CHALK DUST TO STAR DUST – HOW SOCIAL MEDIA CAN BENEFIT YOUR RESEARCH By Waldo Krugell School of Economics, NWU, Potchefstroom campus
Start with research and a manager• Waldo: economist, educator, manager…• Who sometimes has to think and speak about the research process.• Research involves thinking, reading, writing and analysis, • followed by more of each until the supervisor or journal referees say you can stop!• There are steps in this process. • The thinking and reading is for figuring out the paradigm, approach and methodology. • Applying the method and using the instruments is the analysis part of the process. • Of course everything needs to be written up with crystal clarity.
Throw in some geography• But thinking like a researcher is behavioral, rather than technical. • Which is probably why managers often talk about developing a research culture.• This lead me to think about the insights we can draw from geographical economics: Geographical economics Research Economic activity occurs in Research has to take place in an agglomerations academic agglomeration of Profs, post-docs, post-grad students and the friendly staff at the library.
And the sources of growthGrowth is driven by external To do more and better researcheconomic from four sources: requires:Infrastructure – lowers the cost of You will need basic hardware to do theproduction. work.Diversity of intermediate inputs – there The intermediate inputs are theare benefits from scale and interactions with and feedback fromspecialisation. anyone and everyone. Diversity or specialisation can be beneficial.Matching in the labour market – better Matching with senior Profs andmatching between employers and colleaguesemployees increases efficiency andlowers cost.Knowledge spillovers – ideas and These are the spillovers thatinnovations are in the air and drive occur aside from the intermediategrowth in agglomerations. inputs and improved matching. This is about research culture and its spillovers.
And then you add social media• So, in research agglomerations you find lots of people busy reading, writing, analyzing, presenting their results and providing inputs for one another.• But what if you are the only micro-economist in the village, whose colleagues are busy teaching or managing?• What if there are few seminars and no-one to have an AER-related beer with?• Then I ask, how can social media benefit your research?• Blogs, tweets and research networks can play a role in fostering academic agglomerations.
But it is also about the nature ofpublication• Often the hyper-connected, broadcaster economists are often found in agglomerations.• That is because the use of social media is also related to the nature of the publication process.• Krugman writes about the econoblogosphere: "So, the starting point for me, when thinking about how economics works as a discipline, is to realize that the traditional model of submit, get refereed, publish, and then people will read your work broke down a long time ago. In fact, it had more or less fallen apart by the early 80s.Even then, nobody at a top school learned stuff by reading the journals; it was all working papers, with the journals serving as tombstones".
It is about access• Krugman goes on to explain: • Connections got you to the right seminars and conferences. • Good work kept you there. • NBER Working Papers were the key output. • "journal publication was so slow relative to the pace of ongoing work that it no longer acted as an information conduit".• "So now we have rapid-fire exchange via blogs and online working papers — and I think it’s all good. Work circulates even faster than it did then, there are quick exchanges that can advance understanding, and while it’s still hard to break in, connections aren’t as important as they once were and the system is much more open".
And about speed• David McKenzie writes about journal turnaround times: • It takes time to publish papers and few journals publish turnaround times. • In 2011 a typical paper in the AER was in review for an average of 37 weeks. From submission to acceptance took 69 weeks and from thereon a further 61 weeks to publication.• This is not to say that AER is quick or slow, but that the latest issue of any journal does not present the latest research.
So my contention is• Blogs, tweets and research networks can foster academic agglomerations: • Better matching with collaborators. • Diversity and specialisation of inputs. • Spillovers.• It makes for quick exchanges and feedback.• And speedy dissemination of the latest results.• All of this should help to improve the impact of your research.
There are many testimonials out there• "All I can tell you is that it’s been a long time since I’ve felt as intellectually engaged as I do now that I’ve started blogging again. Blogging–and publicizing my posts via Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other social media outlets–has allowed me to connect with people I never would have been able to reach in any other way".• "… we can also act locally, serving as a body of peers for each other’s reviews. As an online anthropology writer on Neuroanthropology, and commenter and participant in discussions in lots of online forums, you may very well be precisely the sort of person who is my ‘peer’ if you’re reading this".
And then some• "Previously if I wanted to convey an idea or a research finding, my choices were limited to a conference paper or journal article or, if I could work it up, a book. These choices still remain, but in addition I can create a video, podcast, blog post, slidecast, and more. It may be that a combination of these is ideal—a blog post gets immediate reaction and can then be worked into a conference presentation, shared through SlideShare, or turned into a paper that is submitted to a journal. In each case the blog or social network becomes a key route for sharing and disseminating the findings".
What does the evidence say?• Ozler & McKenzie have tried to answer 3 questions.• Do blogs improve dissemination of working papers or journal articles? • Looked at 50 blogs for references to papers in RePEc • They find large and significant impacts of blogging on abstract views and paper downloads. • A minority of viewers click through to view / download the paper – additional readers are less likely to be interested in academic papers.• Do blogs raise the profile of their creators? • US survey of favourite academic economists was linked to top 500 RePEc profiles. • Regular blogging is strongly associated with being more likely to be viewed as a favourite economist.
What does the evidence say?• Do blogs cause changes in attitudes or lead to increased knowledge? • Ozler & McKenzie undertakes a RCT with the Development Impact blog. Reading DI: • Increased interest in working as a researcher at the World Bank. • Improved perceptions of the quality of research. • Increased the name recognition of bloggers. • In-depth knowledge of papers discussed was significantly higher among average readers.• They argue that blogs provide private benefits and externalities.• Challenge is to get blogs seen as legitimate activity, and to encourage junior faculty and female economists.
So what is the case in SA?• What are the sources of information used for our research? • Journal articles? Working papers? • Books, edited volumes? • Conference proceedings? Policy publications?• How do we discover the leads to the information ? • Web browsing, search with Google scholar? • Mailing lists? RSS? • Favourite / bookmarked web sites? • Blogs – voxEU, Project Syndicate… • Twitter? • Networks, IDEAS, RePEc, SSRN / Academia.edu / Research Gate?
So what is the case in SA?• How do we disseminate the results of our research? • What helps the work to get read? • Conference papers, seminars, ERSA working groups? • Departmental working papers? • Other working papers – e.g. ERSA? • Journal articles? • Or are there people also using a social media element? • From the UP departmental website it seems that Manoel, Nicola and Alex have personal web sites.
What is the case in SA?• In academic circles there are few active bloggers.• Few academics on Twitter.• There is ECON3x3. • 13 posts since late November 2013. • And 4496 reads.• And ERSA is considering a blog aimed at policymakers.• ESSA is not pursuing the idea.
My questions to finish up with:• Is there a need to have more academic economists blogging and tweeting? • Would you read it?• Are the perceived benefits as I have explained them?• Or are the incentives just not there for the average academic?• What are the barriers or stumbling blocks?I have a first-round questionnaire for everyone to complete!