Nine Circles of (Social) Scientific Hell

A friend sent me the link to this very short article in Perspectives on Psychological Science that use precious journal space to highlight a lot of rather disturbing parallels between (social) science and Dante’s Inferno in creative ways. It would seem that we are all sinners, which, on second thought, is hardly news. For once, the article is not behind a pay-wall which reminds me of a glaring omission in the piece: there is no mention of the 99 extra circles reserved for predatory publishers.

Guttenberg-Gate: When Politics and Science Collide

The story has now been picked up by just about every news outlet on the planet: A German law professor was supposed to review a monograph on European constitutional law for a learned journal. He soon discovered that various pages were not properly referenced, to says the least. The twist: This monograph is based on Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg’s PhD thesis. And that man happens to be the German defence minister. The review has not yet been published, but the proofs have been leaked. From what you can read there, you would think that the minister cannot have been in his right mind.

While this is a scientific debate, the internet has of course exploded. I’m not sure how far we can trust the wisdom of the crowd, but it would seem that even the introduction bears an uncanny resemblance with some old editorials and even an essay by an anonymous student, all readily available online. That looks very bad.

But do normal people care? How can you explain that copying text verbatim is very bad while copying text verbatim and adding a name, a year and a page is absolutely ok? How can you explain that rephrasing someone else’s ideas and adding a name, year and page is even better?

Another, not totally unrelated question: If the rules of academia are so opaque to normal people, why is so much social status attached to a doctorate? Why should people who have no ambition to do research (inside or outside academia) strive for a higher degree?

At any rate, zu Guttenberg has done a lot of harm to German science: too many of us have already wasted too much of our time, er, researching the affair on facebook and twitter instead of producing stuff that could at least potentially be plagiarised.

Another War Story from the Blind Review Process

Almost exactly three years ago, a major political science journal asked me to review a manuscript. I recommended to reject the paper on the grounds that a) its scope was extremely limited and b) that it largely ignored the huge body of existing political science literature on its topic. The editors followed my suggestion (presumably, the other reviewers did not like the piece either). A couple of days ago, an obscure national journal sent me the very same (though slightly updated and upgraded) manuscript review. Is this sad or funny? How often did they authors have to downgrade their ambitions for finding a decent outlet in the process? And how common is this?

Thanks to the all new, all shiny political science peer-review survey, there is at least an answer to the last question: about 30 per cent of our respondents say that they would submit a rejected manuscript to a less prestigious journal. But what really strikes me is the proportion of reviewers who have reviewed (and rejected?) the same manuscript for at least two different journals: 29 per cent. This squares nicely with my personal experience (sometimes I seem to hit the same wall twice or more) and points to the fact that political science is a small world. Too small perhaps.

The survey is still open, so if your are an active political scientist, please, please participate and share your experience with us! We will publish preliminary results of the peer review survey online and will eventually put the data into the public domain.

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The Political Science Peer-Review Survey

If you edit, review or author manuscripts for political science journals, the peer-review process is at the centre of your professional life. Unfortunately, for most of us the process is largely a black box. While everyone has heard (or lived through) tales from the trenches, there is very little hard evidence on how the process actually works. This is why a number of colleagues and I started the peer-review survey project that aims at collecting information on the experience of authors, reviewers and editors of political science journals.


If you are an active political scientist, this survey is for you: we need your expertise, and your input is greatly appreciated. Filling in the form is fun and will typically take less than ten minutes of your time. It is also a great way to release some steam 🙂
Ready? Then proceed to the Political Science Peer-Review Survey.

We also put some (very) preliminary results of the political science peer-review survey online and will release further findings and eventually the data set in the future.

If you think this is worthwhile (and who wouldn’t?), please spread the word. To make this easier, we have created short URL for the survey (http://tinyurl.com/peer-review-survey) and the results (http://tinyurl.com/peer-review-results) that you can forward to your colleagues. Thanks again for your support. It is greatly appreciated.

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