Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Krugman on Blogs

Krugman has written an interesting piece regarding blogs. Simply stated he argues, justly so, that blogs open the process up from where it was. He recounts the progress:

1. Peer Reviewed Journal articles: I gave up on them years ago except for certain areas. They manage to establish two things; (i) get "junk out of circulation and (ii) establish a "repository" for the work. But blogs do that equally well. First one is attacked for making errors. Just try one and see. And it is instantaneous,  have corrected a few of mine here. Second the record is permanent and is universally available. Thus blogs frankly out do such journals.

2. Closely Circulate Working Papers: NBER is a classic example here as is say many Rand papers and the like. This was a great way to get ideas out there because they could be of any length, could be critiqued by the best and they got ideas flowing. Yet they had two problems. First it was just for the club. Second there was no real repository, libraries usually did not have shelf access.

As Krugman relates:

Since there’s some kind of conservation principle here, the fact that it’s easier for people with less formal credentials to get heard means that people who have those credentials are less guaranteed of respectful treatment. So yes, we’ve seen some famous names run into firestorms of criticism — *justified* criticism – even as some “nobodies” become players. That’s a good thing! Famous economists have been saying foolish things forever; now they get called on it.

And this process has showed what things are really like. If some famous economists seem to be showing themselves intellectually naked, it’s not really a change in their wardrobe, it’s the fact that it’s easier than it used to be for little boys to get a word in.

As you can see, I think this is all positive. The econoblogosphere makes it a lot harder for economists to shout down other people by pulling rank — although some of them still try — but that’s a good thing.

The issue is one of changing media, media that allow the free flow of ideas. It has lowered the barrier to entry to the market of thought and has allowed anyone to judge for themselves. It is thus no wonder that when looking at the decisions of late there is so much skepticism, that those in economics prognosticate from a dream world.

Blogs have opened the world to on line white papers. People have responded reasonably well. Journals I am afraid are just a way to go through the check-marks of tenure. They may be a dying breed. Books moreover may be transforming from heavy tomes to on line fabrics of wisdom.