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Lee Was a Fan of Meatloaf

- December 24, 2009

This is really a post about Lee as editor. The meaning of the title will be apparent momentarily.

Eric Lawrence talked earlier about Lee’s willingness and diligence as an informal editor of faculty manuscripts. My first experience with Lee in this regard was no less traumatic than Eric’s. I gave Lee a woolly version of what became this article. He gave it back to me and said that he could only get through the first 7 of what was maybe 40 pages.

Yikes. This was because the paper violated Lee’s Law of Introductions. It states that introductions do two things: (1) state the research question and (2) state why this is an important question to answer. And that is all. The introduction of my draft, however, was like some second-grader’s primitive collage: a little bit on the question, some literature review, a brief discussion of data, a preview of findings, and that annoying paragraph where people say “In the next section, we do this. After that, we do this other thing. In the conclusion, we conclude.” In other words, it was like the introduction of most scholarly articles. Lee cured me of writing this sort of introduction. My work is better for it.

Of course, Lee’s editing didn’t end there. He was fiendish about writing, as Erik noted in his post. I was always embarrassed to get back drafts full of his penciled changes. Some of these were a bit idiosyncratic: “although” replaced “though,” “since” was not a synonym for “because.” Others could not be argued with. Everything I write from now on will be that much more unwieldy.

Lee’s abilities as an editor went much beyond copy-editing, however. His tenure at the _American Political Science Review_ deserves special mention. When Lee took the helm, the APSR had been criticized for, among other things, focusing too much on research that relied on quantitative analysis and/or formal models. There was really a lot of acrimony surrounding the journal, and in political science generally (a brief summary is here).

Lee took the helm and, by all accounts, righted the ship. Lee became the editor of the APSR in the fall of 2001. In 2002 and again in 2007, James Garand, Michael Giles, and colleagues conducted surveys of political scientists that measured their opinions of various scholarly journals. Here is what Garand et al. found in over this five-year period, which nearly perfectly capture Lee’s tenure as editor:

bq. It is particularly interesting to note that the previous evaluation of the American Political Science Review reported by Garand and Giles (2003) was considerably lower than that reported in Table 2. In the 2002 survey, the APSR was ranked seventeenth in terms of its evaluation by American political scientists; for many political scientists this was a shockingly low mean evaluation for what is generally viewed as the flagship journal of the discipline. However, in these results based on our 2007 survey, the APSR is ranked first in terms of its mean evaluation. Perhaps the relatively lower ranking in 2002 reflected criticisms of the APSR that prevailed at the time among some political scientists, most notably the adherents to the Perestroika movement within the political science discipline.

I’m sure that Lee’s tenure was not without its controversies. But I think his impact — and that of the staff and editorial board who he was quick to credit — is obvious.

I had only one interaction with Lee as APSR editor. What I remember most is his second letter, offering my co-author and me conditional acceptance of the revised mansucript, based on this assessment:

bq. All three reviewers consider the revised version of your paper to be a substantial improvement upon the original. Two of the reviewers now endorse publication…However, one reviewer…perceives that only some of the concerns that s/he expressed and the suggestions that s/he offered for allaying these concerns were acted upon…The reviewer, then, recommends that the paper be rejected.

bq. Where does that leave us? In the words of the philosopher Meatloaf, two out of three ain’t bad.

And thereafter followed instructions to revise the paper in light of the third reviewer’s concerns.[1]

Whatever problems we all have with scholarly journals, I think it is incontrovertible that those problems would be noticeably ameliorated if more editor’s letters included quotes from Meatloaf.

Lee, I’ll say it again: we miss you.

fn1. Lee also wrote:

bq. And while you’re at it: The paper is still long. Shorten it.