Saturday, August 22, 2009

Is It A Smart Signal To Submit Papers To Econ Journals With Incorrect Reference Formats?

Duh, the answer is no. But Alex Tabarrok at marginal revolution,, told his microbiologist wife that if she submitted a paper with correct Reference formats she would be signaling that she is a "newbie," with nobody who knows anything doing that in economics. She followed his advice only to have her paper rejected upfront. He complained about an "inefficient equilibrium" of journal policies in the hard sciences, only to have lots of hard scientists point out that it is two lines of LaTEX to change formats. Of course, few economics journals require LaTEX, and few economists use it Now it is true that econ journal editors generally tolerate submissions not in correct formats, which get "fixed" later if accepted, and a majority of submissions do come in that way. But it is no signal of intelligence, experience, or anything else impressive for several reasons.

1) It is a pain in the ass for editors to ask accepted authors to fix this later, and is costly in time if the journal staff has to do the fixing themselves.

2) If anything, journal editors are somewhat sympathetic to "newbies" trying to get tenure and publish out of their dissertations.

3) Trying to signal that one is "experienced" by any means is a lost cause unless the editor has heard of the submitter. If the editor has not heard of the submitter and realizes the person is experienced, this simply counts against them, a loser who has been around but so pathetic or unproductive or worthless that that they are unheard of by the editor. If the editor has not heard of someone, better almost to be a "newbie." (Although, of course, showing multiple citations to one's own work in respectable journals in the paper can offset such an impression.)

3) Having correct Reference formats may signal that the paper has been submitted first to the journal, which sometimes strokes the egos of editors.

4) Of course, worse than simply having incorrect formats (which is tolerated in econ) is having sloppily incomplete or incorrect references, with papers cited in the paper not there or papers in the references not cited, or misspelled names or incorrect years or paper titles, etc. This is just incompetence and signals such pretty clearly. Bottom line is that References that are complete and accurate and in proper format signal professionalism, not some damning lack of experience.


Leigh Caldwell said...

A minor detail, but I didn't read Alex's article as a story of his wife actually getting a paper rejected. I figured she was smart enough to know her field and told Alex where to get off.

Just in case any other readers were worried about this rather tragic story of economists' hubris. There's plenty of that elsewhere without bringing it into journal submissions.

Alex Tabarrok said...

Concering my wife, Leigh's reading is correct in both respects! said...

My apologies to Alex's wife.

BruceMcF said...

I don't see how the game theory of this pencils out ... if an editor receives a paper with the wrong reference format, the presumption would be that the author is normally writing in view of publication in a different journal. If that journal is higher status, its been rejected, so send it to tough referees to find the cause of the rejection. If that journal has lower status, its up in the air whether the author produces work of the quality of this journal, so send it to tough referees to be sure nothing slips by that is accepted by that "lesser" journal.

Its one thing that the argument doesn't work in practice ... a number of economists seem willing to accept an argument not working in practice. But I don't see how this one works in theory. said...

Bruce McF.,

It is widely known and accepted that most professional academics in all disciplines "shoot high" in their initial efforts to get a paper published. When it is rejected by the high-ranking journal, then they "trickle down" to lower level journals in their submissions. Few papers are accepted by the first journal they are submitted to.

So, one of my points in this post had this assumption behind it, that people will format a paper to fit the requirements of the first journal they submit to, and then are too lazy to reformat for the later lower level journals they resubmit to after that first rejection. I tend to assume this, hance my point that a journal editor might have his/her ego stroked a bit if under the impression that the paper is being submitted to their journal first.

Of course the argument of Tabarrok and others is that one should not even try to format correctly for that first journal one submits to, especially if it is a highly ranked one, because the people there might actually view this negatively. My post here has been to disabuse anybody operating under this delusion. said...


BTW, it is a fact that a majority of submissions to econ journals do not have correct formats, so going out of one's way as an editor to pick especially tough or easy referees based on this would be a total waste of time. Hell, we have enough trouble just getting reasonably competent referees to be willing to look at papers without engaging in such games.

Erik Hetzner said...

No knowledge of microbiology or econ journal submission practices. While I agree that Alex Tabarrok is right that it is a pain for the submitter (if they hand format citations, which is a mistake), it seems to me that all this signals about econ journals is that the submitters are arrogant and don't care about the standards of the journal that they are submitting to. That, and that econ journals should come up with a standard format!

PS: If you are going to use funny capitalization for LaTeX, it is capitalized like that.

Barkley Rosser said...


It may be that econ journals should adopt a standard format for References, but that is going to be very hard to manage. There are hundreds of journals, and, except for ones put out by specific publishers, they are all over the place on how they want things done and are very proud about how they do it. There is no enforcer in all this that can push such a uniformity.

I do know that there is more uniformity, much more, in some other disciplines, such as psychology and physics.

BTW, I think that I capitalized LaTEX as you suggested in my post, which I think is the way it is spelled, for better or worse.

Erik Hetzner said...

Hi Barkley -

Lowercase e in TeX yields LaTeX. For some idiosyncratic reason Donald Knuth prefers that capitalization.

Thanks for the info on econ journal guidelines. In CS, which I know better, the ACM and IEEE-CS dominates publication so most other publications seem to follow the same guidelines. Of course most CS papers are going to use BibTeX for references so it would be easy to fix.

I can't help but be intrigued by the idea that it is only in economics (probably not true) that it would be typical for papers to be submitted with improperly formatted references. Are papers that scarce? Are editors of economics journals nice folks, unless those ruthless physics editors?


Erik Hetzner said...

One more word on the dull subject, I meant to say Donald Knuth prefers TeX, Leslie Lamport (who wrote LaTeX) evidently would prefer LaTeX. said...


Oh, maybe I am off capping that e.

What we are dealing with, I think, is some sort of unannounced social norm that has just sort of evolved on its own. I do not know how it started. I have been around and always submitted papers with correct formats. It was only when I became an editor (8 years ago) that I realized how out of the norm I was. If we were to simply reject all the papers with incorrect formats, we would have few papers, and we would certainly be rejecting some of high quality.

Another norm that has evolved that I do not approve of is taking a long time to do referee reports. There is strong social pressure in some hard sciences, certainly in physics, to get reports back within two weeks. In econ, editors are lucky if they can get reports back from referees in six months. There are dynamics that reinforce theses sorts of things, so if a referee in econ is good and gets reports in on time, they are likely to be flooded with requests to do more reports, which is not viewed favorably by most.

I do not know what the norms are in CS, although I have published a bit in the area. I do think you are right that the IEEE play a role in dominating things there, but there are many more econ journals than CS ones.

Erik Hetzner said...

Thanks for the inforamtion. CS is funny because conference proceedings are where a lot of work is published. But I am getting a bit out of my depth as I am not in academics, but only read CS papers to see what we can use from them.


cian said...

Actually if I saw a paper with incorrect formatting I'd simply assume the author was too stupid to use a citation manager properly. I mean who handwrites citations? Even if you don't use LaTex, there's EndNote and Zotero (which is free).

Actually ACM and IEEE journals are sufficiently different that you have to change citations for both. CS Journals generally use APA formatting, not sure why (though that could just be my sub-field, which is half in psychology).

Ajay Shah said...

What is really irritating is that many econ journals will not accept pdf submissions; they insist on Microsoft Word. So even if you're able to tweak the .bst file used by latex, and trivially recreate it, it's no use.