PICA #117

A strong name garners favourable reviews, that's branding for you!

You know my name.

Status bias in academic paper reviewing is further proof that brands work.

Status bias is the notion that the signature on a paper can be equally important as the content in deciding whether it gets published. In a recent study*, researchers at the University of Innsbruck, in Austria, together with Vernon Smith, an experimental economist at Chapman University, in California set out to test the status bias theory.

Dr Smith, a winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, had just completed a novel paper on financial and market data in collaboration with Sabiou Inoua, a PhD student. The University of Innsbruck researchers suggested that they submit the paper for publication to numerous peer reviews using only the name of either Dr Smith or Mr Inoua to see how they judged the quality of the same work. They contacted the editors of the Journal of Behavioural and Experimental Finance who agreed to collaborate in the experiment and emailed an abstract of the manuscript to more than 3,330 potential reviewers asking if they would be willing to review the full manuscript. Only one of the two authors' names was supplied to each person or the names were entirely omitted. Nearly 40% agreed to review when Dr Smith was cited as the author with only 30% interested if the author was Mr Inoua or not listed.

A full manuscript was then sent to those who expressed interest and over 500 reviewers submitted reports. Of the reviewers that believed the paper to be only the work of Mr Inoua, 65% voted to reject the paper. Of the reviewers that believed the paper to be only the work of Dr Smith, 23% voted to reject the paper. Conclusive proof that with identical content a famous name increases the favourable opinion of the reader.
In a sense, it gets worse. Of the reviewers that had no idea of the identity of the author, 48% voted to reject the paper.

Eminent scientists are brands. The visibility, respect and goodwill they have accrued over time translate into a favourable bias today. Their work doesn’t speak for itself, their brand speaks for their work.

*Huber, Juergen and M. Inoua, Sabiou and Kerschbamer, Rudolf and König-Kersting, Christian and Palan, Stefan and Smith, Vernon L., Nobel and Novice: Author Prominence Affects Peer Review (August 16, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4190976