At last year’s Midwest Economics Association meeting I had the privilege of discussing a paper by Lea-Rachel Kosnik, Associate Professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, called Which Leading Paper Leads? Idea Diffusion in Economics Research Journals. While prepping for my discussion, I came across another intriguing paper by Lea, What Have Economists Been Doing for the Last 50 Years? A Text Analysis of Published Academic Research from 1960–2010. In this paper, Lea essentially creates a database of every word in every article in seven top research journals from 1960-2010–over 20,000 articles. Although she doesn’t report the total number of words in the database, the most common word, “model,” appears 439,646 times.

The “Whiskey Tango Friday” finding is depicted in the following figure:

The interesting thing in this figure is the Solo vs. Co-authors comparison for the Q JEL code relative to all the rest. Q is the JEL code for Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics. The rate of co-authorship is 50% higher than solo authorship for this (my) field! Why? I don’t know, but here are some hypotheses:

1. Ag Econ is “more amenable to scholarly interaction than other fields” (Laband and Tollison 2000).
2. Senior faculty in Ag Econ co-author more with their grad students.

Laband and Tollison also reason that “it may be cheaper for an individual to acquire new capacity (human capital) to produce through formal collaboration (merger) with someone who already has the requisite human capital than to acquire the needed knowledge de novo, personally.” This hypothesis suggests two more possibilities:

3. Ag Econ is more multidisciplinary.
4. Senior faculty in Ag Econ free ride more on junior faculty and grad students.

That last possibility is consistent with my experience. It’s common practice in Ag Econ for advisors to be coauthors on grad students’ dissertation/job-market paper, but that was not the case when I was a grad student in an Econ department. A senior colleague in Ag Econ once informed me that “if I paid for it, my name goes on it,” which is one of many cultural differences between Econ and Ag Econ. Could the prevalence of co-authorship simply be a manifestation of the different cultures in Econ and Ag Econ departments? I don’t know, maybe. It’s just one of the many weird things empirical economists find in the data, which qualifies it for a Whiskey Tango Friday blog post.