How Much is a Publication Worth?

Rembrandt, Scholar at a Table by Candle-light

Rembrandt, Scholar at a Table by Candle-light

How much is a publication worth? If you are a professor of economics at the University of California, this study says that each article published in your field’s top journals (American Economic ReviewEconometrica, and Review of Economics and Statistics) increases your annual salary by 1.5 percent or about $2,053. Here’s the abstract, which details a few other factors:

We study salaries of economics faculty at the University of California to determine how publications affect salary. We find that each publication in a top 10 journal has a positive and significant effect on annual base salary of 1.5%, or $2,053. Unlike previous research, our analysis specifies the impact of publications in specific journals. Publications in American Economic ReviewEconometrica, and Review of Economics and Statistics have an independent positive effect on salary. Compensation is also affected by faculty rank, seniority, university of employment, and teaching awards. Base salary does not significantly differ by gender, however, gross salary is about 9% lower for women. After controlling for migration and faculty rank, seniority has a negative impact on salary.

Let’s plug this in to the calculation that Mike Munger used in a post late last year.

[A] journal article publication is “worth” at least $10k, in terms of increment to future expected value of lifetime salary.  A good journal publication, in a top field journal, is worth more than $25k.  Sure, you don’t get paid by check, when the thing gets accepted.  But if you add up the differences in salary, over time, for your whole career, when you are very young, small differences in hiring, raises, and promotion make a big difference.  (For example, if a young scholar published a paper, and gets a $1,000 dollar raise, assuming a 10% discount rate, that’s $9,427 in present value over a 30 year career.  At a 5% discount rate, that would be more than $15,000).

So, if you want money, publish journal articles.  Your time is worth at least $100 per hour, maybe more, since you can write a journal article in 100 hours of actual work (and 100x$100=$10,000)

The present value of a $2,503 salary bump over thirty years with 10 percent discounting is $23,596. If the 100 hour figure is still accurate for the top journals listed above, that is $235/hour. Even it takes twice as long to write a top journal article it is still more profitable than publishing in the “average” $1,000/year/article journal. But if you have no chance of making it into the top journals you should aim your sights a bit lower and make up for it by increasing your output. Either way, these calculations show that time spent writing is valuable if it leads to publications.

[via @UdadisiSuperior]

Ruby’s Benevolent Dictator

The Ruby Logo

The Ruby Logo

The first version of the Ruby programming language was developed by Yukihiro Matsumoto, better known as “Matz,” in 1995. Since then it has become especially popular for web development thanks to the advent of Rails by DHH. A variety of Ruby implementations have also sprung up, optimized for various uses. You may recall our recent discussion of RubyMotion as a well to develop iOS apps in Ruby. As with human languages, the spread and evolution of computer languages raises an interesting question: how different can two things be and still be the same?

To run with the human language example for a bit, consider the following. My native language is American English. (There are a number of regional variants within the US, so even the fact that American English is a useful category is telling.) I would recognize a British citizen with a cockney accent as a speaker of the same language, even though I would have trouble understanding him or her. I would not, however, recognize a French speaker as someone with whom I shared a language. The latter distinction exists despite the relative similarity between the languages–a shared alphabet, shared roots in Latin, and so on. So who decides whether two languages are the same?

In the case of human languages this is very much an emergent decision, worked out through the behavior of numerous individuals with little conscious thought for their coordination. This is where the human/computer language analogy fails us. The differences between computer languages are discrete, not continuous–there are measurable differences and similarities between any two language implementations, and intermediate steps between one implementation and another might not be viable. So who decides what is Ruby and what is not?

That is the question Brian Shirai raised in a series of posts and a conference talk. As of right now there is no clear process by which the community decides the future of Ruby, or what counts as a legitimate Ruby implementation. Matz is a benevolent dictator–but maybe not for life. His implementation is known to some as MRI–“Matz’s Ruby Implementation,” with the implication that this is just one of many.

Shirai is proposing a process by which the Ruby community could depersonalize such decisions by moving to a decision-making council. This depersonalization of power relations is at the heart of what it means to institutionalize. Shirai’s process consists of seven steps:

  1. Ruby Design Council made up of representatives from any significant Ruby implementation, where significant means able to run a base level of RubySpec (which is to be determined).
  2. A proposal for a Ruby change can be submitted by any member of the Ruby Design Council. If a member of the larger Ruby community wishes to submit a proposal, they must work with a member of the Council.
  3. The proposal must meet the following criteria:
    1. An explanation, written in English, of the change, what use cases or problems motivates the change, how existing libraries, frameworks, or applications may be affected.
    2. Complete documentation, written in English, describing all relevant aspects of the change, including documentation for any specific methods whose behavior changes or behavior of new methods that are added.
    3. RubySpecs that completely describe the behavior of the change.
  4. When the Council is presented with a proposal that meets the above criteria, any member can decide that the proposal fails to make a case that justifies the effort to implement the feature. Such veto must explain in depth why the proposed change is unsuitable for Ruby. The member submitting the proposal can address the deficiencies and resubmit.
  5. If a proposal is accepted for consideration, all Council members must implement the feature so that it passes the RubySpecs provided.
  6. Once all Council members have implemented the feature, the feature can be discussed in concrete terms. Any implementation, platform, or performance concerns can be addressed. Negative or positive impact on existing libraries, frameworks or applications can be clearly and precisely evaluated.
  7. Finally, a vote on the proposed change is taken. Each implementation gets one vote. Only changes that receive approval from all Council members become the definition of Ruby.

Step 3B is a particularly interesting one for students of politics. As you may have guessed, Matz is Japanese. (This is somewhat ironic since Ruby is the currently the most readable language for English speakers–see this example if you don’t believe me.) Many discussions about Ruby take place on Japanese message boards, and some non-Japanese developers have even learned Japanese so that they can participate in these discussions. English is the lingua franca of the international software development community, so Shirai’s proposal makes sense but it is not uncontroversial.

In Shirai’s own words this proposal would provide the Ruby community with a “technology for change.” That is exactly what political institutions are for–organizing the decision-making capacity of a community. This proposal and its eventual acceptance, rejection, or modification by the Ruby community will be interesting for students of politics to keep an eye on, and may be the topic of future posts.

America and Food Trucks: A Proud but Troubled Relationship

Food trucks in Durham, NC from

Food trucks in Durham, NC from

America has a proud history of mobile food vendors who have gone on to become magnates of industry. Marcus Goldman, founder of Goldman Sachs, found his first job in America peddling food from a horse-drawn cart on the streets of Philadelphia. JW Marriott, founder of the hotel chain, had an A&W root beer franchise in Washington, D.C.

Now the town that gave Marriott his start wants to make life more difficult for today’s version of Goldman’s cart–food trucks:

D.C. Food Truck Association chairman and Red Hook Lobster Pound co-owner Doug Povich says trucks could end up winning proposed locations with little weekday lunch traffic like Navy Yard, Historic Anacostia, Minnesota or Benning avenues NE, and Friendship Heights. Because they’ve spent $150 for the spot, they’ll likely go the first time. But if they’re losing money there, they may not want to come back the following weeks, Povich says. The result would be empty parking spots that nobody else could use for four hours….

And then there’s the possibility that food trucks may not get a spot in a mobile vending zone at all. In that case, finding a location to vend in the central business district could be tough. Last fall, the D.C. Food Truck Association measured sidewalks throughout the area and found that eight of the 10 most popular vending locations had fewer than 10 feet of unobstructed sidewalk, which would make them off-limits under the proposed rules.

New York City already has a tangle of legislation that effectively makes food trucks illegal there, despite their popularity. It is illegal to sell merchandise from metered parking in the city, and the state Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that this applies to food as well. Food trucks are uniquely mobile, allowing them to relocate in response to regulation:

If the D.C. Council passes the regulations as they are now written, Basil Thyme may not be the only food truck putting the brakes on business. Several food truck owners say they are considering shutting down or moving their operations to Virginia, Maryland, or other states if the regulations prove too limiting.

If D.C.’s proposal passes there may be no more food truck lunches in the District–free or otherwise.

The Randomness of Borders

Fifty US States Redrawn with Equal Population

Fifty US States Redrawn with Equal Population

Rivers and oceans help to form natural boundaries, but if it’s a straight line you can bet that it’s essentially random–and it might even be in the wrong place:

Four Corners Monument, which marks the intersection of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, lies 1,807 feet (550 meters) east of where it would have been placed in 1875 had surveyor Chandler Robbins used a modern GPS device to pinpoint the coordinates he was tasked with locating.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter now. Once set in stone, monuments become law. “Even if the surveyor made some grand mistake, once the monument is set and accepted, end of story. Where the monument is, that’s where the boundary is,” said Dave Doyle, chief geodetic surveyor at the National Geodetic Survey (NGS).

Those straight lines have a value though–they are easy to verify and make it simple to calculate the land area within a specified region. Linear borders for a parcel of land can increase its value up to 30 percent say economists Gary Libecap and Dean Lueck:

They look at the 116 billion square meters of land in the state of Ohio. Because of an accident of history, a large fraction of these square meters were assembled into irregularly shaped parcels via an uncoordinated process of private claims by independent individuals. The rest were assembled first into rectangular parcels along the lines of the survey called for in the Northwest Ordinance and then transfered to private ownership.

It’s worth reading the paper to get all the details, but the punch line is that this difference in the initial bundling of small bits of land had a lasting effect on how they are used. Today, more than 200 years later, a flat square meter is worth 30% less if it was initially assigned to an irregularly shaped parcel.

I have been reading up on border arrangements in Europe and Africa lately as part of a project on state-making. The best introduction I have found so far is that of Jeffrey Herbst, who argues that maps and formal boundaries were not developed in Africa because low population densities made them useless. In fact, it took until 1975 for population density of Africa to rival that of Europe in the 15th century. For another look at the randomness of borders, check out this paper by John McCauley and Dan Posner.

See also: Ian Lustick on Israel’s borders

Grad Student Advice Round-Up

impostorNearly two years into my graduate school experience, I now feel qualified to write this post–especially since it is an aggregation of others’ experiences and recommendations. This is by no means all the relevant wisdom, but hopefully it will be a useful resource for others who are earlier in the process than I am. The immediate impetus for this post was this recent interview with Gary King:

The highlight is at 4:33 when he says:

Another general suggestion is that most academics tend to use the same methods their whole career and they’re the methods that they learned in graduate school. Don’t be like them, right? That’s the first suggestion. Don’t be like them. Keep learning tools. The second suggestion is to realize that, realize the social science generalization that people are who they are. People tend to be the same and you’re probably going to be like them. What that means is that when you’re in graduate school or you’re an undergraduate, pick up the tools because the tools will enable you to do the things that others haven’t been able to do. So if you have the choice, take some statistics courses, take some courses in political methodology, take a computer science course or two now and then you’ll have a framework on which to build. Then you can prove me wrong after you become a professor and you can learn more tools, but those tools will be taken to the next level.

The full list of recommended reading, watching, and listening is here.

Coughing at Classical Concerts

concert_2464934bNot being an opera fan myself I will take their word for it:

Classical concerts comes with a set of very strict rules for the public: you cannot applaud while the music plays (the only exception being after opera arias), you are supposed to dress up, and there should be complete silence from the audience during the performance. And that urge to cough should be repressed until an applause. Yet, it turns out that coughing is more frequent during the performance.

Here’s the abstract from Andreas Wagener’s paper on the topic:

Concert etiquette demands that audiences of classical concerts avoid inept noises such as coughs. Yet, coughing in concerts occurs more frequently than elsewhere, implying a widespread and intentional breach of concert etiquette. Using the toolbox of (behavioral) economics, we study the social costs and benefits of concert etiquette and the motives and implications of individually disobeying such social norms. Both etiquette and its breach arise from the fact that music and its “proper” perception form parts of individual and group identities, convey prestige and status, allow for demarcation and inclusion, produce conformity, and affirm individual and social values.

Micro-institutions indeed.

See also: Miller and Page on the “Standing Ovation Problem”

Micro-Institutions at the Gym

exerciseJason Gay of the Wall Street Journal has 27 rules for the gym, and then 25 more. Below are some interesting examples of norms and insider know-how.

There’s coded language:

“Great job!” is trainer-speak for “It’s not polite for me to laugh at you.”

Be cautious about any class with the words “sunrise,” “hell,” or “Moby.”

Getting the etiquette of workout machines is important:

Gyms have two types of members: Members who wipe down the machines after using them, and the worst people in the universe.

Understanding interpersonal dynamics is the key to long-term success and acceptance by the in-group:

There’s the yoga instructor everyone loves, and the yoga instructor everyone hates. Memorize who they are.

The scale in the locker room weighs everything seven pounds heavier. Do NOT dispute this. The psychological stability of the entire gym membership depends on this.

Gym clothing also sends important signals:

Don’t buy $150 sneakers, $100 yoga pants, and $4 water. Muscle shirts are for people with muscles, and rhythm guitarists.

Here’s a helpful rule on gym clothing. If you’re not sure your shirt smells? Your shirt smells.

The most important lesson is that maybe you don’t need a gym after all:

Fancy gyms can be seductive, but once you get past the modern couches and fresh flowers and the water with lemon slices, you’re basically paying for a boutique hotel with B.O.

The best gym on earth is outside, and it’s totally free.

But if you do choose the gym route be sure to get the politics right, or else!

Micro-Institutions Everywhere: Book ID Numbers

Pink identifies the prefix, current only 978 or 979. Purplse is the registration group element, identifying the geographical source of the book (1-5 digits). In light green is the publisher or imprint's ID, up to 7 digits. In yellow is the publication element for idenfitying the edition or format of the book. Highlighted in grey is the check digit, used to verify the number. "5" in red identifies US dollars as the currency for the price, highlighted in dark green.

Pink identifies the prefix, current only 978 or 979. Purplse is the registration group element, identifying the geographical source of the book (1-5 digits). In light green is the publisher or imprint’s ID, up to 7 digits. In yellow is the publication element for idenfitying the edition or format of the book. Highlighted in grey is the check digit, used to verify the number. “5” in red identifies US dollars as the currency for the price, highlighted in dark green.

If you are a bookworm like me, you have evidence of this micro-institution all around you. Grab a nearby book and look at the back cover, or a couple of pages inside the front cover. You will see a series of numbers that uniquely identify the book: its International Standard Book Number (ISBN). That 10 or 13-digit number serves as the worldwide identifier for books, helping customers at online retailers like AbeBooks,, and Amazon be sure that they are purchasing the right reading material without physically inspecting the product.

Ironically, it is those same online marketplaces and their accompanying e-readers that now endanger the future of the ISBN. The supply of ISBNs is finite, you understand, and demand is high:

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN), invented in Britain in 1965, took off rapidly as an international system for classifying books, with 150 agencies (one per country, with two for bilingual Canada) now issuing the codes. Set up by retailers to ease their distribution and sales, it increasingly hampers new, small and individual publishers. Yet digital publishing is weakening its monopoly.

Publishers who were in at the beginning got great blocks of ISBNs. Many have plenty still in stock. Some countries, including Canada, Hungary and Croatia, make them free to bolster book publishing. But in Britain, America and Japan, where ISBNs are needed for any hope of mainstream publication, they are costly.

Self-published writers understandably do not want to pay for a costly ID number when they are making small margins off of an e-book. If they are only selling through a single retailer (say, an Amazon Kindle edition) there is little incentive to get a unique number–customers will be able to find the book without it. And alternatives are cropping up:

Amazon has introduced the Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN). Digital Object Identifiers (DOI) tag articles in academic journals. Walmart, an American supermarket chain, has a Universal Product Code (UPC) for everything it stocks—including books. Humans are also getting labels: the Open Researcher and Contributor ID system (ORCID) identifies academics by codes, not their names. And ISBNs are not mandatory at Google Books.

It is foreseeable that one of these options will emerge as a privately-provided institution, replacing the ISBN. The transition is unlikely to be smooth, however–switching equilibriums rarely is. As you trace your finger across an ISBN number on a printed page, you are not only touching a micro-instituiton. You may be holding history in your hands.

Phony Rules of English Grammar

The phrase "to boldly go where no man has gone before," popularized by Star Trek, includes a split infinitive--but the grounding for this prohibition is shakier than you may think.

The phrase “to boldly go where no man has gone before,” popularized by Star Trek, includes a split infinitive–but the grounding for this prohibition is shakier than you may think.

You have heard the rules before: Don’t end a sentence with a preposition. Don’t split an infinitive. Don’t start with a conjunction. But who makes these rules? How did they become incorporated into English grammar?

One culprit is Robert Lowth, who advised against ending English sentences with prepositions based on an earlier Latin rule. Similarly, according to Smithsonian Magazine, Henry Alford popularized the prohibition against splitting infinitive’s in A Plea for the Queen’s English.

In Latin, sentences don’t end in prepositions, and an infinitive is one word that can’t be divided. But in a Germanic language like English, as linguists have pointed out, it’s perfectly normal to end a sentence with a preposition and has been since Anglo-Saxon times. And in English, an infinitive is also one word. The “to” is merely a prepositional marker. That’s why it’s so natural to let English adverbs fall where they may, sometimes between “to” and a verb.

We can’t blame Latinists, however, for the false prohibition against beginning a sentence with a conjunction, since the Romans did it too (Et tu, Brute?). The linguist Arnold Zwicky has speculated that well-meaning English teachers may have come up with this one to break students of incessantly starting every sentence with “and.” The truth is that conjunctions are legitimately used to join words, phrases, clauses, sentences—and even paragraphs.

This is a case where a little learning is a dangerous thing. Because the rules are easy to remember, snobs can readily point them out in writing or speech. There is also a desire for social acceptability: no one wants to look stupid, even if the reasons for the rule make no sense. Writers trying to stick to the letter of the law often contort their sentences, while the better practice is often simply to say what sounds natural.

Micro-institutions can seem so ingrained that we fail to question them. Just going with the flow can sometimes make sense, but looking a little deeper can help to expose senseless rules or useless norms. The key is to understand which rules fall into which category. I do not have an answer now. But it’s something I would like to know more about.

Hackers vs. Diplomats

XKCD's Map of the Internet, 2006

XKCD’s Map of the Internet, 2006

Katherine Maher’s Foreign Policy piece got a lot of (deserved) attention last week. If the topic interests you, go read the whole thing. I’ll highlight the parts that are most relevant to our recent conversations on internet politics.

On the web as geography:

Like all new frontiers, cyberspace’s early settlers declared themselves independent — most famously in 1996, in cyberlibertarian John Perry Barlow’s “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.” Barlow asserted a realm beyond borders or government, rejecting the systems we use to run the physical universe. “Governments of the Industrial World,” he reproached, “You have no sovereignty where we gather.… Cyberspace does not lie within your borders.” …

Barlow was right, in part. Independence was a structural fact of cyberspace, and free expression and communication were baked into the network. The standards and protocols on which the Internet runs are agnostic: They don’t care whether you were in Bangkok, Buenos Aires, or Boise. If they run into an attempt to block traffic, they merely reroute along a seemingly infinite network of decentralized nodes, inspiring technologist John Gilmore’s maxim: “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

On the promise of the internet for promoting freedom:

Information has always been power, and governments have long sought to control it. So for countries where power is a tightly controlled narrative, parsed by state television and radio stations, the Internet has been catastrophic. Its global, decentralized networks of information-sharing have routed around censorship — just as Gilmore promised they would. It gives people an outlet to publish what the media cannot, organize where organizing is forbidden, and revolt where protest is unknown.

On the changing reality–increasingly state-based control:

Recently, the network research and analytics company Renesys tried to assess how hard it would be to take the world offline. They assessed disconnection risk based on the number of national service providers in every country, finding that 61 countries are at severe risk for disconnection, with another 72 at significant risk. That makes 133 countries where network control is so centralized that the Internet could be turned off with not much more than a phone call.

It seems our global Internet is not so global.

From my perspective I can only hope that we will find the equivalent of “internet mountains” that will remain hard to govern. It is possible that some nation states will even facilitate this. (I am thinking here of The Pirate Bay’s move from a US-based .com domain to a Swedish .se address.) The emperor may still be far away, but he’s getting closer.