Bowling Alone, Rigor, and the Decline of Social Capital in Academic Service

Published date01 September 2019
Date01 September 2019
Bowling Alone, Rigor, and the Decline of Social Capital in Academic Service 625
The pressure to publish consumes the thoughts
and schedules of every tenure track faculty
member, and the pressure to remain relevant
occupies a considerable amount of mental capacity
for those of us who have been through the tenure and
promotion wringer and survived to tell the stories.
For all of this, we have become extremely productive,
so much so that there is not enough real estate in
the pages of our journals to hold all of the great
research coming out of our faculties and doctoral
students (and practitioners here at PAR). As a result
of globalization, we have seen greater integration of
research from around the world, which only heightens
the competition for our scarce pages. All in all, PAR
will receive around 700 manuscripts during 2019.
To put that in context, we publish around 65
research articles per year, netting a rejection rate
greater than 90%. We are not evil; rather, we must
carefully balance the annual page budget against
glacial changes in our operational landscape. We
welcome research from all of the discipline’s subfields
and from all regions of the world. We welcome work
from scholars and practitioners across generations,
ethnicities, races, and genders and from all institution
types. We even have institutionalized processes to
help promote equity and fairness, and we all too
frequently give the benefit of doubt to a manuscript
that draws mixed reviews. Rejecting a scholar’s
work is a gut-wrenching experience. We know that
individuals would have worked on a project and the
resulting manuscript for a year or more by the time
it reaches our desk. An editorship is, in many ways, a
thankless job.
But our stakeholders are not just those whose work
we publish. We owe high standards of rigor to our
readers, who depend on our review processes to ensure
reliability and validity of the pieces we publish, the
findings of which often change the way we think
about theories, methods, and conceptual models.
Readers must have confidence in the evidence we
generate to inform policy and practice. PAR ar ticles
are downloaded around 1.5 million times per year.
Over 8,700 citations to our articles were registered
last year. Our impact factor rose to the highest
level in history, and the highest rank among public
administration journals. We work through a cyclical
process whereby good research produces increased
readership and an increased desire among authors to
publish in our pages.
We desk-reject about 40–45% of the manuscripts
we receive—only after both coeditors have had an
opportunity to read each piece and deliberate on its
merits. Again, we do this not because we have cold
hearts but because we understand our readership and
the value of generating a product they will value.
Pieces are desk-rejected for various reasons. Among
them, the piece does not clearly address any core area
of public administration (PA) theory, or it may fail to
utilize the PA literature; methods may not be state of
the art, or the topic may simply have been overdone
to the point that the new piece makes only modest
conceptual advances; sometimes, a piece is decidedly
narrow and is more appropriate for a subfield journal.
We often intimate to audiences of editors’ panels at
conferences that we cannot publish good work in
PAR—only the best work—and it has to speak to
the entire PA community or at least a subset of that
community broader than the subfield from which it
originated. This does not mean we do not value the
research we reject but that we must adhere to our
own operational constraints. So, of 700 manuscripts,
we expect to review 400 or more each year. Each
undergoes double-blind peer review by three
anonymous reviewers, generating demand for at least
1,200 reviewers each year. Of those pieces subjected
to peer review, about 50% are rejected, suggesting that
we will call on approximately 600 reviewers a second
time for pieces revised and resubmitted for further
consideration. There it is: we need 1,800 or more
reviews per year. But wait…reviewing manuscripts is
a service for which there is no compensation (save for
the warm and fuzzy feeling it gives to be shaping the
future of the discipline and the seldom-used offer of a
Bowling Alone, Rigor, and the Decline of Social Capital
in Academic Service
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 79, Iss. 5, pp. 625–628. © 2019 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
Jeremy L. Hall
University of Central Florida
R. Paul Battaglio
The University of Texas at Dallas

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