As the NYT article tells you, things are not like that in the natural sciences or in medicine, for example, often because there are potentially large monetary gains and losses riding on the results. Natural scientists think that it is quite odd for anyone to be talking in public about their research results before they are published. Economic research can have very large implications for human welfare, but the path from a given research result to its effect on the public is typically so indirect and diffused, and the benefits so large to an economic researcher from claiming credit early for a given result, that no one is going to hide their work until it is published.
According to the NYT article, some scientists are complaining that the whole process of peer review and publication is "hidebound, expensive, and elitist." Do we have any of those problems in economics? I think "expensive" certainly applies, and the culprits in economics are the same ones as in the natural sciences. The NYT article states:
The largest journal publisher, Elsevier, whose products include The Lancet, Cell and the subscription-based online archive ScienceDirect, has drawn considerable criticism from open-access advocates and librarians, who are especially incensed by its support for the Research Works Act, introduced in Congress last month, which seeks to protect publishers’ rights by effectively restricting access to research papers and data.Elsevier in fact owns many economics journals, and is well-known for extracting rents from libraries and subscribers. In the old print days, a publisher could provide useful services. Typesetting, printing, binding, and distributing print journals was a specialized task subject to increasing returns. Do publishers provide any value-added in 2011? Absolutely not. But as the article points out, publishers like Elsevier would like to pass laws like the Research Works Act that will allow them to continue to collect rents and impede the dissemination of scientific knowledge.
So, the expense of publication is a problem in economics. But is scholarly publication in economics "hidebound and elitist?" Krugman thinks so:
I have a somewhat jaundiced view of how the whole refereeing/publication system has ever worked; all too often, it seems to act as a way for entrenched doctrines to blockade new ideas, or at least to keep people with new ideas from getting tenure at a good school.I'm going to disagree with Krugman here - not for the first time, of course. Editors, referees, and the economics profession can make mistakes. Sometimes it takes a while for us to catch on to a new idea and recognize what is important about it. Here's a good example. Expectations and the Neutrality of Money was rejected for publication by top journals (the American Economic Review, at least, as I remember the story), and published in the Journal of Economic Theory, at that time a relatively new journal with essentially no reputation. That article now has more than 3000 citations on Google scholar, was part of what Robert Lucas received a Nobel Prize in Economics for, and changed the methodology of macroeconomics in a rather dramatic way. The east coast economics establishment hated Lucas's paper (as Krugman still does) but that didn't stop the ultimate recognition of the work. For every inbred group of scholars eager to keep outsiders out, there are 5 journal editors who would be more than happy to publish new and pathbreaking work.
What about the blogosphere? Do blogs contribute to economic science? They certainly could, but most blogging on economics, including mine, is journalism. I'm very pleased that I don't have to acquire space in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, or the New York Times to speak my mind, but I don't think that what I do here is serious science. Serious economic science is what is published in the top economics journals.