Wednesday, January 9, 2008

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Going medieval on a bad paper

The editors of Foreign Policy asked me to review an article for them for their "Global Newsstand" section of the January/February 2008 issue.

The result: "Dismal Political Science":

Are economists increasingly in charge of politics? Do economists make better leaders? These are the questions that Anil Hira, a political scientist at Canada’s Simon Fraser University, is ostensibly trying to answer in his essay, “Should Economists Rule the World?” in the June 2007 issue of the International Political Science Review. In the article, he claims that “there has been a notable rising importance of economics as a background for leaders in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.” But he concludes that, even if economics is appearing on more political resumes, this training does not appear to help these leaders achieve better economic outcomes. (Hira cites Peru’s Alejandro Toledo, Indonesia’s Suharto, and U.S. President George W. Bush as examples of leaders who may have disappointed their economics instructors.) These are fascinating results. Alas, they’re fascinating in ways that lead one to seriously question the refereeing process at the International Political Science Review.
I'm afraid the rest is firewalled, but here's the nut paragraph:
Simply put, the paper provides no actual evidence to support his conclusion that economists are ineffective leaders of national economies. To do that, he would have had to compare the periods when a technocrat was the national leader with the periods when there was a different kind of leader. Or he could have compared countries that had economists in charge with those countries that did not. Or he could have done both. But Hira did none of the above. Rather, he points to three trends over time: an increase in economically literate leaders, a slowdown of economic growth, and an increase in inequality. Then he simply asserts that the first trend must have caused the latter two trends. That’s Olympics-caliber hand-waving.

posted by Dan on 01.09.08 at 11:47 AM


Had a look at the paper - yeah well, it's worthless in answering the question...

But the idea is very nice, doing this same thing well could be a very very cool paper, and maybe worth the effort of collecting this type data - although my personal guess would be that there is no (measurable) effect whatsoever.

posted by: Roland on 01.09.08 at 11:47 AM [permalink]

For what it's worth, I've refereed (and rejected) worse for IPSR.

posted by: Michael on 01.09.08 at 11:47 AM [permalink]

Unfortunately, the piece that you reviewed is not much worse than the standard fare at Foreign Policy. A good example of their dung was the article a few months back about the Vietnam memo that supposedly looked so similar to the situation in Iraq. Really, it was remarkably similar to Iraq... if you just replaced "Vietnam" with "Iraq"... and really used your imagination... and if you really wanted to believe that the two conflicts are the same... and if you really wanted the memo to be as damning as the editors of Foreign Policy wanted it to seem... and if you just took their word for it that the memo outlined a situation in Vietnam that bears an uncanny resemblance to Iraq. Really.

posted by: Saint in Exile on 01.09.08 at 11:47 AM [permalink]

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