Author Archives: varnson

mixed grill podcast

One of the great things about having the mixed grill is being able to go to all the lectures, seminars and other public events featuring a really eclectic and impressive lineup of speakers. While I was there I went to talks by people ranging from academics like Paul Krugman and Richard Dawkins to politicians such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair to nonclassifiables such as Chris Eubank and  Judge Jules.


I’ve now discovered that a huge number of LSE events are available as podcasts. I just listed to to Danny Quah talking about thinking like a social scientist. You can even hear the famous lecture on “Science and Pseudoscience” by Imre Lakatos.

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the funniest thing i’ve read today (so far)

Via MR comes the most hilarious ebay listing I’ve ever seen. It is just so brilliant. Here

(Of course, it is entirely possible, dear reader, that the funniest thing you’ve read this morning is this post. Of the three people (including the two owners) who read this blog, I suspect none of them is unaware of Marginal Revolution, so me linking to something there is, admittedly, pathetic and bordering on cheating in terms of bloggery.)

how to spend time

Yesterday I had one of those rare moments of efficiency. For some reason I woke up at 5am, rested, and managed to shovel the sidewalk after the near-record snowfall the night before, read the paper, finish a review of a paper for a journal, make pancakes, take the older miss varnson jr to school on her skis and walk in to work through the snow. All before 9.30am. And even the rest of the day was relatively productive. Ricardo was reminded of Eugene Fama’s use of time:

Region: I understand that you work every day, even holidays. Is that right?
Fama: Right.

Region: That’s an amazing work ethic.

Fama: Not really.

Region: I’ve also heard that you’re a dedicated athlete.

Fama: Right. I work every day, but I never work a full day. I get up at five o’clock in the morning and I work basically all morning until maybe one o’clock, two o’clock, and then I go play golf, I go windsurfing, I play tennis. And that’s it.       

This seems a very sensible way to work. If the junior varnsons would let me, I would make it a policy right away. 

a free lunch

A friend of mine defended his PhD at the University of Toronto today. As he was sitting outside the examination room while the committee deliberated, he noticed another candidate waiting to start her defense. Her supervisor came out of one of the rooms and told her they would begin shortly. Then he said, “Before we start I need you to get me and the rest of the committee some sandwiches for lunch.” My friend, first thinking this was a joke but quickly realizing it wasn’t, was dumbfounded. The poor woman gathered her notes up, zipped up her backpack and wandered off to find this guy his tunafish on rye. Unbelievable. 

bergh’s new blog

Andreas Bergh has a new blog which he promises to use as a kind of note pad for his ongoing research ideas. Anyone interested in the economics of welfare states, distribution, social norms and, not least, Swedish politics should check it out. I have a feeling there will be more English there than on Andreas’s regular blog. Rather, I hope there is.

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peer review and the publication process

Academic research relies on the system of peer review. But the system is, in the words of R. Preston McAffee, new editor of Economic Inquiry, “broken“. It’s broken in a number of ways. McAffee’s point has to do with the growing tendency of reviewers to act like coauthors.

There’s also the problem of increasing pressure on reviewers themselves. People complain of too many submissions to journals, too many manuscripts to review.

I also think that there is a problem with many editors shifting responsibility onto reviewers. For one thing, editors – or at least some of them – send out every paper they receive to reviewers. In the past month I have reviewed two papers that should never have made it that far. It’s a waste of my time and, not least, a waste of the authors’ time. Instead the editors of these journals should have rejected the papers right away. I realise that editors themselves have limited resources and that it is probably unreasonable to expect them to read every submission. But there ought to be some gate keeping going on.

A few possible solutions:

Charge a fee for submitting papers. Some journals do this. Does it work?

The relatively new Quarterly Journal of Political Science explicitly states that their review process involves an “initial in-house review to filter out manuscripts….” The QJPS also has editors for different subfields. This seems sensible as those editors ought to be better equipped to make decisions about manuscripts and whether to discount reviewers’ comments.

The solution proposed by Economic Inquiry is also interesting. They are experimenting with a “no revisions” policy. You simply submit a paper and then one of the editors makes a decision to either reject of accept. That ought to provide a pretty strong incentive to submit polished work.

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speaking of offices…

What’s the best way of allocating them? It seems that allocation based on seniority is the most common method. But is it the best method? In the particular case of my department, there are a number of people who have been around for a very long time but who do no research. I do not mean that they are lazy, they are in fact fulltime teachers who have no contractual obligation to do research. We also have a scarcity of (good) offices. All of these senior, nonresearch productive colleagues occupy plum offices, essentially because they distributed them amongst themselves when offices where abundant. Of course, there are now a number of new quite productive researchers who have poor offices; some with no windows, some who share offices.

It seems clear to me that this is a silly way of doing things. The primary function of an office in an academic department is to provide space to do research and write. Offices are also necessary for meeting students during office hours. So wouldn’t it be more efficient to put all these senior nonresearchers in one big office like we do with sessional instructors? They would still have a space to meet students and it would free up valuable offices that could be put to better use. Suggesting something like this usually provokes howls of laughter followed by stern words about “seniority” and “fairness”.

Yeah, yeah, it’s obvious where my interests lie, but seriously, is seniority the best way to distribute goods like offices? If not seniority, then what? Any suggestions?

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