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africa research

Too little knowledge is a dangerous thing

Jishnu Das's picture

Stefan Dercon’s wordle based on our data of the countries that economists work on led Chris Blattman and Tyler Cowen to wonder why there are more papers on Latin America relative to Africa in the Journal of Development Economics, a leading journal in the field of development economics. We looked at this issue in our paper onthe Geography of Academic Research; here are four figures to add to the discussion (two of them are in our paper).

Fact 1: “Just” Income: There is a strong correlation between GDP and publications—a doubling of GDP leads to a 37 percent increase in the number of publications on the country. The US is bang on the regression line relating GDP to publications—a lot more is produced on the US because it is big and rich. Surprisingly, most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are also on the regression line! In fact, there is no “SSA penalty” in the production of empirical research—there is very little work on most SSA countries mostly because they are poor and small.  That 36,649 papers were written on the US between 1985 and 2004 relative to 4 on Burundi, 5 on Benin or 20 on Niger is largely explained by income and population size. As Bill Easterly puts it “the poor get the worst of everything, including the worst economics”.