Reviewing an Editor’s Reviewing Peer Review

Sara Mitchell over at the Political Methodologist writes a great piece on peer review with many notes of wisdom that do not necessarily have anything to do with peer review.  Much of it borders more on career advice for both Senior and Junior faculty.

I just have a few notes that were about to become a very long Facebook post that my family has no need to see.

1. Going for a books versus articles is a matter of preference and field. Given that I have moved over (or back to) strategic studies mostly, books are more important and articles at top outlets are often ignored, if not rejected out of hand as biased for one method over others. Of course there are examples where this does not happen, but overall there is a preference for the full book in terms of citations and additions to graduate reading lists. Field matters for this issue.

Yes, some book publishers can make the peer review process very easy. For me, the process at Oxford was tougher than even CUP, which was not anticipated. Oxford had our complete book go through two rounds of review plus, at the end, it was sent to someone the editor knew would be extremely critical. This really helped the final output, but it was tougher than anything else I have done before.

The toughness of the review process can be really benefit an article and this should be taken into account. I always enjoy seeing a good piece with a footnote thanking three or four reviewers while less outstanding pieces might only note one or two reviews. If I were making a journal ranking metric, quality of the review process would be high on the list of things that matter.

2. For journals, outlets matter. Know your audience. I am less enticed now by a Top 3 pub (APSR, AJPS, JOP) then in expanding my audience by hitting places like Security Studies, Journal of Strategic Studies, and International Security, or even going beyond the Top 3 and hitting someplace like PNAS, an overall Top 3 journal. The Top 3 is just the Top 3 for Political Science, there is much more out there. This becomes important if you move to places where there is much control for promotion by people external to your department.

Blogging really helps you realize the audience issue, at some point there is a wall where you are talking to the same people over and over again. Writing for the Duck full time was great, but writing for FA, War on the Rocks, the Conversation, and CFR Net Politics can do more in terms of expanding who reads and comments on my work. I think that should be the point, articles clearly matter for tenure but once you move beyond that what is the point of hitting JPR for the 15th time? Where is the risk and novelty in that? Certainly it might be important if a co-author is junior, but in the end, higher is always better.

3. I have made the point about robustness checks before, and have gotten in trouble for it. It is a problem in our field and things still remain out of hand. I refuse to read appendices attached to journal articles I review and as a reviewer, you should never suggest anything that either would not improve the paper nor actually make its way into the paper.

The whole point of a journal article is a break your work into a readable, professional, and technical piece of work that hits about 10,000 words. If you can’t do that, you are not doing it right. If you want to say more, that is what books are for.

4. I love the call for more data on reviewing communities. This has always been a problem, or a source of support, depending on the field. What sorts of networks positively and negatively review articles and what are their dynamics? I think we can all speculate on this, but we need information and data.

5. This leads to my final point. I really thank Dr. Mitchell for noting that we need to be concerned with both women and minority communities in the peer review process. In my time in this field, I have always noted that externally these communities are marginalized, but also paradoxically they are often attacked internally. The fights within these groups over such things are experience, respect, and “fighting the good fight” spill over into research and can justify making poor choices that do not help junior scholars. That should be the goal, that was the entire point of the fight in the first place. If we do not support the marginalized and voiceless, who will? Some journals are doing some great things to help on this front (recruitment, help with English), but there always can be more and often it is required of the community internally.  Journals need to do more to recognize the biases that preclude some important research from making it to print.

  • One minor correction of interest: Sara’s piece was published in The Political Methodologist.