Western Economic Association meetings, 2014 edition

Sorry for the lack of updates lately.  The Western Economic Association (WEA) meetings are rapidly approaching and this has kept me busy.

This year the WEA  meetings are in Denver (from June 27th to July 1st).  From what I understand, the WEA are the second largest meeting of economists in the world (the American Economic Association in January are the largest meeting).  And as has been the case in recent years, about 10% of the papers presented at the WEA are in the twenty sessions organized by the North American Association of Sports Economists (NAASE).

The preliminary program of the entire meeting has been posted.  If one were to bother, they would see that I am part of papers in five of the NAASE sessions (sessions I organized with the help of Tony Krautmann and Joshua Price).   Here is a brief summary of these five papers:

  1. “Predicting the WNBA Draft:  What Matters Most From College Performance” (from session #10). This paper is co-authored with Jill Harris.  Jill and I are looking at the factors from college basketball that predict where someone is selected in the WNBA draft.  This is part of on-going research into how women’s basketball is different — and the same — as men’s basketball.  For the most part, Jill and I note that the NBA and WNBA — with respect to the draft — are fairly similar.
  2. “Impact of Wage Controls on Competitive Balance in the NCAA” (from session #19).  This paper is co-authored with Jim Peach.  The NCAA has argued that college athletes should not be paid. One argument the NCAA offers is that this is necessary to promote competitive balance.  Jim and I examine the level of balance, data on recruiting, and data on the NBA draft in detailing the problems with the NCAA argument.
  3. “Does an Early Test Improve Later Outcomes” (from session #33).  This paper is co-authored with Adam Alter (author of Drunk Tank Pink) and Griffin Edwards.   This study is actually intended to be part of a larger study in to how current performance is impacted by earlier tests.  The part of this project presented at the WEA looks at NCAA men’s basketball.
  4. “Moneyball and the baseball players’ labour market” (from session #54).  This paper is co-authored with Paul Holmes and Rob Simmons.  We are re-visiting the labor market in baseball and investigating whether or not this market has changed in recent years.  I should have more to say on this in the future.
  5. “Measuring Marginal Productivity in the NHL” (from session #119).  This paper is co-authored with Joshua Price (my colleague at Southern Utah University).  In recent years the NHL has tracked data on blocks, giveaways, takeaways, and hits.  We are interested in the value of these actions on the ice.

For those unfamiliar with the structure of a meeting in economics… after each of these papers is presented (we will have about 15 minutes), a discussant will come forward and explain what we got wrong (or maybe right… but don’t count on it!).

Given the discussant’s incentives, I think there is a tendency to be critical when a paper is reviewed at a meeting. Unlike what you see on-line, where it often seems the “research” on-line people present is only praised by other on-line people*, discussants at our meetings have an incentive to say you are wrong.  This incentive exists because  a) it is hard to talk for five minutes about how much you loved a paper and b) ultimately the paper only counts if it is published in a journal.  We don’t get credit in economics for presenting a paper at a meeting (at least, I never got credit for this).  The paper has to be published for a person to get credit towards tenure and/or rank advancement and space in journals is finite.  And the discussant is trying to get their papers in the same space.  Given this competition, the discussant has an incentive to be as discouraging as possible.

Of course, some people — who are less cynical than I am — will argue that the discussant is also motivated to help you out.  And that is possible (certainly that is what I am doing :)  But I tend to think (a) and (b) are the primary reasons discussants offer a critique of your work.

I should add, I am also scheduled to serve as a discussant for several papers.  And yes, my comments are only offered to help out the paper.  Of course, I am a full professor.  Which means I am no longer looking at tenure and rank advancement (since a full professor is essentially a dead-end job :)

So given my incentives, I am only trying to help out when I discuss a paper.  Really!

- DJ

* – just to expand briefly on this point.  With respect to basketball, there have been a number of “studies” offered on-line that didn’t seem to generate much critical comment on-line.  So people have done stuff like add error terms back to their player evaluation models or grossly mis-specified their regression models without hearing much negative feedback.  Had such work been presented at a meeting like the WEA… well, the assigned discussant would have had some fun!

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