Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Tale of the Dragon Slayer

The background for this tale is that I have just finished attending the 9th MDEF conference on Dynamic Modeling in Economics and Finance (actually, Modelli Dynamiche Economiche e Finanza) in Urbino, Italy.  Alan Kirman was in attendance and was much frustrated (as was I) with the tendency for junior scholars from around the world to present very conventional neoclassical models, even if they were doing some interesting things with them, Cobb-Douglas production functions, aggregate, with ratex and rep agents, and the whole schmeer. When confronted, they would whimper and say that they did it so that it would be easier to get published, which I  am sure is true, and in today's job market, I have sympathy. But they sure looked embarrassed and clearly mostly recognize that their models are fundamentallyflawed.

At the social dinner last night, Alan told the following tale of the dragon slayer over dessert.  Some of these young scholars looked to be squirming a bit.

The dragon slayer was widely recognized as being the best in the world at his craft, for which he wandered about gaining praise and prestige.  Then one day, a wise man informed him that there are no dragons.  He became very depressed and soon dropped completely out of sight. 

Then a few months later he reappeared, driving around in a fancy new car all dressed up  spiffily and with a beautiful woman hanging all over him in the car.  A friend asked him what was up.  He said, "I have started a school to teach others to become dragon slayers."

Barkley Rosser

1 comment:

blissex said...

«it would be easier to get published, which I am sure is true, and in today's job market, I have sympathy. But they sure looked embarrassed and clearly mostly recognize that their models are fundamentally flawed.»

Ah time again for the usual quote that confirms all this:
«found myself sitting next to a very likable young middle-aged academic tenured at an elite British university»
«Every year I publish papers in the top journals and they’re pure shit.”»
«Doctor X could and would like “to write serious papers but what would be the point?”»
«The amount of funding Doctor X’s department receives depends not on how many papers or their quality its members publish, but instead on in which journals they are published. The journals in Doctor X’s field in which publication results in substantial funding will not publish “serious papers” but instead only “pure shit” papers, meaning ones that merely elaborate old theories that nearly everyone knows are false. Moreover, even to publish a “serious paper” in addition to the “pure shit” ones could taint the department’s reputation, resulting in a reduction of its funding.»

So the story is that most sensible people do not base their careers on approaches that they think are sound, but on those that they think will give them tenure; because if an approach does not give them tenure, they drop entirely out of the subject entirely. A point already made a long time ago by JK Galbraith in a thinly-veiled novel ("A tenured professor", 1990) he wrote:

«"You simply won't get tenure. Tenure was originally invented to protect radical professors, those who challenged the accepted order. But we don't have such people anymore at the universities, and the reason _is_ tenure. When the time comes to grant it nowadays, the radicals get screened out. That's its principal function. It's a very good system really -- keeps academic life at a decent level of tranquility".
"Suppose one waits until one has tenure to show one's liberal tendencies?" Marvin felt obliged to make some response.
"The only sensible course" said McCrimmon "But by then conformity will be a habit. You'll no longer a threat to the peace and comfort of our ivied walls. The system really works."»
«the premature deaths of elite scientists affect the dynamics of scientific discovery. Following such deaths, scientists who were not collaborators with the deceased stars become more visible, and they advance novel ideas through increased publications within the field of the deceased star. These emerging stars are often scientists who were not previously active within that field. The results suggest that outsiders to a specific scientific field are reluctant to challenge a research star who is viewed as a leader within that field.»