Conference presentation of economic research is positively related to the likelihood of publication in high-quality journals, according to a study by Yuriy Gorodnichenko, Tho Pham and Oleksandr Talavera. Their analysis also suggests that participating in major conferences helps to improve research impact and visibility.
But, they find, conference papers written by male authors experience a higher likelihood of being published in top journals than those by women. The statistics show a troubling picture: female authors appear to gain less at the top end of journal hierarchy after presenting their work at major conferences.
Every year, thousands of economists gather for conferences organised by prominent professional societies such as the American Economic Association (AEA), the European Economic Association (EEA), and the Royal Economic Society (RES). Although these gatherings are undoubtedly valuable, the exact benefits that researchers and particularly presenters get from these events remain unclear.
The new study attempts to quantify the contribution of conference participation to publication outcomes and other metrics of academic success. The authors also try to identify whether conferences have differential implications for male versus female researchers. This is an important aspect of the analysis given that economics has an apparent lack of diversity and that disadvantageous treatment of female researchers in conference settings could propagate existing inequities.
To carry out the analysis, the authors assemble a comprehensive dataset that contains information related to conference attendance, paper statistics, and author statistics of papers presented at the annual conferences organised by AEA, EEA, and RES during the 2006-2012 period.
They find that conference presentation is positively associated with publication probability when ignoring the importance of the connectedness, the breadth of research teams, and the paper quality. Major conference presentation is related to an increase of 14.7 percentage points in publication probability, which is relatively a large increase given the unconditional probability of 30%.
But once these factors are accounted for, conference participation has effectively no predictive power for publication in any academic journal. In other words, conferences appear to have little, if any, value added for generating publications.
Nevertheless, bearing in mind the variation across journals in prestige and impact, one needs to control for the quality of publishing outcomes to precisely quantify conferences’ contribution to academic achievements. Using journal ranking based on the Association of Business Schools’ (ABS) Academic Journal Guide 2015, the study find that participating in a major conference has different predictions for where a conference paper might be published.
Presentation in a major conference does not predict a higher probability of publications in low-tier journals (unranked, ranked 1 or 2 by the ABS). In contrast, participation predicts higher probabilities of publication in high-quality journals (ranked 3, 4, or 4* by the ABS).
For example, conference presentation is associated with 1.3 percentage point higher probability of publication in the premier (4*) tier of journals. This is a large increase since the unconditional probability of publication in a 4* journal is only 2.8% in the sample.
The researchers also find that participation in a major conference does not predict a higher probability of publications in low-tier journals for both female and male authors. But papers written by male authors experience a higher likelihood of being published in top journals. At the same time, the probability of being published in the high-quality journals for female researchers’ papers is next to zero.
While these results are not causal, the statistics still show a potentially troubling picture: female authors appear to gain less at the top end of journal hierarchy after presenting their work in major conferences, even after controlling for basic heterogeneity in research profiles of authors.
These findings highlight the importance of conference presentations for research productivity and promotion. Although the analysis does not necessarily provide a complete picture of the conferences’ value, the results clearly indicate that academic institutions should have effective mechanisms to encourage and support researchers to present in the high-quality conferences. By doing so, both researchers and universities can benefit from improved research performance and increased visibility.
Additionally, some changes can be made to improve the contribution of conferences to career progression of ‘disadvantaged’ groups (e.g., early career or female economists).
Lecturer in Economics at University of Reading