Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Tyranny of the Big Three In Political Science

In recent days, there has been much discussion about the so-called Big3 journals in Political Science: the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, and the Journal of Politics.  Each is the standard-bearer journal for their respective associations--the American Political Science Association, the Midwest Political Science Association and the Southern Political Science Association.

Over the years, these three journals have become seen as the most prominent journals in the discipline.  For some American universities, for the purposes of hiring, tenure and promotion, getting published at least once in one of these may be viewed as a necessary condition or a sufficient condition (along with enough other pubs) and in some places, publications only really count if they are in the big 3.

This has long been seen as problematic.  There is only so many spaces in three journals per year, so the likelihood of landing in these journals is low and especially low if one is supposed to land in them regularly.  Because these journals have traditionally been dominated by those who study American politics, the kind of stuff that gets in and the kind of stuff that does not can be quite skewed.  It is very difficult for IR or Comparative or Political Theory scholars to get published at all since there are not that many of these in any issue.  There is rarely any qualitative work, which is a problem as half of IR is still not quant (see my new piece on the basics of contemporary IR work in the major journals).  I would argue that IR scholars don't pay as much attention to these journals despite their flagship-ness, but citation patterns suggest otherwise (a quick comparison of average citations in Big 3 versus not Big3 is not close--43 vs 25)*

*  All stats here are from the Journal Article Database from the TRIP project, which I recoded for my work.  

So, back in the old days, when I was at Texas Tech, I pushed back against my colleagues who viewed one article in the Big 3 as necessary for tenure, since it seemed unfair to IR types and Comparativists and Theorists as well. Given that our department was typical, dominated by Americanists, this argument only went so far.  But we then got a new chair who was wise, who came up with a point system for all kinds of stuff AND used PS articles about journal rankings to produce a coding of journals from 5 (top) to 3 (refereed but not so special) to 1 (not refereed).  This led to not just the Big 3 as 5's (with one 5 being necessary but not sufficient for tenure) but also International Organization, Comparative Politics and Comparative Political Studies, Political Theory, Public Administration Review and a couple of others as well.

Anyhow, the tyranny of the Big 3 has become a twitter topic this week because of two developments:
  1. the Editor of AJPS, Bill Jacoby, was not only accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, but then he used the website to defend himself (while stepping down).  The Midwest PSA was most upset, and now as they work on an interim team, the journal is on hiatus.  This is a problem for all those folks who need a Big3 piece in the next couple of years.  Hopefully, the hiatus will be short, but as my friend, Sara Mitchell, has indicated, revising and resubmitting a piece as editorial teams turn over can be problematic.  She actually times her work to not submit to places at the end of their terms.  She is smart.  Anyhow, the punchline for this is 1/3 of the Big3 is offline, which is a bad thing for those with relatively short time horizons--junior faculty.
  2. The new APSR came out, and it had only one article written by a woman and about twenty written by men or male teams.  Which suggests that there might be problems--biased editorial team, biased reviewers, perceived bias that causes women not to submit, or something else.  
Whatever is going on with APSR, one leak in the pipeline for women to become associate and full professors may be this need for a Big3 piece.  Taking a quick look at the data I have on hand produces this table:

This exaggerates a small but significant difference but in a good way--that 13% of the IR articles in the Big3 journals are written by women and 16% of articles in the major journals in IR ( World Politics, International Studies Quarterly, Journal of Conflict Resolution,  International Security, International Organization, British Journal of Political Science, European Journal of International Relations, Security Studies and Journal of Peace Research.  See this piece that probably explains the choices better than I can). Because there are so many more article slots in these other journals, a small but real difference in female authors leads to many more articles published by women in the non-Big3.  

Anyhow, what is the point of this blog post?  That one of the benefits of being in Canada is that Americanists rarely exist and their narrow views of the discipline don't dominate tenure decisions?  Maybe.  That focusing on a very narrow set of journals might let either idiosyncratic factors (an editor who might be a sexual harasser or a short period where a journal is on hiatus) or systematic but narrowly applied biases (the quant focus of the Big3) have a significant impact on women getting tenure.  Perhaps.  To be honest, Canada has a leaky pipeline problem, too, but does not privilege these big three.  Pubs in the Big 3 help, of course, but their absence will not hurt a candidate like it might in an American department where those who study American politics tend to dominate.  

Of course, as others have mentioned, rather than focusing purely on bean-counting--numbers of pubs in the Big3, numbers of citations--perhaps people should read the damn files and figure out what people's intellectual contributions are and move on from there.  

And, yes, I am writing this post because I have long been annoyed at the tyranny of the Big 3 (even though I have the one pub so I am tenurable, I guess).  Your mileage, of course, may vary.

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