Tuesday, September 16, 2014

President's Message: September 2014

As we head into fall, it is a good time to reflect on the summer’s AAEA activities.  The Minneapolis meeting was well-attended and included an excellent slate of invited and selected presentations.  An outstanding keynote was delivered by Brian Wansink from Cornell University.  The excellent support of the EDI staff once again made for an excellent meeting.  The AAEA Board of Directors held its biannual meeting in Minneapolis and work on a number of critical issues is proceeding.

Under Past-President Julie Caswell’s excellent leadership, the Board undertook a series of “task-force” studies to address current issues of importance to the membership.  One of the most important issues facing our membership involves “communicating out” activities.  As scientists, we tend to focus our communication efforts largely within our narrow professional circles.  Once a paper has been posted or accepted for publication, we often move to the next issue.  Significant lags in publication time are an unavoidable part of the publication and written outreach process and it is often months before our work is circulated in published form and, once published, our work may not reach many important potential users of our research and outreach.

The AAEA Board is investigating avenues to address this deficiency.  Communicating-out efforts typically occur through two primary avenues—communication with a lay-audience through popular media outlets and communication with policymakers and industry representatives.  A small number of our professional colleagues seem to have mastered this activity but for most of us, our efforts often taper off once a paper is circulated in our own narrow circles.  The Association is in the fortunate position of having resources that can be invested in addressing this shortcoming.

Keith Coble is heading the effort to formulate a communications strategy that will better extend our research and outreach efforts.  The Board intends to finalize plans at the January meeting.  Your input into this planning process is very much valued.  Please communicate any ideas, requests, or suggestions to Keith.

C-FARE continues to play an important role in these communication efforts.  Caron Gala has done an excellent job in maintaining representation of the AAEA and its core issues in Washington.  We continue to invest in ways to further develop our network among policymakers, their staff, and with industry representatives.  I will be teaming with Caron over the coming months to explore new avenues for communicating in the Washington community and with other important constituency groups.

The Board recently received a number of outstanding invited paper proposals for the winter ASSA meetings.  Space constraints necessarily limited the number of slots allocated to the AAEA and we have six excellent sessions on the program.  The role of invited papers and the proceedings issues that publish the papers is another issue that the Board is contemplating.  Our excellent partners at Oxford University Press (OUP) continue to work with the Association to elevate the status of our publications within the scientific community.

A relatively recent development in the research community involves journal “impact factors.”  The impact factor considers the number of citations per published article over the most recent two- and five-year periods.  The metric is flawed in many ways but has become a standard in measuring the quality of research output in many circles.  Our publications tend to have relatively long citation half-lives and this can tend to bias downward the impact factor as a measure of the impact of research.  We definitely do not want the impact factor to have too much influence in shaping our publications but we cannot entirely ignore it.

Invited papers and proceedings play an important and, in some cases, surprising role in our impact factors.  These papers are often quite different from typical submitted papers.  The topics may be more general and often include surveys and reviews of key issues.  A relatively large number of papers are published and these papers tend to fall into two categories.  Many papers are not cited at all, a fact that tends to lower impact factors.  However, a result that I found surprising is the fact that some of the most cited papers that contribute the most to our impact factors can be found in the proceedings.

These facts were in mind as the Board considered proposals.  There are a few fundamental points that I want to emphasize to the membership.  The Board recently decided to allow authors the choice of whether to have their paper considered for publication.  The editors have the final say in what gets published and we have adopted an expedited review process for these submissions.

In my communications with this year’s session organizers, I have stressed my personal expectation that participation in a session necessarily carries with it an obligation to provide a written paper of publishable quality.  I am concerned that the option to not furnish such a paper may carry with it a moral hazard effect if authors decide to withhold some of the better invited papers for other outlets.  We all have the experience of a particular research topic turning out even better than expected.  I want to encourage all organizers and authors to provide their papers and to invest the effort necessary to elevate the stature of proceedings publications.

Looking ahead, President-Elect Jill McCluskey and future Board members will have the important task of managing these sessions.  I encourage everyone to start planning your invited paper submissions now.  Please consider adding a paper to each session that includes a survey or overview of the issues relevant to the session.  Such papers tend to trigger citations.  Also keep these sessions in mind as your research develops over the coming months.  Papers that may not be suitable for publication through normal submission channels may make excellent candidates for invited papers.  Please consider acceptance of your proposal to involve an implicit obligation to furnish a strong paper for review.  We definitely do not want impact factors and similar such metrics to direct our research but there are simple things that we can do that will improve the stature of our research output and provide higher quality output to the users of this research.

Lastly, thank you to all of the authors and participants in the AAEA sessions taking place at the ASSA meeting in Boston. I encourage all AAEA members attending ASSA to go to those sessions and show your support for your colleagues. Join us also for the TW Schultz Memorial Lecture being presented by Emily Oster, University of Chicago. Details about AAEA sessions and the TW Schultz event can be found on the AAEA website. Hope to see you there.

Barry K. Goodwin
AAEA President

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