I never took much notice of James Heckman until recently. From a
distinguished professor at the University of Chicago, I have learned that
he deserves a Nobel Prize for good sense -- especially while not getting
caught up in Chicago fanaticism. His recent articles on early childhood
education are excellent.
Clement, Douglas. 2005. "Interview with James Heckman." The Region
[Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis](June). http://minneapolisfed.org/pubs/region/05-06/heckman.cfm
"In economics there's a trend now to come up with cute papers in
an effort to be cited as many times as possible. All the incentives
point that way, especially for young professors who seem
risk-averse rather than risk-taking after they get tenure.
In some quarters of our profession, the level of discussion
has sunk to the level of a New Yorker article: coffee-table
articles about "cute" topics, papers using "clever"
instruments. The authors of these papers are usually unclear
about the economic questions they address, the data
used to support their conclusions and the econometrics used
to justify their estimates. This is a sad development that I
hope is a passing fad. Most of this work is without
substance, but it makes a short-lived splash and it's
easy to do. Many young economists are going for the
cute and the clever at the expense of working on
hard and important foundational problems."
"We are making this subject precise. But sometimes I
have my doubts. Some of what economists do is to
explain to fellow economists what most intelligent people
already know. A lot of what economists do is explain
to themselves what the rest of the world already knows.
There's a real risk of being caught up in that."