Petition

On November 12, a petition urging a delay in the implementation of DA-RT was sent to the 27 editors who had signed the Journal Editors Transparency Statement (JETS) supporting DA-RT.

The petition was signed by 1,173 political science scholars, including 10 former APSA presidents. The list of people who signed and the original petition text (also pasted below) can be found here.

November 3, 2015

Dear Colleagues,

We write as concerned members of the American Political Science Association to urge an important amendment to the statement, “Data Access and Research Transparency (DA- RT): A Joint Statement by Political Science Journal Editors.” In the joint statement, dated October 6, 2014, journal editors committed their respective journals to a set of principles, to be implemented by January 15, 2016.

DA-RT organizers have made many efforts over the past five years to reach out to members of the profession through various symposia and meetings. However, these issues began to gain widespread attention only when the journal editors signed the statement of October 6, 2014 and panels at the 2015 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association brought the issue to the attention of many scholars who had not realized the possible implications of that statement for their own research, despite the previous outreach activities. Conversations at the panels, roundtables, section business meetings, and other venues at the recent annual meeting demonstrated that members of the Association have only just begun to grapple with the implications of DA-RT. Profession-wide conversations about the meaning, practicalities, and costs and benefits of data access and research transparency are now beginning, for example, in research communities such as Women and Politics Research and History and Politics.

At this point, many key questions remain unresolved. Some of the issues raised at the Annual Meeting and in other venues include:

• Achieving transparency in analytic procedures may be relatively straightforward for quantitative methods executed via software code. It is far from clear, however, what analytic explicitness entails for the vast range of qualitative empirical approaches, from process tracing and comparative-historical analysis to interpretive ethnography and hermeneutics. What norms, principles, or considerations should guide authors and reviewers in pursuing and judging analytic transparency for non-statistical forms of inquiry?

• The costs involved with preparing data for archiving vary widely depending on the nature of the evidence. For research that does not involve machine-readable datasets, rendering the original sources or “raw data” in digital form for archiving can impose substantial financial and logistical burdens on researchers. What is the right balance between the costs and the benefits of rendering these types of data accessible? How can a balance be struck that does not systematically favor some modes of political analysis over others? Who should decide how to strike that balance in individual cases?

• Different modes of evidence-based research in our discipline are premised on fundamentally differing understandings of the knowledge-generating process. Some approaches view political inquiry as the analysis of data extracted from the social world. Others understand social research as an inherently relational and intersubjective activity in which observation and interpretation are inseparable. How can the principle of data access be fairly and meaningfully applied to forms of political inquiry that are premised on diverse understandings of empirical engagement itself?

• Scholars working on a range of vital issues in political science confront deep dilemmas in balancing the principles of data access and research transparency against their legal and ethical obligations to human subjects. In field studies of political violence, inquiry in authoritarian contexts, and research involving vulnerable populations, for example, subjects’ safety or welfare may be put at risk if their identities and/or their locations are revealed. Field notes or interview transcripts sometimes cannot be sufficiently “sanitized” without rendering their content un-interpretable. How can principles of data access be respected, and research transparency be achieved, while guaranteeing the protection of human subjects? Will scholars conducting research on sensitive topics of central concern to our discipline be able to publish their work in journals that have endorsed DA- RT?

• Finally, many scholars have expressed the view that the decision about whether or not to make research materials publicly available should belong to scholars and not journal editors or reviewers. The researcher conducting the study, this perspective maintains, is in the best position to judge whether any harm might come to human subjects by making data available to other researchers, authorities, or political opponents; whether a government might subpoena the materials (as has happened with past repositories in the U.S.); whether a data repository can provide graded access (such as access only to researchers who gain the permission of the original researcher and access, for historical purposes, only after 100 years from deposit); and whether the repository is sufficiently protected against potential hacking. What is more, the deposit of materials such as field-notes or interviews, out of the context that only the original researcher could fully understand, might lead to misinterpretation of the research.

The qualitative and multi-method research communities, among others, are now poised to conduct far-reaching discussions on principles of data access and research transparency appropriate to their communities. In more than one field, committees have been appointed and methods of consultation are being decided upon. For instance, at its 2015 annual business meeting, the APSA’s Organized Section for Qualitative and Multi- Method Research adopted a motion to initiate a process of consultation and deliberation within qualitative research communities about the meaning and practicalities of transparency for different forms of qualitative empirical research. This deliberative process is expected to unfold over the coming year.

 

Since these issues are still very much under discussion, it is supremely important not to begin to enforce any particular policies until the relevant research communities have been able to discuss the issues fully and either come to consensus or clarify the issues on which their members disagree.

We therefore request that you delay implementing DA-RT until more widespread consultation can be accomplished at, for instance, the regional meetings this year, and the organized section meetings and panels and workshops at the 2016 annual meeting. Postponing the date of implementation will allow a discipline-wide consideration of the principles of data access and research transparency and how they should be put into practice.

The signatories below may or may not support any particular formulation of the issues among the examples we give, but all join in hoping that you will agree to this delay.

Sincerely,
[in alphabetical order, ** indicates a former president of APSA]