stagnant ag economy a downer for Nebraska
By: The Grand Island Independent, The Wichita Eagle- October 2, 2017
“I don’t see any reason to expect a rapid recovery,” said Iowa State University economist Alejandro Plastina, who specializes in agricultural economics. “There’s strong demand for corn and soybeans, but worldwide there’s so just so much in stock that it keeps prices subdued.”

(Continued...)
Read the entire article on The Grand Island Independent and The Wichita Eagle

Jayson Lusk, Purdue University
Conner Mullally, University of Florida
California animal welfare laws led to higher egg prices, lower production
By: Phys.org - October 3, 2017
Jayson Lusk, a distinguished professor and head of Purdue's Department of Agricultural Economics, and Conner Mullally, an assistant professor in the Food and Resource Economics Department at the University of Florida, analyzed 16 years' worth of and pricing data from California and surrounding states from before and after the law went into effect. Their findings were reported in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.

(Continued...)
Read the entire article on Phys.org

Mike Salassi, Louisiana State University
Listening session held on new farm bill
By: The Franklin Sun - October 3, 2017
Although the current farm bill goes a long way in meeting different commodity needs, much can be improved, LSU AgCenter agricultural economist Mike Salassi said at an agriculture listening session held on Sept. 29.

(Continued...)
Read the entire article on The Franklin Sun

David Lewis, Oregon State University
Oregon State University study: Water use doesn’t necessarily go up with urbanization in Willamette Valley, although it will in Eugene-Springfield
By: The Register-Guard- October 4, 2017
“In Eugene, one of the things that we can definitely say is that as land develops, water use will definitely go up,” OSU Economist David Lewis said, “But that’s not the case in other places.”

(Continued...)
Read the entire article on The Register-Guard

Michael L. Cook, University of Missouri
The Global Institute of Cooperative Leadership Course (GICL)
By: Coexphal- September 5, 2017
From this afternoon until Friday, September 8, the Global Institute of Cooperative Leadership (GICL) Course of the University of Missouri (USA), promoted and organized by the Chair of COEXPHAL-UAL and addressed to presidents , managers and members of the Guiding Councils of cooperatives.

(Continued...)
Read the entire article on Coexphal

See other Member in the News items

Know another AAEA Member who has made statewide, national, or international news?
Send a link of the article to
info@aaea.org or ascheetz@aaea.org 

What research and topics are you working on? Want to be an expert source for journalists working on a story? We want to hear from you. Contact Jay Saunders via email, jsaunders@aaea.org.

New AgEcon Platform



AgEcon Search, https://ageconsearch.umn.edu moved to a new software platform earlier this year and it offers these enhanced features:
  • Advanced search options including date ranges
  • Ability to narrow by publication types such as journal articles
  • Personalized options including saving items or searches and receiving e-mail custom alerts
The software was developed at CERN and is being used by a growing number of institutions globally. TIND Technologies hosts the software for us.

Additional features that will be added in the near future include DOIs for each document and more robust statistics.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Journal of Consumer Affairs & Financial Literacy and Education Commission Call for Papers


The Journal of Consumer Affairs and the Financial Literacy and Education Commission announce a
Special Issue and Symposium on: “Effective Financial Capability Interventions for Economically Vulnerable Individuals and Families”

Special issue editors:

J. Michael Collins, University of Wisconsin
Stephanie Moulton, The Ohio State University

The Journal of Consumer Affairs (JCA) and the Federal Financial Literacy and Education Commission (FLEC) invite papers for a special issue and a symposium on “Effective Financial Capability Interventions for Economically Vulnerable Individuals and Families.” Papers are sought that rigorously explore the effect of financial education or other financial capability interventions on changes in measurable financial behaviors or other outcomes. Ideally, papers should identify and evaluate programs or approaches for improving the financial capability and financial security of economically vulnerable individuals and families that can be feasibly replicated and implemented in other field settings.

The FLEC, established by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, is comprised of representatives of 23 federal government entities, is charged with “improving the financial literacy and education of persons in the United States.” It is chaired by the Secretary of the Treasury and the vice chair is the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The FLEC recognizes the importance of helping Americans gain financial capability throughout their lives in order to attain financial well-being and contribute to the overall economic health of the nation. The FLEC has found that this need is especially important for economically vulnerable individuals and families.

Given this focus, we are particularly interested in research that generates new insights for practice, including innovations that have the potential to increase the financial capability of economically vulnerable people. While submissions examining stand-alone programs are welcome, the FLEC has a particular interest in research on financial capability interventions that are integrated into existing platforms serving economically vulnerable individuals and families, such as social service and workforce programs; state, local or community-based programming; public health or health care delivery programs; housing; workplaces; post-secondary educational institutions and other institutional settings. Papers that provide the greatest policy insights are likely to include:
  • Identification of the particular barriers or challenges the intervention is meant to address;
  • A theory of change for the intervention that corresponds to empirically testable hypotheses, including expected impact on financial behaviors as well as longer term effects on financial outcomes and financial well-being;
  • For financial capability interventions embedded in existing platforms, a detailed discussion of the theoretical basis for, and empirical evidence of, how the financial capability intervention benefits the existing platform (e.g. outcomes related to employment, family stability, health, academic achievement, etc.);
  • Discussion of the external validity of the research and implications;
  • Discussion of considerations for successful replication or expansion; and
  • Analyses of strategies for implementing or operationalizing the approach at scale; the cost-effectiveness of the approach; and implications for private-sector implementation or self-sustaining support of the approach
High-quality studies using robust methods are encouraged, even studies with null findings, especially if the study offers insights for policy, practice or future research.

To facilitate the discussion of the research insights between academics and policymakers, the authors of articles selected for the special issue may be invited to Washington, D.C. to present their findings to a FLEC symposium expected to be held in Fall 2018.

Researchers in all relevant fields are encouraged to submit their work. Manuscripts may be submitted online through ScholarOne Manuscripts (http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/joca or connect via the link on the Journal of Consumer Affairs website). Style guidelines and publishing requirements can be viewed online at wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/JOCA. Please contact the issue editors or the Journal offices [joca@consumerinterests.org] for further information. Submission deadline: March 16, 2018