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Hierarchical submission policies at academic journals

- April 22, 2010

Erik describes a new plan in which rejected submissions to the American Economic Review are automatically submitted to lower-status journals, and he asks whether political science could do the same thing. This would be fine, I think, but in any case I suspect it’s less of a big deal in political science. My impression is that the goal of “publishing in the top journal” is more of a big deal in economics than in political science. It’s just not such a big deal to publish in the #1 journal. It’s certainly not like in medicine, where if you publish in the New England Journal, you might hit page 1 of the newspaper. Or like physics or biology, where it’s a big deal to publish in PRL or Cell or whatever.

Actually, economics seems to me more competitive than political science in general. I remember seeing, several years ago, a recommendation letter for an economist applying for a postdoctoral position. One of the letters of recommendation described the candidate as not being good enough for a faculty position at one of the top 8 programs but good enough for anything lower. I mean, c’mon, what kind of silly precision is this?

P.S. Statistics is even less hierarchical than political science. There is no agreed-upon top statistics journal. It depends if you’re doing probability theory, theoretical statistics, or applied statistics, and even then, within each of these subfields there are multiple journals that could be considered as the best. In statistics, we also have the opportunity to publish in subject-matter journals (like the APSR!) or in computer science, engineering, and so forth. So much less pressure.

P.P.S. I’m not saying that statisticians and political scientists are better than political scientists, or that we’re nicer people, just that the fields have different cultures. I’m actually surprised that the academic field of economics is so competitive since I’d assume that, as with statistics, many of the people competing for these jobs could get well-paid non-academic positions easily enough.