Archive for July, 2010

Too Much Research

| Peter Klein |

Bill McKelvey is one of the signatories to a controversial Chronicle piece that ran last month, “We Must Stop the Avalanche of Low-Quality Research.” The five authors, from a variety of academic disciplines, argue that “the amount of redundant, inconsequential, and outright poor research has swelled in recent decades, filling countless pages in journals and monographs.” As evidence they point to increases in the numbers of journals, journal pages, and authors and decreases in average citation rates.

[I]nstead of contributing to knowledge in various disciplines, the increasing number of low-cited publications only adds to the bulk of words and numbers to be reviewed. Even if read, many articles that are not cited by anyone would seem to contain little useful information. The avalanche of ignored research has a profoundly damaging effect on the enterprise as a whole. Not only does the uncited work itself require years of field and library or laboratory research. It also requires colleagues to read it and provide feedback, as well as reviewers to evaluate it formally for publication. Then, once it is published, it joins the multitudes of other, related publications that researchers must read and evaluate for relevance to their own work. Reviewer time and energy requirements multiply by the year. The impact strikes at the heart of academe.

I think this assessment is generally on target, in my own field at least. What percentage of the articles in your favorite scholarly journal do you read, let alone remember? How much of the research in your field really adds value? Of course, search tools make it easier to find relevant information, so I’m not sure the point about lit reviews is all that compelling. Still, it does seem increasingly difficult to sort wheat from chaff.

I’m less impressed with the authors’ proposed solutions — limiting the number of publications that can be considered for promotion and tenure, making greater use of impact factors, and enforce tighter page restrictions. These strike me as superficial fixes. The main problem is the vast increase in the scale and scope of the “scientific” enterprise itself, almost all of it due to public funding. There are simply too many universities and institutes, too many research faculty, too many granting agencies, too much research money. It’s a self-perpetuating process, almost exclusively driven by supply-side considerations (who on earth “demands” the output of most English departments?). Some of you will be shocked by the claim that there’s “too much” research money, particularly in today’s austere climate. But I mean too much relative to some social optimum, not too much relative to what university professors want.

Why would we expect this kind of system to produce high-quality research? Perhaps it’s a miracle that any good work gets done at all.

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8 July 2010 at 2:50 pm 13 comments

SMS India Workshop on Strategic Entrepreneurship

| Peter Klein |

In 2008 C. K. Prahalad, along with Charles Dhanaraj and O&M friend M. B. Sarkar, established the SMS India Research Initiative. The next event is a paper development workshop on strategic entrepreneurship, 10-12 December 2010 in Bangalore, aimed at “Western scholars interested in research on emerging markets, and aspiring scholars primarily in Indian business schools.” See the link above for the CFP and the list of senior scholar-participants including Dean Shepherd, Candy Brush, Saras Sarasvathy, Harry Sapienza, Jay Barney, Will Mitchell, Zoltan Acs, Mike Hitt, and many more.

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7 July 2010 at 9:43 am Leave a comment

Speak Like a Philosophy Professor

| Peter Klein |

From Shrek the Third (text courtesy of IMDB):

Prince Charming: You! You can’t lie! So tell me puppet… where… is… Shrek?
Pinocchio: Uh. Hmm, well, uh, I don’t know where he’s not.
Prince Charming: You’re telling me you don’t know where Shrek is?
Pinocchio: It wouldn’t be inaccurate to assume that I couldn’t exactly not say that it is or isn’t almost partially incorrect.
Prince Charming: So you do know where he is!
Pinocchio: On the contrary. I’m possibly more or less not definitely rejecting the idea that in no way with any amount of uncertainty that I undeniably
Prince Charming: Stop it!
Pinocchio: …do or do not know where he shan’t probably be, if that indeed wasn’t where he isn’t. Even if he wasn’t at where I knew he was,
[Pigs and Gingerbread Man begin singing]
Pinocchio: That’d mean I’d really have to know where he wasn’t.

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6 July 2010 at 2:12 pm 4 comments

Thanks to Craig!

| Peter Klein |

I’ve been remiss in thanking Craig Pirrong for his excellent guest posts this past Spring — really great stuff! Remember that you can follow Craig at his personal site, Streetwise Professor. Thanks, Craig, for your contributions!

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6 July 2010 at 11:34 am 1 comment

The Reverse Peltzman Effect

| Peter Klein|

An example of the Reverse Peltzman Effect, a lot like Alchian’s (or Tullock’s) spear:

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4 July 2010 at 8:42 am 4 comments

More on Managerial Coordination and the Vanishing Hand

| Dick Langlois |

Many many thanks to Mari Sako and Susan Helper for taking the time to comment on my post about their paper in ICC. To give the discussion more visibility, I am elevating my response to a new post.

My Vanishing Hand argument is an attempt to explain theoretically the demise of the large multi-unit Chandlerian enterprise, the essence of which was managerial coordination across vertically integrated stages of production. That is to say, my argument was about vertical disintegration. To assert that a more-disintegrated system still uses managerial coordination across firm boundaries is not to resurrect Chandler’s vision; it is to back away from Chandler’s vision. (I document Chandler’s vision, and its intellectual roots, with more care in the book than in the original “Vanishing Hand” paper.) My argument is fundamentally about vertical integration, and I have no problem with the idea that managerial coordination is often exercised across the boundaries of firms. I’ll return to this point in a second.

Sako and Helper argue that, if minimum efficient scale is falling, the size of firms should be falling. And Giovanni Dosi and his coauthors claim that firm size isn’t falling. Well, first of all, MES determines plant size not firm size. It sets a lower bound on firm size; it doesn’t guarantee a smaller firm size. But the real point here is: what does “size” mean? As I pointed out in my response to Dosi et al., their evidence is at best about firm size in the sense of price theory: number of widgets per unit time. My argument is about firm size in the sense of Coase: number of activities undertaken within the boundaries of the firm. Vertical disintegration is perfectly consistent with larger firm size in the sense of price theory; in fact, we might expect it. (more…)

3 July 2010 at 2:27 pm 7 comments

Isomorphism in Higher Education

| Peter Klein |

Amitai Etzioni is upset that new firms are entering the higher-education market and offering — gasp! — a differentiated product. Worst of all, they operate on a for-profit basis! (“For-profit,” as left-leaning intellectuals know, is synonymous for “evil.”) Consider:

The education students receive at for-profit colleges bears little resemblance to the kind they would get at a true liberal arts college. Neither does it resemble the collegial image the for-profit colleges love to project. Professors at these schools often work on short contracts. There is no tenure. The executives make staggering salaries. Most students are taught online, often by poorly qualified professors who have very limited contact with the students. . . .

The schools’ stripped-down curricula and poor instruction often make for nearly worthless degrees. When students graduate from these colleges, many cannot find jobs — or at least not the kinds they were promised — and eventually, many of them default on their loans.

Of course, this in no way resembles the situation at traditional colleges and universities, at which all instructors are highly qualified, administrators make minimum wage, instructors spend lots of time with their students, and all students get exactly the jobs they were promised and pay their loans back immediately. (more…)

1 July 2010 at 12:04 am 21 comments

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