What I Learned At the Library
By Bryan Caplan
I’m in the last stages of my book on voter irrationality. Last week, I reached the part in my plan when I search for recent, relevant articles that I’ve missed. My plan: Scan all the articles published from 1999 to the present in all of the following journals: American Economic Review, Journal of Political Economy, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Economic Journal, Journal of Economic Literature, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Journal of Law and Economics, American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, and Public Opinion Quarterly.
The three biggest surprises to come out of my labors:
1. Out of all the journals listed above, the one with the most articles I actually wanted to read was the American Journal of Political Science. Call me a traitor to my discipline, but political scientists who study politics just seem a lot more likely than economists to know what they’re talking about, and a lot more likely than economists to have an original and true observation to make.
2. The sky is not falling. Political correctness has failed to break into the top journals in not only economics, but political science as well. Articles about “race, class, gender, and sexual orientation” are rare. When they do get published, they’re often actually good. For example, Public Opinion Quarterly had an interesting piece that discussed misconceptions about homosexuality.
3. A common complaint about academic research is that it is “literature-driven” (what Prof. X said about Prof. Y is wrong because of an argument by Prof. Z) rather than reality-driven. From a bird’s-eye point of view, this complaint seems overblown. There are lots of published articles that almost seem like they arose in a vacuum. Then the author cited other papers to pretend to be building on an established literature, rather than thinking independently.
Admittedly, most articles aren’t worth reading. But that’s no big deal, because there isn’t enough time in the day to read all the articles that are worth reading.