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Is Blogging Unscholarly?

January 29, 2014

Update: The International Studies Association has tabled the new policy to gather more feedback.

The political science blogosphere has erupted in protest after the International Studies Association unveiled a proposal to bar members affiliated with its scholarly journal from doing just that -- blogging.

“No editor of any ISA journal or member of any editorial team of an ISA journal can create or actively manage a blog unless it is an official blog of the editor’s journal or the editorial team’s journal,” the proposal reads. “This policy requires that all editors and members of editorial teams to apply this aspect of the Code of Conduct to their ISA journal commitments. All editorial members, both the Editor in Chief(s) and the board of editors/editorial teams, should maintain a complete separation of their journal responsibilities and their blog associations.”

The Governing Council of the ISA, which consists of about 50 voting members, will debate the proposal the day before the association’s annual meeting in Toronto on March 25. Should the council adopt the proposal, it would impact five journals: International Studies Quarterly, International Studies Review, International Studies Perspectives, Foreign Policy Analysis and International Political Sociology, as well as International Interactions, which the association co-sponsors. 

“I think it’s a really strange proposal in 2014,” said Stephen M. Saideman, a professor at Carleton University in Canada and one of many political science scholars who assailed the policy on social media. “I would have expected it in 2006.”

Faculty members, several outside the field of international studies, said the proposal is simultaneously too broad and too narrow. Some pointed out that, as written, the proposal could be interpreted to include not only each journal’s core team of editors, but also its dozens of advisers and board members (International Political Sociology, for example, lists 118 members). Others questioned why the policy singled out blogs without mentioning other forms of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Others yet predicted the policy will be rejected. "I cannot see how this can be a viable long-term policy,” said Daniel W. Drezner, professor of international politics at Tufts University. Drezner, a prominent blogger in the early 2000s, found himself the center of a debate on academic blogging when he was rejected for tenure at the University of Chicago in 2005. (Some feared he lost tenure for being a blogger, but without giving up his blogging, Drezner quickly landed a top job elsewhere.) Of the policy, he said, "at best, it’s draconian, and at worst, an infringement of academic freedom."

Saideman said he will lobby members of the General Council in the weeks leading up to the annual meeting. “There’s still a segment of academia that doesn’t engage in any kind of social media,” he said. “They don’t really have an idea what’s out there. The people who are out there find this appalling, because they know this is a way people can communicate.”

Harvey Starr, the University of South Carolina professor who serves as the association’s president, said in an email that the proposal, if passed, would strengthen the organization’s Code of Conduct.

“Often the sort of ‘professional environment’ we expect our members to promote is challenged by the nature of the presentations and exchanges that often occur on blogs,” Starr wrote. “The proposed policy is one response, not to blogs per se, but to issues that can arise with people confusing the personal blogs of the editors of ISA journals with the editorial policies for their journals. This proposal is trying to address that possible confusion.”

Some faculty members wondered if the proposal is a response to a controversy last summer on the blog The Duck of Minerva, when contributor Brian Rathbun wrote that professional networking made him feel like "an ugly slut who no one even wanted to sleep with." The blog was created by Georgetown University professor Daniel H. Nexon, who last fall became editor of International Studies Quarterly. Nexon declined to comment for this article.

Starr said the proposal is not a response to a specific incident, “but several observations on the nature of comments on various blogs that raise questions about ‘professional responsibility’ and ‘dignity and respect.’ The idea was to create a policy before we had to respond to any single or particular egregious incident.”

The move to limit more informal means of communication runs counter to a movement within the political science discipline to rethink how scholars can engage with the public, said John Sides, associate professor at George Washington University. The American Political Science Association has for years debated how to strategically communicate the worth of its scholars’ research, he said -- a conversation that has grown more urgent in light of Congress voting to bar the National Science Foundation from funding political science research not related to national security or economic interests. The funding was later restored.

“In the broader political science community, there’s probably going to be more encouragement of something like blogging,” Sides said. “It’s not the only form of public engagement, but it’s part of it. To tell editors to back off from that seems to be swimming in the opposite direction.”

Sides, while not an international studies scholar, is one of five regular contributors to The Monkey Cage, a popular political science blog that last year joined The Washington Post. With the expanded audience provided by the Post’s platform, Sides said political science as a discipline should create more blogs, not close them.

“I don’t think that the discourse that occurs on blogs is necessarily any more problematic or more unprofessional that the discourses that editors are going to have in other contexts in their own scholarship,” Sides said. “You could certainly ask editors to uphold a certain degree of professionalism, including in their personal communication or personal writing, but ... to put a blanket prohibition on communication in just one medium -- I think that throws the baby out with the bathwater.”

 

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