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The Political Scientist as Blogger

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My article at Political Science and Politics is now available, gated here (Complicating the Political Scientist as Blogger. PS: Political Science and Politics, 46:2 (April 2013), pp. 383-386), ungated here. Key graph:

If you are reading this article in PS, the article has gone through a vetting and editing process that has probably lasted at least 18 months. This process undoubtedly improved the quality of the article, but it also substantially delayed its entry into the debate. Had I simply posted this discussion as a blog response to Sides, it probably would have taken me three or four days to write and edit it. I would have included multiple hyperlinks, effectively “citing” not only Sides article but a plethora of different pieces on blogging and the academy. The article could have been viewed by some 4,000 regular visitors to Lawyers, Guns and Money, plus another 8,000 or so subscribers. Any one of these subscribers could have responded (helpfully or unhelpfully) in our comments section, likely generating a long debate both on the merits of the article and on the merits of the author. Sides could have responded within a day, and a multitude of other political science bloggers might have chimed in during the ensuing weeks.

Instead, I published the article here in PS, giving up all of that in return for a line on my CV with the “peer review” annotation.The delay of this article, the loss of all of the interactivity that the Internet provides, and the substantial reduction in the number of people likely to read the piece buy me a slightly improved chance at tenure and promotion.

To say that this makes little sense is an understatement.

This article is a response to John Sides’April 2011 article “The Political Scientist as Blogger.” Core argument is this: Sides treats blogging (and what I tend to think of as associated “public intellectual” activities) as adjunct to a successful political science career.  I, on the other hand, think that we should take seriously the possibility that these activities should become the main course of a successful career in political science (and other fields). As the above passage suggests, there are severe drawbacks associated with the centrality of the peer review system to academic hiring and promotion.  To add another; I wrote the first draft of the attached article in June 2011, and my calendar tells me it’s now April 2013, which is perhaps why the article now feels dated. As we try to make the case that political science is sufficiently relevant to public policy to deserve NSF funding, we have to take seriously the problem that career incentives in our field do not support the efforts of scholars to make significant, timely policy contributions early in their careers.

And also this:

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  • cpinva

    i don’t know that i would agree with a blog being “the main course of a successful career”, in any field. certainly, it should be considered as a legitimate part of your overall CV, depending on the content, and level of participation of educated respondents. there are several legal/tax blogs that i read, that i find to be excellent sources of information, both personally, and professionally. if i saw that on someone’s resume’, i’d be impressed.

  • Well, it is possible to have fast peer reviewed online publications. But, these are not the same as blogs. See for instance the journal below. I wrote an article for it over Winter Break and it was published in early February. A total of less than two months from start of writing to publication including peer review.

    http://eurasiahistory.com/2012-2/

    Blogs are a bit different in while many of them including mine and LGM have scholarly works on them, they also have a lot of non-scholarly work. Also there is no formal peer review before publication and informal peer review in the comments is uneven. In fact most likely they will get no comments on most blogs. But, I think an even more critical difference is the fact that even scholarly works on blogs tend to be short and note like rather than extended articles. For an example on the differences in length between the two forms compare the blog post on the same subject to the journal article above.

    http://jpohl.blogspot.com/2013/02/russian-german-labor-army-conscripts.html

    Also while LGM gets thousands of hits, most personal blogs probably get fewer hits than academic journals. But, I think the real differences here are that blogging does not lend itself to 20 page articles and there is no peer review either pre or post publication in most cases.

  • patrick II

    I am not sure how a group of alleged political scientists did not know enough political science to build an organization strong enough to keep the wheels greased in Washington. Isn’t that pretty much rule 1?

    • Hogan

      Keeping the wheels greased in Washington is more craft than science.

      • JKTHs

        Keeping the wheels greased in Washington is more craft grift than science.

        FTFY

        • Hogan

          Potato, tomahto.

  • oops the journal url did not work. Hopefully this one will work.

    http://www.eurasiahistory.com/2013-2/

  • Marc

    Peer review has a different purpose, at least in the sciences. This amounts to checking whether prior work is properly cited, whether the methods used are sound, and distinguishing between the actual results and their interpretation.

    Look at, say, creation science or climate change skeptics for what happens in a purely open model. You end up with a lot of people amplifying their ignorance and flooding online forums with flatly wrong claims.

    There is another model,and I’m a bit surprised that political science doesn’t follow it. In physics and astronomy there is the LANL preprint server, where papers (either submitted or accepted) can be posted to the internet prior to publication.

    http://arxiv.org/

    There is peer checking on what is to be posted to weed out cranks. You need step #2 to retain more signal than noise.

    • Chem Nerd

      In Chemistry, Antony Williams (now at the RSC) and others have been working quite hard at trying to develop systems whereby results can be published online with free access for everyone and immediate feedback while still maintaining fact checking and other key aspects of peer review … all while providing metrics to justify your impact to your dean, provost, promotion committee, et al.

      I personally, have focused on more traditional peer reviewed publications, but have also posted a lot of the software I’ve developed online. I am sure that my peer reviewed publications were key to my getting tenure and a promotion, but I know my provost has been very interested in software I make available via the MATLAB central file exchange: because having a major software developer producing works (indicating his affiliation with the university) that are freely available for others to use to advance their scholarship is something the provost can publicize to demonstrate the impact of faculty research, and hence it is something that will be considered in tenure and promotion decisions.

  • It’s an effing disgrace what the IEEE charges for technology articles, generally written on government salary.

    • sparks

      To think I was a member of that accursed organization. Also, too, ACM.

      • Plarry

        ACM policy allows publication of government funded work on publicly available websites; e.g., NIH funded work can be put in final form on pubmed.

    • Cody

      Yes, I joined the IEEE and am extremely upset.

      Sooo I paid all this money so that I COULD PAY MORE MONEY? What kind of scam is this! Hopefully putting it on my resume at least makes it worth the money – not that much over a year really.

      • sparks

        To say those memberships were of little value to me would be an understatement. Once you’re in the trenches working, they’re no more valuable than a frat pin. One you have to keep paying for. I can see where academics might value those memberships.

  • I think by now we have over a full decade’s worth of evidence all pointing in one clear direction: blogs are a passing fad.

    • NonyNony

      Apparently that’s what Google thinks.

      (Still bitter about losing Google Reader, and it hasn’t even gone away yet).

    • Well I don’t think they are a passing fad. But, there seem to be less of them than five years ago or so. Other platforms seem to have taken over a lot of the discourse once occupied by blogs.

      • Johnny Sack

        What platforms are you referring to?

        • Rhino

          Twatter seems to infest the discourse more and more.

          • Johnny Sack

            I don’t see Twitter as shutting out blogs or replacing them. One of the few reasons I like Twitter is reading a quick back and forth between bloggers I follow and frequent links to pieces I wouldn’t find otherwise.

          • NonyNony

            Twitter has only eliminated the linkblogs that I used to check every once in a while for the most part.

            I’m not quite sure what J. Otto is talking about – I have far more blogs in my RSS feed now than I did 5 years ago. They are mostly different blogs now than then, and I’m fairly constantly adding new ones in as ones that I used to read fall by the wayside, but the blog form is clearly not dead.

            And 5 years is a respectable time for a blogger to “burn out” in. I tried keeping a blog and it lasted all of six months before real life interfered.

            • Johnny Sack

              I see the ways in which Twitter and Facebook are used as mostly supplementing and not supplanting blogging (by which I mean the type of medium form work that I see here). If anything worried me about a sea change in the blogging world, it was Tumblr. There are some “blogs” I enjoy following on Tumblr, but with the exception of Soup, they are mostly gif-related and otherwise without intellectual substance. There are other fairly good blogs on Tumblr, but for the most part I cannot stand that site as a platform for the more serious blogs I read-although that could be the “get off my lawn” coming out.

              I also burned out fairly quickly. Colleagues of mine started up in the mid-naughts but I maxed out at about 1 comment per post after a year, and then life just took over. I understand that it takes a while to build up a base (looking through the LGM archives, it looks like there where a few years where there were, for the most part no comments).

              • Scott Lemieux

                Right. Twitter has supplanted RSS feeders, not blogging.

              • Robert Farley

                Actually, we lost a huge percentage of the comments when we shifted to WordPress. There certainly were fewer comments in the old days, but more than it appears now in the archive.

        • Facebook and Twitter mostly. I do not use Twitter. But, a number of people I know personally who used to comment on my blog a lot, prefer to have the conversations on FB. Because of its semi-private nature a number of people I know participate in the FB debates, but never comment on my blog. So there is a lot more interaction on my FB wall postings than on my blog.

          • NonyNony

            But your blog hasn’t been replaced by Facebook – your comment section has been replaced by Facebook.

            • True, but since most of my blog posts are short I could just migrate them over to FB and get rid of the blog. I like the blog better for a number of reasons. One of which is the archiving system. But, I think a lot of other people have basically abandoned blogs almost entirely for FB and Twitter. At any rate I probably have six dedicated blog readers versus 30 on FB (out of 200 friends).

              • “I like the blog better for a number of reasons. One of which is the archiving system.”

                Amen. I find I use my blog as much for personal reference (“when did that happen?”) nowadays. I still write short-to-medium posts and link to them from FB, but as someone said above, FB has replaced my comments section.

  • Hanspeter

    Does it really take 18 months for a PoliSci article to get published? Or was there a gap in there at some point between draft 1 and publication when the article wasn’t being worked on (either by the author or the editor)?

    Your article was published in April 2013. What was the dead time between final acceptance and publication?

    • I don’t know about PoliSci, but I have had publications take as long as five years to come out in print after I had finished the final draft. Maybe history is just slower. However, a couple years between first draft and publication does not strike me as out of the ordinary at all.

    • Robert Farley

      It varies quite a lot. In the original draft I had listed “12 months” and changed in the final version. But in fairness I did sit on the R&R for a while (other priorities, etc.) That said, a) it’s pretty common for academics to have other priorities and not get to R&Rs immediately, b) this was one R&R cycle; didn’t submit to multiple journals, etc. And so 18 months is hardly unusual.

      • arguingwithsignposts

        R&R?

        • Anonymous

          Revise and resubmit.

          • Dave Brockington

            18 months is indeed hardly unusual. In the case of a successful placement in the first journal (which seems to be increasingly more difficult), I assume two years from initial submission to print, assuming the requisite R&R period of course.

    • JoyfulA

      In multiauthor academic books, we sometimes sit years awaiting a final contributor to approve the edited text. In journals, you can at least substitute an article.

      • Even without waiting for the final contributor they take from two to five years in my experience.

  • Njorl

    “…a vetting and editing process that has probably lasted at least 18 months.”

    That’s insane. In physics the time is less than half that. It leads me to believe there are not enough reviewers. Where I work, being called on to review papers for journals is valued. Is it not the same for political science?

    • Marc

      There is a crazy long lead time for peer reviewing in math. Someone has to check all of those proofs line by line…

    • gmack

      It depends on what you mean by “valued.”

      Most people admire and praise reviewers, but there is almost no professional benefit in doing them. As for the issue of time, Rob’s 18 months observation strikes me as about right. Here’s how the process has gone for me: Step one (God knows how long): Write the paper; Step 2: Send it off to a journal (most PS journals take at least six weeks to get it reviewed, and one can expect at least a week or two for the editor to find suitable reviewers who can do the work; so let’s call it 8 weeks, since I’m optimistic. My friends in the other humanities–e.g., English, the other modern languages, or art history–tell me it takes up to 6 months or more for reviewers to get the articles turned around). Step 3: Editor wants revisions that respond to the review (God knows how long it will take, but my rule of thumb is a couple of months); Step 4: return revisions (at this point, the article is usually accepted, in my experience, but maybe not. They may send it back to reviewers who may want more revisions, etc.). Step 5: Once the article is accepted, you have to wait however long it will be before it fits into an issue. And of course, God help you if, say, your revisions aren’t accepted, which would mean that you’ve wasted months of time.

    • Meg

      I work for a major publisher and can verify that it is extremely difficult to find reviewers in the social sciences and humanities. There are many, many academics who don’t find it to be worth their time. Plenty of other factors come into play as well: frequency of publication, page budget per issue and per volume, paperflow (too few papers means a complete issue can’t come together, too many can lead to a backlog of several years). Many publishers work on methods to combat these issues but they are not typically one-size-fits-all solutions, so it is slow going.

      • Have you thought about paying people for the labor they put into review rather than relying upon unpaid labor? Most people don’t like to work for free because the market women won’t give us food for free. Given the extortionate prices journals charge libraries it is absolutely criminal that they pay absolutely nothing to the people who write and review the articles in them. Where does all the money go?

        • Meg

          This is actually a question that I have considered a lot recently, as I have friends in academics who wonder the same thing. The money goes to quite a few places that authors don’t see. The way our process works, each individual article is seen twice by a typesetter, at least once by a copyeditor, and several times by the person in charge of the production of that article. Those are three people who are paid to be responsible for every single article that is published (I personally probably see between 450 and 500 articles per volume year). Other variables that impact how much it costs to produce the actual articles are: building/maintaining online submissions systems, additional proofreaders, printing and distribution of physical journal copies, hosting online versions and maintaining the platform to do so. In addition to that, you must also factor in the cost of hiring an external academic editor (many of whom are well compensated for the work they do) for each journal, internal management/marketing/production/customer service/sales, advertising and promotion, etc.
          The impression I have, as someone who has not published myself, is that reviewing a handful of articles over the course of a year is worth the ability to list that duty on your CV, but the lack of willing volunteers implies that is not the case.

          • dsn

            Can’t you replace the typesetter by getting people to submit in LaTeX? That’s what we do in CS.

            • Meg

              There is some use of LaTeX in my company, mostly for equations in the hard sciences. I believe, then, we would also need to have someone in place to make sure that authors have submitted according to the style guidelines (harder than you’d think) and correct any errors, essentially replacing the typesetter with… a typesetter.

          • Reviewing articles counts for nothing on the CV for promotion in my case and I assume UG is not unique in the world. So the reason you have trouble finding any reviewers is because you refuse to pay them. It is simple as that.

            • Meg

              I think it’s important in this case to remember there are two culprits in the current structure, as it could just as easily be said that the reason I have trouble finding reviewers is that there is no weight given to that role when it comes to academic promotion.

              • See this is the problem. The companies that own the journals are relying upon universities (many state subsidized) to pay all the compensation for all their labor. They already get all of their writing done absolutely free due to universities considering it for promotion. Why can’t they pay market rates themselves like other commercial publishers? It is because they want to drastically increase their profit margins by decreasing their labor costs.

                • Meg

                  They are companies, so their goal would be to turn as large a profit as possible. My point wasn’t to stir up trouble, it was just to show that there are two sides to the current structure, the companies are merely capitalizing on the encouragement to publish that has grown so loud over the years in academia.

    • Bill Murray

      It’s pretty much the same as Njorl says for engineering, too. Well at least the various types of materials/metallurgical engineering I have published in. I have had 40-50 peer-reviewed papers published in journals and maybe 4-5 have taken more than 9 months and only a couple more than a year, one because the journal mostly runs theme-based issues, and it took quite a while for a relevant theme. But that article was published online in the standard 4-6 months from submission

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  • pete

    Hmm. Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

    Irresistible quote, of course, given that (1) it’s a nice piece, and (2) as a regular visitor and occasional commenter, I wonder who a subscriber is. I do see a donate button … maybe I should just click it.

  • I think we all need to think of peer review as certification, not necessarily impact, just as we’ve changed from thinking of conferences as conferring otherwise-unavailable information about work being done to a place to network, collaborate, etc. If we do that, then blogging and peer-review can be complements rather than substitutes.

    So I just had a paper accepted for publication. It went through one round of R&R at one journal, and was then rejected (by a hairline decision; three reviewers said “yes”, one was on the fence). I sent it to another journal and went through R&R again. It was just accepted. It will likely appear in the Sept 2014 of the journal, so 18 months from now, altho it may be published online by the journal sooner than that as part of an “Early View” series.

    I started writing the paper in the fall of 2009. First draft was completed in Spring 2010, and was kinda-sorta peer-reviewed then (it was my MA thesis, which I had to defend). Then I presented it at several conferences, where it was discussed by other academics. Then I began the submissions. All in all it’ll take about 5 years from initiation to publication.

    Part of that was my fault: the paper wasn’t so great when I started, and I took on average 2-5 months to do the revisions. Part of it was that I sent it to pretty good journals (<10% acceptance rate), which makes it harder to get it accepted and often takes longer to work through the system due to the high volume those places receive. Often, required revisions will also be more extensive at higher-ranked journals.

    But in the meantime I've blogged the paper. It's been picked up by several news outlets and relatively high-profile bloggers. It's been cited as a working/conference paper, etc. So the "news" from the research has been out for awhile; it's only the certification that's taken so long. That process of certification undoubtedly made the paper better in my case, on both theoretical and methodological grounds, but the core argument hasn't changed.

    And that's what blogging is good for: core arguments. Peer-reviewed journals are better for extensive and careful analysis of those arguments. It's fine to have different standards, since they serve fundamentally different purposes. That doesn't mean that blogging doesn't have academic value, however, and in political science there appears to be a growing recognition of that. In the recent TRIPS survey of international relations scholars I believe around 65% said that blogging should count for tenure/promotions as academic service.

    • arguingwithsignposts

      The problem is that, in order to apply those papers to tenure, you’ve got to have them ready to go in year 1-3 in order to hope to have an acceptable number of peer-reviewed papers published by the time you go up for review (depending on your department). That’s a lot of weight to put on a beginning assistant professor in addition to the teaching and service responsibilities.

      • Yup. It’s not easy to get a sweet job which you are almost guaranteed for life with great benefits and well above the median wage by the time you are 35-40 years old. It’s why I’ve worked my ass off in grad school, so I’ve got a stream of stuff which will roll out over the next 6-12 months, and already have a number of publications out or forthcoming. If the stuff in the pipeline hits I’m in okay shape. If not, I probably won’t get tenure at the R1 where I start as assistant professor next Fall.

        It’s tough, but it’s not as if that’s a secret. I knew it’d be hard going in, and that I’d have to work a lot to get a good job and then keep it.

        This is why I really don’t understand folks who go to grad school and then screw around. Even if they get a job, it’s going to be hard to get tenure if you don’t build up momentum. Time is your enemy until you get tenure, so you have to front-load some pain and hope it pays off down the road.

        • Matt_L

          So time is money. And any time you spend in Grad School doing things that don’t lead to a future publication are wasted time. Doesn’t sound like much of an education, that sounds more like a prescription for careerism … oops sorry professionalization.

          I’d say grad school should be the one place where you are free to screw around by taking courses, presenting papers and having BS sessions at the bar that might not get you published, but will broaden your intellectual horizons. You need some intellectual seed corn for future classes and to make you a good colleague who can relate to the work of others.

          Grad school should also be a place where you can experiment and run the risk of failure. Because if you never fail or struggle at anything, you probably aren’t learning.

          Have fun getting it into the pipeline! Good luck!

          • Dave

            Surely, if you’re talking about the US, “you” already had a MINIMUM of 4 years undergraduate college to “screw around … and run the risk of failure”? How long a ride do you want?

            • Matt_L

              Grad students are students, not mini professors. They are supposed to be doing studenty things. Which means there should be chances to take intellectual risks and learn new things without having to worry about earning tenure. You already have to spend five to seven years sweating bullets as an assistant professor before you can go up for tenure. Grad school should set you on the road to erudition. Its not supposed to be the start of the tenure clock.

              And by screwing around, I take that to mean pursuing potential dissertation topics, taking a broad range of graduate seminars and reading shit like Marx’s Capital and Hayek’s road to serfdom, even if neither of them makes it into a footnote for your dissertation. It is substantially different from undergraduate screwing around which may or may not involve keg stands, trying to get into the pants of the members of the opposite sex or going to concerts before writing all your papers the night before.

          • Dave,

            Sure, there is some time for that. But grad school is about training you to be a professor. So yeah: professionalization. In most research universities, being a professor means that 50-60% of your job performance is measured in terms of research output. In grad school, past the first couple of years ALL of your performance is measured in terms of research output (i.e., dissertation). On the job market, almost all of the important signals you can send to hiring departments concerns your ability to output research.

            So sure, screw around if you want. But understand that you’re not doing what you’re being trained to do, and what you will be expected to do later. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read widely: grad school is great for that, especially in the first few years. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try out things that might end up failing… it just means that there’s a risk associated with that.

            Matt_L,

            No, I was mostly referring to doing keg stands and trying to get laid. How many grad students do you know? Most don’t re-read *Capital* just for the hell of it in their free time. Most don’t write on far-flung topics unrelated to their dissertations. It seems like half of all grad students that I come across (not just in social sciences) are in grad school because they really liked college, were good at it, and no professional occupation really appeals to them. Not because they are on a Holy Quest for Enlightenment.

            There’s nothing wrong with that per se; it just makes it harder to get a job or get tenure if you get a late start.

            And, actually, grad students kind of *are* mini professors. Most of us are either teaching assistants or research assistants. Most of us conduct our own research, present at conferences, review at journals, etc. Many of us teach our own classes. The “student” stage of grad school is the first 40-50% of it, after which it’s more of an apprenticeship. By the time you’re done, you’re expected to hit the ground running, which is only possible if you’ve been building up momentum.

            • gmack

              I agree with your take on the stuff grad students should be doing if they want to get tenure, particularly at an R1 institution. I had the (good or bad, depending on one’s point of view) fortune of having a couple of years between finishing my dissertation and starting my first tenure track job, during which time I was able to get a good running start on my book manuscript (which is coming out very soon! Yay!). But the problem I have will of this is not, as MattL has it, that academic structures have caused me to become a good little Calvinist worker or that they do not allow sufficient time for exploration; rather, the problem I have has to do with work conditions: existing academic practices around tenure do not seem to take things like health or family life into account. I’ve been successful (my tenure case isn’t official but everyone has basically told me there are no problems), and part of the reason is that I have no children, no significant familial obligations, and no health issues, all of which mean that I can basically devote as much time as necessary to my career. And this time is necessary: between writing publishable articles and books, advising, constructing new courses (of which I had to do 10 in my first two years!), committee work, and so on, the demands of this job are such that I really have almost no idea how those with children manage it (many do of course, but I also have a friend who has been struggling, largely because she’s had health problems and many in her family have as well). The academy has been fine for me, but I think current expectations have created pretty significant problems for many others.

  • Russell B in L.A.

    I like political science blogging. I kept a blog for several years that I used as a way of extending the classroom for students in large (250+) lectures. I never intended for it to replace teaching, just to provide additional context, discussion, data, history, etc.

    Look, no one denies that peer-review is essential. No one denies that publishing is essential (though I myself have not, by virtue of the Adjunct Lifestyle, done nearly enough). But when did it become essential to that we approach our research as if we are hoarding monk-like arcana? Though I didn’t agree with his politics, I worked quite happily for James Q. Wilson, and what I admired about him was his willingness to “speak” in a language that Americans could understand.

    My own point of view is that the field became so self-infatuated with scientism in the 1980s and 1990s that political scientists lost both the ability (on average) and the will (much more importantly) to contribute to public debates in accessible language. One of the things I’ve admired very much about LGM and The Monkey Cage and other political science blogging, is the way they use political science in a way that is accessible, yet neither patronizes nor panders. I agree with the commenters here and elsewhere who note — in what I think is a perfectly schadenfreudelicious way — the irony of political scientists taken by surprise by the politics of NSF funding.

  • It’s time for some robust boycotting of journals that don’t allow free online availability, perhaps on a personal web page. Cf. the boycott of Elsevier led by the eminent Cambridge mathematician Timothy Gowers.

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  • Manta

    I want to remind people the boycott of Elsevier and the reasons behind it:
    http://thecostofknowledge.com/

    The public is paying for research twice: first by paying the actual researcher, then by paying the journals.

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