Blogs and Academic Research

by John Sides on October 18, 2011 · 7 comments

in Academia,Blogs

Paul Krugman:

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.


Daniel W. Drezner October 18, 2011 at 2:13 pm


You’re right about the size of the blogosphere, but there’s another key difference between economics and political science. As I understand it, the turnaround time between submission and peer-reviewwed publication for economics is MUCH longer than in political science. So the time lag between getting workshopped and published is shorter.

Hans Noel October 18, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Related: There is no real equivalent of the NBER in political science. So circulation of unpublished work is more fragmented.

Andrew Gelman October 18, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Another difference between poli sci and econ is that economists can bump their discussions up to the national media in a way that political scientists cannot. Paul Krugman is a New York Times columnist and other econ professors write regular or semi-regular columns for the Times also. Economists get free publicity each year with the Nobel Prize and are appointed to key government positions. As you know, bloggers often respond to the news, and the news that economists make and write about becomes fodder for econ blogs. If Mo Fiorina were the Secretary of Polarization and if Tom Ferguson were writing in the New York Times, etc., then I think you’d have a lot of echoing in the poli sci blogosphere as well.

Rex Brynen October 19, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Actually, I would argue that in many areas of political science research a great deal of policy-related scholarship is both debated and finds it way into the policy process through working papers, blogs, and other “non-peer-reviewed-academic-journal” channels. Certainly this is true with regard to areas such as (political and economic) development, insurgency/counterinsurgency, and the myriad issues related to war-to-peace transitions.

Daniel W. Drezner October 19, 2011 at 6:13 pm

To pile onto Andrew’s point, it’s also a question of whether policymakers take poli sci seriously as opposed to economics. This was a point I was trying to get at here:

Rex Brynen October 19, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Policy makers take (some) political scientists seriously. They just don’t take political science seriously.

Partly that is because, I suspect, the generalizations that are often generated by political science provide little guidance as to how to operate in particular contexts, where policy success is often contingent upon playing the nuances to best advantage. (Policymakers may have also generalized certain unrecognized quasi-theoretical presumptions about the way the political world operates too, and hence prove resistant to rival constructs.)

If you look at the work on the predictive accuracy of political scientists, it becomes obvious why we might be regarded with a little suspicion: we apparently do little better than dart-throwing monkeys. If Tetlock’s data (2005) is to be believed, it is precisely because that which helps define our discipline as a discipline, namely preoccupation with overarching theoretical models.

Zachary Jones January 3, 2012 at 2:19 pm

DOD seems to have changed somewhat in that regard, what with Minerva and so on. I agree with the others’ points. I would also add that it depends on how we delineate what is and is not political science. There are a large amount of more policy oriented blogs, especially IR related, that I would not categorize as political science blogs, which do not really engage with blogs I would categorize as political science blogs. There are just far fewer political science blogs than there are econ blogs (I suspect) and so we don’t have as much inter-blog discussion because we don’t have that critical mass.

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