Editing a major scientific journal is very hard, and any errors of process or judgment often result in not just hurt feelings but collective resentment among those who feel somehow aggrieved. In a bad decision, the truly aggrieved are the individual authors, who may be counting on that publication to keep from being fired from their job. Less commonly do we think about the opposite situation—when someone lucks out and publishes a shitty article in a good journal. In both cases, the weight of the bad decision falls on the editor, but editorial authority is not really a bad thing. Hopefully, maybe, the latest kerfluffle regarding the editors at American Sociological Review apparently being unable to make a decision on anything brings this into some relief. First, the clusterfuck editorship idea is fucking stupid, and I hope people now understand this. There has been way too much support for “collaborative” editorships at ASA journals, and it isn’t a good idea. At the end of the day, it is best that somebody simply says Reject or Accept on an article, and five people are far less likely to make the hard decisions than one. What we have seen at ASR is a complete lack of backbone to make the hard decisions. I have seen this several times in reviewer packets, and I have been “reviewer 8” or more. That should not happen. But, it isn’t like this is the first time. So, while I think things should be better at ASR, and hope that the next editorial regime will bring improvements, I also remember when I WAS AN ASSISTANT PROFESSOR with my key dissertation-related article under review at ASR….and it got three revise and resubmits before rejection. Before we rake Holly McCammon over the coals, let us remember that she is no different from many editors (and frankly, I blame the clusterfuck structure and not Holly for the inefficiencies at ASR, while Marwell was acting alone….). I first submitted my paper, coauthored with John Wilson (my dissertation advisor) in 1991. After three revise and resubmits, I did not receive a final rejection until sometime in 1994. The paper was published in Social Forces in 1995 after receiving a conditional acceptance upon initial review.
What is more, the politicization of sociology really necessitates strong editors in order to avoid low-ball reviews by partisan assholes. At some point editors have to make the decision to publish some things that a reviewer doesn’t like, or to not publish something that a prominent reviewer may support. We’ll all bitch and moan about the results in the end. That is the part where we need to chill out and get real. Peer review isn’t perfect. Just do your god damned reviews, and when they advertise for a new editor, if you think you are the shit, apply. If not, don’t bitch.
The following is my acknowledgements from our 1995 paper in Social Forces:
“Data were made available through the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research. Portions of this article were previously presented at the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association, the Southern Sociological Society, and the Public Choice Society. Research was assisted by a grant to the first author from the Vanderbilt University Research Council We thank Mark Chaves, Christopher G. Ellison, Roger Finke, Douglas D. Heckathorn, Laurence R. Iannaccone, Barry Kosmin, Daniel H. Krymkowski, Gerald Maxwell, Richard A. Peterson, Rodney Stark, Robert A. Wortham, ten anonymous reviewers from American Sociological Review, and two anonymous Social Forces reviewers for comments on earlier versions of the paper, although none are responsible for any deficiencies in the final product.”