What do Editors Maximize? Evidence from Four Leading Economics Journals
We study editorial decision-making using anonymized submission data for four leading economics journals: the Journal of the European Economics Association, the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the Review of Economic Studies, and the Review of Economics and Statistics. We match papers to the publication records of authors at the time of submission and to subsequent Google Scholar citations. To guide our analysis we develop a benchmark model in which editors maximize the expected quality of accepted papers and citations are unbiased measures of quality. We then generalize the model to allow different quality thresholds for different papers, and systematic gaps between citations and quality. Empirically, we find that referee recommendations are strong predictors of citations, and that editors follow the recommendations quite closely. Holding constant the referees' evaluations, however, papers by highly-published authors get more citations, suggesting that referees impose a higher bar for these authors, or that prolific authors are over-cited. Editors only partially offset the referees' opinions, effectively discounting the citations of more prolific authors in their revise and resubmit decisions by up to 80%. To disentangle the two explanations for this discounting, we conduct a survey of specialists, asking them for their preferred relative citation counts for matched pairs of papers. The responses show no indication that prolific authors are over-cited and thus suggest that referees and editors seek to support less prolific authors.
We thank Pierre Azoulay, Matthew Gentzkow, Nagore Iriberri, Lawrence Katz, Jesse Shapiro, and Fabrizio Zilibotti for their comments and suggestions. We are also grateful to the audiences at Columbia University, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, and the Annual Meeting of WEAI for useful comments. We thank Alden Cheng, Johannes Hermle, Kaushik Krishnan, Patricia Sun, and Brian Wheaton for oustanding research assistance. We are also very appreciative of the support provided by the editors and staff at the Journal of the European Economic Association, the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the Review of Economics and Statistics, and the Review of Economic Studies. The survey analyzed in this paper was approved by UC Berkeley IRB, protocol 2016-08-9029 and pre-registered as trial AEARCTR-0001669. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.