A Citation-Based Analysis of Economists and Economics Programs

Article excerpt


The focus of this paper is to rank academic economists in terms of their research quality. A ranking of top economists serves several functions. First, it provides to economics departments, seeking to improve their relative ranking, explicit information about who are high quality economists. Second, the ranking can be used by graduate students as "reputational capital" in terms of how their dissertation, supervised by high-quality economists, will be perceived by prospective employers.

In the past twenty-five years there has been a growing literature on the rankings of economics departments in the United States. Articles ranking economics departments use, as measures of quality, either the number of articles or number of pages published in a sample of "major" economic journals.(1)

This ranking method is conceptually flawed for a variety of reasons (1) it assumes that every article published in this subset of economics journals is equivalent in research quality; (2) articles published in these major economics journals may never be read or used; (3) other forms of publishing such as books, monographs, or newspapers are totally ignored; (4) no attempt is made to measure the impact or innovative quality of articles; (5) it promotes a strong bias against researchers who engage in interdisciplinary, applied, or policy research and whose publications may be of similar quality to a theoretical article but are more likely to appear in "lesser" journals; (6) it ignores the problem of publishing favoritism (i.e. faculty and graduates of the same university as the editor of a journal have a higher probability of having their articles published and to be allocated more pages than those of unaffiliated faculty, Laband, 1985).

The main problem with these ranking methods is that they focus on the department rather than the individual economist. It is as if the department is an entity in and of itself. Economics departments are an aggregation of individual economists. Any economics department can increase its relative ranking by bidding away more productive faculty members from higher ranked departments, provided that they know who such individuals are.

Medoff (1989) ranked economists affiliated with an economics department for the period 1971-1985. This paper extends Medoff's rankings of economists in several ways. First, all academic economists, not just those affiliated with an economics department, are examined. Second, more economists are ranked. Third, a longer time period is surveyed. Fourth, senior economists (those between the ages of 65 and 70) are considered. Fifth, inferences are made regarding the quality rankings of departments and graduate programs.

Citations as a Measure of Quality

Stigler and Friedland (1975) argue that a more objective measure to judge the research quality of economists is the number of citations made to their research publications. The number of citations received by an individual economist is an indication of the amount of recognition an economist's research has received and reflects the degree to which others have made use of that work. Stigler and Friedland (1975) note: "Citations are an easy way to transfer the exposition of a theory or problem from your paper to someone else, so in the larger view citations reveal a form of intellectual collaboration. To some degree citations are influence, for they influence the reading by readers of the citing paper." Gerrity and McKenzie (1978) argue that the number of citations an economist receives during a given year is a measure of the flow of citations from a stock of past articles. They maintain that this flow is a proxy for the value of human capital an individual has accumulated. The productivity of an economist is a function of this flow and its stock. Diamond (1986) contends that a citation represents evidence that the person cited has done research that is viewed as germane to the current research frontier of economic knowledge and relevant to those attempting to extend this frontier. …