I dont know if this is a rant so please downvote/vote to close if need be.

This week I actively approached a couple of professors and working economists I know and told them about the site. Most of them nodded their heads and said "yeah sure whenever I have time I'll check it out".

one of them told me he heard of the site but was not impressed by the content to actively participate.

When scrolling through cross validated I noticed that there are more professionals on the site as well as professors who authored books. Obviously this site does a better job at attracting real academics and working statisticians/quants.

How would I sell the site to an academic/working economist? Should this comment be taken seriously?

  • $\begingroup$ Economists are trained to believe it is foolish to contribute to public goods. When I share my data for my work even when it's not required, the reaction is typically "lol why would you do that, that's dumb". Perhaps if somehow contributions to StackExchange factored into hiring/tenure decisions, more economists would participate. That's pretty much the only thing that would motivate most economists. $\endgroup$ – Kenny LJ Nov 13 '17 at 0:43
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    $\begingroup$ Ben Golub and Andy Skrzypacz answer economics-related questions on Quora. Some of the questions they answer could easily be asked here too. Has anyone tried getting in touch with them to see if they'd be interested in participating here? I know Steven Landsburg used to post here, and Glen Weyl has an SE account... $\endgroup$ – Theoretical Economist Nov 13 '17 at 12:50

As economists they understand a number of facts:

  • There are network effects: being on the site as a professional economist is more valuable when other professional economists are here,
  • But being a first mover is costly because you could invest a lot of time in a site that doesn't take-off.
  • Moreover, it is a public good because you can free-ride on others taking the risk and only come to the site after it has proven to be successful (measured by the criterion of volume of advanced-level material) and all uncertainty is resolved.

These factors make a rational argument for contribution a tough sell, so I guess the better strategy would be to appeal to a more altruistic line of argument. Many will reject the idea of spending precious time to contribute for no pecuniary reward, but some might rise to the challenge.

The other, more 'negative' option would be to leverage those of us who are here to try to point the site in a more high-level direction. This would mean

  • manufacturing PhD+ level questions and answers
  • very aggressively removing content that does not meet a higher bar of quality.

In particular, I try to imagine myself coming to the site for the first time and looking at the questions on the homepage. Right now it doesn't look too bad actually, but it is often cluttered with questions from laypersons and undergrads.

How much we allow such content is a decision for the community. so far, we have begrudgingly tolerated the better undergrad material and most layperson questions. But it could change if there is a will for change.

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    $\begingroup$ I guess we need to first have a general economics site and if that takes off we start an Overflow site. $\endgroup$ – EconJohn Nov 8 '17 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ I like the other option. It is hard for an academic economist (I'm one) to take a site with questions like this one seriously. Crankery is a much bigger problem in economics than in statistics. Everyone thinks they are an expert on economics. A positive development is that there are more people here with public actual names recently. $\endgroup$ – Michael Greinecker Nov 8 '17 at 19:37
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelGreinecker It's definitely an option. The genesis of the current policy stems from a time when the site was new and the main imperative was to build enough traffic to survive. But we should take stock of whether there's a better way of doing things from time to time. If it's decided that entry-level questions are not welcome then we can very easily moderate them into non-existence. $\endgroup$ – Ubiquitous Nov 9 '17 at 7:49
  • $\begingroup$ I think a community like this will take time. Though I'm not sure what came first, MathOverflow, or MathStackexchange, we just need a bit more of momentum. Maybe in a year or two, we should definitely create an EconOverflow. But then again, what wrong would come if we were to create it now? $\endgroup$ – An old man in the sea. Nov 9 '17 at 13:41
  • $\begingroup$ One problem hier is the "Do it for me", it is not tolerated in the question but it is expected in the answer. Just giving "hint" in form of theory, that will help the person asking the question to find an answer is not welcome in this site. And then the problem with the many variables which have to be known, and not always are, to be able to give exact answer. $\endgroup$ – user15100 Nov 9 '17 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ @NikolayBorisov I don't understand. This comment has nothing to do with Ubiquitous's answer. $\endgroup$ – EconJohn Nov 9 '17 at 16:54
  • $\begingroup$ @EconJohn the problem is not the undergraduate level of question (they are very few actually). The problem is that one have to answer every question like he is dealing with fools. Pointing to one the theory, and where he can find more info isn't well perceived. $\endgroup$ – user15100 Nov 9 '17 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think a person with PhD who can synthesis specific question will ask for help to solve it. Most likely they will have some general idea, and would be looking for hints to be able to synthesis a solvable question. $\endgroup$ – user15100 Nov 9 '17 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ @NikolayBorisov that's because the site demands a specific answer to the the question. not tangential comments that are marginally related to the question. $\endgroup$ – EconJohn Nov 9 '17 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ @EconJohn And this is why you do not have that many people with PhD here. $\endgroup$ – user15100 Nov 9 '17 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ @NikolayBorisov cross validated has PHDs who provide excellent answers that are specific to the question. The PHDs on this site as well answer the questions directly. i.e stats.stackexchange.com/questions/312365/… and economics.stackexchange.com/questions/361/… $\endgroup$ – EconJohn Nov 9 '17 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ @EconJohn I read somewhere a question "why is so difficult to answer question in this group" and someone correctly pointed that there are too many variables to be considered, to be able to give a specific answer. That problem hardly exist if we point the theory that will help solve the question. We do not help anyone if we do the work for them. $\endgroup$ – user15100 Nov 9 '17 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. $\endgroup$ – EconJohn Nov 9 '17 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ In all fairness I think CV has a larger fishing pond so to say, making the network externalities pointed out by @Ubiquitos easier to realize. CV can sample not just PhD statisticians but also e.g. PhD biostatisticians and PhD econometricians. They have a comparative advantage... $\endgroup$ – Maarten Punt Nov 10 '17 at 10:08

Some enthusiastic users could get together on chat and agree on a relatively simple topic they could co-write a short paper on. The paper's problems (lit request, conjectures, etc.) can be posted as questions on the site. Authors of accepted answers are offered authorship credit. In the end someone (this is agreed upon in the first chat session) writes up the paper and submits it to arxiv.org. I don't think giving SE usernames as authors is possible, though that would be best.

This would be a very nice and productive way to gain academic level attention.

  • $\begingroup$ P.s.: The problem of someone else submitting the paper using the same publicly answered questions is unsolved. $\endgroup$ – Giskard Nov 8 '17 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ Thats an interesting idea. A econ.se research project? sounds good for the resume. $\endgroup$ – EconJohn Nov 8 '17 at 22:39
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    $\begingroup$ Given that SE keeps such a good record of data on site activity, I suspect it would be hard to try to plagiarize or steal credit for the work posted here, as any such attempt can be debunked very easily. $\endgroup$ – Herr K. Nov 8 '17 at 22:41
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    $\begingroup$ @HerrK. Letters to the editor: "I am the real Herr K" "No, I am the real Herr K" "No, I am...also they hijacked my account so I cannot post anymore" $\endgroup$ – Giskard Nov 8 '17 at 22:49
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    $\begingroup$ Editor writes back:"Whoever can produce proof of presence at the IP address at the time at which the answer was written is the real Herr K. Otherwise the paper is rejected/retracted." $\endgroup$ – Herr K. Nov 8 '17 at 23:06
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds like someone who would consider doing that would have a better time Youtube comments section then on a site for economic theory. It just sounds unlikely $\endgroup$ – EconJohn Nov 8 '17 at 23:54
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    $\begingroup$ Publishers will be reluctant to publish anything where the majority of the work has appeared elsewhere: as a peer-reviewer, I've recommended that a paper be rejected, on that very basis. $\endgroup$ – EnergyNumbers Nov 10 '17 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ @EnergyNumbers Even Arxiv? $\endgroup$ – Giskard Nov 10 '17 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ @denesp - it varies by field & journal: some journal will reject papers if they've appeared on sites such as Arxiv! My field (energy supply & demand) has relatively little history or culture of use of Arxiv, so it's still viewed with suspicion by many editors. $\endgroup$ – EnergyNumbers Nov 11 '17 at 6:31

I think it would be very difficult to attract PhDs and PhD students, especially at this stage.

Naturally, most professional economists get paid to educate undergraduates and spend large portions of their day doing so. Therefore, they might not find it so relaxing or fun to do the same in their free time.

Therefore, as @JoaoBotelho mentioned, we need interesting questions for PhDs. However, for the most part, only other PhDs are able to ask questions that would interest other PhDs.

This raises the issue, of why don't we have more high level questions, like math or stats stackexchange?

Most questions economics PhDs have tend to be technical. They already have good economic intuition and often either have expert knowledge of their field or have research assistants to do literature reviews. This leaves mathematics and statistics/econometric questions. However, such questions can be answered quicker and often with higher quality on other stack exchange websites than here. I know many PhD students who post question regularly at math stackexchange and its difficult to convince them, that they should rather ask here, especially at this stage. It's not surprising that people would rather ask a professional mathematician about a math question than a professional economist. Furthermore, cross-posting is discouraged.

Increasing the number of PhDs would help this last issue and encourage people to ask more questions here. However, the vicious cirlce is apparent, as the answer to our problem is actually our goal.

A typical solution to such problems is a "big push" approach, where there is a lot of concentrated advertisement effort to get a large number of PhDs to check out the website around the same time. Of course, this is very difficult to pull off. Nevertheless, I do not think we can come out of this vicious circle by slowly and gradually increasing the number of PhDs over a long period of time,


Econ PhD here.

I came here mostly when I was studying for preliminary exams/job hunting and considering the private sector.

1) We tend to be very frequently employed and have low turnover rates, so scoring points somewhere is not meaningful. It will not improve our CV. Whereas maybe having 16k points on StackOverflow might for those in rapid-turnover careers. I have no expectation that this will be seen as important in my Economics career.

2) The general questions tend to be political rather than purely factual, while the specific ones tend to be PhD-level homework questions, proofs, etc. I could write a few paragraphs on a research paper in that time.

My browsing habit is roughly paging through the first 3-4 pages and looking for a few quick and easy questions and walking away. I do this while compiling or waiting for regression results.

  • $\begingroup$ What would you say is the practical difference for a Econ PHD using Econ.SE as opposed to researchgate? $\endgroup$ – EconJohn Feb 4 '18 at 17:19
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    $\begingroup$ Researchgate allows us to trumpet our publications. There really is no other measure of employability other than publications in the academic market. $\endgroup$ – RegressForward Feb 4 '18 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ Same. I am active in academia stack exchange because I find the questions more interesting to consider. I also am interested in discussing econ topics that don't have a definitive answer. This makes them less suited for SE. $\endgroup$ – Danielle Apr 2 '18 at 16:08

My view is that they will not come, or simply go away if they don't see an interesting question. They might not post question themselves as they already spend their days doing so - but they can use all the learned knowledge to answer to others!

The best thing we could do to attract them would be to have interesting questions for PhDs, and this might come from working professionals who do not have the time to search on their own.

I've tried to suggest the website as a place to post questions to a few colleagues, but it's not always easy to get them to use the site or to post anything...


This is not a direct answer to this question, rather related to the discussions in questions (and some of the comments at the end of the original question). Sorry, but it was too long to stick into a comment.

My background is an ex-mathematician that worked in fixed income. I avoid all the Ph.D.-level questions that discussants here are interested in, and look at the general questions about monetary economics/interest rate finance. I would guess that there are far more people interested in entry-level monetary economics than there are in Ph.D. programs, for example, a significant number of people working in finance. I think the mix of questions the site gets is no surprise as a result; I used to write and read market commentary, and the questions that come up here are extremely common.

I can see why a PhD economist would not be happy with those questions, but the questions are what non-economists are interested in.

You could try driving away such questions (and presumably myself).

You could create a tag like “market macro” to ring-fence such questions.

The alternative is to have a good set of standard questions and answers that can be reused as essentially the same questions keep popping up. For the wider user base, the site will be useful, and PhD economists can do whatever PhD economists do.

The problem I see is that a significant portion of the questions have question titles that bear no resemblance to the question in the body of the text. Furthermore, many of the questions actually pose two questions, each with very different (long) answers. Searching on these questions as a result is frustrating - which helps ensure that new questions which are just repeats will pop up again.


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