Political Science Now

Letter from distinguished political scientists urging nuanced journal interpretation of JETS policy guidelines

The following letter, signed by 20 former, present, and future presidents of the American Political Science Association, was sent on January 7, 2016, to the editors of each of the 27 journals that signed the Journal Editors Transparency Statement (JETS). The JETS statement, followed by the list of journals, can be accessed at http://www.dartstatement.org/#!blank/c22sl.  The letter expresses concern about the language in the JETS statement and asks journal editors to clarify how their journals will interpret these policies, so that they promote the goals of data access and research transparency while recognizing the legitimate concerns of scholars whose work includes the creation of original data sets, whose work is partly or wholly qualitative or interpretive, or whose work requires protecting the rights and well-being of human subjects.

[Editor’s name, title, and journal name]

Dear [Editor of journal],

We write to you in your capacity as [title, e.g., Editor-in-Chief] of the [journal name].

We are impressed, but also concerned, that so many top political science journals have simultaneously adopted the JETS (Journal Editors Transparency Statement).

The commitments expressed in the JETS are a milestone in the long efforts to improve research transparency and facilitate replication in political science. Many of us have strongly supported these efforts. Indeed, APSA formally adopted a commitment to research transparency and data access in its Ethics Guidelines in 2012. We welcome the journals’ commitments to move towards concrete implementation of the broad policy statements. We appreciate your joining in this difficult task. As (in many cases) former editors, we are sympathetic to the labor involved.

Nonetheless, we are concerned that the adoption by so many journals of the abbreviated interpretation of the APSA Ethics Guidelines expressed in the JETS statement may have unanticipated negative consequences. We are especially concerned by the reactions of many of our colleagues, who perceive that the JETS policies will severely constrain their research. We fear that the statement, unless fully explained, will hinder the development of original data and research in our discipline. These concerns are not inconsistent with the views expressed in the Statement on the Data Access and Research Transparency Initiative of November 24, 2015, by the current president, president-elect, and immediate former president.

We would urge, therefore, that each journal publish a more nuanced statement of the implementation of transparency policies. Some journals have already published such detailed statements or moved in that direction. We applaud this and urge others to follow.

The JETS statement seems to us (a) alarmingly vague in its declaration that “all relevant analytic materials” should be made available; (b) flawed in neglecting the admonition in the APSA Ethics Guidelines that the creators of new data sets should have first access and a period of personal use before making them available; (c) insufficiently sensitive to the many complexities of non-quantitative data; and (d) regrettably silent on the rights and well-being of human subjects, including confidential informants. The complexities of non-quantitative data have been discussed in many places and further deliberation and development is underway. We hope that the more detailed and nuanced statements specific to your particular journals would address these and other issues, providing both guidance and reassurance to publishing scholars.

We especially hope that these statements would recognize the complex balance between providing enough material to clarify process and facilitate replication, on the one hand, while on the other still enabling original creators of new data sets to publish specific pieces of research from the data as at the same time that they develop other and/or more comprehensive analyses with some protection for originality.

We would also hope that the detailed policy statements would recognize the on-going, dynamic nature of the replication and transparency movement, especially in the areas of qualitative data, and stress openness to a variety of approaches to achieve the broader goals and avoid research-chilling costs.

We stress that we are signing this statement as individuals, not as representatives of the American Political Science Association.

All best,

Bing Powell

APSA President in 2011-2012

Joined by:

Sidney Verba, APSA President in 1994-1995

Arend Lijphart, APSA President in 1995-1996

M. Kent Jennings, APSA President in 1997-1998

Matthew Holden, Jr., APSA President in 1998-1999

Robert O. Keohane, APSA President in 1999-2000

Robert Jervis, APSA President in 2000-2001

Robert D. Putnam, APSA President in 2001-2002

Theda Skocpol, APSA President in 2002-2003

Margaret Levi, APSA President in 2004-2005

Robert Axelrod, APSA President in 2006-2007

Dianne Pinderhughes, APSA President in 2007-2008

Peter Katzenstein, APSA President in 2008-2009

Henry Brady, APSA President in 2009-2010

Carole Pateman, APSA President in 2010-2011

Jane Mansbridge, APSA President in 2012-2013

John Aldrich, APSA President in 2013-2014

Rodney E. Hero, APSA President in 2014-2015

Jennifer Hochschild, APSA President in 2015-2016

David A. Lake, APSA President-Elect.