Being a woman, and a woman not at a top 10 institution, in a field in which there is little to no double-blind reviewing, I have to walk a very fine line when promoting what is novel and new about my work compared to previous work. This is especially hard because I do really innovative work that ends up getting cited a lot and taught in classes but faces a huge amount of push-back from the people who don’t think that way. (When I put it like that, maybe I’m not the best person for giving advice given my lack of top general interest journal publications.)
Anyway, don’t say that you’re the first person to do something unless you’re an asshole at a top school. They are always wrong. They have always not done enough literature review. But that doesn’t kill them whereas it is the death knell for the rest of us. Don’t do it. (I review a lot of papers and see this dichotomy in action– asshole reviewers are so pleased to bring their work to the attention of the famous white dudes, but are insulted that junior scholars should not know their important paper published 30+ years ago.)
When you’re an asshole at a top school, a good strategy is to do an extremely light literature that only cites top general interest journals. That makes it look like your paper is new and innovative. And people believe it is because your work doesn’t get sent out to the other people (women, junior scholars, people not at top 10 schools) who have worked on the same question because the editor doesn’t know they worked on it and you didn’t cite them, so how is the editor supposed to know. Yes I am still really bitter about this.
When you’re not that asshole, you have to do a really complete literature review because if you don’t cite someone, the reviewers take offense and think you haven’t done a thorough lit review. You can get away with not citing things that aren’t in your field (but I cite people outside anyway because they do work I think economists should know about– this is part of why my way of thinking about things is so innovative– innovation in economics is what another field discovered 30-50 years ago…). You can get away with not citing things that got published in second tier field journals or lower, but if it was in a top field journal, it needs to be in your list of works cited.
Now, if you’re a white male asshole at a top school, you can make your career out of proving another top economist’s top general interest paper was wrong. Or, if it’s a female top economist, all you really have to do is harshly question it. If you’re female and you do this, it can destroy your budding career unless you coauthor with a senior top male economist or two who will take the credit and shift the blame to the bad paper author.
All of that aside… and back to the topic that inspired this post.
If you are a woman/non-famous person, how do you make it clear that your paper is doing new stuff without insulting your potential reviewers? The answer, my friend, is data limitations. Or, if it is much older work, new technology. They *couldn’t* answer the question you’re answering because their dataset wasn’t good enough. No fault of theirs. You have something new to add because of your great luck or your hard work. This probably explains why I am forever amassing new datasets instead of writing papers with the sets I already have. (That and I’m a dilettante).
So, is this good advice? I don’t know. My career looks like a glass ceiling– I am very good at publishing at top field journals, but have yet to hit a top general interest journal. Some of this is because other than my job market paper I didn’t send my work to top field journals until after tenure, but some of it is that I still don’t know how to play the game perfectly and my reputation is not such that I get the benefit of the doubt. I still get desk rejects with useless comments for papers that end up getting accepted with minor revisions at similar journals. There’s a lot of crap shooting going on.
(Disclaimer: #notalleconomists are assholes, #notalltopeconomists are assholes. Some are really nice and are generous with their citations and work and try to write the best papers they can because they care about economics and policy. Others care a lot about playing the publication game. I’m sure it’s similar in many lines of work.)