Archive for the ‘academia’ Category
A few weeks ago, I suggested that we could speed up reviews by having “multiple submission” in sociology. Submit to as many journals as you want, when you want. Here is a draft of a petition for the ASA:
“Academic journals are central to the discipline of sociology. Our journals disseminate research and direct debate. The modern journal system in sociology has a draw back: it can take years for articles to be accepted for publication. Authors submit manuscripts to a journal and wait months, sometimes years, for a reply. Some journals prefer a system of extensive revision so that years can pass between initial submission and final decision.
“We petition the ASA to institute ‘multiple submission’ as a policy for its journals. Modeled on the journal system in some other disciplines, the idea is simple. An author may submit to as many ASA journals as desired. Editors then manage peer review in the way they see fit. Upon receiving reviews, they offer an invitation for revision or acceptance for publication. If an author receives more than one offer of acceptance, they will contact other journals to determine if other editors are interested in the manuscript.
“The ASA has a flagship journal, the American Sociological Review. We recognize that the ASA has an interest in highlighting the most compelling research in this venue. We suggest that the American Sociological Review retain a ‘right of first refusal.’ If a paper is submitted to the ASR and any other ASA journal, then the author has an obligation to inform the editors of the ASR and give them the option to publish the paper.
“Multiple submission exists in the world of law journals and a modified form exists in many physical sciences. It works – publishable articles can be accepted within a year, or less, rather than multiple years. This proposal is simple and easy to implement. Thank you for your consideration.”
Purpose: Keep proposal simple and direct. Add your revisions in the comments.
The blog CWTS has a post that uses bibliometric data to map how quantitative and qualitative research segregates in sociology:
Perhaps we can conclude from this small foray into the quantitative-qualitative divide that particular research topics are often confined to one method. A qualitative approach yields a richer, thicker description, and embeds an analysis in a wider context. At the same time, it may trigger questions that require a more quantitative answer, which in turn may require again a more qualitative analysis. We may thus continuously switch between qualitative and quantitative methods. Rather than trying to integrate the two, which is for example promoted under the heading of mixed methods, we should perhaps mostly keep challenging both views from the other perspective. We should not be blind to the challenges posed by the other perspective, but accept that the other perspective can supplement and nuance our conclusions, rather than invalidate them. Fortunately, when looking at the distribution of publications in journals, some of the more general journals, such as American Sociological Review and American Journal of Sociology do include publications from both perspectives (although the quantitative perspective seems more present). More specialised journals, such as Cultural Sociology and Social Forces, mainly focus on respectively qualitative and quantitative research. At least, there are some common fora for discussion, but there is room for improvement.
One of the main problems of scholarly publishing is that it takes too long. One reason is that there is simply no competition for articles. Since journals have a “single submission” policy, you are giving each journal a monopoly right to your publishing until they have the time to reject your paper. Not surprisingly, journals treat you like garbage. Personally, I once had an editor lose a paper twice (!), papers rejected after editors appoint entirely new reviewers, endless demands for revision from editors who won’t structure the revision process, and so forth. I can take rejections, but don’t string me around. You are wasting my time if there isn’t a decent chance you will take my paper.
I think there is one simple way to improve the journal process: abolish the “single submission” rule. In other words, submit the paper to as many journals you want at the same time until you get an accept. If multiple journals offer to publish, then you choose where it goes.
A while back I suggested this and people responded in a negative manner. But consider this:
- You can submit applications to as many colleges as you want.
- You can submit applications to as many grad programs you want.
- You can submit applications for as many jobs as you want.
- You can submit funding applications to as many agencies as you want.
- You can submit book manuscripts to as many publishers as you want.
And they all work. The system does not break down. In all cases, you simply negotiate multiple offers if they happen and choose one.
The only reasonable objection is that reviewers may be overloaded. That is a response with a simple answer. If a reviewer is asked to review a paper more than once, they either decline the review (clicking a link in an email) or clip and paste the old review. If you are worried that journal editors will be overloaded, you can add some simple restrictions to lighten the load. For example, authors can only submit one paper every six months. Or if a paper is accepted, you can’t submit for another six months. Perhaps the simplest solution is a submission fee, which is used in many fields. In other words, reviewer overload is easy to solve. Journal overload is also quite solvable. There is no reason to maintain single submission and its abolition will quickly improve academic journal publishing.
In a story full of neglect and willful ignorance, there are a few heroes. One is Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Flint pediatrician and Michigan State professor who raised the alarm with data on kids’ blood-lead levels from the local hospital. Another is Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech environmental engineer who took on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality after a Flint resident sent him a lead-rich water sample for testing.
Hanna-Attisha and Edwards provide shining examples of how academics can use science to hold the powers-that-be accountable and make meaningful change.
Taking on the status quo is hard. But as Edwards discusses in the Chronicle, it’s becoming ever-harder to do that from within universities:
I am very concerned about the culture of academia in this country and the perverse incentives that are given to young faculty. The pressures to get funding are just extraordinary. We’re all on this hedonistic treadmill — pursuing funding, pursuing fame, pursuing h-index — and the idea of science as a public good is being lost….What faculty person out there is going to take on their state, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?…When was the last time you heard anyone in academia publicly criticize a funding agency, no matter how outrageous their behavior? We just don’t do these things….Everyone’s invested in just cranking out more crap papers.
When faculty defend academic freedom, tenure is often the focus. And certainly tenure provides one kind of protection for scientists like Hanna-Attisha (though she doesn’t yet have it) or Edwards who want to piss off the powerful.
But as this interview — and you should really read the whole thing — makes clear, tenure isn’t the only element of the academic ecosystem that allows people to speak out. Scientists can’t do their work without research funding, or access to data. When funders have interests — whether directly economic, as when oil and gas companies fund research on the environmental impacts of fracking, or more organizational, as when environmental agencies just don’t want to rock the boat — that affects what scientists can do.
So in addition to tenure, a funding ecosystem that includes multiple potential sources and that excludes the most egregiously self-interested will encourage independent science.
But beyond that, we need to defend strong professional cultures. Hanna-Attisha emphasizes how the values of medicine both motivated her (“[T]his is what matters. This is what we do … This is why we’re here”) and prompted her boss’s support (“Kids’ health comes first”), despite the “politically messy situation” that might have encouraged the hospital’s silence. Edwards lectures his colleagues about “their obligation as civil engineers to protect the public” and says, “I didn’t get in this field to stand by and let science be used to poison little kids.”
Intense economic pressures, though, make it hard to protect such this kind of idealism. As market and financial logics come to dominate institutions like hospitals and universities, professional values gradually erode. It takes a concerted effort to defend them when everything else encourages you to keep your head down and leave well enough alone.
Promoting academic independence isn’t without its downsides. Scientists can become solipsistic, valuing internal status over real-world impact and complacently expecting government support as their due. The balance between preserving a robust and independent academic sector and ensuring scientists remain accountable to the public is a delicate one.
But if I have to choose between two risks—that science might be a bit insular and too focused on internal incentives, or that the only supporters of science have a one-sided interest in how the results turn out—I’ll take the first one every time.
Over at Statistical Modelling, Andrew Gelman makes a very sensible point about peer review: it is as only as good as your peers. Why do psychologists worship p-values? Because they approve it in peer review. A few choice quotes:
In short, if an entire group of peers has a misconception, peer review can simply perpetuate error. We’ve seen this a lot in recent years, for example that paper on ovulation and voting was reviewed by peers who didn’t realize the implausibility of 20-percentage-point vote swings during the campaign, peers who also didn’t know about the garden of forking paths. That paper on beauty and sex ratio was reviewed by peers who didn’t know much about the determinants of sex ratio and didn’t know much about the difficulties of estimating tiny effects from small sample sizes.
To put it another way, peer review is conditional. Papers in the Journal of Freudian Studies will give you a good sense of what Freudians believe, papers in the Journal of Marxian Studies will give you a good sense of what Marxians believe, and so forth. This can serve a useful role. If you’re already working in one of these frameworks, or if you’re interested in how these fields operate, it can make sense to get the inside view. I’ve published (and reviewed papers for) the journal Bayesian Analysis. If you’re anti-Bayesian (not so many of theseanymore), you’ll probably think all these papers are a crock of poop and you can ignore them, and that’s fine.
Read the whole thing.
The most recent DuBois Review has a really interesting article about how social movements push for legal change and how that fights changes the field of advocacy groups. Ellen Berrey’s “Making a Civil Rights Claim for Affirmative Action” is a historical review of how one University of Michigan student group fought for affirmative action and how that changed the other organizations at Michigan that were involved in racial student politics:
The politics of affirmative action are currently structured as a litigious conflict among elites taking polarized stances. Opponents call for colorblindness, and defenders champion diversity. How can marginalized activists subvert the dominant terms of legal debate? To what extent can they establish their legitimacy? This paper advances legal mobilization theory by analytically foregrounding the field of contention and the relational production of meaning among social movement organizations. The case for study is two landmark United States Supreme Court cases that contested the University of Michigan’s race-conscious admissions policies. Using ethnographic data, the paper analyzes BAMN, an activist organization, and its reception by other affirmative action supporters. BAMN had a marginalized allied-outsider status in the legal cases, as it made a radical civil rights claim for a moderate, elite-supported policy: that affirmative action corrects systemic racial discrimination. BAMN activists pursued their agenda by passionately defending and, at once, critiquing the university’s policies. However, the organization’s militancy remained a liability among university leaders, who prioritized the consistency of their diversity claims. The analysis forwards a scholarly understanding of the legacy of race-conscious policies.
Great addition to the literature on student mobilization.