Knowledge for all – Open access to scientific research

Scientific papers are at the very heart of our student lives. They cause nightmares as they feature on the seemingly endless reading list for our seminars and inspire dreams as we strive for seeing our own name in the list of authors. Still, few students waste a thought on the business side of scientific publishing. Unjustly so, as the field might undergo radical changes in the coming years with far-reaching consequences for academia.

The source of the potential upheaval is a European initiative for open-access science publishing. Under the code name “Plan S,” the European Commission and the national research organisations of twelve European countries demand that all work resulting from publicly funded research shall be made accessible free of charge by 2021. In concrete terms, the plan stipulates that research worth €7.6 billion needs to be uploaded in open-access journals. This demand pits them against publishing houses, which fear a severe disruption to their existing business model.

A monopoly on knowledge

As the bankrollers of most research in their countries, national research organisations take a reasonable interest in reforming a system that absurdly overcharges them for bringing the results of the research to the public. In the current system, publishing houses receive the manuscripts of publicly financed researchers free of charge. The manuscripts are in turn checked by peer reviewers – most of whom are also employed at universities. At the end of the production chain, publishers sell the resulting journals to  university libraries. Collectively, publicly funded institutions therefore buy the fruits of their own labour.

Of course, publishers also incur certain costs, such as for administrative tasks, marketing, layout, printing and, perhaps most importantly, the administration of the peer review process. But they could by no means explain the immense increases in journal prices observed over the last decades. From 1984 to 2005, the average price charged for academic periodicals in the US increased sixfold while the overall price level rose by a factor of less than two (see Figure).

University libraries are increasingly unwilling or unable to pay. Couperin, a consortium representing 250 French education institutes, announced last year that its negotiations with Springer came to nought and that it will no longer subscribe to their journals. However, giving up access to top journals is hardly an option for universities. Researchers must stay up to date with the latest findings in their fields and students, whether they like it or not, need to go through their reading lists.

It follows that publishing houses are in a quasi-monopoly position with nearly unrestricted pricing power. This is evident not only from the price increases for journals, but also by the profits that the three biggest publishers – Springer, Elsevier and Wiley-Blackwell – regularly amass. Elsevier, for example, chalked up profit margins of 37% in 2018. In comparison, the average listed company in the S&P 500 index had a margin of only 10% in that year.

KnowledgeForAll.Graph.JPEG

Science without borders

The deficiencies of the current system raise the question for an alternative model. One answer is provided by open access, meaning the free provisioning of research results online. This can take two forms: the first one is “green open access,” where an article continues to be submitted in a paid journal. In addition, after an embargo period of six to twelve months, the authors upload the article for the purpose of self-archiving to their institution’s website. The second is called “golden open access” and refers to publications in journals that are themselves accessible free of charge. Their main difference concerns how the journal covers the remaining publication costs. In the green model, the reader continues to pay the journal for the privilege of early access. In the golden model, the costs are covered by “publication fees” settled by the authors, who usually pass them on to the funder – e.g. their university or grant provider.

With the advent of open access at the beginning of the century, many predicted the end of the existing payment model. And indeed, open access has made some inroads – including the Public Library of Science and BioMed Central journals, as well as the ArXiv website, an online repository for scientific manuscripts. Many students will also be familiar with Sci-Hub, a website hosting papers without regard to copyright. In a legal way, however, the expected open access revolution never fully materialised. Today, only a quarter of scientific articles are made freely available, most of them in green open access.

Now Plan S intends to radically accelerate the transition. It responds to calls for greater transparency and cost efficiency regarding the use of public money. Further, it is expected to accelerate the speed of discoveries. As science advances through cross-fertilisation between projects, any barriers such as paywalls or embargo periods necessarily slow it down. Instantly uploading manuscripts, even before the protracted peer reviewing process, could serve as a catalyst of scientific progress.

Moreover, extending the diffusion of scientific knowledge to a less affluent audience renders science more equitable and encourages diverse thinking in academia. Finally, open access may shift the focus away from publishing exclusively significant results and allow the research community insights into “failed” studies that may have equally valuable insights to give. One study claims that the results of half of all clinic trials in the US go unpublished (Riveros et al., 2013). Without knowing about these, researchers may end up pursuing dead ends that have already been explored by their colleagues.

 

S for Short-Sighted?

In the eyes of sceptics however, the sweeping changes of Plan S risk undermining the quality of research by severely hurting high-class journals. A particularly contentious demand of Plan S is a proposed cap on publication fees. This would be particularly hard to meet for journals with high rejection rates. Since they also incur expenses for the peer review of rejected articles, they face significantly higher costs for every publication. Nature, for example, estimates their publication fees to be at $40,000 per article – many times the limit contemplated by backers of Plan S.

Renowned journals pride themselves on their selectivity as it grants their articles a quality seal that open access journals could struggle to replicate. Critics fear that in the extreme case, open access can end in the practice of “predatory journals,” which accept any article for the sole purpose of cashing in the authors’ publication fees. A survey by the Nature Publishing Group shows that almost half of the authors therefore express doubts about the quality of open access journals.

The main worry about Plan S is therefore that rather than reforming the publishing system worldwide, it could create a parallel system for European research. If the top journals do not go along with the proposed changes, nationally funded researchers would be restricted to less reputable open access outfits. In the worst case, this could even lead to an exodus of scientific talent to countries or funders without open access-requirements. Recognising the risks of an abrupt implementation, the consortium behind Plan S has postponed its introduction by a year – it was initially supposed to start in 2020 – and suggested a two-year transition period. Even after that delay, it remains all but clear whether the plan will indeed manifest or remain the pipe dream of disenchanted open-access advocates.

Conclusion

In the current system, publishers use monopoly power to demand exaggerated prices from university libraries without compensating those who contributed to the research. Open access promises to upend the practice and extend the insights of scientific research to a much broader range of people without any financial limitations. But as its advancement has stalled, new political support is required to maintain the momentum. Plan S could potentially provide this boost. Its success, however, depends on whether it can create mechanisms to continue the process of rigorous peer review and uphold quality. If it does, the plan could serve to inspire other countries to pursue open-access initiatives. Elsewise, it will founder as a quixotic undertaking aspiring for a world with free, unlimited knowledge for all.

By Stefan Preuss

 

References

CSI Market , 2019.
https://csimarket.com/Industry/industry_Profitability_Ratios.php?sp5

Couperin, 2018.
https://www.couperin.org/breves/1333-couperin-ne-renouvelle-pas-l-accord-national-passe-avec-springer

Dingley, B., 2005. US Periodical Price Index 2005.

Kimball, M.S., 2017.
https://blog.supplysideliberal.com/post/2017/7/11/does-the-journal-system-distort-scientific-research

RelX Yearly Result, 2019.
https://www.relx.com/investors/results/2019

Riveros C., Dechartes A., Perrodeau E., Haneef R., Boutron I., Ravaud P., 2013. https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1001566

The Economist, 2018. https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2018/09/15/european-countries-demand-that-publicly-funded-research-be-free

 

 

 

 

Interview with Julien Grenet from PSE

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Julien Grenet is a researcher at the CNRS, an Associate Professor at Paris School of Economics, and one of the founders of the Institut des Politiques Publiques. He is specialised in education economics, public economics and market design. He is known by the general public for his participation in the public debate and the vulgarisation of economic concepts in some media such as France Culture.

 

He agreed to talk to the magazine about his work as a researcher, the importance for economists to be involved in the public debate and about modern issues that the french educational system is facing today.

 

Why did you create l’Institut des Politiques Publiques? What are its specificities?

We created l’Institut des Politiques Publiques – IPP – with Antoine Bozio in 2011. It followed a six-year period that Antoine spent in London working for the Institute for Fiscal Studies – IFS, which is our main inspiration for IPP. What was lacking in France was an institute that evaluates public policy, tries to put together the insights of academic research and translates them into policy brief reports targeting a broader audience such as policymakers, journalists and citizens. We felt that there was a very good academic research in public policies existing in France, but most of the results were not really conveyed to the general debate, which is, in my opinion, quite unfortunate. IFS was a good model to import in France. We started small but we have  grown up ever since, trying to cover a broad range of topics that are interesting for the public debate, such as tax policies, education, housing, pension, and environment. We also work on health issues.

What is your opinion, as a researcher, on the role of economists in the public debate?

I do not want to be judgmental on what we should do or not do. There are different ways to contribute to the public debate. From my point of view, you do so through the academic output you produce that then spills over onto the public debate. You should also try to meet policymakers. The important thing is to participate in the debate on topics that you know, and only on them. Unfortunately, it is not always the case, and that sort of attitude may damage the reputation of economists. I am personally trying to restrict my interventions to questions on education or housing, since I have worked on it.

Why did you choose to study education, and more specifically social segregation and selection processes, as your main topic?

I started to study education because it was the topic of my Master thesis. What drove me to this is that I come from a family of teachers whose social mobility upwards was entirely due to school.  I was shocked in a way by the fact that through the education system, my family managed to climb up the social ladder. Today, we sometimes have the impression that it does not play this role anymore, and we wonder what is wrong with our educational system. I think the tools of economists have a lot to say. What we can learn with economics is improving the efficiency of the educational system.

I went into it for personal reasons; afterwards, the topics that I have addressed are more random. I started working on the return of education, which is a very classic question. Then, since I was working in the same office as Gabrielle Fack, who was working on housing, we thought about working on something in between those two fields of interest. We started working on the effect of school zoning (“la carte scolaire” in French) on housing prices. We thought that this system was one way to assign students to schools, but we actually found out there were many others. We started reading about the school choice mechanism and got interested in that. It is a very dynamic field in economics: how to assign students to schools? How to assign teachers to schools? How to drive students to higher education programs?

In France, there has been a lot going on on the subject lately, and this is important for the public debate. We heard a lot about Admission Post Bac and Parcoursup; those are, in my opinion, important technical tools for policy implications or policy effects. We empirically know quite little about how their effect in the real world. I think this is where we, as economists, can contribute: by improving these tools.

According to the OECD, France is one of the most unequal countries in terms of climbing up the social ladder. What is your analysis?

I think that there are many reasons to it; yet, we can hardly identify them. What the OECD has shown is that at the age of 15, your performance is more determined by your social background in France than in any other country. France is typically in the top three countries where social determinism is the strongest at school.

One reason is that our educational system, especially the middle school system – between 11 and 15 years old – is highly segregated. From research, we know that ghetto schools harm students who are studying there beyond the effect of social background. This segregation in the school system increases inequalities. This might be due to different things: the level of residential segregation is very high in France, and the way we assign students to schools is far from being optimal. As we are assigning students to their local school, if the neighborhood is segregated, then the school is going to be segregated too.

There are many other ways to assign students that we could use. For instance, there is what we call “control school choice” that tries to achieve a balance in the social composition. We could also redesign the school boundaries, or “school catchment”, so that they would be more diverse in their intake students. That is one important topic to be addressed: can we reduce segregation in school by using different methods of assignment?

There is also a problem with how teachers are assigned to school. Typically, young teachers, who are inexperienced, are assigned to the most deprived schools in France, which is obviously a problem. We know that teachers have their biggest efficiency improvement during their first few years of teaching. Hence, students from deprived schools have less probability to benefit from the most efficient teaching.

There is also an issue with the educational system. The French system is very good at selecting an elite and the whole system is created to detect these students who go all their way up to “classes préparatoires”, “grandes écoles” and so on. However, it is not so good to have as many students as possible to succeed. We have a very strong elite but, in the meantime, we are losing a lot of students along the way. France has a high drop-out rate: many students quit school with no certification. Another problem with the system is that vocational courses are seen as a personal failure, unlike many other countries. Therefore, a lot of students who follow this path feel like they failed their studies.

Your research focuses on assignment algorithms. What consequences did you find of such algorithms on students’ choices?

France is a very centralised country; hence, it is more inclined to use these algorithms to assign students and teachers than other countries. There has been very little involvement of researchers and economists to design these algorithms. In fact, a lot of research on this assignment mechanism comes from the U.S.. It is a branch of design mechanism theory which received a lot of visibility thanks to the Nobel prize of Alvin Roth and Lloyd Shapley in 2012. They really transformed the landscape in many dimensions:  for example, the assignment of students to school in the U.S. has been completely redesigned in many cities using these algorithms. Kidney exchanges now rely on these algorithms, and there are many new applications, such as social housing allocation.

In France, in my opinion, the main problem is the fact that there is not enough transparency about these algorithms. They exist in order to produce the best possible matching between students and schools, to try to maximize satisfaction while respecting several priority rules. The problem is that, the way the algorithms and the priority rules work are not well known. This has led many people to reject the whole idea of selecting people with algorithms because they feel that there is a black box, like a lottery, when in fact, an algorithm is just a tool.

What really matters is the way you design priorities. If you have two students who apply to a school and there is only one seat left, which student has the priority over the other is a political decision depending on which criteria you promote – students with better grades, students who live closer to the school, students with a lower social background, … This is not sufficiently explained and democratically decided. The issue today is to bring research into these algorithms, so that there are more discussions and a better understanding of the way they work.

You are currently working on a project on social mix. Why it is a topic of interest? What are your preliminary results and your analysis?

We have already said that the lack of social mobility is one of the reasons why there is so little mobility upward in France. The question is how to address this problem. We have several potential ways of doing it. We could use the  , we could redesign the school catchment area, we could also close some schools and send some students away from their original choice, like in the city center rather than in a suburban area.

We do not have many empirical results telling us in which case we should use this or that tool nor do we know the actual effect of some tools on segregation. Moreover, these effects are mitigated by the behavior of the parents: if they decide to send their child to a private school, we might not get as much social mix as we initially wanted. Therefore, we are trying to evaluate different ways to assign students to school in order to create social mix and evaluate their effect. To do so, we are using several experiments that were launched across the country, and we try to compare the effect of these experiments on social mix.

The reason why we want to increase social mix is because we believe it is going to reduce inequalities. We are interested in the effect of social mixing on both students’ performance and their non cognitive aptitudes: their self-confidence, their social fatalism and the way they perceive others – the perception of difference. What we are trying to use here is the fact that, in some experiments, even if we found a large effect on social mix,

We try to evaluate this through surveys that are conducted in schools. We are now proceeding in the second wave; two other waves  are coming. What we try to evaluate is how does the change of the school social composition individually affect the students through their performance in school and their non-cognitive outcomes. If we look at the literature, there is no evidence of this, especially on the non-cognitive aptitudes, because we cannot really measure it with administrative data. We need to go to the schools and directly ask students some questions. That is our contribution to the literature: trying to answer one of these questions.

Finally, what results in your research were you surprised of?

I did not anticipate the fact that this students’ assignment mechanism would have such a big impact on the composition of schools. I started to work on these assignment mechanisms looking at several high schools in Paris. In 2013, the educational authority of Paris adopted an algorithm to replace the manual procedure. As a part of the algorithm, they created a bonus for low-income students. This bonus would increase their priority, and as a result, the social segregation in high schools in Paris went down by 30 % in only two years, which is huge. This had not been anticipated by the local education authority because they did not think that the way the bonus had been created would make that bonus so large. They did not realise that they gave almost automatically their first choice to low-income students. This completely changed the landscape of Paris, which was the most segregated area in France. This is no longer the case.

By working on this data, I realised that these tools are in fact even more powerful than any reform. For instance, the “assouplissement de la carte scolaire” was relaxing these schools’ catchment areas, so that students could apply to schools that are away from their homes. In reality, this had very little effect on the social composition, whereas these school choice algorithms, like the one implemented in Paris, had a huge impact with very little coverage in the media. The numbers shown in the graph are explanatory: the low-income students now have a bigger set of choices than before. This is one of the surprises of research and economics: it is not because something is not looked upon by researchers or does not get any attention, that it is not existing. You can be like an archeologist: you can dig the results up that were unknown until now and they can change the way you see and understand the educational system.

 

By Thomas Séron

Le problème de l’art contemporain

Dire qu’on a du mal avec l’art contemporain, c’est toujours un problème vis-à-vis des autres et de soi-même.

Les autres 

Vis-à-vis des autres, d’abord, car les raisons pour lesquelles l’art contemporain pose problème ne sont souvent pas valables aux yeux des connaisseurs.

Devant un monochrome de Malevitch, si j’affirme qu’un “enfant peut faire la même chose”, on me prend pour cet idiot qui réduit l’art à un simple savoir-faire, on me résume à cette personne un peu limitée qui n’a pas compris que le Beau en art est bel et bien mort.

ArtContemporain1

Si je me scandalise que le Balloon Dog orange de Jeff Koons se soit vendu 58,4 millions de dollars chez Christie’s en 2013 et que j’assure “trouver la même chose à moins de 20 euros chez GiFi”, on sourit très poliment devant ma crédulité et ma méconnaissance du marché de l’art.

En société, affirmer ne pas comprendre l’art contemporain, c’est ainsi jouer le rôle du rabat-joie ou de “l’imbécile”.

Je suis forcément rabat-joie quand je ne partage pas l’euphorie générale qui se manifeste devant trois points noirs au milieu d’un carré blanc. J’ai un peu l’impression d’être un “imbécile” quand l’art contemporain suscite chez les autres une réflexion sur notre rapport à l’univers, et que moi je pense surtout que le billet d’entrée et l’audioguide m’ont coûté 15 euros.

J’ai beau me forcer : si je n’ai aucun scrupule à reconnaître que la peinture byzantine du IXème siècle me laisse de marbre, je me sens un peu coupable de dire que l’art contemporain provoque chez moi une espèce de malaise.

Affirmer que l’art contemporain pose problème est devenu délicat pour une raison simple : il est aujourd’hui institué. Pour aller à l’essentiel : il est entré dans les musées. Or, une œuvre qui passe la porte du Centre Pompidou ou du  MoMA c’est un peu comme un auteur qui entre dans la Pléiade : il devient peu ou prou impossible d’en formuler une critique qui ne soit pas érudite sans se mettre en danger. On peut être en désaccord, mais pas n’importe comment.

La mise en danger vis-à-vis des autres repose souvent sur le risque de révéler sa méconnaissance des codes artistiques, des déplacements, des références que l’artiste mobilise et prend plaisir à détourner. Confier que l’on n’aime pas l’art contemporain, c’est souvent avouer qu’on ne maîtrise pas assez l’histoire de l’art pour voir la subversion, comprendre la démarche, bref, comprendre pourquoi “c’est du génie !”.

Car l’art contemporain est souvent un plaisir intellectuel avant d’être un plaisir esthétique. Il suffit pour s’en convaincre de reprendre le jargon des artistes eux-mêmes.

ArtContemporain2

C’est, par exemple, Vasarely qui affirme avec ses multiples concevoir “un système d’art mural à intégrer organiquement dans l’architecture”. C’est aussi Michael Heizer qui déplace un bloc de granite de 340 tonnes pour l’exposer au Musée d’art du comté de Los Angeles et ainsi faire de “l’art statique”. Enfin, c’est Yves Klein qui réalise en 1958 à la galerie Iris Clert une exposition complètement vide au titre énigmatique : “La spécialisation de la sensibilité à l’état de matière première en sensibilité (dite “Le Vide”)”.

Devant ce plaisir intellectuel, nous ne sommes pas tous égaux. On le sait depuis La Distinction de Pierre Bourdieu, la culture légitime est une affaire d’initiés, c’est-à-dire une affaire d’origine sociale. Or, “l’influence de l’origine sociale n’est jamais aussi forte, toutes choses étant égales par ailleurs, qu’en matière de culture libre ou de culture d’avant-garde”.

Qu’est-ce que cela veut dire ? Que le malaise que j’éprouve devant les autres, eux ne l’éprouvent peut-être pas. Pourquoi ? Car la stratification temporelle des goûts repose sur un double mouvement d’innovation des classes supérieures et de diffusion aux classes populaires. En un mot : l’art contemporain est fait par une élite, pour une élite, dans un souci de distinction. Si l’art contemporain me dérange, c’est que je n’appartiens probablement pas à cette élite.

Dans l’art contemporain, une poignée de galeries suffisent à faire le déclin ou le succès d’un artiste. La sociologue Annie Verger en cite quelques unes dans son article “Le champ des avants-garde” publié dans les Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales. Pêle-mêle : la galerie Jean Fournier, la galerie Iris Clert, la galerie Maeght. Le monopole de la consécration dans l’art contemporain est souvent détenu par des individus au fort capital social (Aimé Maeght rencontre Bonnard et Matisse, édite les poèmes de René Char), économique (Iris Clert est fille de grands propriétaires terriens et de banquiers), et culturel (les deux directrices de la Galerie Gillespie-Laage-Salomon sont historiennes).

Ainsi, si les classes supérieures sont “en avance” sur l’art contemporain, c’est qu’elles décident de ce qui sera artistique ou non. Si on trouve aujourd’hui les Marilyn Monroe d’Andy Warhol à la La Foir’Fouille, c’est par mimétisme des classes populaires : double mouvement d’innovation et de diffusion.

Le vrai problème de l’art contemporain se situe pourtant au-delà de ces inégalités sociales. Au fond, le Grand Prix de Rome n’a-t-il pas exercé dans le passé une influence semblable à celle des grandes galeries parisiennes aujourd’hui ? N’y a-t-il pas toujours eu d’art populaire et d’art “légitime” ?

ArtContemporain3

Moi

C’est en réalité vis-à-vis de moi-même, spectateur, que se situe le véritable problème. C’est un fait : l’art contemporain est une mise en doute si radicale du jugement esthétique qu’il dégonfle mes certitudes en matière d’art pour les réduire à ce qu’elles ont de minimal. Ce  qui me touche, ce que je trouve artistique, a probablement été décrié dans le passé puis digéré et finalement adulé des dizaines d’années plus tard. Je suis au fond toujours condamné au rejet de l’art qui m’est contemporain. En perpétuel retard sur les créations de mon époque, je suis comme forcé d’attendre que d’autres digèrent la nouveauté pour me la rendre plus familière.

L’histoire de l’art nous enseigne d’ailleurs qu’il faut redoubler de prudence lorsqu’on condamne le renouvellement des formes artistiques.

La plupart des historiens retiennent comme acte fondateur de l’art moderne – au choix – l’ouverture du Salon des Refusés de 1863 ou l’exposition de l’Olympia au Salon de 1865. Dans les deux cas, Manet n’échappe pas aux rires moqueurs de ses contemporains. Ernest Chesneau, critique d’art alors en vogue décrit « une ignorance presque enfantine des premiers éléments du dessin, parti-pris de vulgarité inconcevable ».

Mais voilà, après le clip de Womanizer de Britney Spears et les happenings d’Yves Klein où de jeunes femmes nues s’enduisent de peinture bleue, le scandale de 1865 n’est plus si tapageur et le propos d’Ernest Chesneau nous semble clairement rétrograde. Olympia s’est assagie et Manet est devenu très fréquentable.

La démarche de Carolee Schneemann autour de “l’espace vulvique” qui consiste, disons-le, à dérouler un rouleau de papier logé dans son vagin, m’apparaîtra-t-elle un jour artistique avant de m’inspirer le sentiment d’une imposture ? Le doute est permis.

Le problème de l’art contemporain, c’est qu’on ne sait pas si la confusion qu’il provoque est l’indice que mon jugement est prisonnier de son époque, ou que, décidément, nous faisons fausse route.

 

par Rémi Perrichon

The influence of Joan Robinson on Economic thinking

 

The influence of Joan Robinson on Economic thinking

From Adam Smith to nowadays, most contributors to economic theory were men. Now that gender equality is an important issue in society, diversity is more present. For instance, Elinor Ostrom was the first female economist who received the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics in 2009 for her work in economic governance. Despite a lack of women in the history of economic thought – at least independently from their husbands, it is possible to find some strong female figures who participated in the shape of today’s economics. Joan Robinson is one of them. She was one of the leading figures of the Post-Keynesian economists and one of the members of the Keynes’ advisor group.

She became famous when she published her book The Economics of Imperfect competition in 1933. With Edward Chamberlin, she is part of an economist generation who criticised the widespread view of perfect competition and developed an imperfect competition model. Robinson’s work, together with Chamberlin’s, shifted the traditional Smith’s perspective that monopoly is in opposition with competition, to a model in which each firm in an industry behaves like a monopolist. This way, it was possible to reconcile an idea of competition with increasing returns to scale in an industry.

Robinson and Chamberlin did not work together – Robinson was based in Cambridge
England, while Chamberlin was based in America, mainly in Harvard where he did his PhD – but their ideas were very similar. They both considered an individual firm as a monopolist for the good they produce in competition with firms producing close substitutes. Then, they thought that free entry in a market implied a decrease in prices until profits were equal to zero. Thus, they concluded that the equilibrium meant marginal revenue equals marginal cost, and average revenue equals average cost. However, Robinson made some original contributions compared to Chamberlin; she is particularly remembered for her concept of monopsony, which is a market with only one buyer. In this framework, she showed that a worker was earning a wage lower than the value of his marginal product. Furthermore, she studied the case where a monopolist sell the same good in two different markets. She demonstrated that when setting prices, the firm would put a higher price in the market with the most inelastic demand.

 

TheInfluenceOfJoanRobinson_2A monopsony is a market with only one buyer. For example, there may be only one firm offering employment in an area. In this case, the wage will be below the marginal cost for the supplier, i.e the worker.

 

Her work on imperfect competition is a major contribution to the history of economic thought. Moreover, in the 1930s, Robinson was part of the Keynes’ advisory group on the General Theory. It was a gathering of prominent economists – such as James Meade, who won the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics in 1977 – who criticised Keynes’ previous theories and discussed new ideas for the constitution of the General Theory. In addition to her participation in this group, Robinson published a lot of academic papers to explain ideas that she thought were not clear, despite the publication of her book. As such, she became one of the main figures of Post-Keynesian economists. Even in the 1940s when she started exploring Marx theories, she interpreted his work along the lines of Keynes’ ideas.

Nevertheless, at the end of her life, she developed controversial views, supporting Maoist
China and North Korea. It appears that these ideas are the main reason why she did not
receive a Nobel Memorial Prize in economics in 1975. Indeed, this year, she was considered by the selection committee of the Prize and several economists thought she would be chosen. It is interesting to notice that, in the case of Joan Robinson, the obtention of the Prize was not directly related to the fact that she was a woman, even though there was much speculation on why exactly she did not receive it.

Her controversial ideas are often highlighted, as well as her strong character; for instance, when she thought someone was wasting her time with useless ideas, she stopped listening and it was then really hard to convince her. Concerning the latter, there are two hypothetical consequences related to it. According to Assar Lindbeck, a member of the selection committee for the Prize in 1975, the committee was afraid that either she would reject the Prize, or she would accept it to use this legitimization as a tool to attack mainstream economics. A friend of Joan Robinson, Geoff Harcourt – an Australian economist – gave another point of view: he thought it was more a matter of “international” relationships. Indeed, for him, Sweden and Great Britain did not treat well their respective economists – he thought British academia did not receive very well the ideas of Wicksell, a Sweden economist from the end of XIXth century and beginning of XXth century – so the Nobel committee was not so prone to award a British economist. According to Harcourt, when analysing the typical profile of British economists honoured by the Economic Prize, discrimination became almost obvious. Awarded British had to be more widely recognised, praised and with easy-going personalities than required from others nationalities; Joan Robinson, with her strong ideas, did not fit these requirements. Another reason proposed to explain why Robinson did not won the Prize was that the committee wanted to reward her for her work on imperfect competition. However, she published her book in 1933, and in 1975 – the year her candidature was discussed – she had repudiated these ideas. As it was the main corpus on which the committee wanted to reward her for, they removed her from the list of potential candidates. Once again, this shows that her work on imperfect competition was one of the most recognised economic contributions.

This lack of Nobel Prize in her curriculum vitae does not seem to be a problem for her
recognition among her peers. Her work, especially on imperfect competition, is part of
today’s economics, as well as her contributions to Keynes ideas. Then, one can say that she was a great economist, and one of the most powerful female economists of her century.

 

by Louise Damade

The English Language: History and Etymology

 

TheEnglishLanguage-HistoryAndEtymology_Title

Old English – First three lines of the epic Beowulf (composed in the early eighth century) 1. in the “Insular Hand”, the handwriting of the time, which had been adopted from the Irish, 2. the transcription into the Latin alphabet and the translation into modern English (read line by line).

 

Each of us uses, hears, and reads words every day. And beneath the manifold meanings a word can have in its current usage, lies its even richer history which can span millennia and continents. The study of words, their origins and their development is called etymology – a branch of linguistics. The purpose of this article is to give a brief overview of the development and etymology of the English language, then to provide some examples of words and their history, and finally to convince you that etymology can be practical in everyday life.

English is a particularly gratifying object of etymological study, as it combines the influences of several language families. Old English (449-1100) was imported to the British Isles by the Germanic Angle, Saxon and Jute tribes of the northern European mainland. Their own language had evolved in the Indo-European language family, a prehistoric tongue which was the source of most other European and many south-Asian languages. In due course, the languages on the British Isles incurred influences of  , Latin through the spread of Christianity and the alignment with the Roman Catholic Church, and Scandinavian through repeated invasions by the Vikings.

 

TheEnglishLanguage-HistoryAndEtymology_1

 

 

Old English (late West Saxon dialect) – Opening verses of Genesis, the first chapter of the Bible, as translated by Ælfric, the greatest prose writer of the Old English period.

 

 

The transition to the Middle English period (1100-1500) was marked by an important shift in grammar compared to Old English. Its starting point can be seen at the year 1066, when the Norman army invaded and conquered England. The Normans came from Normandy in northern France and were descendants of the Vikings who had settled that area some generations earlier;  y the time of the conquest they had become culturally Frankish. They replaced the native English nobility and thus Norman French became the language of   government. Latin remained the language of the clergy and English the language spoken by the majority of the population – Britain effectively became trilingual. With time, English regained in importance, as ties with France loosened (e.g. by the loss of the Normandy territory, the Hundred Year’s War between England and France). The power of the English-speaking common people increased, partly due to the Black Death killing around 1/3 of England’s population; English language poetry (e.g. by Chaucer) became popular and the Bible was translated into English. By the end of the 14th century public documents were written in English and kings made their declarations in English. By that time, Middle English had changed considerably compared to Old English: Latin and Scandinavian had introduced new words into the word-stock, and Old French – the largest influence by far – besides adding words to the vocabulary, also influenced the grammar.

 

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Late Middle English – Opening verses of Genesis, in the translation to English by John Wycliffe in the 1380s

 

In the period of Early Modern English (1500-1800), British influence vastly expanded across the world, laying the foundations for English as a world language. This was also not only the time of Shakespeare, but also one of transformation for the language. While the transition from Old to Middle English occurred in terms of grammar, the shift of Middle to Early Modern English (1500-1800) was driven by a notable pronunciation change and an expansion of the word-stock.

In part, new words were acquired from foreign languages: the Renaissance period led to an influx of Latin and Ancient Greek vocabulary, French remained a strong influence, and Portuguese and Spanish gained in importance due to their role in the colonial conquests in Latin America. Britain itself expanded its influence during that time, founding colonies in America, Asia and Australia, and through this  not only goods but also words.

 

TheEnglishLanguage-HistoryAndEtymology_3

Early Modern English – Opening verses of Genesis from the
King James Bible published in 1611.

 

Furthermore, starting in the 15th century, the English language underwent its most important shift in pronunciation, termed the Great Vowel Shift: the phonetics of all of the Middle English long vowels changed as described in the picture below -and that of many other vowels and consonants as well. For example the a in name used to be pronounced as in spa, or the double e of feet was pronounced as the vowel in made. The reasons for this shift are essentially unknown. Spelling, however, was not adjusted to reflect the new pronunciation, as the archaic medieval ways of spelling were preferred; this is one of the reasons why spellings do not correspond to pronunciation. Another one is that, at the time,   men studying etymology were fond of introducing -sometimes erroneously- new spellings of words based on their etymological roots. This explains the gap between the writing and the pronunciation of words such as debt or doubt. Those words come from Old French and were spelled det and dout in Middle English, in line with its pronunciation. Today’s b was inserted to reflect the Latin origin debere (to owe, to have to) and dubitare (to doubt). Similar examples are indict, victual, receipt, all pronounced differently than suggested by their spelling.

 

TheEnglishLanguage-HistoryAndEtymology_4

Early Modern English: The Great Vowel Shift

 

Today, in the period of Late Modern English (1800-present), English is a world language; the total number of speakers may be two billion -although of varying competence . Algeo (2009) differentiates three circles of English speakers: “an inner circle of native speakers in countries where English is the primary language, an outer circle of second-language speakers in countries where English has wide use alongside native official languages, and an expanding circle of foreign-language speakers in countries where English has no official standing but is used for ever-increasing special purposes.

To illustrate the concept of etymology, let me present an example. One rather far-fetched etymology is that of the word muscle: it derives from the Latin word for muscle musculus, which is literally the diminutive of mus, for mouse. Apparently the shape and the movement of muscles, in particular the biceps, invoked the image of mice. This image of muscles as little moving animals underneath the skin seems to have been widespread: in Greek mys is also both mouse and muscle, in Arabic adalah is for muscle and adal for field mouse, and the Middle English lacerte meant both muscle and lizard.

How can such knowledge be not only entertaining but also useful? Since we are studying in Toulouse, I want to finish by focusing on the links between English and French, and give you some tricks I accumulated over the years to figure out the meaning of unknown French words. They do not always work perfectly or at all, but are awesome when they do.

English started off as the language of a few Germanic tribes who had settled a small island off the coast of Europe. Over its history it evolved and by some coincidences became a world language with many millions of speakers – in this process collecting and incorporating words and grammar from French, Latin, Scandinavian, Portuguese, Spanish, German, and many other languages around the world. These influences are still visible today – and knowing how languages are interrelated can help us use our knowledge about one language to decipher another.

By Julia  Baarck

 

For those who would like to learn more about languages and etymology, I warmly recommend the “Johnson” column in The Economist, and further the book “The origins and development of the English language” (base for the history part of this text).

Further references

Algeo, John. “The origins and development of the English language.” (2009).

Crystal, David. “Two thousand million?.” English today 24.1 (2008): 3-6 , retrieved at https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/english-today/article/two-thousand-million/68BFD87E5C867F7C3C47FD0749C7D417

Etymologyonline. https://www.etymonline.com/word/muscle

http://www.gbarto.com/languages/frvocab.html

Merriam Webster Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/

The Economist. Johnson Column. https://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson