Political-Science Journal and Its Publisher Reach New Détente

July 07, 2009

The major-league ballplayer Jason Giambi famously called a news conference at Yankee Stadium in 2005 to apologize for — something. Everyone more or less knew that Mr. Giambi was confessing to using steroids, but that day he declined to specify why he was sorry.

This week political scientists may be feeling some of the same puzzlement that reporters felt during Mr. Giambi’s briefing. The scholarly publisher Sage Publications has issued an apology to the editorial board of Political Theory, a journal that it has published since 1973. And a member of that editorial board has released a statement accepting Sage’s apology. But neither party will spell out exactly what there might be to apologize for.

As in Mr. Giambi’s case, the public here has at least a rough idea of what Sage and the editorial board are talking about. On June 16, a message board known as the Political Theory and Public Law Job Market posted an announcement from Stephen Leonard, an associate professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Mr. Leonard warned that Sage was moving to replace the current editor of Political Theory, Mary G. Dietz, a professor of political science at Northwestern University.

Mr. Leonard wrote that in making this move, Sage had failed to respect its usual “process of consultation and advice with editors, board members, and interested members of the political-theory community.” The message board was then consumed by several days of heated, often anonymous speculation about why Sage might be replacing its editor. Was it because of a doctrinal dispute among various factions of political theorists? Was it because of a decline in the journal’s impact factor? (That thread led to a provocative post from McGill University’s Jacob T. Levy about why declining cross-citation rates might actually reflect benign, or even healthy, developments within political theory.)

Then last Thursday came a post from Mark Bevir, a professor of political science at the University of California at Berkeley. Mr. Bevir wrote that he had recently been offered the editorship of Political Theory, but had renounced the position after he realized that the selection process had been “unusual.”

Later that day came a signed message from a member of the journal’s editorial board. Terrell Carver, a professor at the University of Bristol, in England, wrote that he had received a “full, frank, and sincere apology from the Sage vice president involved.” Ms. Dietz would continue as editor, and the matter should now be regarded as closed.

Ms. Dietz and Mr. Leonard declined to answer questions this week from The Chronicle. Ms. Dietz would say only that the dispute had been resolved to the board’s satisfaction.

In an interview with The Chronicle this afternoon, Jayne Marks, the Sage official who sent the board that “full, frank, and sincere apology,” repeated that she regretted the incident — but she declined to give any specifics about what had happened.

“There was a lot of miscommunication going between lots of different people,” she said. “But we were able to resolve that once we got down to a one-to-one conversation.” She would not comment in detail on the accuracy of Mr. Leonard’s initial June 16 post, though she said that it reflected “misunderstandings.”

Ms. Marks concluded by saying, “I’m trying to respect Professor Carver’s wish that we don’t say any more about this, on both sides, and that we just go forward in a positive way.” She said that she planned to attend the editorial board’s next business meeting, which will take place in September in Toronto during the American Political Science Association’s convention. —David Glenn