Do We Have Confidence in Economic Institutions?
Research Networks and Research Assessment in Economics: the UK Case
Principal Investigator: Carlo D’Ippoliti
Carlo D'Ippoliti is Associate professor of political economy at the Department of Statistical Sciences of Sapienza University of Rome. He holds a joint Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Rome “La Sapienza” and “W.F. Goethe” of Frankfurt am Main.
He has coordinated and taken part in a number of research projects on gender inequality, discrimination and social inclusion for the European Commission (DG Justice, and DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities), the Fundamental Rights Agency of the EU (FRA), and the Italian Government, National Antidiscrimination Office (UNAR). He is the managing editor of PSL Quarterly Review (formerly known as Banca Nazionale del Lavoro Quarterly Review) and of Moneta e Credito. In 2018 he was awarded the Lyncean Academy’s Feltrinelli Prize for young social scientists.
Economists like to think that everybody reacts to incentives given their constraints. People will try and do what is best for themselves – except, that is, economists. When talking about economists themselves, we suddenly assume that everybody is candid and innocent, only looking for the hard truth of social facts.
Our project questions such premise, considering economists as human beings embedded in a social and professional context. We study networks of economists in the UK, with the aim of highlighting both social and professional relations among them. Economists may be closer or further away from others, depending on where are they based, what they work on, who they work with, and so on. Crucially, these networks may have an impact on how frequently an economist cites in her scientific works someone else in the network. This is a relevant question because scientific citations are considered to be the “currency” in the “scientific market”, and how many citations a person or an institution accumulates is often assumed to measure the quality of their research.
The use of citations as if they measured scientific quality alone, in turn, creates incentives for economists to socially and scientifically behave in a way that maximizes their odds of being cited. Based on what results we will find, we expect that this could impact such choices as what to study, with what method, and by joining which academic group. The development of economics as a scientific debate is at stake. And because of the impact of economics on the design of policies and institutions, this is a larger social issue. To be clear, scientific networks of economists are not necessarily bad: of course a person working on the macroeconomics of the UK is more likely to know and appreciate somebody who works on the same topic than an economist working on, say, the saving behaviour of the poor in developing countries.
However, our analysis will show that the social component of professional networks may affect the direction of the economic debate – creating an uneven playing field – in ways that are not normally acknowledged when one considers citations to be unbiased measures of scientific quality. Moreover, some of these professional links may have little to do with science: e.g. economists may cite more frequently friends who simply happen to have graduated in the same place as themselves. Documenting the nature and reach of social networks among UK-based economists will prove interesting from a historic and a sociological perspective.
Showing that these network relations have a systematic impact on the exchange of citations, moreover, will make it necessary to rethink widespread assumptions and practices of research evaluation. This way, the final aim of our project is to shed light on the dynamics of the economics debate, and hopefully to start a discussion about how to reform it in order to contribute to a healthier democratic debate.