Why I Participate At Political Science Rumors

by on 2014-04-10 in Duck- 8 Comments

The first rule of the internet is not to read the comments for any op-ed one posts.  Why?  Because the cover of anonymity allows people to say awful stuff.  Of course, Twitter amply demonstrates that people will say awful things on the internet even when one can be clearly identified.  Anyhow, over the past several years, a series of websites have been gathering spots for both aspiring and experienced political scientists to exchange in rumors and opinions about the profession (to be clear, anyone can post so it might be economist students seeking to troll or other folks entirely).  Given yesterday’s post about PSR, I thought I would explain my presence there.

The initial ambition of these places made a great deal of sense–that there was much confusion and disinformation about job searches, and wouldn’t it be nice to know when a place had come up with a short list and began interviewing.  In the old days of the 1990s, one would never know about the places to which one applied unless one got invited for a job talk, unless a friend got invited, or when one eventually got the rejection letter (which often never came at all).  The crowdsourcing worked for a while, until folks started attacking the job candidates that were doing well.  Then people stopped posting job rumors quite as much and much less reliably.

With anonymous posting, these sites became fairly toxic.  Lots of personal attacks, lots of homophobia, misogyny, racism and other forms of nastiness ensued.  Political Science Job Rumors had some moderation and its successor, Political Science Rumors has more moderation, but still much ugliness persists.

I play a fairly unique role at PSR–I post as myself.  There are a few other professors who do so, but most use either standard pseudonyms or use randomly assigned names.  So, the questions then are: (a) why do I hang out there at all; and (b) why do I identify myself?  I actually don’t have a well-worked out rationale–things just kind of happened, but here is my take.

I started going there for three reasons: I was on the job market and wanted to see if there were rumors about the places to which I had applied; I had students on the job market so I wanted to know what they were facing; and the place I worked at had a few searches, and I wanted to see what was being said.  All of these come down to curiosity–which is one of my strengths and also my greatest weakness.

I am not alone in having such curiosity, as I have encountered many profs who say that they check out PSR on occasion, if only to check what is trending there in terms of what people are worried about.  I am nearly alone in the non-anonymity part.  I started posting as myself because there were rumors about my school’s searches that were quite wrong.  I knew that anonymous corrections would have no weight, so I posted as myself to dispel the particular rumors.  Once that happened, and after I got a few questions directed at me, I realized that I could serve as a voice of semi-reason when people had questions about the discipline/profession.  I would chime in on posts where I thought I could contribute, given my experiences at several institutions and years of job searches.

This did eventually lead to a thread dedicated to asking me anything (very much an on-going reddit-style AMA).  The folks on PSR are protective of that thread, not wanting to be a give-and-take with everyone chiming in, but with just me answering questions that range from what a good CV looks like (and I point them to a relevant duck post) to bargaining strategies to off the wall topic’s like whether I found Barney or Teletubbies more annoying.

I occasionally get attacked on the site for my conventional, naive views (I tend to argue that the quality of the work matters) or just for my participation.  They suspect that I am doing it to get attention, that I am a narcissist.  There is probably something to that, given that I admitted my narcissism when I started up my blog five years ago.   I do get occasionally creeped out by those who are my fans there (they call me Sadie).  On the other hand, I find inspiration for some of my blog posts among the questions and comments at PSR.

I don’t think that one voice can redeem an entire site where anonymity provides folks with an ability to vent whatever they want.  But I have found that there are folks who lack decent advisers, that some will even pay for advice (something that I find rather abhorrent), and so I give advice and feedback with my name attached.  The folks there can then evaluate the advice and the advice giver for what it is worth.

Again, I never really had a plan, but as it evolved, and given the feedback I have received over the years, I think I making a contribution.  Does my existence there legitimate the place?  Probably not since the place has dubious legitimacy.  Does it legitimate the awful stuff that appears there?  I don’t think so, as people can separate out what I write from the other stuff.  The place can and did exist without me.  Still, I am always thinking and re-thinking my participation there.


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  • Paul Gowder

    Hmm—I actually worry this is a bad idea, to the extent it validates such spaces, and perhaps suggests to outsiders/young graduate students/etc that the muck that goes on there represents the discipline. Thoughts?

  • http://www.stevesaideman.com Stephen Saideman

    One of the reasons to exert a voice there is to push back against this very idea. I don’t enter the fray on every thread that ranks, re-ranks and all the rest, but I do push back when folks generalize about the discipline. I don’t think PSR represents the discipline, and try to engage those threads that insist that it does.

  • ProfPTJ

    Steve, I sympathize with what you are trying to do over there, but I fear that it’s a pretty quixotic effort. Every conversation has rules, tacit or explicit or both, and the rules of PSR seem to permit and perhaps even encourage unproductive vitriol. This is part of the reason why we decided not to permit anonymous comments over at the ISQ website: the veil of anonymity changes the whole situation in ways that seem to encourage nastiness (I am reminded of Todorov’s comment about the behavior of the conquistadors in the “New World”: because it was considered an uncivilized space, they were free to give reign to their worst impulses). I am not at all optimistic about the chances of “civilizing” a space by entering it and behaving in a civil manner.

    Maybe places like PSR should have an anonymous submission box, but that would be pre-post moderated to strain out the crap. I am not, however, sure that that would work either.

  • CSunnstein


    You do give some pretty good advice on the site. You may find it abhorrent that people offer to pay for your advice, but it isn’t meant as an insult. Some of us have genuinely incompetent or, dare I say, malicious/ abusive advisers. My own story is fairly unique and because I’m a little afraid of outing myself I won’t tell the whole thing. However, this individual and I wrote a paper together (I was the second author) and when people pointed out mistakes/leveled reasonable criticisms at the work, she blamed the mistakes on my “incompetence.” This was in a room filled with some rather top tier IR theorists. Believe it or not, this was just the tip of the iceberg with this particular individual.

    I’m not here to vent. I don’t know you personally, but have enjoyed your work (such as the recent book on NATO). For me, graduate school has been like a war of attrition and I’ve been forced to do just about everything by myself. Lucky enough to have landed a job and a few publications along the way, but a long hard slog nonetheless.

    It would be nice if there actually were some sort of a service where you could get advice for the nuts-and-bolts of grad school. I honestly would pay for it.

  • http://www.stevesaideman.com Stephen Saideman

    No one has offered to pay me for my advice. There is someone who does offer advice for money, and what I abhor is that this might seem necessary to a graduate student who is not being properly mentored by their advisers at their institution.

    Sorry to hear you had a lousy adviser, but glad to hear that you seem to be doing well despite a crappy adviser experience.

  • http://howlatpluto.blogspot.com/ LFC

    I disagree with S. Saideman’s and PTJ’s assertions that it is anonymity that is the culprit in the bad behavior at PSR. I don’t read PSR; I’ve spent probably a total of five minutes there, period. But if people are saying **** there, it’s not, I submit, because they’re anonymous, but rather because the culture of the site encourages or allows it.

    There are plenty of blogs — well, at least some — where many commenters post anonymously or pseudonymously and have largely civil conversations. I’ve been blogging (and commenting occasionally at a few sites) under my initials for several years. I’ve thought about using my full name but I don’t. But the reason I don’t is *not* so that I can have a license to say ugly, profane, insulting things. As it turns out, probably 95% of what I write on my blog is stuff I would feel v. comfortable posting under my full name. Occasionally I get a little snarky or somewhat autobiographical and in those cases I rather like the veil of the initials, but it doesn’t happen v. often.

    Anyway, the notion that not using one’s full name is what frees people to act like jerks is one that I’m very skeptical of. Contrary to Professor Saideman’s repeated claims that it is anonymity that causes people to be jerks, what causes people to be jerks is: (1) the fact that some people tend to be, or like being, rude, cruel, snide, and generally nasty; and (2) the fact that such people can find sites whose culture allows them to indulge their cruel or nasty impulses. Please stop blaming anonymity, pseudonymity, or the use of initials for things they are not to blame for.

  • PSR (and Sadie) Supporter

    Steve, your participation at PSR is very much appreciated. Your perspective is very valuable and always welcome. The vitriol at PSR doesn’t detract from its many benefits and am glad it doesn’t prevent you from engaging its participants.

  • CSunnstein


    Thank you very much. You seem like a nice guy and hope to meet you in person someday.