Chris Blattman

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More on yesterday’s cheap shot at @freakonomics and @WSJIdeasMarket

A follow-up to yesterday’s post, after receiving comments/tweets and an email from one of the subjects.

First, lest anyone mistake this blog for a quality news and analysis outlet, let me remind everyone I blog hurriedly in my nearly non-existent spare time, and do not think much before I write. For if I did, there would not be a blog post every day.

Nonetheless, there is thoughtless and then there is reckless. Sometimes I am the latter.

We’ll start with the minor bit: Freakonomics departed from the NY Times at least a year ago.

More importantly, a clarification and apology. I’ve received links and hat tips from both blogs in past years. Freakonomics references sources and hat tips routinely, but on balance refrains from hyperlinking. To link or not to link? Politeness will remain in the eye of the beholder. But I should not call that plagiarism, or allude that. It’s a serious charge not to be thown around lightly, as I did. For that I apologize.

Finally, a small stand. What irked me is far less serious than plagiarism, but not ignorable. It’s the impression that large and profit-oriented blogs, especially ones that are affiliated (past or present) with media giants are less generous with attribution than the rest of the world.

On some blogs, intermediate sources are not hat-tipped, a practice which is bad manners at best, and worse things at worst. On others, like Freakonomics, hat tips exist but are merely unhyperlinked. The latter discussion is perhaps not worth the bits and bytes it involves. Unhyperlinked is not even a word. I’ll let readers be the judge. But the former offense deserves more attention.

Why spend more blog space on such frivolous things? No good reason. On this occasion, I started it and I should fess up when I overstate myself, or falsely accuse.

Also, I have an overdeveloped sense of justice, which often pushes me in the right direction, but sometimes leads me along silly and fruitless paths, such as accosting strangers on New York City sidewalks for littering, or (more successfully) trying to bring order to Dubai airport lines when hundreds of people are jumping queues during a 4am rush.

I will admit: I still get a great sense of satisfaction from the memory of hundreds of people from as many nations meekly looking ashamed and falling back into line. How should I feel looking back on this episode? Reader opinions welcome.

8 Responses

  1. Normally I don’t make comments… but after reading about how you brought order to a line in a Dubia airport, I had to. You are my hero! People budging in lines frustrates me to no end and it is such a relief to have orderly lines here in Canada.

    Also, having an overdeveloped sense of justice is not a bad thing. It’s good to have people like you around to shame everyone else back in line (in both airports and blogs).

  2. When you said, “It’s the impression that large and profit-oriented blogs, especially ones that are affiliated (past or present) with media giants are less generous with attribution than the rest of the world,” it immediately brought to mind Marcel Mauss and the Gift. Of course you two think and act differently–for you, the blogosphere is an extension of the gift economy you have with friends and colleagues. Those who give the most get the most. However for them, the blogosphere is an extension of a profitable brand. Those who can master supply and demand (and scarcity) get the most–being an unavoidable link in the supply chain literally pays.

    It’s really a shame that Mauss isn’t more read in the contemporary social sciences; while he certainly can’t explain everything, he presents a paradigm where certain actions seem a lot more rational. You reviewed David Graeber’s book Debt, but I’d really recommend you also take a look at his article on Mauss called “Give It Away” (my introduction to Mauss came as an undergraduate reading Graeber’s Fragments of an Anarchist Anthroplogy).

  3. I understand where you were coming from, as a university professor you have to fight against unacknowledged citations or potential plagiarism all the time (I guess less in the US than I do in Ethiopia), but still, you think, if students should do it, why not others. I admit I don’t always HT on twitter, but when i have a rare non-personal post on my blog and I write about work related issues, I always hyper link to the book, article, etc that inspired or informed my ideas. I takes a tiny amount of time to insert a hyperlink, so I think you have the right to demand it from bloggers too.

  4. Mentioning a blog without linking to it doesn’t seem right to me. (I struggle to come up with an equivalent – plagiarism is too harsh, no doubt. Maybe a footnoted reference that isn’t also listed in the bibliography?) It’s the link that provides value to the blog, as it increases traffic and helps with search rankings. The unlinked hat tip requires people to google the original source, which comes with a much higher cost than merely clicking the link. If that weren’t the case, a blog would have no reason not to add a link in the first place.

    With regard to airport lines, one might imagine that those who skip the line most successfully aren’t the ones with the highest opportunity cost. If they increase the waiting time of people with higher opportunity costs, then we end up with a less efficient system. Efficiency could be improved by levying a surcharge for access to an express line. This only works, however, if people queue up in an orderly fashion in the first place.

  5. You were right to stand against the crowd and insist on orderly lines.

    If economics is merely the efficient use of servers or the study, in depth, of how to grow GDP most rapidly, then line-jumping may be seen as preferable. But line-jumping implies inequitable distribution. It favors the well-armed and the healthy 20-year-old men, and puts the unarmed, the elderly, women and children at relative disadvantage and raises their costs. They will have to wait till the young men go away. For some goods and services, that wait may exceed their remaining lifetime. Orderly lines provide distribution to those who have use for the goods and services, without regard to their weaponry or muscles. Orderly lines are safe and predictable, and they operate without the probable costs of injury and damage that accompany line-jumping.

  6. On lines and your sense of “justice” :

    other than the fact that it looks more orderly, what exactly are the benefits of well-formed and obeyed lines ? The service provider is occupied 100% of the time anyway, and for each shy customer who loses his turn, there is a bold customer who gains, in the no-line regime. So I guess you have to fall back to
    1) ex ante utility with risk aversion, subject to entering the queue (if you join a line with 10 people in the UK, you can guesstimate it will take you N minutes. In Naples, it will be a much noisier estimate, given the relative bargaining strengths. But on average? Equal time (that statement needs to be made more precise). )

    2) effort involved in pushing and shoving, or just maintaining your spot

    2) is a real cost, but I believe 1) should not count. Let’s remember that the social planner wants the shortest queues possible.

    Certainly not a clear-cut case for your “efficiency based” rule.

    What’s left: a misguided sense that you ought to reward those who took their spot in line early, and therefore deserve early service.

    Meh. Save your outbursts for littering new-yorkers.

  7. Your original post may have been rushed, but it was fair. You were self-deprecating enough
    enough the first time round (“my overdeveloped and misdirected justice and courtesy bones ache…”), this is just overkill! I think every format has a convention: in academic papers you cite and in blogs you link. You pointed out two places don’t link too much, and as elsewhere a little bit of awkward social monitoring makes the world a better place.

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