• Small windows in the ivory tower

    In one of the few papers to address the extent to which academic publications respond to real world circumstances, Rexford Santerre and James Hilliard write,

    College professors typically expend a considerable amount of time, energy, and effort on academic research. But only one study to date has demonstrated the societal benefit of such research by showing that the content of academic research responds to real-world problems. This article adds to this scant literature by investigating empirically if the prevalence of health insurance articles in the Journal of Risk and Insurance (JRI) can be explained by the state of the health economy. According to the findings, both the uninsured rate and health care spending share are directly related to the percentage of health insurance articles published in the JRI. Thus, the empirical results suggest that the research decisions of insurance economists are influenced at the margin by real-world problems.

    Specifically, they find “that a 1 percentage point increase in the uninsured rate is associated with a nearly 2 percentage point increase in the percentage of health insurance articles in the JRI” and “that a 1 percentage point increase in the share of national income devoted to health care raises the percentage of health insurance articles in JRI by 7 percentage points but with a 2-year lag.”

    This by no means proves that all or most of academic work is socially valuable or useful. No doubt some of it cannot be easily defended against such charges. But, by the same token, likely some of it can. We write about some of the most relevant research in health care on this blog every day.

    In any case, Santerre and Hilliard have demonstrated that there are at least some small windows in the ivory tower. At least a bit of light gets in, a bit of relevance leaks out, sometimes with a 2-year lag.

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    • I am happy that the arrow of causation goes in that direction. Or is it that research causes uninsurance ? More seriously, this seems to be a very low bar, a more interesting issue is whether research findings influence policy.

    • This could be due to funding agencies. At least in my experience (in Norway), government funding for basic research is directed towards issues of political interest (sickness absence, environmental economics, labor market policy, etc.). The researchers go where the money is, and a few years later the results show up in the journals.