The Australian Research Council has just announced the successful applicants for its current round of Future Fellowships. And the message to economists is: ‘Don’t even think about it’.
Introduced subsequent to a 2007 election campaign promise, the ‘Future Fellowships’ program provides four-year fellowships to a total of ‘1,000 outstanding Australian and international [academic] researchers in the middle of their career’. The Fellowships are not ungenerous: the salary component (including on-costs) may run up to $182, 792 per annum; and each Fellow is entitled to up to $50,000 per annum ‘for infrastructure, equipment, travel and relocation costs directly related to the Future Fellow’s research’. You need not be an Australian citizen or permanent resident, although about 90 percent are.
in 2012 209 Fellowships were awarded, at a total cost of $A151m.
How many did economics receive?
This fact is easily ascertainable from the relevant ARC web site (http://www.arc.gov.au/ncgp/futurefel/ft_outcomes.htm) where all the successful applicants for Fellowships are classified by a Field of Research code. And there are none are in Economics (where Economics is defined to include econometrics).
Neither was the 2012 outcome an outlier. In 2011 only 2 Fellows out of 203 came from Economics. In 2010 only one did.
The ARC's ‘Selection Report’ has had little to say in recent years about the variations in the success ratio by Field of Research. But its 2010 ‘Report’ has a table that records four Economics applicants had been successful, or 9 percent of all Economics applicants. This compared to 21 percent of applicants overall. But even this 9 percent is a massive overestimate. It is a matter of the ARC’s own elaborate public record that (as I noted above) only one applicant in 2010 had an Economics field of research. So how does it come up with ‘4’ in that table? A footnote seems to suggest the explanation: an application may be 'multidisciplinary'. The upshot appears to be that any application with the word 'economic' in its proposal is 'economics’ in the minds of the ARC. Here is the Project Summary of one such application – with a field of research code from Political Science - what WAS successful in 2010.
For twenty years, even as the world economy has been repeatedly disrupted by crises, efforts at reform have been blocked by economic ideas regarding the virtues of free markets. If these views remain in place, there will be more crises. This research seeks to understand how elite consensus limits debate and how new ideas might enable reform.
Now that is the sort of ‘economics’ that the ARC wants to see! And will pay $563,000 for it.
And, oh yes, up to $50,000 for travel.