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Improving Scholarly Journals — Part 2a

- March 24, 2009

A few weeks ago, I posted here and here about some proposals for improving scholarly journals. Those posts evoked numerous comments. I’m not finished with that topic yet, and I’ll return to it soon. For now, though, let me pass along a comment that came in well after attention had turned elsewhere.

The message is from Jim Johnson, the editor of Perspectives on Politics, who weighs in on the issue of how regularly journal editors should reject papers without sending them out for review. Here’s what Jim has to say:

bq. We here at Perspectives have been conducting in-house, pre-referee assessments all along. It has been a major irritation.

bq. That said, I agree with most of what you say here. However, I think you seriously underestimate the sense of entitlement among our colleagues. They think they can submit pretty much anything they write and get three careful readings. Why? By virtue of paying dues to the relevant association? I don’t know. But in my experience this is a widespread attitude. I would add it is characteristic of very senior scholars as well as junior folks. I have regularly had to write to irritated but well-established colleagues at this or that top department (having sent a cursory rejection without review) to explain that, well, the problem with your paper is that it is uninteresting and poorly written. That has generated a long list of close friends! But these folks don’t seem to get that cursory also often means polite.

bq. Here at Perspectives we have bent over backwards to make the process by which we conduct our in-house review process anonymous. This adds time and administrative aggravation. But it was necessary because members of the APSA Council complained – with not a shred of evidence – that I must be rejecting papers simply on the basis of methodological or substantive aversion. In other words, I have found that the editing process is politicized in wholly unacceptable ways. (By the way, the outcomes of our in-house process before and after we made it anonymous are virtually the same.)

bq. On the other side of the ledger, we have a remarkable level of unwillingness to referee. Year-in-year-out about 40% of readers from whom we solicit reports refuse. About 20% decline (usually after repeated prompting from us) and about 20% simply never respond one way or the other.

bq. In closing, the issue here is simply one of conventional practice. There exist entire disciplines (i.e., Economics and Philosophy) that do not send all submissions out to referees. The processes by which they make these decisions differ. And they hardly are problem-free. But there is no reason why Political Science cannot follow their lead.

Any response, “Monkey Cage” readers?