Bear with me, this might take a minute to get to the point. In 2005, John and I started Env-Econ with the following mission:
The Environmental Economics blog is dedicated to the dissemination of economists’ views on current environmental and natural resource issues. We hope this blog will help bring economists’ views on environmental issues further into the mainstream. The intended audience includes the general public and students. Posts are non-technical. [emphasis added]
I added the emphasis to that in light of a comment I received this morning on this post from yesterday. As background: in the post, I asked an academic colleague to give me a back of the envelope calculation of the social value of beach renourishment. At the end of the post I linked to the academic article on which my colleague based the back of the envelope calcualtion--mainly to give credit where credit is due and also to let any reader so inclined to take a look at what goes into making the sausage that is Env-Econ. Anyway, one of our readers was so inclined--and apparently didn't like what they saw in the sausage factory:
I tried to read and understand Sathya Gopalakrishnan's abstract and I can't. I need an interpreter. I'm pretty sure it's English. Maybe someone could get a "grant" to find out just what percent of the US adult population accurately understands her language? Maybe I'm just dumb. I do have a B.S. degree from a highly regarded university but that was a long time ago.
A few points:
- What percentage of the US adult population accurately understands her language is irrelevant for the abstract. The abstract is intended for an audience of academic environmental economists and as such the relevant question is 'What percentage of the world population of those interested in academic issues relevant to environmental economists understand her language?' Based on almost 20 years of experience (including a stint co-editing the journal in question), I would venture a guess that the percentage is very high--but the denominator in that percentage is pretty small.
- The commenter has discovered one of the dirty little secrets of academics. We academics like to use jargon, big words and complicated phrasing to make it intentionally difficult to understand what we are trying to say. In doing so we create a nice barrier to entry into the profession. It takes years of additional education just to be able to learn the language of our discipline. That education is costly both in terms of resources and time expended. But for those who clear the barrier, the level of complication helps to keep the supply of academics who can make things as unnecessarily complicated as we do, and more importantly understand that complication, low. And we all know that decreased supply increases prices (in this case wages). So, you see, unnecessary complication is necessary. It's a means to self-preservation and higher wages.
- There are usually less complicated ways to explain highly technical stuff without losing the basics of what is being said. That is the purpose of this blog. Allow me to illustrate. Here is an excerpt from the academic abstract in question:
We use the empirical results to parameterize a dynamic optimization model of beach nourishment decisions and show that the predicted interval between nourishment projects is closer to what we observe in the data when we use the estimate from the instrumental variables model rather than OLS. As coastal communities adapt to climate change, we find that the long-term net value of coastal residential property can fall by as much as 52% when erosion rate triples and cost of nourishment sand quadruples.
To the non-academic (hopefully many of our readers), that reads as follows:
We use the [blah] to [blah-blah] of beach nourishment decisions and show that the [blah] between [blah] is closer to [blah] when we use the [blah-blah] from the [HOLY S***]. As coastal communities adapt to climate change, we find that the [blah] of coastal residential property can fall by as much as [a bunch of made-up crap].
So in good Env-Econ fashion allow me to interpret the abstract:
Using a bunch of complicated statistics and math that no one else has thought to use, we find that beach house prices fall when beaches wash away or when the cost of putting more sand on the beach goes up.
That, our dear readers, is why we started this blog.
No need to thanks us.