Why Don't Reputations and Salaries Rise Together?

Our new study poses a conundrum: in a professional market (for economists), having more scholars pay attention to your research raises your reputation and your salary. Conditional on that attention, though, writing more papers lowers your reputation — but it raises your salary!

The question is why writing more (essentially ignored) papers has opposite effects on reputation and salary? Are university administrators ignorant, rewarding something visible that in fact reduces the scholar’s quality, as measured by his/her colleagues? We tested lots of explanations for the anomaly, but none described it well. The results suggest that there might be room for a Billy Beane (see Moneyball) of academe.

Ted H

Firstly, I don't see how writing more papers lowers your reputation; unless you are suggesting that it means the quality of the papers is lower which you don't explicitly say.

Assuming you meant that writing more papers lowers their quality, and hence the author's reputation, then your question make sense. However, it's not particularly difficult to explain.

Most administrators are either ignorant or lazy and because most of the salary decisions are not solely allocated to department heads, who are familiar with their work, it usually becomes a case of administrators who are unfamiliar with the quality or reputation of the academic making those decisions. Further, the recommendations of the department head (if he or she is even involved) likely will not be as reflective of the academic in question as they should be because there is a desire to not be a snitch on a colleague going on there. Hence, the lazy and/or uninformed administrator takes the reins. Usually, a lazy measure used by administrators is the amount of grant money they can pull into the department and university. As long as NSF or some other foundation keeps pouring money into that author to churn out his mediocre papers, it makes sense that the administrator would raise their salary - because they brought more money in, one of their key measures of "success."

I suppose I could be wrong, but this easily seems the most obvious explanation.



Your phrasing suggests a phenomenon whereby writing more papers causes a lowering of reputation; but surely what you have discovered is an inverse correlation between number of papers and reputation, conditional on a particular level of peer attention. It's not hard to postulate a reason for this: if economists A and B have attracted the same amount of attention, but A did so with only 5 papers while B did so with 20 papers, then A's papers were probably rather better than B's on average, justifying a better reputation.


Perhaps raising salary is a function of experience or total time in the field. More papers is an imperfect measure of experience; rate-of-change in reputation (in either direction) is also an imperfect measure of experience.


I would guess that by writing more papers, you piss more people off. There isn't really all that much new ground being covered in science, most new papers really just challenge the conventional wisdom. People don't like the conventional wisdom being changed. Ask Isaac Newton how the Church felt about him...

Jason S

Actually the answer is most likely more easy to explain than the current lines of thinking tend to suggest. Higher education is about being able to sell your school or program to the public. The professors of these schools are one means by which the programs are sold to the public. Many of the best companies that rate school programs use the number of times the faculty of a given program has been published as one of the criteria in rating that program. I know this was the case in MBA programs especially.

So the question isn't why are they getting a raise because that answer is simply that they are doing more work and giving more exposure for the school and the program. The question instead is why the respect level is going down but I don't think that is a hard question either. Good research takes time, it takes effort, it takes concentration. If you can publish 10 papers a year then great...but how great are they going to be. The idea reminds me of schools in general. Many schools get the reputation of being papermills that just produce graduates with no quality resutls the same way these professors are more than likely being thought of as producing papers with little quality or real insight.

Now, this does not address whether those papers really do lack the quality or insight that those that take their time and more work do...but that really isn't important. It is the perception that lowers the respect and reputation.

In essence it is a question of what the writer is wanting to really accomplish...both result in higher salaries. Though the time it takes to get these increase could be substantially different. Schools will market the results or the name regardless.


Eric M. Jones

@4. -- Gary

"People don't like the conventional wisdom being changed. Ask Isaac Newton how the Church felt about him…"

The church was just swell with him. You are confusing your tortured geniuses.


Uh, haven't you ever heard that quantity does not equal quality? You should know better than to just count published papers--doesn't mean a thing. I am not surprised that there's an inverse correlation between papers and quality.

There are an infinite number of no-name journals and periodicals out there who will publish anything at all as long as you pay them. Most good academics don't bother with these sketchy publishers, but many lower-level and marginal/third world academics lard their resumes by using them.

For example, while there are many excellent Chinese scientists, there are very many more marginal Chinese scientists who publish 100 papers/year in Chinese medical journals. All worthless, unfortunately.


Also, you could ask Isaac Newton how the church felt about Galileo, but I guess if you're talking to dead people you may as well try to go directly to Galileo.


Not sure about economics.

In medicine the cause and effect are reversed: The higher you rise in the hierarchy the easier it is to put you name on a paper one of your minions is wiriting. Frequently the "great man" has only a vague idea about the subject or the findings of the paper.

Michael B

In order to win the lottery you have to buy a ticket.

All the research, concentration and writing skill in the world won't help you if a topic isn't relevant and well received at the time. More often than not, good papers will fly under the radar without raising your reputation while possibly hurting it. Like voting, writing a paper that most likely won't help your reputation provides little to no utility. In order to keep professors writing, schools provide incentives in salary form for those that write. Universities are 'buying' these tickets(papers) in hopes that one will permeate the cultural zeitgeist bringing them fame and fortune.
More notoriety = more students = more money. Everyone responds to incentives.


Full disclosure - I'm an academic and have some interest in perceptions of expertise, so my thoughts may be biased.

People are "haters." We don't perceive positive and negative in a perfectly symmetrical way. Research on services marketing suggests that each piece of negative word of mouth is worth 6 positive pieces of word of mouth. Similarly, we instinctively believe that bad news sells better than good news in tabloids and newspapers. So that's the start point.

Now, consider how academics are trained. We sit in seminars and try our best to tear papers apart. We look for flaws in theoretical arguments, flaws in methodology, etc. There's no perfect paper, and we're trained to look for those weaknesses, so the flaws become salient. Whenever I look at reviewer comments, this becomes more evident.

If an author publishes more, it's harder to get publications only in the top journals. Publications in lower tier journals are automatically looked down upon. And even those in top journals are scrutinized. As an author publishes more, it's more and more likely that the content builds on itself, so there is some diminishing returns in terms of how novel the findings are. Publish more, and it's easier to find more negative data points, while the positive data points are likely to be somewhat redundant. Those negative points are also more salient and weighted more heavily, particularly among one's peers.

Now how does salary get determined? Someone in administration looks at your CV, and it's not likely that they are experts in your area of research. So, they get a list of publication impact factors, and then count the number of high impact pubs, and get an idea of how good someone is, w/out really looking at the specific content of those pubs. It's different information that's being used.

What do you guys think?



I would be curious to know what else is correlated with writing more papers. For example, I'm guessing younger people not only have fewer publications, but also publish at a slower rate. Also, I'm sure some subspecialties have greater rates of paper publishing than others. Could something like this be the real cause of the lower reputation/ higher salary problem?

ryan yin

Dr. Hamermesh,

Didn't Adam Smith give an explanation for this? Decompose your rewards into wages and approbation -- holding constant rewards, money wages & approbation must necessarily be negatively correlated.

science minded

One more point. While it might seem as if "in order to win the lottery, you have to buy a ticket." ... is this necessarily so. The Salahis got into the white house without a ticket. How? Sociology 101-- norms- shared expectations of appropriate conduct i.e., no one would have expected it i.e., everyone expected "guests" to be invited--


I have always found it absurd of how the Universities in U.S. pay more emphasis to publish more papers rather than emphasizing on improving the quality of papers published which is in contrast to European Universities which emphasize more on the quality of paper being published.....
I don't see any real gain from publishing more papers as from a research point of view you don't get a thorough understanding of the subject in hand.....