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.

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  1. Ted H says:

    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.

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  2. Greg says:

    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.

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  3. keith says:

    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.

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  4. Gary says:

    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…

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  5. Jason S says:

    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.

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  6. Eric M. Jones says:

    @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.

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  7. Karen says:

    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.

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  8. SDC says:

    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.

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