Davis et al. (2011) conducted a survey of academic economists in the U.S., with 299 (15%) responding. The survey asked these academics to list up to three living economists over the age of 60 and up to three under the age of 60 who they “regard with great respect, admiration, or reverence”. Gary Becker, Ken Arrow and Gary Solow were the top choices among the over 60s, and Paul Krugman, Gregory Mankiw and Daron Acemoglu the top choices among the under 60s. The under 60s list of 23 names contains a number of regular bloggers – in addition to Krugman and Mankiw are Steven Levitt, William Easterly, Nancy Folbre, Dani Rodrik, and Tyler Cowen.
We merge this list with a list of the top 500 economists according to the RePEc rankings (based on paper downloads, citations) and also code each of the RePEc top 500 according to whether they blog or not.
And then there’s a model predicting the probability that economists named a person as respected/admired/revered, controlling for these RePEc rankings. The result:
…regular blogging is strongly and significantly associated with being more likely to be viewed as a favorite economist. Blogging has the same size impact as being in the top 50 of RePEc rankings for the under 60 economists, and a larger impact for the over 60 economists. [emphasis in original]
Tyler Cowen responds:
One obvious question, of course, is how the average returns relate to the marginal returns. If David’s numbers reflect the reality, and I believe they do, why do not more economists blog? I believe it is 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. The underlying cognitive model here still needs to be worked out, but it is not a story of smooth continuity.
I’d also ask about the causal mechanism here. Is it that blogging makes your fellow scholars more aware of your research, and the research is what earns their respect? Or is it that they respect you for your blogging itself? Or is blogging just a way to increase your visibility and thereby increase the chance—via the availability heuristic—that people will remember your name when asked these sorts of questions?