Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Will econ blogging hurt your career?


Many people ask me this. Short answer: It's impossible to know.

Reason 1: The number of bloggers is small, and blogging is new. In terms of econ grad student bloggers, there has been me, Steve Randy Waldman, Adam Ozimek, Daniel Kuehn, Kevin Bryan, JW Mason, and maybe one or two others. That's not a statistically large sample, and there are lots of confounding factors (research quality, blog subject matter, etc.). So it's basically impossible to do any kind of quantitative analysis to answer the question.

Reason 2: Very few of the people you annoy will actually inform you of the fact. For example, I've criticized modern macro a lot. Maybe that has annoyed tons of macroeconomists, to the point where they wouldn't consider working with me, hiring me, or allowing my papers into a journal that they refereed. But if so, they're not going to write me emails and say "Hey, I think you're a jerk." They're just going to quietly decide that I'm a jerk, and I'll never know why my paper really got rejected.

So basically, nobody will know for a long time how blogging impacts people's careers. Those of us who have tried it are basically just very tolerant of Knightian uncertainty. In fact, I love uncertainty. In many situations I'd rather try something just to see what happens. I'm the character that gets killed first in every horror movie, but that's fine with me, since life is not generally like a horror movie.

But here are a few reasons to think that blogging won't be as bad for your career as many people fear:

Reason 1: Blogging is great for meeting people. Through blogging, I've met awesome people like Richard Thaler, Eric Brynjolfsson, George Akerlof, James Heckman, Betsy Stevenson, and Roger Farmer, not to mention fellow blogger/economists like Mark Thoma, Tyler Cowen, Alex Tabarrok, Justin Wolfers, Brad DeLong, John Cochrane, Greg Mankiw, Robert Waldmann, Scott Sumner, Steve Williamson, David Andolfatto, and others (I still haven't met Paul Krugman, in case you were wondering). That doesn't mean those people think I'm an elite researcher just because I blog, or will do me any personal career-related favors. Blogs are not a good-ol'-boy network. But it's very helpful to meet this sort of people, to get ideas and perspective, learn how to think about things, and see what's going on in the world of economics. Not to mention networking; senior people advise younger people, and younger people are potential co-authors.

Reason 2: Blogging really doesn't take up much time. It's like any other hobby; it may put a crimp in your social life, but work will still come first. Heavy blogging will require 2 hours a day, but I would say I spend an average of only 20-30 minutes a day on it. And I never feel pressured to post more. Blogging is not a job, so it's not an obligation.

Reason 3: Blogging helps you think. It helps to get things down on paper. Sometimes you have an idea, and then when you start to write it down you realize how vague and/or implausible and/or illogical it is. Writing an idea clarifies the idea, and it helps you practice communicating your idea to others. This will help with writing papers. Even the "blog-fights" help with logical thinking and being able to dissect arguments.

Reason 4: Name recognition is somewhat important in economics, and there is a bit of evidence that blogging helps to build name recognition. This evidence should be taken with several grains of salt, of course, for reasons discussed above.

So there are reasons that blogging might be good for one's career. But these should be viewed simply as mitigating the (unknowable) risks of blogging, not as reasons to start blogging in the first place. The real reason to blog is to affect the national conversation, to get involved with policy and national affairs in some small way, and simply for the sheer joy of thinking about stuff. In other words, the same reasons that people should go into academia in the first place. If your main goal is to make money and wear a suit and have a swank office - and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that - go find a nice safe job in a bank!

Update: In the comments, Steve Williamson adds:
Here's an old blogger perspective. There is risk associated with getting into anything you have not tried before. When you're young you have to take risks, otherwise you never get anywhere. There is risk in blogging just as there is risk in anything else we do. You can say foolish things in a blog post. You can say foolish things when you present a paper at a conference. In the first case you reveal your foolishness to more people, but they are more forgetful. Tomorrow they will move on to another idiot. Old economists who have had some success in the profession and have tenure can coast - they don't have to take risks. But coasting is no fun, and rust never sleeps. If you have tenure, you can use it to your advantage. Offend a few people. Speak your mind. Maybe it matters.
Sounds like great advice to me...

Update 2: In the comments, Frances Woolley adds:

Academic publishing is becoming increasingly dysfunctional. People have to publish to get tenure/promotions/government or other funding, so everyone wants to get stuff out, but no one wants to referee for journals or read their contents (except for a dozen or so top journals).  
As academic journals lose relevance, conferences, high profile working paper series like the NBER, and blogs are gaining. I get way more eyeballs - and way more ideas out there into the public domain - by blogging than I would by publishing stuff in mid-ranked journals.
Interesting...

32 comments:

  1. I agree with all of this.

    I do find it funny that people think it takes up so much time. 20-30 minutes a day sounds about right. I don't think people realize that a thoughtful blog post can take five minutes to write.

    I try to go out of my way to be nice in the blogosphere because of the uncertainty around this question. I've only had someone at work (a VP at the Urban Institute) ask me to revise a critique about a speaker at a UI event once - it was a little oversensitive I thought, but I was happy too (nothing substantive was conceded). From the snippets I've heard they were all happy with it and the profs at AU are fine with it.

    I've only been really caustic to non-academics, like politicians (who I have no interest in working for or with anyway), and two or three really unprofessional libertarians (who I had no interest in working with anyway), but I try to keep it civil just in case.

    I have not met as many people as you... but you're in a different league professionally and academically. Many of the prominent libertarians know me, though. I've had dinner with Brad DeLong. Nick Rowe knows me. Paul Krugman and Roger Farmer have both answered a couple emails and Krugman has linked to me. I'm pretty satisfied. That's not access many AU grad students get.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A bit of advice: you may not know who you may have an interest in working for or with in the future.

      You ignorant slut.

      Of course, we are all human.

      Delete
  2. I strongly agree on organizing your thoughts.

    Blogging is a way of getting ideas you might return to later written down and tested for initial reactions.

    That having been said, I blog a lot about things I'm interested in but probably won't work as much on professionally, and less about my 9-5 research work. It's sort of an escape in that sense.

    ReplyDelete
  3. In terms of econ grad student bloggers, there has been me, Steve Randy Waldman, Adam Ozimek, Daniel Kuehn, Kevin Bryan, maybe one or two others.

    Hey. Hey! Over here!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Whoops! Thought you were a prof.

      Delete
    2. Funny. So did I.

      Delete
    3. Next year, ojala.

      Delete
  4. Anonymous4:25 PM

    Steve Sexton wrote did some guest-blogging at the Freakonomics Blog as a grad student:
    http://www.freakonomics.com/author/steve-sexton/

    Though he's now a prof at NCSU.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Here's an old blogger perspective. There is risk associated with getting into anything you have not tried before. When you're young you have to take risks, otherwise you never get anywhere. There is risk in blogging just as there is risk in anything else we do. You can say foolish things in a blog post. You can say foolish things when you present a paper at a conference. In the first case you reveal your foolishness to more people, but they are more forgetful. Tomorrow they will move on to another idiot. Old economists who have had some success in the profession and have tenure can coast - they don't have to take risks. But coasting is no fun, and rust never sleeps. If you have tenure, you can use it to your advantage. Offend a few people. Speak your mind. Maybe it matters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, that's great. I'm going to post it on the original post.

      BTW, I have bad news...I've injured my back, and I won't be able to come to the conference this week...I'm pretty disappointed... :(

      Delete
  6. Heavy blogging will require 2 hours a day, but I would say I spend an average of only 20-30 minutes a day on it. And I never feel pressured to post more. Blogging is not a job, so it's not an obligation.

    Does blogging include Twitter because if you spend an average of 20-30 minutes a day on Twitter than Ryan's budget adds up.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I think your blog will help your career. For others, their mileage may differ.

    Just remember that there are more small and spiteful people out there than you would ever imagine so be careful with personal attacks.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Noah: "Maybe that has annoyed tons of macroeconomists, to the point where they wouldn't consider working with me, hiring me, or allowing my papers into a journal that they refereed."

    FWIW (not much, because my power over such things is also 'not much')), when I think "Noah Smith" I do not think "That annoying jerk who criticises modern macro a lot."

    The big risk for you younger bloggers (by "younger" I mean "anyone who is not old tenured over-the-hill coasting towards retirement") is simply the time it takes. Opportunity cost, and all that.

    It takes me hours per day, and a lot of mental energy. But then I probably wouldn't have a very productive alternate use of my time anyway.

    "Reason 1: Blogging is great for meeting people."

    What!!?? By "meeting" you mean "actual physical proximity"?? Jeeez. I thought the whole point of this here internet thing was that you didn't have to do that sort of stuff any more! I have met loads of economists through blogging I wouldn't otherwise have met. But I haven't been in the same room as any of them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Distance is dead!! Long live distance!!

      As for the time, note that I write a lot fewer posts than you do. ;)

      And of course I'm not counting the time taken to read blogs, waste time on Twitter, etc.

      Delete
  9. Noah -Blogging is a guy thing, but don't forget to add Jodi Beggs to the student blogger list.

    You must write pretty quickly to get your posts out in 20 to 30 min per day.

    Academic publishing is becoming increasingly dysfunctional. People have to publish to get tenure/promotions/government or other funding, so everyone wants to get stuff out, but no one wants to referee for journals or read their contents (except for a dozen or so top journals).

    As academic journals lose relevance, conferences, high profile working paper series like the NBER, and blogs are gaining. I get way more eyeballs - and way more ideas out there into the public domain - by blogging than I would by publishing stuff in mid-ranked journals.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Anonymous8:02 AM

    It would seem to me that if you write a free market blog, you might be in trouble at a lot of schools. Sort of like if you are a scientist who believes in God. The truth makes some people very uncomfortable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous8:25 PM

      If you were to visit these schools, you'd realize that your statement sounds foolish. For example, when Alain De Janvry gave a talk at NCSU in the late 80s, his paper's title referred to 'market failure.' The gasps were audible. NCSU has only moved rightward in the time since. Your last statement rings true, however; I hope you can get past your discomfort.

      (name redacted for obvious reasons)

      Delete
    2. Not sure I get it - do you mean like the truth that there is no empirical reason to believe in gods makes the scientist who believes in "God" uncomfortable? Are you implying that an economist who has actually read an intermediate undergrad econ textbook and understands that competitive markets are assured to be efficient only when there are no externalities, no asymmetric information, and markets are complete, should be uncomfortable at an economist wannabe who has read Ayn Rand and thinks that unregulated markets always guarantee optimal allocations? If that's the case - you're right! I won't hire you!

      Delete
  11. "Will econ blogging hurt your career?"

    Err, the correct answer is, a it so often is in economics, "it depends".

    It depends on what your career is, something you didn't specify.

    Neither Yglesias or I are economists for example: but we seem to be making good livings blogging about the subject.......

    ReplyDelete
  12. This is a great post, I have a more general blog, but from time to time, I'll write about particular economics topics. I'm planning on going to grad school this coming year and was a little worried about delving into more econ blog posts, but after reading this, I definitely will.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Cool post, Noah. Perhaps I can add one more benefit for economist bloggers outside the US: (cheap) access to a much larger - and expert - US market. Travelling to international conferences can be expensive (financially and time-wise) and blogs are a much easier way to connect to the top scholars in the field.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Anonymous2:39 PM

    I think the question should be, "Will econ blogging against orthodoxy affect your career?"

    I hope it would not, but you must not forget that la Cosa Nostra (I mean "serious macro") has widespread dominion in the profession.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Anonymous3:23 PM

    The key is having a good blog name ... and yours is one of the best!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Matt Rognlie used to but hasn't in a while. Evan Soltas if you want to count undergrad.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Anonymous8:42 AM

    "Will econ blogging hurt your career?"

    Does this question intersect in any possible way with the world outside your academy? It looks like every single person you list in this post is an academic.

    Is "your career" and the questions that relate to it and the questions that relate to blogging's relationship to it defined exclusively by the human boundaries of the academy and its bloggers?

    That seems like a very small world.

    Understandable, I suppose, but best of luck with the next financial crisis.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Anonymous1:48 PM

    Not relevant to your blog post, but here's something you should see if you haven't:

    http://www.richmondfed.org/publications/research/region_focus/2012/q2-3/pdf/interview.pdf

    Easily the most interesting thing I've read in the past couple of months. Big ol' hat tip to Mankiw.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Anonymous7:13 AM

    Where is Adam Ozimek doing his PhD?

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
  21. CdnExpat4:26 AM

    It's hard for me to believe that anyone can do anything well on 20-to-30 minutes a day, even something as (sometimes) superficial as blogging. Just typing in a post takes that much time and thinking up something intelligent to say takes more time. Moreover, bloggers spend lots of time reading and rebutting/promoting the arguments of other bloggers. Most important, I think, is that as best I can tell blogging (and reading the internet at length in any capacity) reduces ones attention span and that is the death of independent quality research.

    I hope for your sake that I am wrong, or that you're at a school that will give you tenure because you blog rather than in spite of it, but I think you're taking a serious risk with your career.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Noah,

    If you haven't already seen it, next time you see Kevin Bryan be sure to ask him to do his hilarious Kiwi-voice impersonation.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Great post. Well I think as long as you just blog about something reasonable and valuable, it can't hurt you. As simple as that.

    ReplyDelete