Friday, June 02, 2006


Steve Levitt posts about some amazing happenings at the sociology journal, Sociological Methodology, where apparently an editor has been harassed by a scholar opposed to some of his editorial decisions. In particular, it seems that this scholar is upset at the publication of an article (articles?) that are opposed to his own research.

Definately go and read the Freakonomics post and the excerpt Levitt includes. It's really just incredible. Though I guess we shouldn't really be surprised; academics have cheated and forged data to get ahead (there are big returns to doing so), so it's not much of a logical leap to get to some levels of physical intimidation and lawsuits. Of course, it's likely harder to get caught forging results than physically intimidating a referee.

UPDATE: For convenience, here's the report:

Sociological Methodology

Your editor reports a year of drama and success in preparation of his final volume of Sociological Methodology. This year will see the publication a wide variety of articles in Sociological Methodology, on topics ranging from cohort analysis to the safety of interviewers and field researchers. I have tried to broaden the scope of articles published in Sociological Methodology, and to improve the appearance of the book. I hope that my efforts have been successful. Editing Sociological Methodology has been a satisfying experience, and sometimes a pleasure. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to do so. I offer my thanks and praise to managing editor Ray Weathers, the editorial board of Sociological Methodology, the ASA for its support, the Publications Committee of the ASA for its extraordinary and generous support, and Craig Coelen, president of NORC, for providing resources that were essential to my work as editor.

This has been a year punctuated by drama. Your editor seems to have encountered once again a small, previously unrecognized, nascent social movement that he calls the Thin-Skinned Scholar Movement (TSSM). TSSM serves the needs of scholars who object to publication of opinions that contradict their own. Your editor believes that the goals of TSSM are misguided, as his own professional fortunes have been advanced by the publication of debates about his own research. More important, disagreement is fundamental to scholarship, making the suppression of disagreements a fundamental violation of the purpose for which Sociological Methodology is published. Indeed; every paper published in Sociological Methodology includes clear statements of dissatisfaction with previous studies; it is this dissatisfaction with previous work that motivates and justifies the production and publication of new contributions.

Your editor is deeply distressed by the style of the TSSM. In particular, consider the following incident: Several weeks ago, I encountered a thin-skinned scholar, who was driving in his car as I walked to my own car in a parking lot. Apparently unimpressed by the writings of Miss Manners, this scholar opened his car window, loudly and repeatedly declared strong views about the composition of my head and the phylum in which I should be classified, and rapidly drove his car so close to me that it did, on the third such maneuver, brush against my pants. I wonder still, is this thin-skinned scholar just a talented and kind-hearted stunt-driver with unusual ideas about parking? Or does he reveal true malice, a will to evoke fear and a willingness to use his car to damage a pedestrian? These are questions that I cannot answer. But answers are suggested by his emailed statement (with copies to others) that he would be pleased to see my body lifeless and in pieces. More to the point, these are questions that no editor should have to consider. This thinskinned scholar has wasted great volumes of an editor’s time and effort, reviled the editor in numerous hostile email letters (with copies sent to a variety of others), delayed publication of Sociological Methodology, wasted hours of time by talented and highly-paid lawyers, and badly strained relations between an editor who sought to uphold the principles under which scholarly journals are published, and the ASA executive officer, who sought to save the ASA the expense and trouble of a lawsuit by an enraged scholar.

With all due respect, it is your editor’s humble opinion that the most effective and efficient way to avoid future law suits by thin-skinned scholars is to use the full force of the law to guard the integrity of the editorial process in refereed journals. American courts have a tradition of protecting free speech, and a longstanding distaste for frivolous litigation by selfappointed censors who seek to suppress publication of views they dislike. And it is your editor’s humble opinion that the ASA and similar organizations need to protect their editors from those who would use fear and intimidation to manipulate the editorial process.

Ross M. Stolzenberg, Editor



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apparently Levitt took the post down, maybe as a result of some of the comments he got in response, naming a famous UofC economist as the harasser.

6/07/2006 10:37 PM  

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