Sunday, February 27, 2011

Seminars by the Number

If I were not aware of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, I’d say it was entirely my fault. Last weekend I cleaned off the barbeque and re-filled the propane tank. It’s a good way to spend a mild and sunny February afternoon in Victoria, because I don’t have to take responsibility for cutting the grass since we down-sized to a townhouse. Inevitably, we’ve just had a week with an unusually heavy snowfall, icy roads and (by our standards) chilly temperatures. These conditions, coupled with the fact that it was the Spring “reading break” at UVic, meant that the corridors of the “grove academe” were rather quiet. In particular, the usual research seminars for faculty and graduate students were not scheduled.

Over the years, I’ve participated in more economics seminars than I care to think about. Some of them were memorable. Some of them were memorable for the wrong reasons. Some of them brought out the worst in me, and are better forgotten. Very few of the seminars that are held in our department are really “econometrics seminars”, but that’s O.K.. There’s more to life than just having fun, after all. One thing that most of our graduate students don’t realize, however, is that the style and tone of seminars in (any branch of) economics are quite different from those of seminars in many other disciplines. Take seminars in statistics, for example. The following observations are based on my regular attendance at such seminars in multiple institutions over the past 35 years or so: