“Academic Rigor”

I just got back from an academic conference on “regional science”–that is, regional economics, geography, urban studies etc. I presented a paper based on my thesis, which was quite fun, and then watched and learned from others. A surprising impression: there is a, um, high degree of variance in academic quality out there. While a lot of the papers were interesting, and a few were quite good (a paper entitled Socioeconomic Costs of Air Pollution in China: Focusing on Damages to Human Health by an MIT postdoc named Kyung-Min Nam stood out), there were a lot that betrayed a dearth of critical thinking. A quick sampling:

  • One of every six US jobs lost in the last couple years was in California!!!!! Of course, one in 8 people lives in California, so.. is this news? Methinks no.
  • Relatedly, different real estate markets responded to the recent bubble in different ways, and simply throwing a “housing price” term into a regression doesn’t capture these deviations. More specifically, some places responded with a huge increase in housing supply, which kept prices relatively stable. This is still a bubble.
  • Exploring the effect of new light-rail park-and-rides on local housing value would be benefited by looking at houses beyond 600 meters, as people can drive to park-and-rides. You know, farther than 600 meters.
  • Exploring the effects of transit investment on land values is unlikely to show up when we are talking about city-level investments of $130,000. I mean, what did you expect to find?
  • Finally: econometrics, yo. If you’re an economist, you took it. Use it.

I’m not sure if I’m bemused, frustrated, or what by this. I know I’ve had bad professors, so I suppose it shouldn’t be too big a surprise. I don’t expect everyone to have the time or inclination to think critically about the things that I care about, or even at all. But is it a stretch to expect academics–be they from MIT or Southeast Podunkville State–to do so on the subjects they profess to care about?

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One thought on ““Academic Rigor”

  1. Hear, hear! Keep up the expectations. I approve.

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