Michael Weisbach: Posters on Finance Job Rumors Need to Clean Up Their Act, Too

                                                                 MIchael Weisbach

                                                                MIchael Weisbach

Michael Weisbach holds the Ralph W. Kurtz Chair in Finance at Ohio State University. When he saw the two posts here on the Economics Job Market Rumors website

Michael thought immediately of how bad Finance Job Rumors was as well. Finance Job Rumors is technically part of Economics Job Market Rumors, but in practice involves a different set of people, but with similar online behavior. I encouraged Michael to write a guest post about Finance Job Rumors. You see his words below.

I, like many others, was appalled (but not surprised) when I read about Alice Wu’s study about sexism in EJMR.  We in finance have our own message board inside EJMR (called Finance Job Rumors).  Unfortunately, we are not immune to the issues Ms. Wu describes in her paper. Our board regularly contains sexist and racist comments about many members of the profession. After communicating with Miles about his entry on the subject, which I thought was terrific, he invited me to post some thoughts about the finance board on his blog.

The finance board appears to be dominated by graduate students and assistant professors who are having difficulty finding success, either in completing their degree, getting a job they are happy with, or publishing their research. The overall theme of the board is unfairness. Posters love to complain about how the profession plays favorites and values connections more than it should. They are not in the “mafia” that runs the profession, didn’t go to “HRM” schools as students (the EJMR name for the top 5 or 10 schools), are not of a protected minority, do not have connections (either personal or professional) with the powerful people in the profession, and, most of all, in their own minds, are themselves true scholars unlike the people who are successful at getting papers published (whom they call “regression monkeys”).

What has happened on the finance site is that the comments have become, in a large number of cases, very mean and personal. The targets of posters’ vitriol are anyone who is successful. Favorite targets tend to be top assistant professors and the current stars of the job market. As Ms. Wu pointed out, women are much more likely to be criticized, especially if posters think they are attractive. But there are others as well: if one is related to a senior member of the profession, or if posters have decided that one does not deserve his status in the profession for some reason, the board can be particularly mean.

I of course have been criticized on the site. For example, I was interested to learn from an anonymous poster that I free rode on the seven papers and one book that I wrote with Ben Hermalin. In fact, he did all of the work on them while I did nothing meaningful.  Fortunately, this criticism is fairly minor and obviously incorrect, and most importantly for me, nothing about my personal life or appearance has made it onto the board (that I know about). I’m sure if I were an attractive female instead of a balding middle aged guy, a lot more would have been written about my appearance. And I’m sure it would have been especially hurtful.  It actually hurt quite a lot to read the relatively mild things that were posted about me, I can only imagine what it is like to one of the frequent targets of the posters there. It must be truly awful to be a new member of the profession and to read these things about oneself online. 

Ours is a tough profession. It is hard to do research, to get a good tenure track job, and to publish one’s research. Some of the issues the board focuses on are real. There is way too much discrimination against Asians, and it is true that high profile people get a far easier time from journals than people who have not yet developed reputations. It is natural that there is resentment. Many very smart, hard-working people cannot get jobs they are happy with and cannot publish their research in top journals.

But the board creates real problems.  Young scholars should not have to have anonymous posters assaulting their character or personal appearance, or making cheap shots about their work in a forum where a large fraction of the profession will see it. It isn’t clear what to do about the situation. There is freedom of speech and it is impossible to monitor or regulate what is posted online. As a first step, I would implore all posters to remember that when you discuss someone online, they will undoubtedly read it, as will their friends and sometime their families too.