First of all, policy-oriented research was never as centered on refereed journals as we liked to imagine. A lot of the discussion always took place via Federal Reserve and IMF working papers, and even reports from the research departments of investment banks…Second, even for more academic research, the journals ceased being a means of communication a long time ago – more than 20 years ago for sure. New research would be unveiled in seminars, circulated as NBER Working Papers, long before anything showed up in a journal. Whole literatures could flourish, mature, and grow decadent before the first article got properly published…The journals have long served as tombstones, certifications for tenure committees, rather than a forum in which ideas get argued.
What the blogs have done, in a way, is open up that process. Twenty years ago it was possible and even normal to get research into circulation and have everyone talking about it without having gone through the refereeing process – but you had to be part of a certain circle, and basically had to have graduated from a prestigious department, to be part of that game. Now you can break in from anywhere; although there’s still at any given time a sort of magic circle that’s hard to get into, it’s less formal and less defined by where you sit or where you went to school.
I think political science differs somewhat. Working papers do circulate, but I do not sense that people write about and respond to them. Published work still sets the agenda.
Moreover, although I think political science blogs can “democratize” whose research is noticed and discussed, the political science blogosphere is still too small to matter much in this way. In my ideal world, a larger blogosphere would not only publicize more research but would actually engender discussions about that research. Economists do this routinely via blogs, but political science blogs—well, this blog at least—are more oriented around publicizing research than debating it.