An economist who has published in the American Economic Review has written a paper that s/he thinks is his/her best work–estimating a probability of 1/3 that it lands in the AER. The anonymous author is offering to sell the paper to an anonymous bidder, make requested revisions, and presumably see the paper through to publication (here is Alex Tabarrok with more).

I wonder who will be tempted to bid on this and whether they might ultimately be caught. Presumably, grad students and early-career assistant professors already have a fairly well-defined research agenda. Especially as this story disseminates through the profession, I suspect a lot of people–dissertation advisers, friends, co-authors–might be suddenly suspicious of an AER-quality manuscript appearing among a young scholar’s works (unless said scholar decided, perhaps wisely, to sit on it for a while).

Bidders would also be taking a risk given that the paper would be outside a prospective bidder’s field. I have written pretty widely, but people would be justly suspicious if I suddenly posted an AER or QJE-quality macro paper on my website. Ethics aside, I don’t think it would make sense for me to bid. I had one paper make it as far as the referees at the QJE before it was rejected, but I haven’t actually published in any of the super-top journals. It’s not very likely that the paper is in one of my areas, so it would probably send up a huge red flag if I, a professor at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama (not Stanford University in Palo Alto, California as some people think unless I’m very careful about enunciating the first syllable in “Samford”) were to suddenly “produce” a piece of AER-quality scholarship that, in all likelihood, isn’t related to the rest of my research agenda. I would essentially be bidding for reading material, but if I want AER-quality reading material, I can just read the AER.

Again, cast ethics aside. In this case, who should bid?