Academics and journalists

This is such an interesting comment about academics and journalists by Andrew Gelman, in response to question as to whether he and Nate Silver might do a joint podcast or other discussion about election forecasting (Gelman says he’s asked and Silver has not responded):
The more general question, maybe, is how journalists and academics can interact. A traditional model is that the academic does the research and the journalist writes about it. Or the academic does the work and the journalists writes about it with a critical eye, Felix Salmon style. A different model is that the journalist and the researcher are the same person: that’s what Nate [Silver] is doing. Maybe a better way to put this is that the “journalist” and “academic” roles have been erased and replaced by the analyst, who does both. Bill James was a pioneer in this. Finally, there’s the model in which the academics and journalists collaborate, which is what Merlin and I are doing with Elliott [Morris]. At this point, you might ask, why do Merlin and I need Elliott at all: why would a forecast by two political scientists be improved by a journalist? The immediate answer is that the Economist forecast is Elliott’s baby: he came to us to ask for help. The longer answer is that 3 people are better than 2, and the distinction between academic and journalist is not always so clear. I do a lot of writing, Elliott does a lot of programming, and we both have thought a lot about politics. I’ve found that collaboration almost always makes things better, as long as the collaborators can get along.
Anyway, Nate seems pretty set in his go-it-alone, don’t involve academic researchers approach, and I really like to collaborate, so maybe that’s one reason we’re having difficulty communicating.
Also, unrelatedly, Nate is a public figure and so he suffers from what I’ve called the David Brooks or Paul Krugman problem: he gets so much low-quality criticism from randos on the internet, that he’s developed a way of pattern of ignoring or firing back at criticism, rather than engaging with it directly. It can be hard to have a conversation, public or private, with someone who’s gotten into the habit of considering outside criticism as a nuisance rather than a source of valuable input.

Academic writing styles

I am working on two books this summer/fall. I hope both will be done by the end of December, although that may be over-optimistic. (Oh, well.) As a result of being engaged in these writing processes, questions of academic writing style have been on my mind.

I owe many debts of gratitude to my mentor and frequent coauthor, Rein Taagepera. But the most recent one was his suggestion that every empirical chapter in our new book (Votes from Seats, 2017) start with a presentation of the key result. Don’t drag the reader through prior literature and a bunch of “hypotheses” (a practice he hates, and I tend to agree) before getting to the point. Start with the point, and then explain how you got there, and only then why others did not get there. But the thing is, this almost never works with a journal article (and maybe doesn’t work with books for most scholars not named Shugart or Taagepera), because reviewers impose a standard format that just makes for plodding reading. And writing.

For probably the best demonstrations of our preferred presentation, if you have access to the book, see Chapter 7, which has an overview of “Duverger’s law” near its end, but starts with the Seat Product formula for effective number of seat-winning parties and a graph showing the payoff. Also Chapter 12, in which the previously proposed concept of “proximity” is discussed at the end of a chapter that opens with some data plots showing our preferred “elapsed time“. Other empirical chapters in the book mostly follow this format as well.

The date of APSA

Some of my colleagues in the profession are passing around a link to an online petition to change the data of the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. As long as I can remember–and, I think, long before that–the APSA meeting has been held over Labor Day weekend (end of August/early September). Over the years, I have heard many complaints about the date. I have also heard from (even) older members that this matter has been debated many times in the Association, and Labor Day just keeps coming back as the default. It may be that many members see it as bad, but there is no clear better choice. Continue reading

Citations to blogs?

Henry has, at Crooked Timber, a pointer to a post by Andrew Gelman regarding the matter of whether a blog entry deserves citing for initiating a line of research that later grows into something more substantial by another scholar.

This blog has received one citation that I know of in the published literature, on p. 1 of Rein Taagepera’s, Predicting Party Sizes (Oxford, 2007). The cited entry is on the Palestinian legislative electoral system.

And, yes, of course, if a scholar (or journalist, for that matter) sees something on a blog and then builds on the ideas seen there, the blog should be cited. Seems straightforward to me. Henry suggests it is slightly less so, albeit deserving of credit. He notes that a ‘blogpost’ (is it now one word?) is not quite the same as either “personal communication” or an actual publication. True enough. But it is closer to the latter inasmuch as it is attributable and publicly available in a way that “personal communication” is not, even if it has less permanence than a journal article, book, or perhaps even a working paper series or conference paper. ((And clearly has no formal peer review, but then neither do some examples of these other outlets.)) There is a very well established protocol for citing personal communication, so there should be one for citing blog entries. Or so it seems to me.