Sunday, March 18, 2007

Neoclassicalism as Lysenkoism in the U. K.

I previously mentioned Fred Lee's work in the history of heterodox economics. In one of those papers, he and a co-author predicted that the implementation of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) would make British economics less diverse and less tolerant of non-mainstream economics. Lee (2007, "The Research Assessment Exercise, the State and the Dominance of Mainstream Economics in British Universities", Cambridge Journal of Economics, V. 31: 309-325) has recently confirmed the validity of this prediction.
RAE Ranking Levels
5*Level of international excellence in more than half of the research activity submitted and attainable levels of national excellence in the remainder
5Levels of international excellence in up to half of the reseach activity submitted and attainable levels of national excellence in virtually all of the remainder
4Levels of national excellence in virtually all of the research activity submitted, showing some evidence of international excellence
3aLevels of national excellence in over two-thirds of the research activity submitted, possibly showing some level of international excellence
3bLevels of national excellence in more than half of the research activity submitted
2Levels of national excellence in up to half of the research activity submitted
1Levels of national excellence in virtually none of the research activity submitted
The RAE impacts how research funds are allocated to British universities and, indirectly, hiring and promotion decisions. Lee found that publication in the "Diamond List" of 27 mainstream journals raised a department's ranking. In 1992, many believed that assessors had an unofficial extended list, which included, for example, Kyklos and the Manchester School of Economic & Social Studies. Apparently, though, publication in the journals added in the extended list does not count positively in the RAE ranking. Furthermore, "the lower the department ranking, the greater the percentage" of publications in heterodox economics, history of economic thought, and methodology. Personally, I would be honored to be published, or even cited, in the Cambridge Journal of Economics, the Journal of Economic Issues, the Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, the Review of Political Economy, or the Review of Radical Political Economics.
"Furthermore, in the West, in a climate of intellectual intolerance charmingly reminiscent of Sino-Soviet totalitarianism, all varieties of non-mainstream economics - including Marxism, Post Keynesianism and the 'old' institutionalism - have systematically been driven out of university departments in several countries in the 1980s and 1990s. Contrary to the more pluralistic state of affairs in the 1950s and 1960s, non-mainstream economists are increasingly rare in economics departments in Britain, the United States, Germany and elsewhere. Against such developments, 'A Plea for a Pluralistic and Rigorous Economics' was signed by 44 leading economists - including four Nobel Laureates - and published in the May 1992 edition of the American Economic Review. This plea included the words:
We the undersigned are concerned with the threat to economic science posed by intellectual monopoly. Economists today enforce a monopoly of method or core assumptions, often defended on no better ground than it constitutes the 'mainstream'. Economists will advocate free competition, but will not practice it in the marketplace of ideas."
-- Geoffrey M. Hodgson (1999). Economics & Utopia, Routledge: 263.

1 comment:

John Emerson said...

Similar forces are at work in philosophy. Brian Leiter is quite explicit about what's happenign and seems unaware that anyone could see a problem. Multiple feedback loops between ratings, hiring, promotion, and grad student recruitment seem likely to ensure a narrowing orthodoxy. It seems to me that a statistical examination of some sort could make this clear.