This Journal's Future Is Female

Political science association pleases and surprises members with its flagship publication's new editorial team.

July 30, 2019
 
Eight of 12 of the 'American Political Science Review's' new editors

The American Political Science Review’s new editors want to preserve its strong reputation while broadening its readership, relevance and contributor pool. They’ve pledged editorial transparency, checks and balances in their decision making, and a commitment to research ethics.

Other guiding principles involve diversity of content, methods and representation, outreach to multiple audiences, and engagement with members of the American Political Science Association -- of which the review is the flagship publication.

The 12 editors bring with them experience, and then some. Seven have served as lead or associate journal editors. Altogether, the team members have served on more than 40 journal editorial boards, including the Review’s. They're experts in methods from geospatial analysis and formal models to participant observation, archival and historical research, and life history interviews. 

And, oh yeah, they’re all women. With “a mandate.”

“Our editorial team is unprecedented in many ways. Although many political science journals -- including the APSR -- have had all-male editorial teams, few have had all-woman teams; nor have many had teams with the breadth of experience and expertise encompassed by ours,” the new editors said in a statement. “We also bring expertise in every subfield of the discipline, in nearly every region of the globe (including two regional experts in African politics), and in wide-ranging domains of U.S. politics.”

Members bring "substantive strengths in the domestic and international politics of race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality -- areas that have been traditionally underrepresented, both among the editors and in the pages of the APSR," they said. They are diverse along lines of race, ethnicity and sexuality and “APSA’s selection of our team sends a strong signal about the association leadership’s commitment to structural and cultural changes at the journal and in the discipline more generally. We take seriously what we understand to be a mandate to effect these changes.”

One of the new editors, 
Sharon D. Wright Austin, professor of political science and director of African American studies at the University of Florida, said Monday that it’s “quite an honor” to be part of the group, and that her team was founded on a common desire to make the Review more inclusive.

Like other leading journals in political science and additional broad fields, the Review -- while revered -- has faced criticism that it is too white, too male and too biased toward certain kinds of research to truly represent a discipline.

The Review’s current editors challenged this notion, in part, in a self-study published as part of a larger investigation into gender bias last year. Looking at 10 years’ worth of publication data, or more than 8,000 submissions and 18,000 reviews, the editors found no evidence of gender bias in the editorial process --and that solo male authors dominated submissions and had the highest desk rejection rate.

Instead of editorial bias, the current editors wrote, “[Our] analysis points much more to the problem of a systematically low submission rate of female authors as explanation for the underrepresentation of women” in published articles. “It would hint to concerns that male and female authors have different quality standards when submitting their work in the first place.”

Either way, underrepresentation is an unsolved problem.

The political science association doesn’t compose boards but picks editorial teams as a whole based on group submissions. The current set of editors -- two women and five men, all white -- all work at institutions in Europe. They’ve called their selection historic in its non-North American orientation, and sought to globalize and otherwise broaden the review in their own way.

Austin, at Florida, said her own team “is very excited about the work we are planning to do to maintain the high standards of the journal while also making it more inclusive of diverse research topics and methodologies.” It also wants “to end the perception of the APSR as a journal that does not publish certain kinds of research.”

Clarissa Hayward, professor of political science at Washington University in St. Louis, said that kind of research includes political theorists'.

“It includes scholars who use ethnographic and other qualitative research methods and political scientists who study topics like power, racial injustice, gender inequality and social movements. And it includes LGBTQ scholars and scholars who are women and people of color,” she said.

The new group has received public congratulations from many political scientists, including some students and junior faculty members who say an all-female board and its particular vision bolsters their faith in the field and academe. Other commenters -- mostly anonymously -- have been more critical, calling the board’s invocation of diversity “Orwellian,” for example.

As to critics' worries about whether men are being excluded, Hayward pointed back to the data.

“I would suggest they read some of the recent studies that show that, for years, men have been overrepresented, rather than underrepresented, in the APSR,” she said. One study, for example, found that 70 percent of articles published in the journal between 2007 and 2016 had only male authors. 

Another point: the APSR receives thousands of submissions each year and doesn’t use the full allotment of space that its publisher, Cambridge University Press, allows, Hayward said.

“We firmly believe that we can improve the representativeness and the quality of the APSR, and that we can do that without excluding any group of political scientists.”

Austin said that the Review “has had several all-male teams, but I don't remember anyone questioning whether they were diverse.”

The new editors have “diverse backgrounds and interests and, even more important, we are very qualified to serve as editors for this prestigious journal,” she added.

John Ishiyama, University Distinguished Research Professor of Political Science and Piper Professor of Texas at the University of North Texas, was editor in chief of the Review from 2012 to 2016.

He said the new board could “invigorate the profession” in that it's a new chapter and “signifies a break with past practices.” As far as the team being made up of women, he added, “I generally see this as a positive step. After all, there have been many all-male and racially homogeneous editorial teams in the past, so why not a racially diverse team of women?”

What “really matters” is that “I believe that they can do this job.” And it’s a "helluva" big job, Ishiyama added.

Typically the journal has one lead editor for all four years, like Ishiyama. The new team plans to have co-leaders who will rotate down the line to assist their new co-leaders every year. The team's term starts next year and ends in 2024.

Ishiyama’s one concern? The size of team, since 12 is an unusually large number, and coordination problems can arise. He noted that the APSA will now provide centralized administrative support for editors at its headquarters -- a shift triggered by the growing number of submissions to the journal and one that could benefit the new editors. 

Even so, “I do think that someone needs to be the point person, the lead editor if you will, to make sure the big ship moves in the same direction,” he said.

Melissa Michelson, professor of political science at Menlo College and an editorial board member for the Women Also Know Stuff campaign in political science, said she thought that women will be “more inclined to submit their work to the journal” under the new board, as will authors whose work focuses on areas often dismissed as “not of general interest” -- race, gender and LGBTQ politics, for example.

“That means those who have benefited from the historical bias toward work done and about white men will have more competition for the limited space in the journal,” she said, “and so of course this will be seen by some people as a threat, or as inappropriate.”

However, she said, “we are moving forward, not backward” and the “future of political science is diverse, inclusive and, increasingly, female.”

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