Phil Arena

I am an assistant professor of political science at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. I mostly write here about "rational choice" and IR theory. I also maintain my own blog, fparena.blogspot.com.

http://fparena.blogspot.com

Ranking IR Journals

Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Brian J. Phillips, of the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics.

What are the best International Relations journals? How do we know if one journal is better than another? And how should this affect your decision about where to send a manuscript?

I recently worked on a ranking of IR journals at the behest of an institution, and this blog post shares some of the information I learned in the process. This might be helpful for graduate students and junior faculty still getting a feel for where to send manuscripts. A number of questions came up during the process, and while they perhaps can never be fully resolved, I’ll leave them here for your consideration.

Scholars publish in journals for a variety of reasons. Most fundamentally, it is done to communicate with the community for the purpose of advancing scientific knowledge.

Academic publishing is also a way, to a large degree the way, that a scholar shows her or his value – to the department, the university, and the discipline. For those of us hoping to keep our jobs, or move on to better jobs, where we publish is essential.

This post focuses on article publications, as opposed to books or chapters. How do our peers evaluate our articles? The content of an article might have certain intrinsic value – a genuine contribution independently of where it is published – but it is much easier for committees to evaluate an article based on the prestige of the journal in which it was published.

Surveys and citation indexes

There are two primary ways to order journals: surveys and citation indexes. Regarding surveys, the Teaching, Research, and International Policy project surveys IR scholars regularly to get their opinions on a host of issues, including journal prestige.

Below are the results of the 2011 survey, the most recent. Scholars were asked to list the four journals that publish articles with the greatest influence in IR (page 52 of the report). Other surveys rank Political Science journals generally, which often include IR journals, and some examples include McLean et al. 2009 and Giles and Garand 2007.

TRIPS rank Journal
1 International Organization
2 International Studies Quarterly
3 International Security
4 Foreign Affairs
5 APSR
6 World Politics
7 European Journal of International Relations
8 Journal of Conflict Resolution
9 Foreign Policy
10 Review of International Studies
11 Millennium: Journal of International Studies
12 AJPS
13 International Affairs
14 Security Studies
15 Review of International Political Economy
16 Journal of Peace Research
17 International Studies Review
18 International Relations
19 Comparative Politics
20 Global Governance

 

One issue that might jump out at readers is the inclusion of non-peer-reviewed publications: Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy. It’s not clear that FA and FP are directly comparable to double blind peer-reviewed journals because the publication process is so different.

An additional issue with this list is that because it is a global survey, some scholars might not be familiar with journals published in different regions. For example, some U.S. scholars might not be familiar with all of the European journals. This speaks to regional differences, and that scholars often communicate regionally more than globally.

(All of the journals discussed in this blog post are in English, and come from the developed world – important issues, but perhaps beyond the scope of this humble post.)

Regarding citation indexes, one of the most commonly used is the Thomson-Reuters Journal Citation Reports. There are various metrics, and the table below uses the two-year Impact Factor, which is basically the number of times the average article in the journal is cited in the following two years. (For a helpful Duck post on Thomson-Reuters rankings, see here.)

  Impact Factor Journal
1 3.916 American Political Science Review
2 3.025 World Politics
3 2.98 International Organization
4 2.756 American Journal of Political Science
5 2.333 International Security
6 2.237 Journal of Conflict Resolution
7 1.98 Journal of Peace Research
8 1.537 World Development
9 1.536 British Journal of Political Science
10 1.478 Journal of Politics
11 1.381 International Political Sociology
12 1.352 European Journal of International Relations
13 1.308 Journal of Common Market Studies
14 1.265 International Studies Quarterly
15 1.118 Review of International Organizations
16 1.11 Review of International Studies
17 1.097 Human Rights Quarterly
18 1.039 Review of International Political Economy
19 0.915 Terrorism and Political Violence
20 0.902 Cooperation and Conflict
21 0.864 Security Studies
22 0.826 Conflict Management and Peace Science
23 0.74 International Studies Review
24 0.7 International Interactions
25 0.691 Millennium: Journal of International Studies
26 0.65 Studies in Comp. and Intl. Development
27 0.613 Survival
28 0.533 International Relations
29 0.487 Studies in Conflict and Terrorism
30 0.435 Global Governance

 

The list above is ordered according to Impact Factors, but the decision of which journals to include was my decision for the purposes of this blog post. The list is probably incomplete, but it represents an effort to include many of the well-known IR journals. Some might argue that general journals (APSR, AJPS, BJPS, JOP) should not be on an IR list, but of course these journals contain important IR articles.

This indicates a central challenge of rankings with citation indexes: Which journals should be on a list of IR journals? Impact factors can help order journals, but not decided the contents of the list. Thomson-Reuters has a somewhat odd idea of IR, so individuals or institutions using their rankings might need to add or remove journals. This is discussed more in the Duck post mentioned above.

For an alternate take on citation metrics, see Google Scholar’s ranking of IR journals. This is their list of journals filed under “Diplomacy and International Relations” and one notices some overlaps with the lists above, but also some perhaps odd journals, and some absences. As with Thomson-Reuters and other databases, one can search for a journal to find its score, and create a new ranking of journals based upon one’s own criteria for inclusion.

The problems with citation indexes are many (for example, see this), but they are one way to attempt to sort journals. We can mitigate problems with these rankings by creating a hybrid ranking also using survey data, and inevitably some qualitative criteria.

Questions

Whether using surveys or citation indexes, a number of important questions arise. The answers to these questions are basically qualitative, and will depend highly on departmental norms, regional norms, and so forth.

How are general journals valued relative to IR journals?

For example, most of us would probably agree that it is better seen by our departments and the discipline to publish in APSR instead of a mid-tier IR journal. However, it gets muddier as we talk about other general journals vs. highly-ranked IR journals. Is it better to publish in JOP or ISQ? PRQ or JPR? PRQ or CMPS?

How are comparative journals valued relative to IR journals?

The line between CP and IR is blurry, especially for those doing research on political economy or subnational violence. CPS and CP have lower impact factors (1.186 and .711 respectively) than some IR journals like JCR and JPR. Of course it’s important for comparativists to have publications in top Comparative journals. It is less clear how an IR scholar will be evaluated for publishing in Comparative journals.

How do we compare (no pun intended) an article in CP with an article in ISQ, JCR, or other valued IR journals? For this question, the answer might depend on if the scholar is worried about being viewed as “not IR enough,” and in that case she or he might not want to submit to a comparative journal.

How are policy journals valued relative to more theoretical journals?

This question likely depends greatly on one’s department – policy school or political science? If a department values more policy-oriented research, it will likely give more influence to a publication in Security Studies or Survival than impact factor alone might dictate. Independently of department preferences, hopefully you know the fit of your manuscript, and this will help in deciding between International Security and JCR, for example.

This gets at a wider point: the value of an article in a journal depends greatly on what a department expects of its faculty, and how an individual scholar is trying to shape her or his profile. Overall, the rankings help identify important journals, but the final ordering likely hinges on many qualitative criteria.

Are there other important questions raised by these rankings? How else can we determine the value of article publications in a systematic, transparent, and fair manner?

The Importance of Screening

Editor’s Note: this is an abbreviated version of a post that originally appeared on my personal blog.

In my previous post, I articulated one way international institutions can deter bad behavior. In this post, I’ll argue that even if we assume institutions don’t have access to information that isn’t already available to states, they still matter more than some appreciate.metal_detector_airport_2_350w_263h

One of the most prominent criticisms of institutions is that they are epiphenomenal—that they put a name on behavior that would have occurred anyway. That is, some have argued that the good news about compliance is not necessarily good news about cooperation because treaties may simply screen rather than constrain.

But the one does not necessarily imply the other. That is, even if institutions merely screen without constraining, this may nonetheless give us cause to celebrate international institutions. Below, I discuss a result from a formal model in which institutions screen but do not constrain—a model where the willingness of any given state to comply with a cooperative outcome is the same regardless of whether they join the institution. But it is nonetheless true in this model that fewer states would cooperate in the absence of institutions. In other words, when assessing the impact of institutions, we have to be very clear about what our standards are (as Martin and others (1 and 2) have argued). There is an important distinction between the claim that institutions alter state preferences and the claim that they merely separate nice, trustworthy types from bad, untrustworthy types, and I do not wish to downplay it. But it is nonetheless true that screening matters.

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The Importance of Angry Letters

Editor’s Note: this is an abbreviated version of a post that originally appeared on my personal blog.

How can international institutions foster cooperation given that they lack enforcement capability? One view, quite simply, is that they can’t. This view is shared by realists and many outside the academy. HansBrix

Many would argue this critique is unfair. It is too easy to jump from “can’t control rogue states” to “completely worthless” or “false promise” or what have you. Even states that view one another as friends sometimes fail to reap all the possible benefits of international cooperation due to coordination problems, collaboration problems, etc, and institutions may help such states leave a little less money lying on the ground. There’s also pretty strong evidence that UN peacekeeping works, particularly when it has the consent of all the parties involved. Sure, that’s an important caveat, but we shouldn’t trivialize the large number of lives that have likely been saved as a result of the UN’s efforts.

But let’s set those things aside. Is the best we can say about the UN that it helps those who want to be helped but is of no real consequence to the behavior of “rogue” states? I would argue that the answer is “sort of, but only if we adopt a fairly extreme definition of ‘rogue’.” But if we don’t define “rogue” states as those that do misbehave, but those who would like to, then the answer is almost certainly no, the UN does not just allow the good guys to do a little bit better on the margins. It actually changes the intentions of those we might otherwise see as bad guys.

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Flipping the Classroom

I’m going to try it out this spring with my Introduction to International Relations class. (I’ll also post my lectures online, which I believe will make mine the second Intro IR course available to the general public—though if you know of others, please provide links in the comments.) Have any of you tried it? If so, I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.

Below the fold are some thoughts on why I think it will help some students get more out of my class.

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Engineering Peace

Can third parties do more than foster temporary, unstable ceasefires? Without perpetually holding the belligerents at arms’ length via heavily militarized buffer zones? Is it possible to make peace self-enforcing at a reasonably low cost?

Recent work on conflict management suggests not. Less intrusive approaches to mediation, such as information provision, fail to solve the problem that poses an obstacle to efficient negotiate between the belligerents in the first place. More intrusive approaches such as deploying armed peacekeepers are often successful, at least if they come after a conflict ends, but entail great costs. You want lasting peace on the cheap? Good luck with that.

Writing with Anna Pechenkina, I have argued that the consensus view may be too negative. Third parties can raise the effective cost of war by promising to provide subsidies if and only if war is avoided. But even that does not solve the underlying problem. Subsidized peace may persist, provided the provision of the subsidies persists, but it is not self-enforcing.

In a fascinating paper, Rob Carroll offers some optimism. He demonstrates formally that third parties can remove the risk of war, in a fundamental sense, by engineering transfers of economic and military resources in such a way that the natural outcome of trade will reflect the expected outcome of war. Thus, neither side will stand to gain from fighting and will not be expected to do so. In equilibrium, the two sides make their own peace—but they would not have done in the absence of mediation.

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Review of Braumoeller’s The Great Powers and the International System

The following is an all too common path through graduate school:

  1. spend 3-9 months wondering what the heck you signed up for and why
  2. realize that every topic you’re interested in has been written on and assume there’s nothing left to say
  3. gain a little confidence and criticize everything you read for leaving something (inconsequential) out
  4. begin doing your own research and realize it’s not so easy
  5. write a dissertation about a very small, very timely, very answerable question
  6. convince your committee that your answer is profound, timeless, and required extraordinary insight
  7. cry when the first submission gets rejected because you left something (inconsequential) out.

One of the many tragedies of this cycle is that the important questions in international relations get ignored. It’s much easier to hit pitches the greats never even swung at—can you believe how little guidance extant lit offers when it comes to piracy off the coast of Somalia? Or the use of Twitter bots to sway public opinion regarding immigration?—than to score runs off curveballs they were lucky to catch a piece of.

Yet, every once in a while, someone swings for the fences.* A wonderful example of this is Bear Braumoeller’s The Great Powers and the International System, which tackles the old bearquestion of whether the structure of the international system constrains, or is shaped by, state behavior. Unsurprisingly, his answer is “Both.” But more interesting than the answer are its implications—or, put differently, the biggest contribution of the book is not in resolving the agent-structure debate, but in delineating when dramatic changes in the structure of the international system are expected to occur and how (and when) states will react to them.

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International Institutions Mobilize Opponents Too

Members of international institutions typically honor their commitments. But that does not, by itself, tell us much. States are unlikely to join institutions that require them to do things they have no intention of doing. Indeed, some argue that institutions merely act to screen out those least likely to comply. Others, however, have argued that institutions do in fact constrain states – that they are not mere epiphenomena. One prominent mechanism through which institutions are thought to alter state behavior is by mobilizing pro-compliance groups domestically. Institutions may lack enforcement capable, after all, but few governments are entirely insensitive to domestic pressure.

But, as Stephen Chaudoin cogently observes in this working paper, those who stand to lose if the government adopts the institution’s preferred policy are unlikely to give in without a fight. And such groups virtually always exist; if they did not there’d be little need for institutions to promote cooperation in the first place. Put differently, while WTO rulings may raise awareness about the effects of tariffs and Amnesty International might draw attention to human rights abuses, the net effect of such efforts might simply be to increase the amount of effort those advantaged by the status quo invest in defending it.

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The American Civil War as an Illustration of War to Forestall Adverse Shifts in Power

A prominent “rationalist” explanation for war concerns commitment problems created by the anticipation of rapid shifts in power (see also here and here). When a state expects that the civil-war-soldiersmere passage of time will lead it to fare worse in a potential future war against its rival, the rival’s inability to credibly promise not to exploit its future power by demanding a revision of the status quo can lead tempt the first state to attack so as to forestall (or at least slow down) the shift in power.

The canonical example of this was provided by Thucydides, who wrote in History of the Peloponnesian War “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that it inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable.” But today’s international relations students, alas, have little interest in antiquity. Nor are they particularly impressed by systematic evidence that wars occurred more frequently between 1816 and 2001 in the presence of observable indicators that a substantial shift in the bilateral distribution of capabilities was on the horizon (which I nonetheless provide in class). For better or worse, our students view as immediately suspect any theoretical claim that cannot be illustrated with an example they’ve actually heard of.

For that reason, I now discuss the American Civil War after explaining the general logic of commitment problems induced by an anticipation of a future shift in power.

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What if Iran Did Get the Bomb?

Casual observation suggests that the two most common answers to the question above are: 1) there’s a very good chance that they’d start a nuclear war with Israel; and 2) there’s no real reason to think any other state would be impacted in any significant way. I find both unpersuasive for reasons I’ll discuss below.

nukeiran

Before I do, though, let me get something out of the way—in this post, I will argue neither for nor against the use of force to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. To answer questions of what should be done, one must not only draw upon some set of beliefs about the likely consequences of the available options, but one’s value judgments about the outcomes and the costs likely to be incurred along the way to producing them. I’m willing to try to persuade you to change your views about the likely consequences of certain outcomes, but I’m going to keep my value judgments to myself.

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How Could US Signals of Weakness bring Russia and Syria to the Table?

That’s essentially the question Steve Saideman asked here (and which he more explicitly asked on Twitter).

His answer, which I find problematic, is

But here is the big problem in all of this: perhaps much of IR is not about bargaining and persuasion about commitment and resolve. Perhaps much of IR is a conflict of interests, and that countries engage in conflict when their various interests cannot be resolved.

He goes on to say

The amateur game theorist might want to argue that this then is not chicken or prisoner’s dilemma but deadlock.  And they would probably be right–that much of what is important in IR is what shapes the preferences of the actors, which determines the game being played.  I guess my main point is that much of the time, we are not playing chicken, so perhaps Schelling’s insights might not be all that useful and could even be counter-productive.

Notice how Steve implicitly assumes that either Schelling is God or bargaining is irrelevant or even impossible. As Steve might say, if he found himself on the other side of the discussion, “Holy mother of false dichotomies, Batman!  Time for some perspective sauce!”

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Win Phil’s Money

My views on the role of assumptions are no secret.  Nor are they without detractors.  In hopes of advancing the debate, I invite anyone who disagrees with me to enrich themselves while proving me wrong.

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Does it Pay to Divide and Conquer?

duckThe intuition behind the maxim divide et impera is clear.  If they’re busy fighting each other, they not fighting you.  And that’s obviously in your interest (assuming, that is, you are some sort of occupier or metropole seeking to extract rents from a local population.)  Devious and underhanded?  Sure.  Morally repugnant?  If you’re inclined to view politics through such a lens.  But effective?  Self-evidently.

Or so you might think.

Brenton Kenkel, a University of Rochester doctoral student currently on fellowship at Princeton, argues otherwise in this fascinating working paper.

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Are Weapons Inspections about Information or Inconvenience?

Editor’s note: this is a guest post by William Spaniel, a doctoral candidate at the University of Rochester.  See this previous Duck post describing some of his work, and this post at his own blog providing more information about the research discussed here.

Spurred by a new International Organization article by Alexandre Debs and Nuno Monteiro (DM), the Duck of Minerva has recently hosted a debate on the cause of the Iraq War (see here, here, and here). To sum, DM argue that the United States’ imperfect knowledge of Iraq’s weapons programs led to a rational war. In contrast, speaking strictly from a unitary actor standpoint, this post argues that imperfect information cannot explain the conflict. Just prior to the start of the fighting, Saddam took credible steps to reopen negotiations with the United States. The Bush administration outright ignored these efforts. War began soon thereafter.

I divide this post into three parts, based on work from my dissertation. First, I review DM’s main theoretical contribution. Second, I briefly run down the logic of nuclear negotiations. And third, I argue that weapons inspections increase the cost burden on a potential proliferator, which in turn makes nonproliferation commitments credible. I then trace this logic in the lead up to the Iraq War.

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Bayes, Stereotyping, and Rare Events

Sadly, many people do not realize that even if the majority of those who engage in behavior X belong to category Y, that does not mean that the majority of people in category Y engage in X.  This point is often made, rightly, with respect to race and violent crime and religion and terror.  But most treatments I’ve seen either imply that anyone who doesn’t understand is a moron, or manage to scare away the target audience by throwing in a pile of math without explaining it.  In this post, I’ll try to actually explain why we can’t conclude that most members of Y are prone to acts of X even if most acts of X are committed by members of Y.  This post won’t insult anyone for being unfamiliar with Bayes’ Theorem, nor will you find much algebra herein.  I’m just going to try to explain, with a relative minimum of technical detail, why we can’t assume that most members of Y engage in behavior X just because most people who engage in X are members of Y.

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Should We Keep Hidden the Way People Behave When their Actions are Hidden?

In his most recent post, PTJ argues that “things like Freakonomics are basically corrosive and should be opposed whenever practicable”.  While he repeats in that post (and the comments section) a number of dubious claims about what sorts of behavior are possible within a decision-theoretic framework, I think we’re past the point in the conversation where it is useful to argue about the possibility of writing down a decision-theoretic model whose actors are capable of moral behavior and belonging to communities.1 In this post, I’d like to discuss the moral argument PTJ makes against decision-theoretic work.

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Rational Choice and Selfishness

In his latest post, PTJ moves us past the worst critiques of “rational choice theory” and focuses on a few more nuanced concerns.1  I’m glad to see the conversation progressing, and this type of exchange is one of the things I love most about academic blogging.  However, I find some of PTJ’s arguments problematic.

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What Exactly is Rational Choice?

I sometimes surprise people when I say that I have no idea what rational choice is.1  How can a game theorist say such a thing?  Especially one who spends so much time on the internet arguing about rational choice?
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Bargaining, Capabilities, and Crisis Outcomes

I have enjoyed the recent exchange between Kroenig and Sechser & Fuhrmann (see here, here, and here).  One interesting point that came up regards the role of conventional military capabilities in determining crisis outcomes.  Kroenig says that the MCT data S&F analyze must be flawed because their results indicate that conventional military capabilities don’t matter whereas we have good reason to believe that the strong do what they will while the weak suffer what they must.  S&F reply that there’s nothing odd about their non-finding because this is precisely what bargaining models predict.  They are essentially correct about that, but I think they fail to appreciate what this very argument implies about their findings regarding the impact of nuclear weapons. Continue reading

In Defense of Homo Economicus

In this post, I seek not to defend the actions or priorities of a non-existent misanthropic being, but to defend the practice of analyzing models that assume human behavior mirrors that of Homo Economicus.  (I hope you’ll forgive me for choosing a slightly misleading title in order to preserve space.)

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Rodrik’s Paradox is No Paradox

Last month, Dani Rodrik wrote a piece for Project Syndicate that went all kinds of viral.  In it, he explains why he no longer views himself as a political economist.  The upshot: because if he believed the stuff he used to believe, he’d have to accept that there’s not much room for improving the world through op-eds, and that’s not something he’s prepared to accept.

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