May 28, 2019

Introducing AER: Insights

The AEA interviews editor Amy Finkelstein about the launch of the organization's newest journal.

Amy Finkelstein is the editor of The American Economic Review: Insights

American Economic Association

Economics has an efficiency problem.

The length of papers published in top tier journals has tripled in the past 40 years, expanding to such a degree that readers often struggle to finish them.

The American Economic Association is attempting to address this issue with the launch of a new journal. The American Economic Review: Insights features latest top-notch, but brief, economics papers in the field. Long articles have their place, but editor Amy Finkelstein says she hopes that Insights fills a need for a new type of economics journal.

The AEA's Chris Fleisher and Tyler Smith spoke with Finkelstein about why the AEA is launching its first new journal in a decade, what it means for researchers, and her hopes for the publication as it makes its debut.

An edited transcript of that conversation is below and the extended interview can be heard using the audio player.


Chris Fleisher: Why do we need another economics journal?

Amy Finkelstein: That's a great question. It's not that I think we need another economics journal per se. I think we need a different type of economics journal. The problem that AER: Insights is designed to solve is that it is very hard to publish in a top-tier general-interest economics journal a paper that is short. Sometimes an important insight can be conveyed succinctly. That doesn't mean that all important insights can, and that's why we have—and should continue to have—journals that don't have the kinds of limits that we have on exhibits and words. (Papers in AER: Insights have a limit of six thousand words)

Fleisher: Why have papers become so long and authors felt pressured to pack them with so much stuff?

Finkelstein: I don't really know. One thing I will say is that there are two key innovations we've made at AER: Insights. One is a word and exhibit limit to keep the papers short. The other is that we've moved away from the traditional R&R (Revise & Resubmit). We do not offer R&Rs. We only either reject the paper or conditionally accept the paper. The key distinction for us between a conditional accept and a traditional R&R is there's no uncertainty that the changes can be done, in the sense that we wouldn't do a conditional accept on someone needing to show robustness to “x” or extend the proof in this manner because we don't know whether that could be done. It has to be something that can be done, which mean it's expositional.

Tyler Smith: Do you have a sense of how much faster this process might be compared to the American Economic Review?

Finkelstein: About half the papers are summarily rejected—which is I think typical of other journals. Of the ones that are sent to referees, the median time to decision is forty-four days. And even the ninetieth percentile time-to-decision among those sent to referees is sixty-nine days, so a little over two months.

Smith: Will that impact the acceptance rate in any way?

Finkelstein: Counting conditional accepts and ruling out ones we didn't yet have a decision on, our acceptance rate was four percent, which is I think quite similar to the American Economic Review, which is exactly what we're aiming to be. We're sort of horizontally, not vertically, differentiated, which is our goal. It's for a different type of paper rather than a different quality or interest level of paper.

Smith: What's an example of a paper that might make it into Insights but wouldn't be appropriate for the AER?

Finkelstein: It's easier for me to answer the question the other way. And in fact there are some papers we have rejected at AER: Insights but suggested go to AER, in the sense that it's an important idea and it seems well done but there was sufficiently new data, methods, mechanics, etc. that we weren't able to get a clear sense of it within our word limits.

Fleisher: Are there any other journals outside of economics that you're using as a benchmark for Insights?

Finkelstein: We looked at journals in other fields. Since I'm a health economist, I actually had some experience reading and trying to publish in medical journals, journals like Science. The inspiration for putting a time limit on the authors' time for revision came from my experience at some of those journals. We ended up a longer length than many of the journals that we looked at. That was done because we wanted to make sure that there was enough space to fully explain all relevant material in the main text so that you didn't have to go to the appendices to actually understand what was going on. The appendices are for people who are working in that area who really want to try to replicate, extend, copy, etc.

Fleisher: How does it feel to be at this point where you're about ready to put this thing out in the world?

Finkelstein: It's incredibly exciting. The AEA staff has been incredibly helpful in all aspects of the process, including actually getting the first issue to print. And I will say I'm also very excited that the feedback that I hear from people in the profession—both people who have submitted to the journal and people who haven't—is that they're excited about the option value of this type of journal. That's exactly what I'm hoping for. Again, not that all papers should be short. Not that we should only write short papers, but if you do have an idea, a finding that you think you can write up in a succinct manner and that you think is important, there is now a top outlet for it. And I hope that will be a very useful addition to our profession.