Few economists bother to explain in writing why other people’s articles are a waste of time. Even fewer economists bother to explain in writing why entire journals are a waste of time. As far as I’m aware, in fact, there is only one outlet for economists to take journals to task: Dan Klein’s Econ Journal Watch. In the latest issue, Klein and co-author Pedro Romero dispassionately skewer the Journal of Economic Theory.

I suspect that JET fans will cry sour grapes, but Klein and Romero aren’t just whining. They have an original and thought-provoking empirical approach:

We examine the 66 regular articles appearing in the 2004 issues of JET and apply the three requirements of theory: Theory of what?, Why should we care?, and What merit in your explanation? We find that 27 articles fail the first test (Theory of what?) and 58 articles fail at least one of the three requirements. Thus, 88 percent of the articles do not qualify as theory.

Not convinced? Klein and Romero add:

Surely, the strongest defenders of model building would admit that the practice might go too far, into unjustifiable realms of creative writing. Economists will disagree about the “marginal conditions,” but every economist will affirm some marginal conditions, which imply the hazard of going too far. Every economist, therefore, should appreciate a watchdog effort, even if he objects to the watchdog’s test and results.