When economists and other scientists attend conferences like the annual gathering of the Royal Economic Society, they are more likely to create outstanding work. That''s the conclusion of research by Raquel Campos, Fernanda Leite Lopez de Leon and Ben McQuillin, which they will present at this year''s RES conference at the University of Bristol in April.
In late August 2012, Hurricane Isaac forced the cancellation of the American Political Science Association annual meeting. The new study analyses the output of 17,468 academics who attend conferences, and find that collaborations among participants that did not meet in the cancelled conference led to papers appearing in journals ranked, on average, five places lower.
The ''lost'' papers were overwhelmingly ones that would have been published by teams of academics who work in geographically distant locations. This leads the researchers to conclude that the inter-institutional collaboration that conferences inspire creates better science, helping to overcome the locational constraints of many academic networks.
They conclude: ''The results in our study suggest that conferences perform an important function in alleviating the constraints of geographical location, by allowing academics to meet new collaborators.''
When an academic participates in a large conference, her likelihood of subsequently writing a paper with at least one participant at the conference increases by one-sixth (close to 15%). Moreover, it seems that conferences improve the quality of matching among co-authors, leading to papers that are published in higher-ranked journals.
These findings are documented in this study, part of a programme of work, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, in which economists at the University of Kent and the University of East Anglia are using a natural experiment to understand the role of conferences in academic and scientific production generally.
In late August 2012, the imminent landfall of Hurricane Isaac forced the cancellation – at less than 48 hours'' notice – of an important event in political scientists'' annual calendar: the American Political Science Association (APSA) annual meeting.
By analysing the output patterns – in terms of published and working papers – among 17,468 academics that attend conferences (including academics scheduled to have participated in this cancelled conference, in previous editions of the APSA meeting and/or editions of a similar annual meeting), the authors estimate the effects of conferences on the likelihood of academics forming new co-authorships, and provide evidence for the role of conferences as important facilitators for academic networking.
The collaborations that were ''lost'' (because of the conference cancellation) were disproportionately those that would have been between academics affiliated to geographically distant institutions and whose existing research was closely related. These seem to be recipes for better research, as the remaining collaborations that did form (among participants that did not meet in the cancelled conference) led to papers appearing in journals ranked, on average, five places lower.
These results speak to the role of conferences and, more generally, of network constraints in preventing the formation of efficient scientific teams. It is already known that most academic and scientific papers are written by co-located authors, but some questions remain unanswered.
First, does inter-institutional collaboration make better science, or is it rather adopted as a research strategy specifically for the most promising and ambitious projects? The results in the present paper suggest strongly the former.
Second, do academics and scientists work so predominantly in co-located teams due to preference, or because they are in some way constrained from forming the more productive inter-institutional collaborations? The results in this study support the network constraints explanation and suggest that conferences perform an important function in alleviating these constraints, by allowing academics to meet new collaborators.
Lost in the Storm: The Academic Collaborations that Went Missing in Hurricane Isaac
http://www.kent.ac.uk/economics/staff/profiles/fernanda-leite-lopez-de-leon.html at Lecturer in Economics School of Economics, University of Kent, Canterbury
https://www.uea.ac.uk/economics/people/profile/b-mcquillin at Lecturer in Economics School of Economics, University of East Anglia