Metrics, Metrics, (Alt)metrics

By Amy Atchison

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If it sometimes feels like success in academia boils down to metrics, that’s because in many US institutions it does (sadly) boil down to metrics. We all know that it isn’t just the number of publications you have. It’s also the impact factor of the journals in which those articles were published, the citation count per article, and your h-index score. (And don’t get me started on the non-research metrics, like course evaluations—which we all know are notoriously flawed. See here, here, and here.) Those are all pretty common measures that are widely used. But a recent Twitter thread indicated to me that some political scientists may not be aware of a new(ish) measure that can help to quantify use of your non-publication outputs as well as your social media reach: altmetrics. This is helpful if your institution puts a premium on public engagement.

Altmetrics are simply alternative measures of scholarly reach/output. They include measures like the number of downloads of your work from your institutional repository or number of mentions on social media. The usage metrics provided by Academia.edu or Research Gate are also considered alternatives to traditional metrics (use the latter with caution, though).

In this post, I focus on Altmetric Badges from Altmetric.com because they aggregate many sources of attention and because many leading journals have started adding Badges to their sites. I give a brief overview of altmetrics, including how they can be used in promotion and tenure (P&T) applications, as well as the pros/cons. I end the post with a brief overview of the problems inherent in many of the traditional measures we use to evaluate scholarship (citation counts, journal impact factors, etc.) since I have found that almost no one tells people these things in grad school. (But they’re helpful to know!)

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#WPSA17 Award Winners

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Thank you to our conference community and the city of Vancouver, BC for a successful #WPSA17! Below is a list of those scholars who won an award at the 2017 conference for their exceptional 2016 conference papers. If you would like to submit a paper from WPSA17 to be awarded at next year’s conference in San Francisco, please see the information toward the bottom of this post.

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A message from WPSA 2017 President, Julie Novkov

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Dear Member of WPSA:
 
The Western Political Science Association has long had a reputation for hosting a welcoming annual meeting where scholars consciously orient their presentations toward significant problems in politics. It is also the home of annual pre-conference workshops on Latino politics, environmental politics, feminist political theory, and other specialized inquiries. WPSA prides itself on its spirit of lively inquiry with a critical focus on political issues that matter not just to political scientists, but to anyone who cares about the health and vitality of politics, policy, democracy, and civic engagement. 
 
As the association has grown over the years, we have enjoyed providing a space for inquiry that brings together scholars from the western United States, but also scholars based in other regions of the United States and abroad. Our welcoming reputation has also made the annual meeting a magnet for graduate students, many of whom hold student visas and enrich our proceedings with perspectives spanning earlier educational experiences from across the globe. One acknowledgement of our recognition that the world of political science is not solely an American world was our decision to be the first regional American association in the discipline to hold an annual meeting outside of the United States, traveling to Vancouver in 2009. This year, we return to Vancouver to reinforce this understanding.
 
The “we” who return to Vancouver, however, is not universal. Our program team did its usual excellent job of constructing a wonderful program during the fall as the US election campaign was unfolding, and our invitations to accepted participants went out as usual in late October. However, in the wake of President Trump’s executive orders banning migration from seven, and then six, Muslim-majority nations, coupled with multiple verified reports of highly aggressive border policing, scholars at risk began to withdraw from the conference. Approximately a dozen have been in touch with WPSA to inform us that they would be unable to attend. Some were directly affected by the travel ban, and even with the legal injunction in place, felt directly targeted and threatened by the President’s words. Some, though not from the targeted nations, received advice from private legal counsel that traveling on a visa outside of the United States was risky because problem-free reentry could not be guaranteed. Others were advised by their universities to err on the side of caution. And some simply observed the many reports of non-citizens, even green card holders, having had to endure interrogations, delays, and detentions at the border and quite reasonably concluded that the risks were too great. Further, the chaos in the federal bureaucracy charged with processing visa renewals has produced unreasonable and unanticipated delays for other scholars.
 
As President of the Association, I saw the notes from the scholars who informed us about the reasons for withdrawing from the conference. These fine scholars were regretful and apologetic, some even expressing some shame for their fears. Their words saddened me but angered me as well, and I am sure that beyond those who expressed their regrets, more simply opted out without explaining. I wrote back to each person who contacted WPSA, but wanted to make all members of the association aware of the loss that we have all incurred.
 
The inhumane, unconstitutional, and irrational executive orders and apparent policy directives that target immigrants and visa holders have directly harmed our association and our members. Of course, those who cannot travel or who reasonably fear traveling lose out by not being able to attend the annual meeting. However, those who will attend the meeting also lose out by not being able to engage with these crucially important members of our community. The comparative experiences and insights of our immigrant and visa-holding members help to advance the scholarly interests of everyone who gets to hear about them, think about them, and use them as lenses to reflect critically on their own research and experiences. The knowledge we generate in Vancouver will be impoverished through its exclusivity. This impoverishment hits in part precisely where it does the most harm – because of the diminishment of our scholarly circle, our attending members have less capacity to understand and address the comparative and international dynamics that have contributed to the backwards mindset behind these travel policies.
 
I am sorry as your President that this annual meeting, no matter how wonderful it is, will fall short of its greatest potential. I’m sorry for the squandered opportunities for attendees to engage with the fullest possible range of political science scholarship. But most of all, I am terribly sorry that some of our members will be unable to come to the conference that means so much to all of us. I hope, of course, that we will have full and robust participation next year, but far more than that, I hope that next year we can come together in a political environment in the United States that respects and honors the tremendously valuable intellectual contributions of immigrants and visa holders.
 
                                    Julie Novkov
                                    WPSA President

Pink Cat-Ear Hats, Knitted Solidarity, and Women’s Rights

By Meaghan Charlton

Pink, cat-ear hats emerged as the symbol of the Women’s March on Washington through the Pussyhat Project.  In response, some have suggested that the pink hats might be a goofy distraction to the women’s rights movement or a visual that problematically reduces femininity to biological characteristics. However, approaching the pink hat initiative from this angle neglects to recognize knitting’s long-standing deployment as a social movement and solidarity-building tactic, , its inclusivity of disabled, caretaker, and LGBTQ populations, and the reclaiming function the pink hat project embodies.

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#APSA2016 Twitter Analysis

By Eric C. Vorst

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The 2016 American Political Science Association annual meeting in Philadelphia was a great place to highlight new research, to learn from our peers, and to make new professional connections. It also provided an exciting opportunity to gain new insight into how networks of discussion evolve in real time over the duration of a major academic conference. Data mining software, content analysis, and social network visualization tools were used to observe how communities of discussion evolved as the conference unfolded, to identify the emergence of key themes, and to map the extent to which these themes reached different communities within the network.  Ultimately, this project helps to provide a unique insight into what political scientists talk about during a political science convention.

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Empathy as a Method for Understanding Why 53% of White Women Voters Voted for Trump

By William J. Kelleher

Several recent news articles, including one from The New York Times and The Atlantic, offer up an explanation for why 53% of white women voters voted for Donald Trump, despite the disrespect he has shown for women, particularly white women. For example, The New York Times article presents political scientist Kathleen Dolan’s explanation of this political behavior. That explanation can be stated in the form of this syllogism:

Empirical studies show that

  • A) voters generally tend to vote according to their party identification, and that
  • B) a majority of white women identify with the Republican Party;
  • C) therefore, a majority of white women voted for Trump rather than Clinton.

This “explanation” has the virtue of being relatively straight forward insofar as it consists of explicit inferences drawn from accepted facts. But I’m not satisfied with the explanation given. The implication that party ID caused the voting results seems overly mechanistic, shallow, and insufficient. I still want to know why so many white women voters voted for Donald Trump.

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Civil Rights Advocacy and Unsupportive White Attitudes: Lessons from World War II

By Steven White

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Civil rights advocates frequently work in the context of unfavorable public opinion among white Americans. For example, attitudes towards the Black Lives Matter movement remain strikingly racially polarized, with whites generally much less supportive of the movement than African Americans, even in the presence of video evidence of police misconduct. Such attitudes can be difficult to change. What, then, does it take to radically alter white racial attitudes? And what might civil rights advocates do if negative white attitudes toward the Black Lives Matter movement remain unchanged?

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