“Academia Is Often Subject to Self-Serving Bias That Obliterates Ethical Bounds”

I have been sending out numerous e-mails to let people know about my article on the silencing of Academic Researcher Wade Pfau, the researcher who published the breakthrough paper showing the superiority of Valuation-Informed Indexing strategies over Buy-and-Hold strategies. Set forth below are reports on five of the responses I have received.

1) Walter Block, an Economics Professor at Loyola University, suggested that I contact the Institute for Justice and suggested that I check out a number of books relating to Austrian Economics. I thanked Walter for his kind response and told him that his love for the subject of Austrian Economics came through in his e-mail and inspired me to want to learn more about it.

2) Ted Sichelman, a Law Professor at the University of San Diego, said: “Thanks for the e-mail and interesting article. Unfortunately, many academics can become quite strident when their views are challenged, which is why I was counseled not to tread on treacherous ground prior to getting tenure. Like most other fields, academia is often subject to self-serving bias that obliterates ethical bounds. As it may be, best of luck in your worthy endeavors.”

I told Ted that I agree with the point that he was making but that, in fairness, I do not believe that it is only academics that caused the problem. ” Journalists should be asking harder questions and with more persistence and follow-up. Policymakers should be trying to overcome their ideological biases and looking for more creative and more balanced solutions to our problems. Investors should be more skeptical of claims they hear from those who have a financial interest in slanting things in a certain direction.” In short, I argued that “it’s those darn humans who are messing things up again!”

I further wrote:
“I’m only half joking. The academics really did drop the ball on this one. But it is also the academics who will be helping us to get to the next stage once it hits them what they need to do. We ALL see through a glass darkly. The academics are good people, as are the journalists, the policymakers (yes, even them! — I used to work on Capitol Hill and I got to know some personally) and the investors. We all get made fools of by our biases from time to time.
“I was no doubt affected by my biases myself in what I wrote in that article. The trouble is that I cannot see my own biases as clearly as I can see the biases of those darn academics and those darn other journalists and those darn policymakers and those darn investors.
“Thanks much for your real and true response. I have lots of blather directed at me in the work I do. I need to hear some real stuff from time to time to remain sane. You have added a nice measure of cheer to my Friday morning with the sincerity of your kind wishes.”

3) Ashta Arvind, a Law Professor at the Burgundy School of Law and a Holder of the Microfinance Chair, said: ” I’m very happy in microfinance research because at the end of it, whether microfinance does good or not, everyone is trying to improve things for others and although there is hectic debate about ideas, this kind of problem does not exist.” He observed that ideas are hard to market when they are unknown because most influential people are busy. However, one publication can lead to another and then to another. “I often give the example of one paper which got refused more than ten times before it finally got published a few years down the line.” He suggested several journals in which he has confidence. I thanked him for his kind and practical suggestions.

4) Dirk Matten, a Professor of Strategy at the Schulich School of Business, said: “Rob — Thanks for contacting me. Interesting story. In some ways, though, I don’t understand too much about this case. So I don’t feel I can add much. Good luck with this!” I thanked Dick for taking a look and especially for his kind wishes.

5) Branko Milanovic, Lead Economist in the Development Research Group at the World Bank, said: “Thank you very much for your e-mail. I read briefly your note but unfortunately I cannot judge how accurate or valid your hypothesis is simply because it is an area that I do not know. Thank for for sending it.” I thanked Branko for taking a look.

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