The monthly RePec rankings for Australia are in again. Always an exiting moment for the professional economists in Australia to see whether their latest publications have already been spotted by the automatic search routines, whether they have been cited as often as they deserve, and whether having their mum download all their papers every day has made a difference. The top 20 in Australia for this month looks as follows, where I should mention that I have kicked out some fractional foreigners who propped up the rankings of some institutions (see below):
1. Adrian Pagan, QUT/ UNSW
2. Michael Keane, UTS
3. Alison Booth, RSSS ANU
4. John Quiggin, UQ
5. Paul Miller, UWA
6. Warwick McKibbin, ANU
7. Murray Kemp, MacQuarie
8. Timothy Hatton, RSSS ANU
9. Paul Frijters, QUT
10. Yew-Kwang Ng, Monash
11. Carl Chiarella, UTS
12. Harry Paasch, Uni Melbourne
13. Kym Anderson, Adelaide
14. Joshua Gans, Uni Melbourne
15. Guy Debelle, Reserve Bank
16. Fabrice Collard, Adelaide
17. Benno Torgler, QUT
18. Alan Woodland, UNSW
19. Trevor Breusch, Crawford ANU
20. Michael Shields, Uni Melbourne
These rankings are based on an amalgam of research output, including the number of pages published weighted by impact, the sheer volume of work, the number of downloads in the last year, the number of citations, etc. For a full explanation of these rankings, see here. There is of course some bickering about these rankings, but they form a nice blend of aspects that favour those who are visible (like downloads), those who publish in the best journals (impact weighted number of pages), those who have impacted upon academics (citations) and those who are productive (volume). Though flawed, the RePec rankings are now probably considered the most authoritative rankings we have.
What are some of the salient points that come out of these rankings? Lets first talk about general aspects before we talk about names.
- If you look at institutions, the top 20 is spread pretty evenly throughout Australian academia. The ANU has 4 (spread over 3 sub-groups); QUT and Melbourne each have 3; UTS, Adelaide and UNSW have 2; and MacQuarie, UQ, UWA, the Reserve Bank, and Monash have 1. The geographic spread is similarly even: 4 are based in Canberra; 2 in Adelaide, 6 in Sydney, 1 in Perth, 4 in Melbourne, and 4 in Brisbane. Sydney leads the pack, but not by much.
- A majority have at some time been associated with the ANU, and then particularly with the Research School of Social Sciences, either as staff, PhD students, or Fellows. This goes for at least 10 on this list. The spread of these people in turn tells you that the dominant position of the ANU in the past is no more and that other universities have caught up in terms of the packages they offer the top academics. To regain its position, the ANU should essentially double the pay of the good economists there.
- Its a field of luxury horses. Of these 20, only a handful have regular teaching jobs. The rest can do whatever they like. Often they reside in specialised research institutes or have research-intensive positions in teaching departments. This in turn tells you that theres an abundance of money around for good academics. Compared to their US colleagues who, however famous they are, still have to teach, life is comfortable in Australia for good academics.
- Despite the origins of this list being firmly rooted in the ANU and some of the other Group of 8 unis, its surprising how many of these top 20 are now at universities not traditionally seen as elite in Australia. Particularly QUT and UTS have basically caught up and already overtaken some of the Group of 8 (which is of course why I am writing this). Australian academia is hence democratising with real competition emerging between the former teaching universities and the former research-intensive universities.
- You can get a glimpse of the political games being played amongst academics if you start digging into additional affiliations of these 20 academics. As hinted at above, until recently the rankings within countries were full of foreign visitors. Convincing foreign fractionals to be on their books is something some unis were particularly good at. In January, Repec put a stop to most of it by simply only counting people fractionally if they have multiple country affiliations. This change has had departments in a frenzy the last month as their foreign guests withdrew their affiliations to the places they visit because it was costing them their rankings at home. My prediction is that the few remaining foreign fractional will soon be forced to withdraw their current Australian affiliations by their home institutions and hence the rankings above are the rankings we are likely to see emerge the coming months, though if you want to see the list with the foreign fractionals included, see here)
- Research networks are starting to gather high-ranking authors under their wing. For instance, CARMA at the ANU (a macro-network) has nearly all the macro-economists on this list, hence way more than any single university. The NCER (an econometrics network lead from QUT/UTS) has signed up the econometricians on this list (about 6). Both these research networks have started to advertise their RePec credentials. I expect a competition for this kind of thing to emerge soon.
If we then look at the actual names and characteristics of the people on the list, there are several items worth mentioning:
- The king of the hill is still Adrian Pagan, the best-known Australian economist outside Australia. Well done, Adrian!
- The heir to the king would have to be Mike Keane. He is by far the youngest in the top 5 and would seem hard for any of the others in the top 20 to overtake any time soon, though us stragglers will of course give it a good try nevertheless.
- The composition of the index is basically about lifetime achievement and hence the list heavily favours the older established academics. There are only 4 person aged below 40 on this list (Shields, Collard, Torgler, and myself), and, as far as I have been able to find out, only 5 aged below 50 on this list.
- Pure theorists do not get a look-in. Rabee Tourky for instance, one of this countries best-publishing pure theorists, is only 88th whereas he clearly merits more. This is because theorists form a relatively small group whose papers take a long time to write, implying they get few downloads, not as many cites as some of the more application oriented academics, and cannot match the volume of the empirical guys. This is a problem with the RePec rankings. They should think of making a separate ranking for theorists.
- There is a marked difference in ordering between the world rankings of these 20 and their Australian rankings. It is hard to be sure, but I think this is because Repec calculates the rankings per region on the basis of a geometric mean (of the ranks of the 30 different items making up the rankings), rather than a straight mean of scores. This basically gives a heavy bonus for being close to the best in a particular item on the list, which in turn makes it important who is being compared to whom. More concretely, having good journal publications is relative rare in Australia compared to economists in the rest of the world, and hence those who do relatively well in that dimension will have a higher country-ranking than a world-ranking (this for instance probably applies to Joshua Gans and myself). On the other hand, if you have a high volume of work or are being heavily downloaded, you face more competition in Australia for these items, and hence have a lower country-ranking than world ranking. Take your pick as to whether you prefer the geometric mean of the Australian peers or the world peers.
A final thing to say is that the increased importance of these rankings will create winners and losers. The winners will be the active academics who can point to these lists when they go for promotion and pay increases. The losers will be those academics who have made other worthwhile investments (like getting grants, running departments, or teaching well) or who have stopped making investments a long time ago (the proverbial dead wood).
Another potential loser is our profession as a whole. A common yardstick can be used by outsiders to ‘manage us’. This will make the publish-or-perish culture within economics even worse, which in turn will probably lead to a reduction of tolerance towards out-of-the-mainstream points of view: the easiest put-down in a referee report is that the author doesnt follow the literature. Since we do not deal in things that can be proven beyond doubt in economics (unless you do work with no claim to relevance or pretend to yourself that a natural experiment gives the definitive generaliseable answer), the profession relies on reasoned judgment to make progress. The broad-mindedness needed to allow truly different perspectives to become mainstream will, IMO, suffer from the cut-throat competition we are engaged in.