Nov 272008

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 ( and the results ( that you can forward to your colleagues. Thanks again for your support. It is greatly appreciated.

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Jul 292008

Weird, sad but apparently true: at Nottingham University, a PhD student who works on islamic terrorism and an administrator were arrested (though released without charges) because they were in possession of an al-Qaeda manual downloaded from the internet. The twist: the manual was part of an MA dissertation and had been re-submitted as part of a PhD application. Now this is clandestine. THE has the full story, and boing boing has lots of comments on it. All of the sudden, the whole point of urging students to provide proper references and go back to the sources seems rather moot.

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May 022008

In a recent post, I have commented on a (now scrapped) law from the 1930s that made it technically illegal for “foreign” PhDs to use their titles in Germany. A superficially similar case concerns the German citizenship law that was first enacted in 1913 (the Empire happily existed without a concept of federal citizenship for more than four decades) and remained in force with minor amendments until 2000. At the core of this law was the idea that one cannot become German. Rather, one is German by virtue of the bloodline, i.e. by having German forefathers (the original sexist bias of the law was ameliorated in the 1970s). This is the infamous ius sanguinis. However, while the PhD regulations were half-forgotten and rarely enforced (though they provided an income for dubious lawyers), the continuity of the citizenship law after the war was clearly the result of political intent and was even enshrined in article 116 of the constitution.

While the ius sanguinis is archaic, the West German elites had two good reasons for not modernising the law. First, given that Bonn did not accept East Germany’s claim to sovereignty, meddling with the concept of citizenship was obviously dodgy. Second, West Germany considered itself a safe haven for millions of ethnic Germans who were still living in Central and Eastern Europe. Sticking with the traditional concept of citizenship kept the door wide open for these people: like in the case of refugees from East Germany, there was no need to apply for citizenship, because they were already German. Moreover, German citizenship was not exactly in high demand after the war.

One unforeseen consequence of the citizenship law was, however, that children born in Germany by foreigners remained themselves foreigners. By the 1990s, Germany had a sizeable and growing population of several million second (and third) generation foreigners, but thanks to the phenomenal inertia of Germany’s political system and their political persuasions, the Kohl-led governments of the 1980s and 1990s made only token attempts to remedy this situation. The (then new) SPD/Green government, however, came up with some rather radical reform ideas soon after it was elected in 1998. Howard’s article tells the complex and heroic tale of these reforms and the immense political backlash they created. It’s highly recommend for anyone who wants to understand the intricacies of the political battle of citizenship and immigration.

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Mar 282008

Udo Voigt, the leader of the NPD, has been charged with inciting racial hatred. During the 2006 World Cup, the party published a pamphlet that questioned the right of non-white players in the squad to represent Germany in the tournament. The NPD is the oldest amongst the three relevant extreme right parties in Germany. Founded in the early 1960s, the party was successful in a number of Land elections but could not overcome the 5 per cent threshold in the General election of 1969. For more than three decades, the party that once had tens of thousands of members and even set up its own student organisation barely survived as a political sect but played no role in electoral politics. If you can read German, here is a chapter on extremist parties and their voters with lots of fascinating details on Germany I wrote for a handbook on electoral behaviour.

Voigt was elected as party leader in 1996 and quickly modernised the party. His aggressive and dynamic stance persuaded the Federal government to apply for a ban of the party in the Federal Constitutional Court in 2003. The case was thrown out on procedural grounds, and for the first time in 40 years, the party managed to win seats in two state elections in 2004 and 2006.

However, the charges against Voigt are just the latest political blow for the party and its current leadership. After 2006, there have been no more electoral successes. Moreover, the party is involved in dubious financial transactions. The party treasurer was taken into custody in February, and the party must repay huge amounts of money it had claimed under Germany’s state-sponsored party-funding scheme. Voigt stands for re-election as party leader in May, and there might well be a leadership contest.

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Mar 202008

The basic assumptions of the theory of economic voting are very simple:

  • voters care about unemployment, inflation, and growth
  • voters blame the government for adverse economic conditions
  • voters use the ballot to punish the government.

Unfortunately, the impact of this effect is not constant over time and across countries, which is slightly embarrassing. In their recent book, van der Brug et al. do not claim that they have solved this puzzle, but they maintain that they have taken the discussion one step further. According to them, previous research has looked at the wrong variable, i.e. (dichotomous or multinomial) vote intentions. This is hardly surprising. For the last decade or so, these authors and their associates have campaigned for an alternative measure, namely the subjective probability to vote for each single party. However, their measure (which has been implemented in the European Election Studies) is not uncontroversial. First, analysts must account for the clustering of these ratings (while we might look at 4,000 or 6,000 ratings, we still have only 1,000 truly independent cases, i.e. persons). Second, if a respondent does not rate a party, is that a missing value or a zero probability? Third, comparisons across political systems (especially comparisons of two-/multiparty systems) are at least as dodgy as comparisons of the traditional variable. And finally, while counting votes/vote intentions obviously discards valuable information about the individual calculus that leads to this decision, subjective probabilities are closer to party sympathies than to real thing. Nonetheless, an interesting read.

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