Documentation for “Tyranny of the Top Five”

Read the “Tyranny of the Top Five” blog post

The documents below detail the battle I had with JPE regarding a paper I wrote and submitted to JPE in November, 2012.

Here is the short version:

  1. JPE rejected the paper because we did uncertainty quantification, also known as sensitivity analysis.
  2. I contacted Jim Heckman regarding this decision, and he told us to change the title, resubmit the paper and that he would handle the new submission.
  3. Heckman said that he would reject the paper if — in public comments and not in the paper — I criticized the JPE editor for the hostility to uncertainty quantification.
  4. I obeyed Heckman’s gag order while we worked on the revision. However, when we sent the revision to JPE I took my name off the paper.
  5. I contacted the University of Chicago asking if Heckman’s threats violated their standards for freedom of speech. The answer from UC was emphatic approval of Heckman’s threats.
  6. The paper came out in JPE in December, 2019.
  7. In 2020, I asked JPE if I could publicly display the correspondence regarding this matter. They agreed. I post the documents below.

The emails below show that many people at UC were aware of this conflict. No one expressed any criticism of how JPE treated this paper. While my comments focus on my emails with Heckman, it is clear that all the people who knew about this fully supported Heckman in his threats. Heckman was merely the chief spokesman of a gang of UC professors and administrators who believe that it is appropriate for a journal editor to use his editorial power to silence those who want to criticize standard economic methodology.

The next series of emails document Heckman’s threats and my responses.

Some would say that JPE treated us very well because we received six referee reports in August, 2015, eight months after the submission. On the other hand, most of them were hostile, some very hostile. My goal was to make any rejection very difficult. The primary task was to hit back at the hostile referees who claimed that there was nothing new in our paper compared to published papers, presumably ones written by the referees. This was difficult because both Cai and Lontzek were on the job market and then transitioning to being assistant professors, and I was distracted by other events in 2015 and the resulting obligations.

We submitted the revision and responses to the referees in late 2017. JPE made it clear that the paper would be judged not only by its content but also by my willingness to keep quiet regarding economic methodology. The hostility of the referees implied that it would be a long time before there would be a resolution. I was worried that those delays would damage Yongyang’s upcoming tenure decision. Yongyang’s thesis was the basis for the computational economics part of the NSF grant to RDCEP, but had been treated horribly by UC people, Lars Hansen in particular, and had done the heavy lifting in building DSICE. I decided that it was best that I remove my name from the paper, trusting that JPE would then decide to treat the paper in a scholarly fashion.

About six months after we sent JPE the revision, it was accepted. This was just in time to be part of Yongyang’s tenure case file.

This is the first page of the published article. Note that the first footnote declares that I was a co-author of the paper, continuing to work on the paper even after I took my name off.

In November, 2019, I sent the letter below to UC President Zimmer, Provost Diermeir, and UC people who are involved in the operations of the JPE. I focus on the University of Chicago’s claim that it supports freedom of speech.

The University of Chicago says that Heckman’s threats were consistent with its standards of free speech. UC will declare that it respects freedom of speech for Steve Bannon but not for someone who wants to engage in a discussion of scientific practices.

The cc line includes all the people who saw my November 1, 2019, letter to UC. No one disagreed with Provost Diermeier’s reply.

After the paper was published, I asked JPE permission to publish the emails and editorial correspondence related to this paper. A UC Press person expressed some concerns about my posting referee reports. I agreed to limit quotes from referee reports.

I want to thank Heckman and Uhlig for their willingness to allow me to make a fully documented presentation of this episode.


I do not know how often editors use their editorial powers to silence those who disagree with them and their colleagues. I do know that most economists are fearful of retaliation by editors and referees. My conclusion is that the only unique aspect of this episode is that I confronted these people directly. The primary lesson is that we all have to worry about retaliation if we dare challenge the methodological practices of those in the economics elite.

Many economists claim that economics is a science. I dare them to find a noneconomist who will declare publicly that the actions of UC and JPE are consistent with the standards of science.

In particular, I want to hear from President Zimmer why he approves of these actions. President Zimmer and I both studied mathematics in graduate school. The only difference is that he finished his PhD and I fulfilled all the requirements except finishing a thesis. Apparently his experience in mathematics led him to believe that the actions of JPE was consistent with good scholarship.

Zimmer’s wikipedia page discusses how he led the University of Chicago’s commitment to freedom of speech, saying

As Zimmer noted in an address to the Chicago Humanities Festival in 2017, the work of faculty and students to confront new and different ideas through education and research “only happens at the highest level in an environment of rigor, questioning, and free and open discourse”.

I am particularly interested in hearing from President Zimmer of how the actions of UC is consistent with his public views regarding “free and open discourse.”