100th letter of recommendation and whatprofessorsdo

One of my colleagues–honestly a research powerhouse and a veritable icon of his profession– charms the bejesus out of people by referring to himself as a schoolteacher. I don’t think for a second that this wasn’t a calculated bit of humility on his part–he is very famous in his field, and he’s far too sharp not to know it–but it is charming nonetheless, and like him, I would be quite proud to list myself among schoolteachers. Our jobs are different: they do more teaching than I do, and I do more research and writing than they do, but the heart of the matter is the same: we are trying to help people get where they are going.

Today I am penning the 100th letter of recommendation I have written in my three-year academic career at USC. That’s not counting the first three years’ of letters that I penned at Virginia Tech. That means I’ve written a little over 30 letters of recommendation a year, for various students. This year is still young.

Whenever parents or students are nasty to me about how “they pay my salary”–yes, they do, but I also pay their salary with all the goods I buy, and it doesn’t entitle me to act like a boorish boss or wronged when–gasp!–they are enjoying free time in the middle of the week–I think of all the letters of recommendation that I have written, one of the invisible tasks of my job. It isn’t onerous; it’s often a pleasure. But it’s a very real task, one that I take very seriously, because students need letters to get where they are going.

Today’s 100th: a graduate student from industrial engineering at Viterbi who wants to pursue her PhD.

Planning Journals, Rankings, and Internationality

My former advisor, Randy Crane, opened up a can of worms when he sent out what he must have thought was an innocent note to the planning academics’ listserv on ideas for what we’d like to see happen with the Journal of the American Planning Association. It evolved from a request to be open to international scholarship into a nice long discussion of US hegemony in publishing and an old-school discussion on what constitutes rigor and what doesn’t. As usual, quite a bit of defensiveness and a lot of victimy language on both sides of the issue.

I responded this morning to the following effect:

What would a low publication count in JAPA for international scholars really mean?

It could mean A) US scholars are biased if we are getting submissions from scholars outside the US and turning them down disproportionately to domestic submissions (assuming that international scholars are sending their best stuff, which they may not be if they don’t think JAPA is an important outlet for them). The lower publication rate could also indicate that B) international scholars have their own supply of publication outlets that matter to them more than US outlets (At least four people, both international and domestic, have said as much in this discussion).

A is evidence of hegemony and bias and B is the opposite of hegemony and in that case, US scholar bias, however odious, would not have the power to constrain the publication trajectories of international scholars.

One question I had was whether JAPA was indeed publishing fewer papers by international authors than anybody else.

This information proved hard to find, but there is a metric out there on journals that contain international collaborations. Not the same thing, I admit, but it strikes me as a related, if admittedly imperfect, proxy for what we are discussing; whether US journals are insular, and JAPA in particular.

As usual, planners get lumped in with geography and development, so we get apples and oranges. You can also look at the urban studies journals separately. Undoubtedly there is a western bias to what journals are included here.

The international collaboration, percentages, since 2004 generally:

JAPA–has gone up since 2006: ranges from 6 percent to 21.6 percent
Canadian Journal of Urban Research ranges from 4 to 9 percent
Acta Journal Sinica (Chinese journal) ranges from 6 to 18 percent
Forum for Development Studies (Norway) ranges from 8 to 20 percent
Chinese Geographical Science ranges from 8 to 10 percent–higher in earlier years
Geografiska Annaler, Series B, ranges from 8 to 20 percent
Town Planning Review ranges from 20 to 40 percent; it also has gone up over time
Environment and Planning A runs from 10 to 20 percent
Geography Research Forum (Israel) 13 to 25 percent
Journal of the Indian Society of Remote Sensing (couldn’t find anything listed that directly related to planning) ranges from 3 to 8 percent

So JAPA runs with everybody else in terms of international collaborations: some of the German geography journals have lots of international collaborations. Town Planning Review, too.

Looking at different English-language journals (biased towards what I read):

American Economic Review (17 to 30 percent)
Econometrica ( 30 to 45 percent) UK journal
Science (pretty consistently 20 percent)
Epidemiology (25 to 37 percent)

A better indicator would be whether these collaborations include authors from places outside the traditional seats of academic power, but I don’t have that. Also keep in mind that single-authored papers are not counted here, so that single-authored manuscripts don’t get counted one way or another, no matter where from. I don’t know why Scopus is more interested in the collaboration issue than these others.

But in looking at the numbers (not just the ones I’ve listed here), in disciplines where there is an established hierarchy of journals (like economics), the percentages are far higher than in any of the geography and planning journals I can find.

What does that suggest to you? That US economists are less insular/biased than US planners? That because it’s a bigger field, it has more international collaborations published even though co-authoring is a arguably a bigger no-no in economics than it is planning?

Or have economists, by structuring the field around journal hierarchies more rigidly, created an environment where international scholars HAVE to send their stuff to particular journals (most of them US and UK journals) to be reviewed favorably at promotion time? If so, is this concentration in a few journals better for the global cross-pollination of ideas than a multiplicity of outlets, where JAPA matters a lot to Americans but other journals matter more to international scholars and not everybody is reading and writing for the same journals?

Or is it that if you want to get published in the most competitive economics journals, you need to have access to to new and different data sources made possible only through international collaborations?

Is increasing the percentage a sign of increased inclusion or a sign of increased control?

I can’t figure it out.

Great Dissertations: Brown, Freeman, Hirt, Levinson, Steimetz, and Suarez

I’ve been reading dissertations on and off for my fall doctoral seminar, and I have found some exceptional dissertations written by acquaintances of mine. All are available on ProQuest.

Brown, Jeffrey Richard (2003). The numbers game: The politics of the federal surface transportation program. Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles, United States — California. Retrieved June 3, 2010, from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text.(Publication No. AAT 3089010).

Freeman, Lance Mark (1997). Interpreting the dynamics of public housing residence: Cultural and structural explanations. Ph.D. dissertation, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United States — North Carolina. Retrieved June 3, 2010, from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text.(Publication No. AAT 9818334).

Hirt, Sonia Anguelova (2003). After the crises of modernity: Urban planning and patterns in post-industrial Cleveland, Ohio, and post-socialist Sofia, Bulgaria. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan, United States — Michigan. Retrieved June 3, 2010, from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text.(Publication No. AAT 3096109).

Levinson, David Matthew (1998). On whom the toll falls: A model of network financing. Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, United States — California. Retrieved June 3, 2010, from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text.(Publication No. AAT 9902141).

Steimetz, Seiji Sudhana Carl (2004). New methods for modeling and estimating the social costs of motor vehicle use. Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Irvine, United States — California. Retrieved June 3, 2010, from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text.(Publication No. AAT 3132411).

Suarez, David F. (2006). Creating global citizens: The emergence and development of human rights education. Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University, United States — California. Retrieved June 3, 2010, from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text.(Publication No. AAT 3197512).