Anonymous comments with racist, sexist and abusive messages that were posted for years on a jobs-related website for economists originated from numerous leading U.S. universities, according to research released Thursday.
Some economists have long condemned the website, Economics Job Market Rumors, for its toxic content. The site, known by its acronym EJMR, is run by an anonymous individual and is not connected to a university or other institution. That fact had fed speculation that those who posted hateful messages on it were mostly online cranks who might not be economists.
Yet the new research indicates that users of the website include individuals at top-tier colleges and universities, including Harvard, Stanford and the University of Chicago.
“Our analysis reveals that the users who post on EJMR are predominantly economists, including those working in the upper echelons of academia, government, and the private sector,” the paper concluded. It was written by Florian Ederer, a management professor at Boston University, Paul Goldsmith-Pinkham, a finance professor at the Yale School of Management, and Kyle Jensen, an associate dean at Yale.
A spokeswoman for Harvard declined to comment. Stanford and the University of Chicago did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The revelations have provoked debate on social media among economists about privacy, free speech and online abuse. Some economists, particularly women who have been attacked on the site, say they hope the revelations lead colleges and universities to investigate the postings. Others have expressed concern that the research could lead to a “witch hunt” among those who posted on the site.
The bigoted content on the website also makes women and nonwhite economists often feel unwelcome in a profession that is already struggling to diversify. Black Americans, for example, are more likely to earn PhDs in mathematics and other social sciences than in economics.
“The idea that in an anonymous space, people behave in this way, it reflects pretty poorly on the profession,” Goldmsith-Pinkham said.
Speaking in an interview with The Associated Press, Goldsmith-Pinkham sought to dispel those concerns, saying the group does not plan on “releasing anything identifying” individuals.
The researchers used publicly available data to determine the internet addresses for about two-thirds of the more than 7 million posts that have been made on the site since 2010. They classified about 10% of those posts as “toxic” because of their racist or sexist content. These posts included the use of racial slurs and assertions that women have smaller brains than men.
About 10% of the postings on EJMR, the researchers found, originated from among several hundred universities, including those they classified as the top 25 research universities.
“Things were WAY better when women were focused on rearing children and feeding their husbands,” said one post highlighted by the researchers.
“The biggest enemies of America are: Blks,” read another.
The site has drawn criticism since at least 2017, when Alice Wu, an undergraduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote a paper highlighting the sexist nature of many of the postings on the site.
In response to her paper, Olivier Blanchard, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and emeritus economics professor at MIT, called the website a “cesspool.” Blanchard added that the site had “become a breeding ground for personal attacks of an abusive kind.”
Anya Samek, an economics professor who was first attacked on the site after being hired by the University of Chicago, said the site persists because there has been no way to hold it accountable. She said she hopes the universities that are being identified as sources of some of the posts will take steps to prevent future abuse.
“I would like to see universities take some action to make sure there’s no hate speech online coming from their own offices,” Samek said.
AP data journalist Larry Fenn contributed to this report from New York.