The average economist would sacrifice 1.02 years of life to avoid losing a thumb, or .77 years of life to get a paper published in the American Economic Review. An AER publication, then, is worth about 3/4 of a thumb.
We learn this from a study by three economists who sent out 1300 questionnaires, all to economists who had recently published in one of six major journals. They received 85 responses. Of these, 7 were discarded because they claimed to value their thumbs more than their entire hands, or their hands more than their entire arms, and another four were discarded because they indicated they were willing to sacrifice life-years for the privilege of losing a body part. The remaining 74 respondents valued their body parts as follows:
The economists were then asked how many years of life they’d sacrifice to get an article published in each of four major journals: The American Economic Review, the European Economic Review, the Quarterly Journal of Economics, and the Review of Economics and Statistics. Thirteen respondents were disqualified for refusing on moral grounds to achieve publication by extraordinary means and another three were discqualified for indicating that they’d sacrifice life-years to avoid getting an extra publication. The remaining 69 respondents valued publications as follows:
To get the value of a publication in terms of body parts, the authors divide the means, so that for example an AER publication is worth .77 years, a thumb is worh 1.02 years, and therefore an AER publication is worth, on average, .77/1.02 thumbs.
Clearly, though, this can’t be exactly the right procedure. Suppose that half of all economists would sacrifice one year for a thumb and three years for a publication, while the other half would sacrifice three years for a thumb and one for a publication. Then the average value of a publication is the average of (1/3 thumb) and (3 thumbs), which is to say 5/3 of a thumb. But the authors’ procedure will tell you (incorrectly) that because the average economist values a thumb at 2 years and a publication at 2 years, the average publication is worth 1 thumb. Perhaps this is why their paper has not been published in the AER.
For what life goal would you be willing to sacrifice a thumb, but not a hand?