More Thoughts on Blogging: A Review

Since I gave a presentation, and posted slides, stating the case for why (more) applied economists should blog, there has been quite a worthwhile discussion going around about the validity of this statement.

(1) Marc Bellemare (who has an excellent blog himself), raised a great point about the should/would/could of academic blogging, in his post: Should More Academics Blog?

(2) In a follow up post Marc highlights some take-aways from an email exchange between himself, a mentor of mine at MSU, and myself.

If you are at all interesting in blogging in any sort of professional manor, please read these posts. Regardless, here’s a brief recap:

My initial presentation centered around my perception that blogging (especially in the domain of applied economics and public policy) has fairly large positive externalities (i.e. research dissemination, communication with journalists/policymakers, a accessible resource for other researchers). This being the case (and if basic economic theory serves us well), then there is likely an undersupply of good quality applied economics blogs. Additionally, blogging seems to provide worthwhile private benefits for the actual blogger (i.e. develop better writing skills, increased feedback on ideas/papers, increased professional network, etc.).

Marc explains how his view has shifted from one similar to this to one that echoes Tyler Cowen’s argument. Namely, that those who don’t blog, can’t blog – or can’t without embarrassing themselves or harming their reputation. As Marc explains (in the lingo of an empirical economist, my apologies to my non-economist friends):

That is, what looks like a positive effect of blogging on the average academic blogger’s career is an average treatment effect on the treated (ATT), and I suspect the average treatment effect on the untreated (ATU) would be much less positive, and may even be negative (blogging takes time, after all). In other words: Those who do take up blogging (and who keep up with it) are those for whom it works. Those for whom it wouldn’t work don’t take it up (or if and when they do, they don’t keep it up).

Additionally, (as has been pointed out via discussion on Twitter) there is a “survivorship bias”. The blogs we know about are the blogs that have survived the test of time, are likely high in quality, and provide worthwhile benefits to the author. While the blogs that haven’t passed the test of time, are poor quality, and don’t provide benefits to the author are not known.

So, blogging isn’t for everyone. That much is clear. This is why I originally argued for more–not all–applied economics to blog. But Marc and Tyler’s point is that those who should be blogging already do. This may be true, but at the margin there is at least one economics PhD student who has started blogging more regularly since my presentation.

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On top of the effect at the margin, there may be a generational factor that may bias the perception of benefits downward. Very few economists from the older generation blog, even though some of them would have been (or still could be) rather excellent at it. Without naming any names, I can think of a handful off the top of my head.

Finally, there may be a “first-mover” benefit – similar to the Stackelberg duopoly model – that biases the perception of benefits upward. Those who have been lucky enough to be (one of) the first bloggers in any given topical area — Marginal Revolution for economics, Chris Blattman for development economics, Marc Bellemare and Jayson Lusk for agricultural economics — have gained huge followings and recognize benefits that many who are starting to blog now will likely not recognize.

So, if you are trying to decide whether or not you should start blogging regularly, in some sort of professional capacity, consider what has been said here. Maybe you should be blogging and maybe you shouldn’t. I can’t tell that for you. You’ll have to figure it out yourself. In many ways blogging is an “experience good”. In order to know how much utility you’ll gain from blogging, you just have to do it.

As a friend of mine on Twitter has pointed out, a great place to ascertain whether blogging is for you is by contributing to blogs that take posts from guest authors. One that would be an excellent place for those interested in international agricultural development economics is the Economics That Really Matters blog, run by the Applied Economics department over at Cornell.

Why (More) Applied Economists Should Blog

Yesterday I gave a presentation in my department’s Brown Bag Seminar, entitled, “Blogging for (Applied) Economists: Dissemination and Popularization of Modern Academic Research”.

I was motivated to give a presentation about this topic due to my perception that blogging is increasing in importance in the applied and agricultural economics discipline. Much of what is presented is a mix of my own experience blogging, with the insights of others like Marc Bellemare, Chris Blattman, and Ezra Klein. So, this all may not be all that new or novel for some of you. My goal was to convince and equip a handful in the audience to begin to blog regularly. (It’s still too early to tell if I was successful.)

The presentation slides are available here.

I began the presentation by likening blogs to lighthouses. My intention was to paint blogs like public goods with additional private returns. Like lighthouses, if you’ve read any Ronald Coase. This illustration was not very well received. Primarily with the objection that lighthouses are subject to some sort of institutionalized measure of quality. Blogs, on the other hand are not. Anyone can blog, not anyone can build a lighthouse.

To this I say, point taken.

But, (good quality) blogs still (can) provide important private returns and (good quality) blogs have substantial positive externalities. In the presence of these externalities, there may be an undersupply of good applied and agricultural economics blogs. (Yes, I was giving this presentation a room full of economists. Sorry if this argument doesn’t convince you.)

I promised during the presentation to provide links to other resources useful to those who are interested in starting a blog. So here is a good list to start with, to the best of my knowledge. There are many helpful links within the links that follow, from folks like Austin Frakt, Penelope Trunk, The Huffington Post, and others.

  • Chris Blattman (let’s call him the king of self-run applied research bloggers) has many tremendous resources:

Your Guide to Blogging
On Academic Blogging
Here is a link to his website’s search page, when I searched for the word “blogging”, if you want to leap down the rabbit hole.

  • Marc Bellemare has a great list of tips (many of which I included in my presentation)

What I’ve Learned from from A Year of Blogging

  • Ezra Klein (Editor in Chief of Vox.com) gave a tremendous seminar at the World Bank on popularizing research. If you are interested in getting your research onto the desks of those who need to read it, this is a useful way to spend an hour or so.

Ezra Klein Takes On the World Bank