“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?

One thought on ““Academic Rigor”

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

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