That was the question I received via twitter in response to this post: "Economists go wild over overlooked citations in [AER] preprint on prenatal stress." My comment was:
While I'm not discounting the fact that there may have been some selective non-citation, the bros at EJMRs are over the top. Anonymity provides the courage to reveal your ignorance and worse. Janet Currie said it well “It just shows how clueless the Econ Job Rumors people can be.”
So, I read the comments at Retraction Watch and, indeed, it does sound like there is a problem at the AER. This comment from "Econ Prof" seems to sum it up best for me:
The claims by defenders of the paper that this is an issue of a few missing citations are inaccurate and unhelpful. If this were a paper making a significant contribution that simply failed to note some of the relevant literature, the furor would have died down days ago when the citations were added.
The issue is that
1. The paper makes no significant contribution to the literature,
2. The papers left uncited were precisely those that addressed the exact same questions, making this paper little more than a replication on a topic that is well-trodden ground in the medical literature, and
3. In light of 1 and 2, the paper clearly doesn’t represent a contribution worthy of AER, but no action is being taken to e.g. assign new referees and reassess its acceptance.
Additionally, while the focus by defenders of the paper and this article has been on a gender-based motive for this controversy, surveying the thread makes it clear that most of the vitriol is directed at elitism (perfectly captured in Currie and Hoynes’ condescending responses), nepotism, and clubbiness in the economics profession. People are angry because this is merely an unusually clear-cut example of well-connected researchers leveraging their professional networks to publish low quality work at the expense of less connected scholars, a longstanding source of frustration in the profession, and this paper is still being pushed forward and aggressively defended even in light of overwhelming evidence that it does not belong in a top journal.
While EJMRs can be a cesspool, in this case it seems that the EJMRs bros have made an especially worthy contribution (i.e., I doubt if the paper had been published if the authors were from "Appalachian Podunk State"). In retrospect, my comment would have been improved without the quote from Janet Currie.