Eastern Economic Journal

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 115–125

Why the Con Hasn't Been Taken Out of Econometrics

  • Martin Zelder
Symposium Article


Economists often decry the perceived tendency towards selective reporting of empirical results (“specification search”) in scholarly work. Yet, economists have largely neglected to analyze the incentive structures underlying this phenomenon of econometric “cons”. This paper endeavors to provide this analysis, posing a game-theoretic model of specification search. In this three-player game (author, journal, and profession), academic authors choose whether to report the “true” t-statistic associated with an empirical result, or whether to “con” by reporting a distorted t-statistic. Subsequently, both journal and profession must choose whether to bear the cost of “scrutinizing” the author's work (e.g., by reanalyzing his data). Multiple perfect Bayesian equilibria are found, including one where authors “con” and arc not detected, an equilibrium which may be Kaldor–Hicks efficient. Moreover, public and private mechanisms (existing or proposed) to curtail “conning” seem ineffectual.


econometrics specification search academic refereeing 

JEL Classifications

C52 C72 A14 

Copyright information

© Eastern Economic Association 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin Zelder
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA
  2. 2.Center for Health and the Social Sciences, University of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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