I was recently reflecting on Political Science as a discipline as I attended APSA along with many of you this past week. In particular, I had many discussions surrounding the seeming impossibility of placing certain articles in certain top journals compared to the relative ease of placing otherwise-comparable articles, but in different subfields or with well-known co-authors in similar journals. In the interests of full disclosure, I would like to note that I also do not have any publications in top-3 Political Science journals. John Conley’s recent study in Economics (here) shows how journal acceptance rates are dropping, whereas submission rates are rising. This is to be expected based on the increasing number of Economics Ph. D.s relative to the reasonably static number of top journals in which to publish. Yet, many journals have not increased the number of articles they publish, either, thus driving down their acceptance rates—perhaps needlessly.
The acceptance rate of top Political Science journals is low (here) while acceptance rates over time and information about the review process in general can be difficult to track down- by design in many cases. As Yoder and Bramlett (2011) argue, the lack of transparency among top journals makes evaluation of scholarly activity more difficult and may also preclude appropriate journal submission strategies on the part of researchers. Yoder and Bramlett find multi-authored papers have greater chances of getting accepted in their case study of American Politics Research, possibly because of the increased chances of acceptance associated with placing a well-known scholar or at least a tenured professor on a paper. The authors do not have the information to test this directly, but I’m not holding my breath for top journals to become less selective in the near future. This is because correctly or not, many consider low acceptance rates a mark of high journal quality and or quality of scholarship within that journal (Lee et al. 2002). Journals who want to maintain their reputation may not be able to afford expanding the pool of accepted articles, should they otherwise meet journal standards, because of the potential loss of prestige awarded to selective journals.
However, this posture is unnecessary and ultimately bad for Political Science scholarship. All of the top journals in Economics and Political Science are now published online. Furthermore, most scholars now find articles these journals publish online—oftentimes a year or more before the journal actually goes to press. Maintaining a constant absolute level of accepted publications is no longer necessary in most cases based on physical space in journals or on the patterns of reader access. This constant absolute acceptance level is not desirable either because it delays unnecessarily the publication of strong scholarship that probably would have been accepted in the recent past.
It also generates the very-real risk of self-selection away from the top journals. The effective acceptance rate at journals is probably much lower than reported, given that many scholars do not submit their articles to journals for fear of lengthy reviews followed by rejections.
Co-authoring to share submission risk is one solution to declining acceptance rates. Authors can place their names on more articles, while spending less individual time on each article (assuming an equal division of labor among authors). For the APSR, it is not clear adding co-authors will increase acceptance rates (Sigelman 2009). However, the point is not to necessarily increase acceptance rates with co-authors, but to increase the number of possible papers with one’s name on them and thus the chance that one of them will land at a top journal. It seems many scholars are taking advantage of this strategy. For example, the number of co-authored papers in Political Science has increased over time (Fisher et al. 1998), even if we only suspect journal acceptance rates have decreased over that same timeframe.
The problem then is how to evaluate such papers in Political Science. Anecdotally, I still hear complaints that many Political Science departments believe a solo-article should be worth twice as much as a co-authored article, which, in turn, should be worth twice as much as a paper with four authors. Yet solo-authored pieces may be inefficient— perhaps damagingly so—if the goal is to place a paper in a top-tiered journal and achieve tenured status. Prior to my research for this post, I would have held up co-authored papers as more or less equivalent to solo papers simply because, in my experience, it’s often more work for each co-author when one must accommodate a co-author’s concerns. I think those papers are often better for the extra set of eyes, in my experience, as well, which might account for their greater rate of acceptance in American Politics Research. I do see, at the very least, an anecdotal trend in favor of counting co-authored pieces similarly to solo pieces as the generational turnover continues in Political Science. Assuming your department does treat co-authored papers well, the strategy should then be to author more papers with more people— especially established scholars—if the goal is to place those papers in the top journals. The question of journal ranking and resulting credit relative to other measures of scholarly or practical impact will have to wait for another post.
Conley, J. P. (2012). Low acceptance rates, commercial publishing, and the future of scholarly communication. Economics Bulletin, 32(4).
Fisher, Bonnie S., Craig T. Cobane, Thomas M. Vander Ven, and Francis T. Cullen.1998. “How Many Authors Does It Take to Publish an Article? Trends andPatterns in Political Science.” PS: Political Science and Politics 31 (4): 847–56.
Lee, Kirby P., M. Schotland, P. Bacchetti, and L. A. Bero. 2002. “Association ofJournal Quality Indicators with Methodological Quality of Clinical ResearchArticles.” JAMA 287 (21): 2,805–08
Sigelman, Lee. 2009. “Are Two (or Three or Four . . . or Nine) Heads Better than One?Collaboration, Multidisciplinarity, and Publishability.” PS: Political Science andPolitics 42 (3): 507–12.
Yoder, S., & Bramlett, B. H. (2011). What Happens at the Journal Office Stays at the Journal Office: Assessing Journal Transparency and Record-Keeping Practices. PS: Political Science & Politics, 44(02), 363-373.