The study of order bias in the NBER email newsletter affecting research paper popularity and citation rates attracts media attention and fosters policy change in how the NBER publishes research papers in their weekly announcements.
A recent research paper by Ina Ganguli, affiliated researcher at SITE and assistant professor of Economics at University of Massachusetts Amherst, Daniel R. Feenberg research associate at NBER, Patrick Gaule, assistant professor at CERGE-EI and Jonathan Gruber, Ford professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, examines consumer choice within an ordered list, in particular the phenomena of primacy bias of choosing the first option and recency bias of choosing the last option.
The team of researchers examined how the ordering of research papers in the NBER weekly email announcement "New This Week" (NTW), being sent to more than 23,000 subscribers, both inside and outside academia affects viewing and citation rates of papers. In their paper "It's good to be first: order bias in reading and citing NBER working papers" the researchers found that despite the effectively random allocation of papers to the NTW ranking, papers presented earlier in the list generated much higher hits, downloads and citations of papers. The effects were particularly meaningful for the first paper listed, with a 33% increase in views, a 29% increase in downloads, and a 27% increase in citations from being listed first.
Most importantly the paper initiated a reform at the NBER to change their weekly email practice. Starting from September, the NBER has changed their research paper ordering approach to avoid inequalities across working papers. Different subscribers will now see a different paper listed first, so no paper will receive a systematic advantage from its ranking on the email announcement.
Since being published, the research paper has grabbed the attention of several media outlets. The New York Times wrote a news article "How Economists Can Be Just as Irrational as the Rest of Us" citing the paper and its research conclusions. The Wall Street Journal wrote an article "Economists Found a Problem and Devised a Solution Only Economists Would Come Up With" and showed how the paper has influenced the policy change of the NBER. National Public Radio also reported a story about the paper and featured an interview with Ganguli "To Get Research Cited, Make Sure It's Listed First".
We are excited that our research paper not only confirmed that presentation order can be a powerful determinant of choice in a list-based environment, but also initiated a reform on how research papers are being presented to promote more equal positioning in the NBER weekly announcements.
Read more about the research findings, methodology, and conclusions of the paper here "It's good to be first: order bias in reading and citing NBER working papers".