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A BROADER CONCEPTION OF POLITICAL SCIENCE PUBLICITY, OR WHY I REFUSE DA-RT AND YET DID NOT SIGN THE “DELAY DA-RT” PETITION

I have served as editor in chief of Perspectives on Politics since June 2009. I have also served as an ex-officio member of the APSA Council since that time. During this time I have worked full-time, with my staff and editorial board, to enhance the intellectual quality and editorial efficiency of Perspectives, and to advocate on behalf of the values that I associate with the journal whose care is in my charge—the values of a vigorous and engaged political science public sphere.

It is only because of my editorial responsibilities that I have come to be involved in the controversy over DA-RT.

I have opposed DA-RT since October 2014, when I sent an open letter to the leaders of the DA-RT initiative, who had assembled in Ann Arbor, MI and drafted a set of principles that later became the DA-RT principles adopted by some 25-plus political science journals.

My letter was deliberately an open letter, and I shared it widely, with my own editorial board, with APSA leaders, and with a great many friends and colleagues who share my value commitments. Some, and perhaps many, of those colleagues who have called for the DA-RT delay first learned about the Ann Arbor meeting, and the DA-RT journal cartel that was taking shape, from my open letter. Since that time many colleagues have shared ideas about the meaning of DA-RT and the ways to best express concerns about it. It was the efforts of some of these colleagues to engage APSA leaders in reasoned discussion that led to a private meeting, in San Francisco, between APSA leaders and DA-RT supporters and critics. This was a productive meeting of fine scholars who are also good and well-intentioned individuals. DA-RT critics expressed their concerns. DA-RT proponents genuinely listened and engaged the concerns. The APSA leaders were pressed by a number of Council members, myself included, to clarify the precise relationship between DA-RT and APSA. It was noted that APSA staff had supported the Ann Arbor meeting, and that the APSA website had for many months featured only pro-DA-RT materials. The question was pressed: when exactly had APSA officially endorsed DA-RT? The answer was clear: APSA had never officially endorsed DA-RT. In 2012 the APSA Council had voted to approve some general professional ethics principles about the responsibilities of scholars to be honest and transparent. But these were general ethical ideas, premised on voluntary acceptance by individual scholars. The Council had never deliberated about “DA-RT,” adopted specific DA-RT principles, or endorsed changes in any journal policies on the basis of DA-RT principles.

At the San Francisco meeting these things were clarified in private conversation.

Many of us left the meeting confident about two things: (1) productive dialogue between qualitative research leaders and DA-RT proponents and affiliated journals would continue, and (2) APSA would clarify, publicly, that DA-RT was an initiative undertaken by many fine disciplinary leaders and journal editors, but it was not an APSA initiative, and APSA would promote a serious dialogue among its members about whether APSA should have an official position on DA-RT.

Weeks and months went by. No further clarification was offered.

During this time a distinguished group of our colleagues organized a letter that eventually went viral as a petition, calling for delay and further deliberation about DA-RT before any changes in editorial policies at major journals were implemented.

As John Patty pointed out in a very nasty post explaining why Journal of Theoretical Politics would ignore the petition, the petition expressed a general appeal to the editors who had signed onto the DA-RT statement for more collegial discussion, but was in fact somewhat vague about to whom it was addressed and on what basis the appeal was being made—a vagueness clearly motivated by collegiality and the desire to avoid confrontation. Patty, and a range of other DA-RT signatory editors, responded to the petition very clearly: as far as they were concerned, their journals had been participating in a conversation about DA-RT for some time, and had decided to adopt DA-RT, because DA-RT was consistent with the editorial philosophies of the journals. The petition was a collegial, and gentle request that journal editors, in general, delay DA-RT implementation pending further deliberation. Many of the key journal editors responded clearly: “NO. We have decided.”

This response was not unpredictable, and leads me to the two reasons why I did not sign the petition:

(1)       Because as a journal editor I had already publicly explained my own opposition, and I had no interest in entreating other journal editors of very different journals, and did not believe that these journals would be interested in re-thinking their convictions.

(2)       Because to me more was at stake than the editorial policies of particular journals. Of course APSR and AJPS and JTP are basically positivistic journals that mainly publish “research findings” in a normal science format, and of course they will continue to do this, and DA-RT for these journals is simply a further codification of an approach that has characterized these journals for decades. While these journals sometimes publish a few pieces of qualitative or interpretive or seriously normative work—and in recent years the APSR has tried to become more pluralistic—it is well known that they are in fact journals that publish mostly quantitative and formal work that is highly specialized and not very accessible to a broad political science readership. You doubt this? Just read any issue of one of these journals cover to cover, or try to do so. Why expect them to change now?

For me, DA-RT has always been about the fact that these journals do not exhaust the political science landscape, and do not speak “for” political science, and should not be regarded as “the best” or “the top” journals even if the people who tend to write for them are constantly citing each other and driving up their citation indices.

I’ve explained what more is at stake in my June essay in Perspectives, “For a More Public Political Science”: whether political science as a discipline will respect, value, and promote spaces of broader publicity, and forms of thinking, researching, and writing that do not correspond to conventional “normal science” research.

Perspectives on Politics is only one such space. It happens to be a “flagship” journal of the Association, and so it has special visibility and circulation and even disciplinary cache, and this matters. But the “political science public sphere” that Perspectives deliberately cultivates is linked to many other journals, blogs, associations, etc., in a complex and dense network that also involves our more positivistic “sister publications”—which will always loom large in the discipline.

I did not sign the petition because I do not want to delay DA-RT. I want to publicly articulate, and stand for, an alternative conception of political science.

DA-RT will be DA-RT.

I am interested in something bigger.

So while I sympathized with my colleagues who wished to delay DA-RT, and to try to keep those other journals open to their kinds of research, I have been focused on two other things:

First: Very publicly articulating a broader conception of political science, and reaching out to other editors and scholars who share this conception, and fortifying and even modestly expanding the space within which Perspectives on Politics and its vision can flourish (the main way that we do this is by consistently publishing first-rate research and producing very interesting issues of the journal. That is always our first priority).

Second: using my editorial authority, and my associated ex-officio membership on the APSA Council—at 8 years, I am by far the longest continuously serving member of the Council—to “represent” the interests of my journal, and my editorial board, and the many colleagues—including many of the 1000 people who signed the delay petition within days of its circulation—who want to be dedicated members of APSA but only if the association treats them and their concerns as valid.

This is why at the San Francisco meeting my main goal was not to inhibit the editorial decisions of the APSR but to persuade APSA leaders to make clear that DA-RT did not represent the “official position” of APSA.

The recent President’s letter signed by Jennifer Hochschild (who was not present at that SF meeting), David Lake, and Rodney Hero has now clarified the matter.

And the statement really demands very careful parsing.

For now, suffice it to say this: the statement goes much farther than a public expression of support for the right of APSR editors to follow through on their own commitment to DA-RT—a right that I support, for I would never support interference with the autonomy of editors.

It also explains that at least these three Presidents, speaking as APSA Presidents, support some version of DA-RT, and regard the APSR as a pioneer whose experiences with DA-RT might well be instructive (trail blazing?) for other journals including other APSA-journals.

It also does something else, with great subtlety—it speaks as if APSA has one primary journal—the APSR.

The key passage is this:

“Editors of some section journals and the APSR editors have issued guidelines for implementation (the draft APSR guidelines are here, in the section on “Data Access, Production Transparency and Analytic Transparency).” Editors of other association-wide and section journals have decided not to adopt the proposed standards at present. This variation is consistent with current practice, and it will provide useful information that will help association members evaluate innovations, address implementation problems, and assess the value of research transparency.”

Notice first that the APSR is juxtaposed with other unnamed “association-wide and section journals.” Notice second that these other journals are described as having decided “not to adopt the proposed standards at present.”

Now dear readers, in the name of empirical veracity, I share with you two facts:

(1) There are only two “association-wide” scholarly research journals—the exalted and named APSR, and the unnamed Other, a journal called Perspectives on Politics.

(2)  Perspectives on Politics has not decided “not to adopt the proposed standards at present.” It has decided to oppose the proposed standards, for now and for as long as the current, long-standing editorial vision and philosophy of the journal continue to animate the journal.

Perspectives opposes the standards in the sense that it regards these standards as antithetical to its mission and philosophy. Quite frankly, I do not regard these standards as anathema to APSR or AJPS, but in any case, I don’t care about those journals. At the same time, Perspectives could not promote the kinds of research and writing that we publish if DA-RT were enforced, and so we refuse DA-RT.

To be clear: we are committed to the highest standards of methodological seriousness and critical inquiry; we expect authors to furnish all the evidentiary support that is necessary to support their scholarly arguments, and organize a very rigorous review process in which scholarly experts evaluate whether such support is presented; and we have long encouraged our authors to include additional important evidence and “data” in online Appendices to facilitate critical engagement with their work. But this has always been encouragement and not requirement.

The three APSA Presidents offer this reason for supporting a version of DA-RT: “”Our legitimacy as scholars and political scientists in speaking to the public on issues of public concern rests in part on whether we adopt and maintain common standards for evaluating evidence-based knowledge claims.” We believe that such “common standards” have long been in force within political science, and are not in question—and thus do not require new bureaucratic requirements and enforcement mechanisms. But we also believe that DA-RT’s elevated commitment to methodological rigor does very little to advance the public relevance, credibility, or accessibility of political science, and that a discipline that was serious about public relevance, credibility, and accessibility would be less and not more obsessed with methodological purity.

Perspectives—as the APSA association-wide journal committed to a broad, pluralistic, and intellectually accessible vision of political science scholarship—thus opposes the idea that DA-RT is or ought to be normative for the discipline as a whole.

There are many political science journals that have not embraced DA-RT for principled reasons related to their own more capacious understanding of what they represent. The editors of some of these journals—World Politics, International Studies Quarterly, Politics and Society, Polity—have indeed recently joined the Perspectives editorial board. Perspectives is one journal, and its editor is one person—who has worked consistently with the support of his editorial board. At the same time, the vision of political science that Perspectives has worked hard to articulate and defend is a broad vision that encompasses many other journals and a great many scholars. I daresay, this public sphere encompasses the 1000-plus people—including some very distinguished former-Presidents of APSA—who signed the delay petition within days of its circulation, and many thousands of others that include our authors, book reviewers, article reviewers, and the many hundreds of book authors whose books we carefully commission for review every year.

I respect my colleagues who edit the APSR. John Ishiyama, the current lead editor, is a man of extraordinary integrity and long-standing discipline-wide service. I have enjoyed working with him and his colleagues. I respect their right to institute new procedures consistent with their understanding of their journal’s goals.

I respect the fact that the three APSA Presidents have supported the right of my colleagues who edit the APSR to institute new procedures. It is now for these editors, and for the Association that employs them, to figure out whether this journal can continue to have broad legitimacy in the discipline. We’ll see what they do with their new procedures, and how others respond, and how the incoming editorial team proceeds. Let the APSR be judged by its performance.

At the same time, I deeply regret that the Presidents chose to do more than this, and to take sides in a serious intellectual disagreement about what it means for political science to be a science and whether the discipline, and the Association that purports to represent all of its members, can truly support a range of perspectives on this.

To be sure, the Presidents’ statement acknowledges that “variation is consistent with current practice.” It also calls for further discussion—but not so much about DA-RT as about the autonomy of APSA journals (This commitment to “deliberation” is reiterated in a more recent “clarification”.

This is unfortunate, and also has me wondering about whose autonomy most concerns them.

The Presidents’ statement pushes DA-RT forward.

It dismisses the many who have called for delay and further deliberation (approximately thirty people decide that DA-RT needs to be instituted, over one thousand people sign onto a call for delay . . . and the Presidents respond by declaring that they support implementation of “some version of DA-RT.” Who is representing whom?)

It fails to properly recognize that APSA has two “flagship research journals,” by naming both of them, properly representing the positions of both of them, and recognizing—perhaps even endorsing?—this serious and healthy difference of perspective at the very heart of the discipline, and of APSA.

I am glad that the Presidents recognized the editorial vision and autonomy of the APSR.

I hope that the editorial vision and autonomy of Perspectives on Politics is regarded with the same solicitude, and that the value of this distinctive journal and its distinctive mission and distinctive values will be recognized and promoted as we move forward as a diverse discipline.

About Jeffrey C. Isaac

Jeffrey C. Isaac

Jeffrey C. Isaac is the James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. He has served as Editor in Chief of Perspectives on Politics since 2009, and served as Book Review Editor since 2005.

Jeffrey C. Isaac @