Low-hanging Fruit for Economists Chasing Citation Counts?

Michael Giberson

Elsewhere in the econ blog world, Tyler Cowen notes a new paper, Poetry in Economics, by Emory University’s Hugo Mialon. Mialon examines the effect on citation counts of employing rhetorical figures in the titles of economics articles. He finds, among other things, that adding a rhetorical figure to the title of an empirical paper increases citations to the paper by more than four.

Mialon’s effort is interesting, but incomplete in terms of the implied policy advice to economists (to wit: pay more attention to the poetics, at least if you do empirical work).

Any look at the rhetoric of economists naturally brings to mind the work of Deirdre McCloskey on the topic. McCloskey not only studied economists’ rhetoric, but often urged economists to write better. Jack High, in a 1987 paper in Economic Inquiry, asked the right question of McCloskey: at the margin, are the benefits of better writing worth the costs? High concluded that the expected private costs of improving ones writing exceed the expected benefits, for most scholars.

Maybe a poetic title is low-hanging fruit for economists chasing citation counts. But if Mialon believed his own empirical work on the topic, why did he choose a purely informative title for his paper, “Poetry in Economics”? Why not employ a poetic figure in his title?

I suggest: “Low-Hanging Fruit for Economists Chasing Citation Counts?” Two metaphors and a rhetorical question wrapped up into a single title. That should score him an easy extra 10 – 12 citations.

Comments are open, alternative title recommendations welcomed.

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