Improving Publishing in the Social Sciences

I’ve been toying with an idea that I think would improve economic and biometric research, but will never get adopted.  Split research into two components:

  1. Generating research ideas
  2. Doing the research

But here’s my twist: economists and biometricians could submit ideas to a central database, but would be barred from doing that particular project.  No researcher would be allowed to work on his own idea ever again.  Researchers would be assigned research ideas randomly from the central database, allowing for some modest amount of customization as to what types of projects they have the skills to do.

The researchers would then take a fresh look at the ideas, because they don’t have a dog in the fight.  They haven’t been defending a point of view on the idea, so the idea will be investigated with less bias.  This would have the salutary effect of creating more well-rounded researchers that have broader interests, and, more skeptical researchers.  It also might allow journals to publish articles that indicate that a certain area of inquiry is a dead end, which does not get done as often as it should.

This is an attempt to make economics and biometrics into sciences, by forcing more neutrality into the research.  The scientific method requires a neutral observer, but sadly, many researchers become patrons of their pet ideas, and the sorry excuse called “peer review” at the journals does not weed that out.  Peer review reinforces the biases of the majority most of the time.

My proposal will never be adopted because the cozy academic guilds are ever so happy to leave their “research” unchallenged, so that they can keep their cushy jobs, even though they produce little of lasting value.

Summary: if an idea is true, it shouldn’t matter which competent researcher investigates it.  We believe in a neutral observer.  Well, let’s make the observer genuinely neutral, and see how much trash gets discarded, and real truths preserved.