Tempest-tossed data show conferences’ impact

When Hurricane Isaac forced the cancellation of a political science conference, researchers were able to pinpoint the value of presenting papers

April 2, 2015

Source: Corbis

Cause and effect: Hurricane Isaac highlighted value of academic forums

Academic conferences do increase the chances that papers will be read and disseminated by peers, according to new research that has provided clear “evidence for the role of conferences on the pathway to academic impact”.

Economics lecturers Fernanda de Leon of the University of Kent and Ben McQuillin of the University of East Anglia set out to investigate the impact of conferences by looking at the effect of a last-minute cancellation, owing to disruption caused by Hurricane Isaac, of the 2012 American Political Science Association’s annual meeting.

The authors assembled a database of papers that were presented (or meant to be presented) from 2009 to 2012 at the APSA and material from the 2012 annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association.

From the sample of more than 15,000 papers, Dr de Leon and Dr McQuillin were then able to check the “numbers of articles’ views, downloads, citations, and downloads of conference authors’ other work” for all of those papers that had been uploaded on to the Social Science Research Network online repository accessed by more than 1.7 million users. Detailed statistical analysis confirmed the greater impact of papers that were indeed delivered at conferences.

“On average, articles gain 17-26 downloads in the 15 months after being presented…an article in the 2012 APSA conference received 92 fewer views on SSRN than might have been expected had the conference taken place,” the scholars said.

Yet this prompted the further question of whether such exposure was “more beneficial to already visible scholars or to less-known and newcomer authors”.

Analysis of the data showed that “authors from lower-tier institutions and newcomers are those that gain visibility, in having the number of article downloads increased”, meaning that the net effect of conferences is “a decrease of inequality of impact across institutions”.

Dr de Leon and Dr McQuillin’s paper, “The role of conferences on the pathway to academic impact: evidence from a natural experiment”, was presented at the annual conference of the Royal Economic Society, which took place at the University of Manchester from 30 March to 1 April.


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