Thursday, January 24, 2013

Don't Read; Write!

. Thursday, January 24, 2013


In re Will's comments on Chris Blattman's advice to graduate students about selecting research topics, I ran across this advice to young scholars from Richard Thaler:

Work on your own ideas, not your advisor’s ideas (or at least in addition to her ideas). And spend more time thinking and less time reading. Too much reading leads people to think of small variations on existing studies. Admittedly my strategy of writing the paper first and only then reading the literature (or, more likely, letting the referees tell me what they think I should have read) is an extreme one, but it is better than trying to read everything. Try writing the first paper on some topic, not the tenth, and never the 50th.
Part of this seems like solid advice for graduate students and junior faculty. No one gets tenure by reading a lot, so, "don't read, write" is probably good advice (I seem to recall this being favorite advice of Munger). Moreover, given the curse of "shrinkingly important papers," (Thaler's term) there really isn't very much that one needs to read. However, no paper is easier to publish than the one which appears to establish precisely that which everyone already believes to be true but that has not yet been established precisely. And no papers are harder to publish than those that cut against conventional wisdom. So, shooting to write the nth paper is probably a safer tenure strategy than writing the first one.




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