The Great Poli Sci Portfolio

by on 2014-02-16 in Duck- 3 Comments

In the dustup produced by Nick Kristof, one of the basic misperceptions keeps being repeated–that the American Political Science Review is not influential or readable enough.  The job of the APSR is not to be read by policy-makers but by political scientists.  Really?  Yes.  Let me explain.

The academic journals have their place in the profession just as those aimed at outreach do. Why have academic journals?  So that political scientists can do the science that is necessary for the generation of knowledge:

  • developing arguments in reaction to and building on pre-existing work (that would be the dreaded lit review),
  • articulating casual mechanisms that link potential causes to that thing we are trying to explain (that would be theory),
  • specifying how we think we know what we know (that would be methods)
  • drawing out the findings and their implications.

It is on the last part that really interests folks outside of the research university.  But to get there, we have to a heap of work.  We cannot just speculate about the future, like Sam Huntington did with Clash of Civilizations because then it is all based on air.  And certainly probably wrong. Doing the preceding stuff is what we do so that our stuff is not just speculative b.s. but based on the best approximation of science (not all of us have that as an aim, of course).

This research is fundamental to being a professor at a research university and pretty relevant to folks in other academic positions since teaching and research are actually related.  Not everyone doing this research has to be articulating their stuff to the folks beyond the university, but some people must be doing it.

And that is what has changed over the past fifteen years or so.  Social media have greatly enabled those who are interested in transmitting beyond the academy and are able to do so.  Blogging, twitter, and all the rest complement the more traditional means–policy-oriented journals, media appearances, public speaking, private networking that always existed. Indeed, as I have insisted elsewhere, there may be fewer famous public intellectuals, but in poli sci, they have been replaced by a much more diverse set of folks articulating the findings and implications–diverse methodologies, different ages, genders, races (although we fall short there still), theoretical perspectives and so on.

In the previous post and elsewhere online, I argued that blogging and such can be done by junior faculty but that they should still be judged for tenure mostly by the traditional standards of publishing peer-reviewed research.  Why?  Because that is a key part of developing one’s credentials as a scholar–that one can do research, that the research can pass through the vetting process of academic journals, that it is making a contribution.  And they have enough stuff to do.  Once one is tenured, it is my belief, one has more responsibility to disseminate more widely (although again with a portfolio approach, there is no one way to do this and not everybody has to do it the same way).

The Kristof article has many problems, including having a pretty old and outdated view of the profession, but also downplaying the reality that research is necessary (pundits do not have to research but at least some political scientists have to).  Our research process could be more open (open access would be great, although who wants to read heaps of academic articles), but we need to have multiple conversations.  One of the key conversations is among political scientists about the research we do, which is then the basis for whatever it is we want to transmit to the folks outside of political science.

Update: I forgot to mention that we have some evidence about how diverse IR is these days.  I wrote a piece using the TRIP data that showed that our circus has a very big tent with all kinds of folks doing all kinds of things.  Yes, there is more quant work now, but not less qual work.  More outlets means more articles–so quant has made a relative gain but qual has not made an absolute loss.

Oh, and blame Brandon for my filling up the Duck this weekend, as he thought my spew belonged here.

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  • prisonrodeo

    One minor disagreement: Once we get tenure, I’d argue we do *not* have a “greater responsibility to disseminate more widely.” We have the *option* to do that, just as we have the option of doing increasingly speculative / risky research (or, for that matter, of spending our marginal minutes on family, community, or working through the changes to “Ornithology”). But our responsibilities are as researchers and as educators, full stop. Doing journalism is a choice, and not one that anyone — even those with tenure — should feel any particular compulsion to undertake.

  • LFC

    This post implies, I think, too narrow a view of blogging. Blogging shd not just be a form of journalistic ‘outreach’; it can also be used for more ‘internal’ sorts of communication, to discuss articles, bks, and issues that mostly concern scholars or people in their ambit. The Duck of Minerva has done and continues to do this occasionally but it doesn’t do it enough, imo. I would like to see some posts, for ex., that take a quant-ish article and analyze/translate/criticize it for a non-quant-oriented (but still mainly academic) audience. Example: There was a piece, a couple of yrs ago now, in APSR (Aug 2012) that made an interesting but (it seemed to me) somewhat questionable argument about “the autocratic legacy of early statehood” (to quote the title); it was (partly) a quant piece, and I’d intended to try to go through it and do a post about it on my blog, but I never did. Someone more quant-literate than I am could have done such a post more easily. I know that the contributors here have jobs and are busy people, but I’d like to see more specific discussion of research here as opposed to yet another general post about the virtues of research and ‘knowledge generation.’

  • Brandon Valeriano

    I think that is the intention and the mandate of some of us who write for the Duck. Problem is we sometimes forget because of things like the Kristof article, the ISA debate, and other news events. I know I will certainly try to do this more once I turn in a book manuscript, but then again, is the process ever over? There is an unfortunate catch-22 about bloggers, they often are very productive and it is tough to be reflective when so immersed in the publication cycle.