Archive for June, 2009

Universities and Immigrants…

28 June 2009

Thomas Friedman lost me completely when he endorsed the invasion of Iraq, and most of the time the things he says are pretty vapid. But today’s column is actually pretty good, if, as usual, lacking in a full appraisal of the situation. In particular:

I still believe that America, with its unrivaled freedoms, venture capital industry, research universities and openness to new immigrants has the best assets to be taking advantage of this moment — to out-innovate our competition. But we should be pressing these advantages to the max right now.

That’s probably true, especially the bit about research universities (being totally objective). American’s higher education system is the best on the planet.

This is also on-target, I think:

China is also courting trouble. Recently — in the name of censoring pornography — China blocked access to Google and demanded that computers sold in China come supplied with an Internet nanny filter called Green Dam Youth Escort, starting July 1. Green Dam can also be used to block politics, not just Playboy. Once you start censoring the Web, you restrict the ability to imagine and innovate. You are telling young Chinese that if they really want to explore, they need to go abroad.

We should be taking advantage. Now is when we should be stapling a green card to the diploma of any foreign student who earns an advanced degree at any U.S. university, and we should be ending all H-1B visa restrictions on knowledge workers who want to come here. They would invent many more jobs than they would supplant. The world’s best brains are on sale. Let’s buy more!

The current problem is that even the richest research universities (like Harvard) are cutting back. How long this will last remains to be seen, but the downturn in the stock market (and thus in the endowments of those rich universities) is causing problems in hiring. I am sure this also has had an effect on graduate student funding.

So, Friedman gets it right, but misses the broader effects of the crisis on higher education.

QJPS Style Guide — Required Reading!

26 June 2009

I received today the best style guide for a journal that I have ever received… from politcal scientists, no less.

Here are a few excerpts (and my comments) from the style guide of the Quarterly Journal of Political Science:

Acknowledgments. Please be brief. Avoid hyperbole and effusive expressions of debts of gratitude to family, friends, pets, etc.

HA! I wish they’d also added that one shouldn’t include that craven caveat “All remaining errors are the responsibility of the author,” or somesuch stupid thing. Even worse, in my opinion, is the cryptic “The usual caveats apply.” Duh! Of course the errors are the responsibility of the author. If I give someone comments, they can take them or not… but it’s their name that’s on the byline, not mine.

Put another way — If you’re an economist (or political scientist), I’ll be happy to share authorship on any paper if you’re willing to let me take part of the blame if you’re found to have screwed up. Unless you’re Steve Levitt.

Reporting of Data

  • Please use three significant digits in tables and text.

I agree. This is usually sufficient.

  • We prefer the reporting of standard errors, because QJPS readers can divide. We
    frown upon stars and daggers not only because they are unsightly but also because
    QJPS readers have inalienable rights to choose their own critical values.

YES! I’ve been saying this for years (something I got from Gary Solon in grad school, I think). Ironically, the paper I submitted to the QJPS actually had asterisks in it… but only because we thought political scientists liked them. Now I know that the opposite is true, at least among the serious empirical political scientists.

  • Because the alternative hypothesis β ≠ 0 is not as interesting as β ≥ 0, p-values should be one-tailed in most instances.

Here I disagree. It depends on what’s appropriate to the underlying theory being tested. A priori, I’m not sure you can say that one is more interesting than the other.

One correction, though. If the null is β = 0, then the strong inequality should be used in the alternative, not the weak inequality. What if the coefficient were identically zero, would you reject or not reject the null?

  • In text and tables, avoid abbreviations in the names of variables. Modern typesetters can accommodate upper and lower case fonts and words longer than eight characters, so full descriptive words or phrases are preferred.

    •  Opaque: The coefficient for DINVTSHR is positive.

    •  Clear: The coefficient for Democratic incumbent’s vote share is positive

Again, YES! I hate it when people use variable names in their tables and in the text of their papers. You have to spend all your time reading the paper flipping back between the table that defines the variables (if there even is one) and the table you’re interested in. In my experience, the Industrial and Labor Relations Review is especially egregious in this regard.

So, hats off to Keith Krehbiel and Nolan McCarty, the chief editors of the QJPS. Everyone doing empirical work should adopt these guidelines, whether they’re in political science, economics, demography, public policy, or other fields.

“Toy Models” and “Stylized Facts”

12 June 2009

I’ve been at a couple of different conferences over the last two weeks, both very different in content (immigration vs. law/econ) and style (20 papers vs. 7 papers over two days). This has given me a little time to ruminate over fad phrases in economics.

The one that seems to be running around these days is “toy model”. I’m not sure where this started, but I think it’s dumb. What do people mean when they say this? That’s is a partial equilibrium model? Then why not say that? It seems to me to be a way for empirical folks to say that they wrote down a model, but they don’t think it’s got much relation to reality or the empirical work that follows. If you write down a model, you should be willing to defend it. If you think it’s not very complete, then why do it? Just refer to it as “the model” and be done with it.

A phrase I hadn’t heard in a while, but which showed up at one of the conferences was “stylized fact”. I also don’t know where this got started, although I seem to remember hearing it a lot from Harvard and MIT grad students on the market when I was a grad student at Michigan. I have always wondered exactly what is a “stylized” fact. Does that me that it is somehow not true? Or that it’s a simplified version of reality? I am glad that this fad phrase seems to have goneout of fashion, because like “toy model,” I think it’s just dumb — one of those phrases that economists utter to show that they’re “in the club” that generally have little or no content.

Thankfully, I have never heard anyone say that they were going to employ a “toy model” to try to explain the “stylized facts”!