Informal Collaboration increases over time – But more so for top journals

Scientists do not work alone. Colleagues help them by providing feedback and commentary. Upon publication, helpful input is being acknowledged, which constitutes our novel database.


The notion of the sole scientist working endlessly in an ivory tower until a scientific contribution emerged in the form of a long book is a romantic one, but it is wrong. Science is social endeavor, and collegiate help comes in may forms. Reading and commenting on a colleague’s draft a very common one, and presenting in seminars, workshops and conferences may be even more common. In fact, collaboration is so common that tips and advices for academic presentations are everywhere.

Financial Economics is no exception to this, as we show in our papers. Financial economists commonly acknowledge helpful input by their colleagues: Whether they have commented on a draft, discussed at a conference or gave feedback after listening to an idea. Additionally, authors list conferences and universities where they presented their work so as to acknowledge the audience.

We have used 6407 full research articles from six major financial economics journals published in the 1997-2011 period. These journals are The Journal of Finance (JF; 1153articles), The Review of Financial Studies (RFS; 891), the Journal of Financial Economics (JFE; 1157), the Journal of Financial Intermediation (JFI; 278), the Journal of Money, Credit & Banking (JMCB; 816) and the Journal of Banking and Finance (JBF; 2110). The journals JF, RFS and JFE are commonly referred to as top finance journals (see for example the JF’s annual reports, which uses RFS and JFE as benchmarks).

There are three forms of informal collaboration present in Economics and its subfields: direct feedback by individuals, seminar presentations, and conference presentations. For our analysis workshops count as conference.

In 2011 the vast majority of articles report at least one form of informal collaboration all articles report any of the three forms of informal collaboration, but the share differs from journal to journal:

While virtually all articles published in the three top journals (JF, RFS, JFE) report at least one form of informal collaboration, it is usually 80% for JBF articles.

Just as the extensive margin the intensive margin increased over time as well. Of all 6407 articles in our dataset, a total of 5633 articles acknowledge at least one commenter or one seminar presentation or one conference presentation. We counted them and calculated the average per year and journal:

There are two remarkable trends: First, informal collaboration increases over time. In all journals, the average article acknowledges more commenters, more seminars and more conferences. Laband and Tollison (2002) have reported a similar increase in the number of commenters for three top Economics journal publications.

But the amount of informal collaboration in top journals (JF, RFS, JFE) has always been higher than in the other three journals (JFI, JMCB, JBF). Only the JFI tends to be become a top journal, at least in terms of informal collaboration.

While the correlations are striking, the causal effects are hard to identify. It might be quality-improvement, but it might also be a selection bias on the side of the author – i.e. only presenting the better papers -, or selection bias by the commenters, seminar venues and conferences – i.e. only accepting the better articles (Brown, 2005).

But even when there are other effects at work too: The fact that editors such as the editors of the the top finance journal editors Green, O’Hara and Schwert (2002) (among other editors) advise authors “to circulate their papers and give seminars to colleagues to receive constructive criticism before submitting to a journal” is evidence that informal collaboration has its merits.