Meta-Biker

By Rob O'Connor '95
Managing Editor

Whether bombing down single-track trails in a race on his mountain bike or scrutinizing research through meta-analysis, economics professor Dr. Tom Stanley has earned his place in the spotlight.

The Road to Hendrix

A native of Canton, Ohio, Stanley graduated from the University of Akron, where he studied business and industrial management.

He applied for graduate programs in economics "on a lark" and received an assistantship to Kent State University, where he earned his master's degree, and later to Purdue University, where completed his doctorate.

"I wasn't sure I was going to be a professor. I was just interested in learning," he said. "Academic life is not the only thing to go into with my background, just the most obvious ... but I did test the waters."

Stanley briefly worked in government as a senior planner — essentially an economist and statistician — for the city of Indianapolis.

At Purdue, Stanley met his wife, Dr. Ann Robinson, who was completing her doctorate in educational psychology. To be near his wife, Stanley was an assistant economics professor at Western Kentucky University, Illinois University, and Western Illinois University.

When his wife applied for a position leading the gifted education program at University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Stanley applied for an opening at Hendrix.

"It was very serendipitous," said Stanley, who joined the Hendrix faculty in 1986. "We interviewed for our jobs during the same weekend ... The rest, 26 years later, is history."

At Hendrix, Stanley teaches Econometrics, Management Science, Statistics, and History of Thought, as well as a senior capstone seminar in economics research.

In addition to his economics courses, he's not shied away from challenges outside of his field. He taught sections of Western Intellectual Traditions, the former common course for first-year students. He also served as a faculty leader for Hendrix-in-London. He and his wife team taught a course they called British Intellectual Traditions, which focused on 18th century British thought and ideas.

Stanley said Ann served as the group's de facto "culture vulture" on the trip and kept up with book signings and theatre events, which were particularly inspirational for students like Kyle Wilson '98, now a successful playwright who continues to stay in touch with the couple.

Stanley has also challenged himself outside of the classroom.

After being a two-and-a-half pack-a-day smoker for 15 years, Stanley became a marathon runner and completed the St. Louis Marathon in three hours and 10 minutes. He scaled back his running regimen when he joined the Hendrix faculty.

"When I came here, I was too busy," he said. "I was still running but not 60 miles a week."

In 1994, Dr. Ralph Scott suggested he join him for a mountain bike ride. His colleague's casual suggestion led to a 10-year stint as an expert-class mountain bike racer.

"For 10 years, I was pretty serious," he said. "When you're heavily involved as a teacher, for the long haul, it's almost mandatory to be doing something else too. Plus, racing mountain bikes is just a ball."

At 50, he completed the Leadville 100, a 100-mile off-road race beginning at 10,000-ft. elevation in Leadville, Colo., and going to 12,500, in 10 and a half hours.

Though he officially retired from racing at 55, Stanley still rides five to seven hours a week during the school year and about 10 hours a week during the summer.

Leader of the Pack

Last spring, Stanley's meta-analysis research was singled out in the Journal of Economic Surveys, a leading international journal, as part of the journal's "Silver Julibee" celebration. A paper he co-authored in 1989 is hailed as the first-ever paper on the use of meta-analysis in economics.

"At that time, this paper was viewed as an important pioneering step ... [and] has stood the test of time and remains a landmark in the exposition of meta-analysis," according to Colin J. Roberts, co-founding editor.

For the layman, Stanley describes meta-analysis as "research on research" or more specifically the statistical analysis of previously reported statistical research.

"It seeks to summarize and explain the disparate empirical findings routinely reported in nearly any area of economics," said Stanley. "Meta-analysis provides the statistical methods that can sort through the mountains of empirical research in a systematic and rigorous manner, uncovering the central empirical realities and policy implications."

Meta-analysis did not originate in economics. It was developed by a psychologist who grew frustrated with impressionistic interpretation of research results and wanted to develop a method to weigh evidence statistically and therefore more objectively, Stanley said.

"Biology, medicine, and psychology have been doing meta-analysis for a long time," he said, adding that meta-analyses of economic policy have increased exponentially over the past 20 years.

Other countries have adopted meta-analysis more quickly than the U.S., Stanley said.

The United Kingdom's Department of International Development (DFID)'s Foreign Aid Department employs meta-analysis to determine what development policies are effective.

"They are very big on international aid in terms of the percent of their gross domestic product," he explained. "They're naturally very interested in evidence-based practice in policy" and have recently funded over 50 systematic reviews and meta-analyses of development policy and programs.

The Environmental Protection Agency, World Bank and World Health Organization also employ meta-analyses of their policies, Stanley said.

Through his work on the international level, as well as his work supervising Hendrix student research, Stanley has raised the awareness of meta-analysis in the United States.

One watershed moment happened when Stanley emailed former Princeton University economist Dr. Alan Krueger, now the chairman of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisors, on behalf of a Lana Davis '00, who was researching the federal minimum wage.

Krueger soon invited Stanley to write "Wheat from Chaff: Meta-Analysis as Quantitative Literature Review," which was published in 2001 by the American Economic Association in the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

"Because it was there (in the Journal of Economic Perspectives), it became more legitimate for economists," he said. "This is the paper that has really shaped our field. Almost every new paper in our field will cite this paper ... and that happened because of working with Hendrix students."

Stanley is currently completing the final year of the three-year appointment as a Senior Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics.

In 2010, he received a $40,000 grant from the DFID to present a meta-analysis workshop at the DFID's London offices and to host the 2011 Meta-Analysis of Economics Research Network (MAER-Net) Colloquium at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge.

Stanley has served as the colloquium's chief convener since its inception. In addition to bringing together researchers from around the world, the MAER-Net programs have also given Hendrix students the opportunity to present their research. Ellie Wheeler '10 presented her paper titled "The Healthcare Luxury Good Hypothesis: Meta Regression Analysis" at the third MAER-Net Colloquium in Corvallis Oregon in 2009. Jacob Williams '08 presented "International Gender Wages Gap: A Meta-Analysis" at the second MAER-Net colloquium in Nancy, France, in 2008.

With the support of the Bill and Connie Bowen Odyssey Professorship, which he held from 2008 to 2011, Stanley hosted the fall 2010 MAER-Net program at Hendrix. The program drew more than 30 international researchers, including Dr. Chris Doucouliagos of Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, with whom Stanley collaborated on Meta-Regression Analysis in Economics and Business, published in early 2012 by Routledge.

The Trail Ahead

Stanley continues to be an important voice for meta-analysis at home and abroad.

He was recently asked to write an entry on efficiency wages for an upcoming management edition of Palgraves New Dictionary of Economics, a prestigious resource which includes entries written by many Nobel Prize winners and other notable economics experts. Stanley's experience with efficiency wages began as a joint endeavor with former student Eric Krassoi Peach '07. Stanley supervised the research project and the two collaborated on an article that was published in the Journal of Labor Research in 2009.

Also on tap for this year, Stanley's article "Are Estimates of the Value of a Statistical Life Exaggerated?" for the Journal of Health Economics is the first to show that publication bias makes a huge difference in the assessment of the value of a statistical life, the basis of many health and safety policies.

"Are All Economic Facts Greatly Exaggerated? Theory Competition and Selectivity" for the Journal of Economic Surveys will show that substantial or severe publication bias is found in most areas of economics research but that a competition of economic ideas reduce this bias.

And he tackles executive compensation in "Pay for Performance?" The article, to be published this year in Industrial Relations, shows comprehensively that CEO pay has no practical relation to corporate performance, but that government regulations work.