Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Is There Anybody Out There?

. Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Will takes journalists to task for failing to embrace IR scholarship. In doing so, he jumps on board the current "why don't journalists take us seriously" whinge sparked by last week's APSA panel. Absent from this discussion is the recognition that journalists are hardly the only people to ignore political science scholarship. Don't take my word for it; listen to a former editor of the APSR:
"Most of the articles that have appeared in the Review since its inception in 1906 have rarely if ever been cited...[B]y the end of 2005, some 155 Review articles had been cited 100 or more times, and one...had been cited more than 500 times...By comparison, more than twice as many articles in The American Sociology Review...had topped the 100 citations and a score had surpassed the 500 mark. This interdisciplinary difference, which is especially striking because political science is a much larger discipline than sociology, appears for the most part to be a manifestation of the attention that sociological research receives from outside of sociology--a phenomenon less apparent in political science. It is the very rare Review article that has become a standard point of reference or an object of encompassing interest for those in other disciplines, consistent with the image of political science as a "borrower" discipline theoretically and methodologically."*
The problem thus extends beyond "why don't journalists pay attention to us." Our fellow social sciences don't pay attention to us either (and only 155 articles with 100 + cites in 100 years suggests we are not really paying all that much attention to each other's research either). As a result, political science runs a massive intellectual trade deficit with other social and behavioral sciences. All importing and no exporting can't be healthy for the discipline in the long run.

And the failure to export can't be laid entirely at the feet of the consumer. Say's Law may be unfashionable, and perhaps the problem really is one of aggregate demand (or information about the product) as Will suggests. But I can't help but think that research with social value gets noticed. So, rather than calling journalists names, perhaps we might consider whether the lack of attention the media pay to IR and IPE scholarship conveys meaningful information about the product being supplied?

*Lee Sigelman. 2006. "The "American Political Science Review" Citation Classics," The American Political Science Review 100 (4): 667.
For the curious, the ASR produced 379 articles with 100 or more citations, and 18 articles with 500 or more citations (see Jerry A. Jacobs. 2005. "The ASR's Greatest Hits," The American Sociological Review 70 (1): 1-3.


Emmanuel said...

It's good you're trying to calm your boy down since I often end up having to do so myself ;-) Seriously, though, we need to improve awareness of political science in general and IPE in particular in (a) general readership and (b) academic readership.

(a) For the general readership, it's a matter of better marketing. Certainly, we won't get anywhere calling others "uneducated" [?!] Rather, political science needs a better understanding of marketing. Universities trumpet the achievements of research scientists. Meanwhile, smarter social scientists have a knack for working with journalists to make their work known to a wider audience. Though I'm not a fan of Freakonomics, think of how the NYT's Dubner linked up with Chicago's Levitt; the rest is history.

It is not up to journalists to "discover" political science but the other way around. While blogging does expose us to a wider audience, let's be realistic here: our audience is comparatively minuscule. Even if I'm not fond of the ideas behind them, we need to have snappier terms once more like "End of History" and "Clash of Civilizations" that capture public imagination.

(b) For the academic readership, Benjamin Cohen has written about economistic mid-level theory resulting in lower political science interest--especially IPE. Economics has physics envy, but we are even lower on the totem pole if we have economics envy. How do we gain an audience regurgitating other's stuff?

I myself don't regularly submit to political science outlets since readership there is declining. OTOH, there is a lot of interesting stuff going on in business studies, geography, sociology, and other fields which would have appeared in political science before. The core political science area is undoubtedly on the wane, but that's not to say other outlets aren't keen on our work. Once more, we need to broaden our options. IPE is supposed to be interdisciplinary.

Just my 5c worth.

Kindred Winecoff said...

I thought this was a good post too, esp the trade deficit part. I agree that there's a supply-side issue here in both strict terms -- journals are hard for lots of non-academics to access -- and loose terms -- many people find much of the work we do inaccessible.

I have to admit that I was surprised by the APSR stats. It just doesn't make sense to me. I wonder if it has something to do with APSR? Two of Thomas' papers alone have more than 100 cites, and another could get there, but none were published in APSR. A quick sample of other big IR names (Frieden, BdM, etc.) indicates that many of them have quite a few 100+ cited articles. Most of them were published in IO or some other journal.

I generally agree with Emmanuel, although I stand by the "uneducated" claim. Most journalists (and common readers) simply do not have a strong IR understanding. The inability to understand basic deterrence theory is evidence of this, as Farley wrote in a recent Lawyers, Guns, and Money post. There's nothing especially shameful in this -- journalists can't be experts on everything -- but it should make them more humble when it comes to foreign policy reporting.

I definitely think we should be marketing our work better, although the historical stats suggest that this isn't a problem with 21st century American IPE so much as it is a broader problem in poli-sci, and always has been. I wouldn't be surprised if my post on Basel III -- which was linked to by Felix Salmon b/c I pointed it to him on Twitter -- gets more readers *today* than Thomas and I's paper on the same topic does in its total lifespan. (It's also gotten hits from several government offices and a number of major universities.)

I'm really quite surprised that nobody's written an "Armchair Economist" type popular book called "Everything You Know About Politics Is Wrong". Seems like low-hanging fruit. Maybe a Dubner/Gladwell-type will come along one of these days and do it.

I truly think that there's a lot of knowledge there for journalists to glean. I know Thomas is down on the state of poli-sci in general, and both of you hate on American IPE especially right now, but it's not as if economics is in especially great shape right now.

I seem to remember a post at Orgtheory complaining about the lack of impact in sociology too, but I can't find it now so maybe I invented it. Anyway, I imagine every discipline complains about this stuff to greater or lesser degree.

Thomas Oatley said...

The citation counts come from the ISI Social Sciences Citation Index, which is much less inclusive than Google Scholar and Publish and Perish.

Is There Anybody Out There?




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