There Is Hope For Economics: The AC/DC Paper Was a Joke

I am delighted to report that the economics paper on AC/DC I blogged about yesterday was meant as a joke. It takes a lot of work to run an experiment on real people, just for a gag paper. It turns out they meant to play the same AC/DC song in both treatments, but made a mistake and accidentally played two different songs. Thus the genesis of the joke paper.

I still think this leaves Professor Oxoby with a bit of explaining to do as to why they were playing AC/DC as part of an experiment in the first place, however.

Rita: Lovely Meter Maid

A joke, you say? Now I am really fuming. My god, that was, hands down, the BEST paper I have ever read. Now you say it was all just a joke. A joke! Go ahead, dash my dreams. Un(make) my day. Fie on the lot of you. It still won't stop *me* from writing (And posting) my paper on Barry Manilow and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. So there.


Wouldn't it have been nice if Professor Levitt had asked Professor Oxoby to explain the motivation behind the intended experimental design, so that it could have been included in the post? Instead, Professor Levitt poked fun at Professor Oxoby in a very widely disseminated public forum to which Professor Oxoby has no or limited access.

Also -- couldn't Professor Levitt tell the paper was a gag paper? Did he read its Conclusions section?

bock bock

Aside from its extremely limited usefulness and some of its assumptions ([this song] vs [that song] === [all songs by this singer] vs [all songs by that singer]). Isn't it kind of valid?
I mean, you could say that it's insignificant but doesn't it really show that "Shoot to Thrill" is better negotiating music than "It's a Long Way to the Top"?
ALSO--from a musical standpoint instead of an economical one--this is a VERY novel method of comparison. I say "bravo".


Relax, corinne

Rob Oxoby has access to the blog. He was the one that said it was a gag. Check out comment 14 of the said post.

Rob Oxoby

I don't usually read this blog. I was only directed to it by someone who sent me an email regarding the paper. This person posted the following blog:

I wrote to Dr. Levitt expressing my surprise that he took the paper seriously. I was a little upset as his commentary (perhaps unintentionally) attacks my other research. Anyway, he said he would make a new post. I guess this is it.

Here is the email I sent Dr. Levitt yesterday:

Hi Dr. Levitt,

Today I received a flurry of emails regarding my paper "On the Efficiency of AC/DC: Bon Scott versus Brian Johnson." I didn't know at the time, but you mentioned this paper in your blog at the NY Times.

This paper was written as a joke using some old data that had been left to me by an AWOL grad student. The AC/DC spin came out of an error in the protocols in which the wrong song (by the correct artist) was played in a session. I was stuck in the Vancouver airport for several hours and wrote the paper (and had fun doing so).

While many of the emails I received got the joke, many didn't. This is evident by the responses to your blog post. I would think that you of all people would recognize a joke when it comes up. This paper follows in the line of Alan Blinder's "Economics of Brushing Teeth," William Harbaugh's "Economics of Work and Play," and many other pieces written by economists for the sake of a good laugh. Unfortunately, in your blog commentary on my paper you seem to miss the point.

I'm an Assoc Prof at the University of Calgary and I take my regular research seriously. This research, some of which is experimental, tries to inform economic discourse and deserves to be taken seriously. (I know well your work with John List on the "field experiments versus lab experiments" debate and generally agree with your views.) While I"m flattered that you read the paper, your commentary (particularly the line "I hope for this guy's sake he has tenure") derides my research and my abilities. I would appreciate a posting on your blog which rectifies this situation.

Rob Oxoby
Robert Oxoby
Department of Economics
University of Calgary



"this leaves Professor Oxoby with a bit of explaining to do as to why they were playing AC/DC as part of an experiment in the first place"

Not really.

There is a long line of research in the social psychology literature showing that distraction improves persuasion (Tony Greenwald did some nice work on this many years ago at Ohio State).

It's certainly not beyond the pale to play loud rock music during a negotiation looking for similar effects.

I'm not saying this is great work -- only that it's not per se unreasonable. Remember, this began as GRAD STUDENT research, possibly by someone stuck for a thesis topic. It's likely Oxoby approved this as a GRAD STUDENT thesis topic, but it doesn't sound like something he used his own funds (or taxpayer funds) on.

Donna Spraggon

The beauty of free-speech in the age of blogs is that accuracy in reporting seems no longer necessary. Being an academic, I am sure that Dr. Levitt can appreciate how his inability or rather unwillingness to adequately assess and report on this paper and the authors' academic accomplishments is irresponsible and frankly, petty. Furthermore, his refusal to offer anything more in the way of a retraction/apology than the snide comment in today's blog shows that just because you have a blog doesn't mean that you have to be responsible to your audience.


I'm usually a fan of your blog, but your correction is pretty pathetic. You got taken in by a joke and ridiculed the guy yesterday, then when you found out that it was a joke, you posted again noting that it was a joke but repeated the ridicule. He already gave a brief explanation, in the comments to your earlier post (#14), what (serious) role the music originally had in the research. If that wasn't enough for you, why not ask the guy for more and report it? Leaving it to the comment section to sort out is not enough, you know that the post is far more prominent than the comments.

Levitt, you've got a pretty big platform now. You've gotta do better. I can only conclude that you're so embarrassed at being taken by an obvious joke that you feel the need to lash out.


At least the AC/DC topic was much more interesting than what literature PhD candidates write how Jane Austen was obviously a lesbian.

Well, maybe thats kind of interesting..


to #4: as #8 said "Leaving it to the comment section to sort out is not enough, you know that the post is far more prominent than the comments."

Levitt's two posts on this subject have both been over the line, as noted above by other commenters and by Rob Oxoby himself.


Levitt wrote: "I still think this leaves Professor Oxoby with a bit of explaining to do as to why they were playing AC/DC as part of an experiment in the first place, however."

He did - as has been (repeatedly) pointed out - in the comments of your previous post.

Your joke was defused a day before you even typed it - now there's a feat in stale humor and immature jabs.

Not that it was even particularly derisive or insulting this time around. Just a little petty and weak.


No need to be condescending. You missed a fairly obvious joke, and at this point it's easier to drop the all-knowing pose of a pundit than to try to save face by meaninglessly criticizing Prof. Oxoby's academic judgement.

The fact that you jumped to conclusions, did not do any investigation, and then attacked the messenger of unwelcome news could be used to impugn your own worthiness as an academic. I hope you have tenure.


The worst part of the whole no full feed thing is that when I do click through I end up seeing the comments, which besides being of lower quality since the move, seem also to be angry for absolutely no reason. Prof. Levitt basically said "What is this, some kind of joke?" and then was embarrassed to learn that in fact it was a joke, and that he had missed it. Now people are angry that he offered a lighthearted admission rather than a heartfelt apology? What he did was in fact more difficult, as being humorless is clearly a more serious flaw than being dismissive of others' work.


William, You seem to miss the point. The "I hope he has tenure" jab could seriously injure Oxoby's reputation. Lots of people read and trust Levitt. It's important for him to recognize that power --and get the facts correct-- when making statements that are disparaging of another's reputation.


Prof.Oxoby's paper is fun, I love how he took a barroom argument and dissected it using the boiler-plate structure of an academic paper, referring superciliously to the author(himself) as "We." He has a fine, subtle sense of humor, must be a great colleague, and definitely should be tenured.

Surprising that of all people Levitt didn't feel the levity.


Surely it's also important to consider the title? Rather than assuming the experiment was comparing Johnson vs Scott, maybe we should ponder on the titles in the context of efficiency?

My presumption would be that "Shoot to Thrill" is more likely to have you making good decisions than "It's a Long Way to the Top" ...


But of course it was obviously a joke! Everyone knows that Bon Scott was better!


@ #16 Chris:

You must have read my comment:


I'm waiting for the follow-on research that settles the David Lee Roth/Sammy Hagar debate.


I was under the impression that "forensic economics" referred to economic methods used to determine damages in litigation.