Sunday, October 19, 2008

Acceptance--But Not Fiction

I wrote my dissertation on strategic interaction with terrorists (1990). For years my major focus was terrorism, with "terrorism and the media" being my specialty. At one time I was told by a young star in political science that I was the only scholar doing real research on data related to terrorism and the media. I was flattered.

Today I was informed that the last paper I wrote on terrorism and the media will be published. The paper has a sad tale behind it, probably only appreciated by nerds who publish in scholarly journals.

The paper is modest in its aims. People (including scholars) say that terrorists' chief goal is media attention.* So it stands to reason that if the media pay more attention to terrorist incidents that terrorists will be more likely to perpetrate incidents. Hence, if the average coverage of a terrorist incident today increases, we should see more terrorist incidents in the future.

This is not a complex argument that needs a mathematical model. This is the conventional wisdom.

When I finished the paper the data was a few years old. Compiling some of the data had been painstaking. But since nobody was doing work with that data, I was in the clear.

The first journal rejected in a week--not their thing. Desk rejections are rare in academia, but I really appreciate them, since I can send the paper out after just a week or two.

The staff at the second journal was trying to figure out what they wanted to do. Who would be the new editor? Would they change their focus? I started calling after 9 months--not uncommon--and they strung me along for two years before giving me a desk rejection. That was unprofessional. I hope Economics and Politics has cleaned up their act since then.

I sent to a good political science journal. The reviewers wanted cognative models, resolution of definitional ambiguities, blah, blah, blah. These are the kind of nerds that if you say, "I show that better looking waitresses get bigger tips from men," they will ask for evolutionary biology models that show that men like attractive women. Morons. I was testing the conventional wisdom. Everybody knows the conventional wisdom--I could point to it in lots of places in the literature and in the popular press.

The reason that it was important to test that conventional wisdom is that it unravelled the work of other scholars who were publishing complex research on terrorism.

After all this, the data was so stale it reeked. It still showed that the conventional wisdom held using data that nobody else had bothered to compile. So I submitted to a modest journal that I thought I had a chance with. I killed the suspense already. It was finally accepted.


*Other than their overarching goal of political change

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