A Response to Discussions and Debates at the 2015 APSA Meeting

 

At the 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association in San Francisco, DA-RT and JETS were a central topic at several meetings. There were multiple workshops, roundtables, and ad hoc discussions. In addition, transparency was debated at several of the organized section business meetings. As a results, conversations about openness took place on almost every day of the Annual Meeting.  

 

As facilitators of a now five-year long dialogue on openness, we were of course delighted that the topic received such a wide airing. We also appreciated the constructive spirit in which many of these conversations occurred. Some of the discussions about DA-RT and JETS were based on misunderstandings about the content of these projects and how they came to be. In light of these discussions, we think it may be useful to offer a few additional clarifications that can serve help make future discussions more effective.

 

An Ad Hoc Committee on DA-RT was created by the APSA Council in 2010. DA-RT and the APSA Council worked together with the Ethics Committee and other APSA committees for over two years to develop changes to the ethics guide. These developments are documented in the published minutes of APSA Council meetings from 2010 to 2013.

 

After APSA's Ethics Committee approved a set of changes, the APSA Council sought public comment on the changes. APSA advertised the opportunities for public comment to all members on its website and in its newsletters.

 

After the period for public comment had ended the APSA Council and Ethics Committee reviewed the comments and produced the final version of the changes that the Council approved.

 

This is the only official American Political Science Association policy on DA-RT.  APSA announced these changes in messages and publications that were sent to all members. It dedicated a page on its website to the changes and for a period of time linked directly to these changes from the APSA home page.

 

After these changes were adopted, many APSA members and journal editors wanted advice about how to think about the changes. To assist them, APSA leaders and asked DA-RT to organize a symposium in PS. It was published in January of 2014. Notice of this publication was sent to all APSA members. 

 

After the publication of this symposium, editors and publishers sought further advice about how to 

manage these issues. Syracuse University and the University of Michigan cosponsored a workshop that brought together archivists, publishers, and journal editors. At its own expense, APSA sent members of its staff to attend this meeting. Because APSA's willingness to pay its own way allowed us to expand the set of invitees given our very limited budget, they were listed as a cosponsor. 

 

At the meeting, journal editors in attendance proposed the idea of a joint transparency statement. The later part of the workshop agenda was reorganized so that they could jointly determine the extent of their commitment to shared principles.

 

For approximately a month after the meeting, the editors and other conference attendees continued to work on the statement. After the group converged on language, DA-RT facilitators then worked with other attendees to identify other journals that might also want to sign. The DA-RT facilitators did not do extensive recruiting, and several of the signers contacted us asking to join.

 

The resulting Journal Editors Transparency Statement (JETS) is not an official APSA document. It was created by, and is signed only by, journal editors. The only official APSA policy on this topic are the changes to the ethics guide described above. 

 

JETS is an open document, and any journal editor is welcome to sign.  JETS describes a basic commitment to openness in the context of evidence-based research.

 

It is important to note that JETS does not create new powers for journal editors. Instead, it asks them to clarify or articulate decisions they are already making or attempting to manage. Journal editors have had, and will continue to have, broad discretion to choose what they will and will not publish and their basis for doing so. 

 

In the weeks leading up to the 2015 APSA Meeting, we learned that scholars from some qualitative, ethnographic, and interpretative research traditions read the joint statement as endangering human subjects and their scholars' ability to conduct valuable research. This was not the intent of the DA-RT changes to the ethics guide or its further articulation in the 2014 PS Symposium, and we do not believe it is the editors’ aim to do so in JETS. It is important to remember that the DA-RT project generally, and JETS in particular, are formulated in broad principles, but instantiated by local practices. Journals will develop policies that match the customs of the research communities which they typically serve.  Moreover, in all of our conversations with journal editors, no editor has ever questioned the importance of protecting human subjects.

 

It is very encouraging that so many scholars from the qualitative, ethnographic, and interpretative traditions have agreed to participate in DA-RT and JETS conversations, including those who wanted to share their skepticism and concerns. This willingness to engage was a major reason why there were so many DA-RT focused discussion venues at APSA 2015. Both at the APSA meeting, and in productive dialogues since, we have been very pleased to facilitate work by multiple groups to clarify language and to take constructive next steps to increase transparency in ways that respect the primacy of human subjects protection and our discipline's multiple ways of knowing. 

 

Thank you for your kindness and your consideration. 

 

Sincerely, Colin, Diana, and Skip