if the shoe fits …

I applaud Alice Wu’s research but I didn’t need machine learning or EJMR to tell me that economics has a problem with diversity. I had read earlier research ranging from Amanda Bayer and Cecilia Rouse to Heather Sarsons not to mention years of CSWEP annual reports. Sadly, I didn’t even need to read. Just being an economist is enough to understand the toll that our profession’s aggressive, status-obsessed culture can take.

Here’s my (exhausting but non-exhaustive) submission for ‘text analysis’:

  • 2007 – start of first interview at one of my flyouts

Him: “Our assistant thought your last name was so funny for a candidate.” Me: “How so?” Him: “You know, SAHM: Stay At Home Mom. hahaha” Me: “Oh.”

tl;dr seriously, this is how you recruit new colleagues? I often mourn my lost sense of humor but lots of folks aren’t (trying to be) funny.

  • 2008 – identical, reject referee reports on my JMP, at two field journals despite adding references to some of his papers after first reject

“… footnote 19 just dismisses inconvenient findings without taking them seriously. I do not bother discussing why the arguments on page 3 are invalid, since they are purely polemical …

The correlations of risk measures with other behavior is a nice feature of the study, but I have so many doubts about the modeling of risk aversion that I do not want to comment on the veracity of that work.”

tl;dr he doesn’t use surveys and didn’t read my paper to do his review.

  • 2008 – said to me, or rather to the person I was trying to explain a forecast detail to by his supervisor …

“Don’t listen to her. She doesn’t know what she is talking about.”

tl;dr led to crappy answer in the boardroom (bad form for me to correct a colleague there, so I was silent) the work suffered not just my self esteem.

  • 2011 – while prepping a research conversation with Bernanke was told:

“The Chairman doesn’t want to hear about your research. He wants to hear about research headed to a flagship journal.”

tl;dr thanks for taking the joy out of one of the coolest projects I got to do as a junior staffer and reminding me how little my work is valued.

  • 2016 – EJMR comment in response to my blog post asking why so few women economists blog …

“Thanks Claudia for the pointer, but your research sucks. You have never published in any semi decent journal without your advisor, so your opinions on economics research do not matter. That’s why no one of importance reads your blog, and not because of your gender.”

tl;dr don’t let anyone tell you that EJMR is a bunch of non economist trolls. this is the stupid status crap that shows up everywhere in econ.

  • 2017 – email correspondence about my tweeting on Wu’s research

“sorry if I ruffled your feathers … ”

tl;dr sigh, this is not about me and I’m not a bird … not one word of my concern about status games in economics has sunk in.

That should be enough to explain why I have wasted so much time on this topic on Twitter in recent weeks and why I found Olivier Blanchard‘s post disappointing. Read Amanda Bayer’s interview instead. Then look back at my points above. All but one (I can’t verify the EJMR source) came from an economist who outranked me and was not anonymous. Let’s talk about punching down. Not one of my examples objectified me as a woman or was of the lame ‘she works well with others’ variety. I intentionally shared ones that underscore how the economics suffers. Maybe I got a few of these because I am woman but I know plenty of male economists with examples like these too. The aggression and status quo bias so clear on EJMR did not start or stop there.

I love being an economist and am thankful for the work that I have gotten to do. For every negative comment, I have gotten many positive ones, but I have found that the negatives weigh more.  I am not going to regale you with the details but just being an economist did take a toll on me. And I worry that to survive and succeed I have internalized a lot of bad, aggressive behavior. To check myself, I try to thank people when they help me and I point out when they’re being too hard on themselves. You never know what crap they are hearing from others (including their own inner critic). Oh, and I am adamant that economics is a team effort and not the playground of a few big names.

So let’s start a (ten years overdue) conversation about how an anonymous online website should not be the primary source of info on the job market. We have to do better. I don’t know the answer but I helped with an #econlife Twitter panel this week on being an economist and a parent. Other ideas? Then if anonymity is so bad let’s take a look at our publishing process too.  But if you think stamping out anonymity is all we economists need. Well, as Bernanke likes to say “good luck with that.” The AEA has to step up its efforts, big time … and address the aggression, status seeking, and exclusion that got us here. Hope springs eternal with me, but to be honest, I expect to be disappointed.

Author: Claudia Sahm

economist - my views here are my own