The dismal science consists of a series of footnotes to Plato

There is a long tradition in economics of ranking academics. Besides being a source of entertainment, rankings have been argued to stimulate competition among them. Over time, the ‘objective’ inputs for these rankings have changed. A number of alternative measures of academic output, called ‘altmetrics’, like shares on Facebook or mentions on Twitter, have been recently proposed.

In a working paper, Tom Coupé presents another new way of measuring their impact: search intensity in Google.

This paper uses Google Trends to rank economists and discusses the advantages and disadvantages of using Google Trends compared with other ranking methods, like those based on citations or downloads. I find that search intensity rankings based on Google Trends data are only modestly correlated with more traditional measures of scholarly impact; hence, search intensity statistics can provide additional information, allowing one to show a more comprehensive picture of academics’ impact. In addition, search intensity rankings can help to illustrate the variety in economists’ careers that can lead to fame and allows a comparison of the current impact of both contemporaneous and past economists. Complete rankings can be found at

Coupé, Tom. Who is the Most Sought-After Economist? Ranking Economists Using Google Trends. No. 21/02. 2021.

The main advantage of using search intensity, compared with traditional citation-based metrics, is that it measures not just the impact of a scholar on academia but also the attention of the general public. The main disadvantage? Well, to begin with, Who is an economist?

In the paper the author uses several criteria.

Looking to those tables, I have to admit Alfred North Whitehead was basically right: The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition [Economics] is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.

Footnotes written by Karl Marx 😉


  1. Who is an economist?

    That, to my mind, is a damn good question; and probably the starting point before considering any ‘metrics’. And I think that the answer should include a rule something along the lines of “Anyone who believes that infinite growth on a finite planet is possible should exclude themselves from the set of those who consider themselves to be an ‘economist'”.

  2. I loved this contribution.

    It shows science (even dismal science 🙂 is based on our understanding of Greek philosophy. (whether this understanding is correct or not is another matter). Then, it follows that most articles, particularly in economics, refer to philosophical basis: Plato, Adam Smith, … This means that our philosophy is based on them, but it does not really mean that the work of the authors is really built on previous results from those., except in a very broad sense. Plato, Adam Smith,.. are in fact placeholders for a corpus of thought accumulated for centuries.

    However there is a second question: How would you rank articles? Based on references from authors of other articles?

    If you are preparing a PhD, what articles would you cite? Those that are relevant or those who would impress the examiners?

    Any thoughts on what could be the best way to select the most useful/relevant papers? Not restricted to economics.

    I think article selection is something you cannot really accomplish without understanding the subject but maybe an AI algorithm could be trained to do it. Google rank could be one of the inputs, but cannot be the only one because citation only relates to popularity not to quality or relevance.

    But I maybe mistaken, since quality is difficult (impossible?) to measure. After all, maybe we should discuss the science (philosophy) of our time and concepts such as quality are platonic ideas.

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