Archive | Academia

Sociology Establishes an Open-Access Journal

I’m very pleased to see that Sociological Science is open for article submissions, and expects to start publishing articles early next year. The journal is designed to ameliorate several problems that beset academic publishing. It’s an open-access, peer-reviewed journal that promises a fast turnaround time in review. It’s common enough in some fields for authors to get stuck, literally for years, in Reviewer Hell….Sociological Science promises a 30 day up-or-down review process, with no “development” effort and no R&R process. They hope to accomplish this with a relatively large pool of Deputy Editors with authority to accept or reject articles.

As a properly open-access journal, they’ve chosen to fund themselves through submission and publication fees instead of signing up with a major journal publisher or soliciting institutional support from a university or a foundation. The fee schedule is graded by rank, so students pay least and full professors pay most. The incentive is that authors retain copyright on their work and everything published is available ungated and immediately.

That’s Kieran Healy over at Crooked Timber.  The model is similar to the new political science journal Research and Politics, which Erik has been helping to start and described in this post.  I’m glad to see this model being established in other disciplines.

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Federal Funding of Scientific Research Produces Unexpected Successes

Seven researchers, including two Nobel Prize winners, will be honored today at the second annual Golden Goose Award ceremony, celebrating researchers whose seemingly odd or obscure federally funded research turned out to have a significant impact on society.
The awardees will be honored at a ceremony on Capitol Hill, where they will receive their awards from a bipartisan group of Members of Congress.

From the press release.  The Golden Goose website is here. A short item at Inside Higher Ed is here.

Several months ago, I wrote a post called “Why Study Social Science” and said this:

…it’s very hard to determine the value of any research ahead of time.  It’s hard because any one research project is narrow.  It’s hard because you can’t anticipate how one project might inform later ones.  It’s hard because some funding goes to create public goods—like large datasets—that many others will use, and those myriad projects also cannot be anticipated.  It’s hard because some research won’t work, and we can’t know that ahead of time.

The Golden Goose awards illustrate what I meant, as does Robert Putnam’s story.  This is all the more reason why cherry-picking projects that sound “silly” (duck penises, etc.) is not a useful way to evaluate the efficacy of federal funding of scientific research.

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Ranking Universities Based on Policy Relevance

Peter Campbell and Michael Desch have developed new rankings of scholars and universities. The authors take specific issue with NRC rankings. Here is their description at Foreign Affairs (ungated for 4 weeks):

With the generous support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, we have ranked the top fifty political science departments based on 37 different measures of scholarly excellence and broader policy relevance of their international relations faculty. We have done the same thing for the 442 individual scholars in that group. The full results are available here:

Have fun with the data and report back with interesting findings.

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How to Manage Your Grad School Adviser

Most advisers are flawed people set in their peculiar ways, and so busy they feel like they are losing their minds. I am no exception. In light of this, I can’t underestimate the importance of “upward management” in your work–with me or any time in your career.

That’s Columbia political scientist Chris Blattman.  His post has further instructions and advice for the students would might want to work with him.  For example:

It’s always good to send concise written updates (a couple of paragraphs by email) in advance of a meeting and, for specific questions, to try to formulate them beforehand.

Inside Higher Ed picked on up this and tried to gin up some controversy.  But there didn’t seem like much to be found.  To me, Chris’s advice suggests how to make adviser-advisee relationships increasingly positive-sum: the more a student prepares in advance of the meeting, the more the adviser will learn and the better the feedback he or she can give.

Based on other workplaces I know something about either first- or second-hand—especially law firms—upward management seems useful as a general strategy.

[Note: That is not a photo of Chris Blattman. Also, those people are too good-looking to be Ph.D. students.]

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The Promise and Perils of Sharing Work-in-Progress

A junior scholar, whom I’ll call Pat, writes with the following question:

As a young researcher, I am conflicted about sharing working papers on my website or on SSRN. While I certainly understand the importance and possible utility of sharing work and possibly getting feedback, it also seems that there are dangers of posting pre-peer reviewed articles: having it publicly trashed prior to submission, losing the anonymity (kind of) guaranteed during the peer review process.

Since we often discuss working papers on this blog, I’ll hazard a few thoughts.  First, one benefit of sharing, as Pat says, is additional feedback.  But more than this, you also get the benefit of having your work circulate more widely.  Some significant part of being (viewed as) “successful” in academia is being visible to your peers.  Yes, the actual quality of your work matters more, but visibility counts for something.  In tenure decisions, departments often want evidence that you are “known” in the field.  There are lots of ways to build visibility—going to conferences, networking, etc.—but most all of them involve sharing your work, even in its early stages.  Pat raises the possibility that  your work may get trashed.  That can happen, but I think positive or constructive feedback is more common.

Second, I think there are benefits to science from having working papers shared.  Peer-reviewed journals are valuable for many reasons, but they create pathologies.  A lot of deserving research is not published.  (Acceptance rates at top political science journals are below 10%.)  And not only that, but often it is certain kinds of research that are not published, such as research with null findings (leading to the well-known file drawer problem) and research that replicates an earlier study (which everyone agrees is valuable but few journals seem to want to publish).  At least if working papers are publicly available, there is some chance that such research will achieve visibility even if it is difficult to publish.  Moreover, there is also the extraordinary lag between submitting to a peer-reviewed journal and (if lucky) actually seeing the article in print.  This can take 2 years or more—perhaps reason enough to circulate working papers.  (For more thoughts on the value of having research circulate before peer review, see Paul Krugman.)

What are the problems of sharing working papers?  Pat raises the possibility that it will compromise the anonymity of double-blind peer review.  Of course, Pat qualifies this (“kind of”), which leads to my thought: given the existing ways in which peer review often isn’t blind—such as because papers have already circulated at conferences—I don’t think that sharing working papers on a website or SSRN has much additional effect.  Moreover, given that acceptance rates at journals are already so low, I just don’t think it makes that much difference when a paper’s early circulation ends up making the resulting peer review process less-than-blind.  In a world with acceptance rates of 8-10%, there’s just not much a scholar can do to “game” that outcome for good or ill (other than try to produce better work, in which case we’re back to the value of feedback on working papers).

To me, the more serious challenge with working papers is their possible negative consequences for science as a whole.  The World Bank’s Berk Ozler had a good post about that a couple years ago.  He points out that sometimes findings change between early versions and later versions of papers.  But people’s interest in first version of the research often outstrips their interest in the revised version.  Ozler:

People are busy. Most of them had only read the abstract (and maybe the concluding section) of the first draft working paper to begin with. Worse, they had just relied on their favorite blogger to summarize it for them. But, guess what? Their favorite blogger has moved on and won’t be re-blogging on the new version of the working paper. Many won’t even know that there is a more recent version. The newer version, other than for a few dedicated followers of the topic or the author, will not be read by many. They will cling to their beliefs based on the first draft: first impressions matter. By the time your paper is published, it is a pretty good paper – your little masterpiece. The publication will cause an uptick in downloads, but still, for many, all they’ll remember is the sweatshirt, and not the sweat that went into the masterpiece.

And it could get even worse:

There is another problem: people who are invested in a particular finding will find it easier to take away a message that confirms their prior beliefs from a working paper. They will happily accept the preliminary findings of the working paper and go on to cite it for a long time (believe me, well past the updated versions of the working paper and even the eventual journal publication). People who don’t buy the findings will also find it easy to dismiss them: the results are not peer-reviewed. At least, the peer-review process brings a degree of credibility to the whole process and makes it harder for people to summarily dismiss findings they don’t want to believe.

I don’t think these problems mean that Pat or any other specific person shouldn’t share working papers.  They might think through the question “what is likely to change in this paper moving forward?”—and if they feel that the empirics are very solid, they might be more inclined to something publicly.

But the problems Olzer mentions are obviously broader, and demand a disciplinary response.  But what?  Ozler comes down on the side of speeding up peer review, thereby helping to ensure that any political or policy response to research takes place after peer review.  That’s hard to do—ask any journal editor how easy it is to get peer reviewers (Ozler notes that some journals are actually paying reviewers)—but I support the idea of speeding up in principle.

Ultimately, I’d say that the potential benefits of sharing likely outweigh the costs for any individual researcher.  For disciplines as a whole, the picture is murkier.  Figuring out how to extract the good that comes from sharing working papers while avoiding the bad isn’t easy.

I welcome thoughts in comments.

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Here’s what happened when I finished my PhD thesis


May 11, midday: Made a list of all the things I needed to do to finish the thesis.

May 12, midday: Tear up the list, decide to finish it with what I had at hand.

May 13, 7am: Thesis finished.

It was very satisfying.

P.S. This is the sort of post you won’t be seeing anymore, once we move to the Washington Post.

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Opportunity for A Disciplinary Bulletin Board

Having just returned from the American Political Science Association annual conference (#APSA2013), I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who took the time to offer their kind words about the move to the Washington Post. It was very much appreciated.

Like the rest of the team, I think there are some enormous opportunities here that outweigh the potential drawbacks of the move, most importantly that we will have a much bigger microphone from which to pursue our goal of making the lessons from political science research available to a larger audience. But I also wanted to take some time to address some of the drawbacks that other political scientists raised about the move in my many discussions these past few days.

1) The paywall at the Washington Post. This is the simplest issue to solve. First, for the next 12 months The Monkey Cage will be outside the paywall. That means everyone can continue to access The Monkey Cage however and as often as they want without a subscription to the Post. But more importantly in the long term, you will always be able to access The Monkey Cage for free if you click to our posts through a link from Facebook or Twitter. We have a Facebook page (located here) and a Twitter Feed (located here). Both of these are automated so that posts appear whenever a new post appears on The Monkey Cage. So if you want to see what we are doing by logging on first to Facebook or Twitter and then clicking on the links for the posts you want to read, you will be always be able to do it this way whether or not you have a digital subscription to the Post. So if you have students outside the US who you want to read the blog, you can just send them to either the Facebook or Twitter feeds. And as these pages are public, you do not even need to have a Twitter or Facebook account to access them.

2) The quality of the comments thread: A number of people (and commentators on our original post) expressed the fact that they had learned a lot from discussions following our posts in the past beyond what was in the post itself, as well as a certain degree of skepticism that these kinds of discussions can continue when we are in a more public forum. This may very well turn out to be correct, but the one plea I would make is let’s just try to see if we can keep up useful discussions at The Post. If those of you who are used to providing thoughtful comments now can at least give it a try for a little while when we move, maybe we can establish the site as a place with a reputation for useful discussion. This may very well be wishful thinking, but I’d hope we can at least try.

3) The final point – which will not be of interest to many of our non political scientist readers – is a sense of regret that The Monkey Cage will no longer be able to function as a disciplinary “bulletin board”. As John noted in the replay to “John Dickey” in the post announcing the move, we will still be able to do a little of this when the issues are of broader interest (i.e., threats to research funding in the social sciences), but the reality is that the extent to which we do this is going to drop rather substantially. I count myself on the list of people who do see this as a drawback, especially because I have really enjoyed being able to make these kinds of announcements in the past! So here my suggestion is for someone to take this as an opportunity to establish something new that can meet this need. We’ve demonstrated that there is a demand for this kind of a service: a place for political scientists to alert one another to interesting developments regarding conferences, journals, resources, etc. We’re no longer going to be able to do it, but hopefully someone else will take the opportunity to build a platform that can fill this void – I know that I would definitely be a regular visitor to such a site. I hope maybe people can throw out some ideas below in the comments section, but I’ll start with a couple thoughts.

First, I wonder how many eyeballs will regularly return to a page that is just a bulletin board.  Put another way, I wonder if it is better to embed this function within another site (like it was at The Monkey Cage) or if it could stand on its own.

Second, I would recommend that someone or some organization actively run the site, as opposed to setting it up as a wiki.

Finally, I think there might be resources for supporting such a site within the major political science associations.  There is always interest in these organizations as to how they can better serve their members; so if there is a demand for this type of product, then it might be a natural fit for the mission of the associations.

As I always, I welcome comments and thoughts.

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Research and Politics: A New Open Access Political Science Journal

ResearchandPolitics4I am delighted to announce the launch of a new journal, Research and Politics, of which I am one of the general editors together with Catherine de Vries and Bernard Steunenberg. Sage will publish the new journal.R&P is going to be quite different from most existing academic publications. The journal provides a venue for scholars to communicate rapidly and succinctly important new insights to the broadest possible audience while maintaining the highest standards of quality control. We will do so by publishing short (up to 4,000 word) articles that are published on-line on an open access basis. Quality control is assured through peer review and a large team of associate editors which consists of esteemed political scientists across the subfields. We strive for speedy publication through a quick review process and continuous publication (i.e. no need to wait for the next issue), although we will uphold limits to how many articles we publish.

We expect to attract a wide range of articles. We will surely publish articles that look very much like regular research articles, only shorter. But we also expect and hope to attract articles that are less easily placed in regular peer-reviewed journals. Indeed, we suspect that some articles that would contain valuable knowledge are currently not being written because they do not fit neatly in the straight jacket of what most journals expect or can deliver.

For example, the time lags in the regular publishing process may be a real obstacle for those who wish to publish predictions or cutting edge analyses of current events or policy debates. Open access should be crucial to these types of analyses, as one would wish to reach the broadest audience possible. A strict replication policy, peer review, and the active involvement of academic specialists differentiates this journal from public affairs journals. By adopting the norms and standards of academia and thus appealing to the incentives of academics, we hope to get more academics involved in public debates without sacrificing rigor.

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