December 02, 2009
Quality and Quantity of Scholarship
Posted by Gordon Smith

Earlier this year, I offered some advice to young legal scholars, including this: "Worry first about quality, then about quantity." After reading Markets for Reputation: Evidence on Quality and Quantity in Academe by Daniel S. Hamermesh and Gerard A. Pfann, I may need to qualify that advice.

The authors ask some intriguing questions: 

1) How does the quantity of publications affect the regard in which a scholar is held by other scholars? 

2) Do a few extremely well-regarded publications have the same reputational effect as an equally successful (in terms of its total impact on other scholars) publication list that is more diffuse?

3) Are the determinants of reputation the same as the determinants of pecuniary returns? 

The somewhat tentative answers, based on an examination of the careers of academic economists: 

Although the evidence is somewhat mixed, it appears that, at least in this example, simply attempting to establish a reputation by writing more papers has no impact on a large number of proxies for reputation and very possibly even a negative effect. It does, however, affect the likelihood that a scholar is able to change jobs, and it also raises salaries in the sub-sample we have used. The major determinant of reputation—what is rewarded in this particular academic reputational market—is the interest that a scholar’s work generates among his/her peers. There is at most only weak evidence that the concentration of impressions on a single piece of work—one article, in this case—increases in one’s reputation. Finally, we also find evidence that this reputational market has tournament-like aspects—one's ranking along the dimension of overall quality appears to describe one’s reputation better than do one’s absolute achievements along this dimension.

All of this resonates with my own observations. Brayden speculates reasonably about factors that might explain these results.

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