Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Publication bias and the file drawer

Economists have known about file drawer problems for rather a while; DeLong and Lang was on the syllabus when I was in grad school in the late '90s. 

My Canterbury colleague Andrea Menclova's wished to do something about it. If papers with insignificant results get put in file drawers for want of suitable publication outlets, why not start a journal of insignificant results? She's been thinking about this one for a while; it was a not infrequent lunchroom conversation topic.

She's now blogged on it, which I'm taking as an optimistic sign that her proposed journal might actually get going. She writes:
Series of Unsurprising Results in Economics (SURE)Is the topic of your paper interesting, your analysis carefully done, but your results are not “sexy”? If so, please consider submitting your paper to SURE. An e-journal of high-quality research with “unsurprising” findings.
How does it work:
  • We accept papers from all fields of Economics…
  • Which have been rejected at a journal indexed in EconLit…
  • With the ONLY important reason being that their results are statistically insignificant or otherwise “unsurprising”.
To document that your paper meets the above eligibility criteria, please send us all referee reports and letters from the editor from the journal where your paper has been rejected.  Two independent referees will read these reports along with your paper and evaluate whether they indicate that:
  1. the paper is of high quality and
  2. the only important reason for rejection was the insignificant/unsurprising nature of the result
Submission implies that you (the authors) give permission to the SURE editor to contact the editor of the rejecting journal regarding your manuscript.
SURE benefits writers by:
  • Providing an outlet for interesting, high-quality, but “risky” (in terms of uncertain results) research projects;
  • Decreasing incentives to data-mine, change theories and hypotheses ex post, exclusively focus on provocative topics.
SURE benefits readers by:
  • Mitigating the publication bias and thus complementing other journals in an effort to provide a complete account of the state of affairs;
  • Serving as a repository of potential (and tentative) “dead ends” in Economics research.
Feedback is definitely invited! Please submit your comments here or email me at

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