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They’d rather be rigorous than right

- January 11, 2013

Following up on my post responding to his question about that controversial claim that high genetic diversity, or low genetic diversity, is bad for the economy, Kyle Peyton writes:

I’m happy to see you’ve articulated similar gripes I had w/ the piece, which makes me feel like I’m not crazy. I remember discussing this with colleagues (I work at a research institute w/ economists) and only a couple of them shared any concern. It seems that by virtue of being published in ‘the AER’ the results are unquestionable. I agree that the idea is interesting and worth pursuing but as you say it’s one thing to go from that to asserting ‘causality’ (I still don’t know what definition of causality they’re using?). All the data torture along the way is just tipping the hat to convention rather than serving any scientific purpose.

Some researchers are so uptight about identification that, when they think they have it, all their skepticism dissolves. Even in a case like this where that causal treatment makes little sense. Also there’s the problem of economists who don’t listen to experts in other fields who could set them right (or, maybe I should say, the more general problem of researchers in field X ignoring important work in field Y).

Remember what I wrote:

The way I see this work, the authors have an interesting idea and want to explore it. But exploration won’t get you published in the American Economic Review. Instead of the explore-and-study paradigm, Ashraf and Galor are going with assert-and-defend. . . .