Published on Development Impact

The top 8 active researchers in developing countries according to RePEc

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The Research Papers in Economics (RePEc) database has over 46,000 researchers registered. Each month they send out rankings based on downloads, citations, and other metrics. Their ranking of economists based on publications in the last 10 years is topped by some of the best known names in economics (the top 5 are Acemoglu, Shleifer, Heckman, Barro and Rogoff). But looking through their top 100 (as of January 2016), I found 8 of the top 100 researchers are based in developing countries (taking World Bank client countries as “developing countries” for this purpose). Since I was only familiar with the work of one of these eight individuals, I thought it might be of interest to note some of this work going on outside of the usual top schools. I contacted the authors to ask them also what idea or work they were most proud of, or would most like to draw policy attention to.

Of course there are also a lot of excellent researchers from developing countries that now do their research in some of the most prestigious institutions around the world. Unlike some grant-giving organizations, I don’t think we should especially privilege developing country researchers if they do not choose to migrate, and as I argue in my work on high-skilled migration, I think much of the debate about brain drain is based on myths not supported by the evidence. Nevertheless, I do believe that individuals working in developing countries sometimes have fewer opportunities to publicize their work and ideas, so thought it would be nice to do my part to highlight the work being done by these scholars.

I also asked these scholars what the greatest challenges they faced in doing research in their countries were. Here were the responses I received back:
  • From Rafal: “No substantial challenge anymore, given today's means of communication (email, skype, www) and increases in research funding in Poland over the last couple of years.”
  • From Rangan “The biggest challenge has been to publish in high-ranked journals using South African data. The Editors have the usual comment that South African data would not interest their audience or the data is not reliable. Interestingly, I have published much lesser work in high-ranked journals using US data. It has taken me 10 years to convince the editors that good work also comes out of South Africa.”
  • From Simplice “Doing good economic research requires impartiality and independence of thought. When a researcher takes unbiased and objective positions that are not consistent with policies of the Washington Consensus, it comes at a great price: (i) he/she is never shortlisted for jobs and (ii) hardly gets any funding. For the past six years I have self-funded my research while living below the poverty line. I have applied for hundreds of jobs (including job advertisements of the World Bank) and never shortlisted. In the light of the above, the greatest challenge in doing good economic research in my country in particular (and developing countries in general) is the constraint of blindly aligning with mainstream thinking and the Washington consensus. There are taboo subjects that when a researcher engages he/she is black-listed in many circles (including multilateral institutions of development), notably: the false economics of preconditions and illicit capital flight as a fundamental cause of Africa’s poverty tragedy.”


David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

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