Mini-roundup of Badass political scientists.

1. Never fuck with Lee Sigelman.

I occasionally received complaints from reviewers to the effect that they were so overburdened with writing reviews that they didn’t have time to do their own work. In many instances, when the reviewer told me how many reviews he or she had completed recently, I sympathized and let him or her off the hook. But in many cases I didn’t. Here’s the way such conversations often went:

Reviewer: I’m way too busy writing reviews. This is a real burden.
Me: I’m sorry to hear that. How many reviews did you write last year?
Reviewer: Let’s see: Eight or ten, I guess. Maybe one every month. That’s terrible.
Me: And how many papers of your own did you submit for review?
Reviewer: I finished three new papers last year.
Me: And were they all accepted?
Reviewer: Well, no. In fact, all three were rejected.
Me: And did you then send them to another journal?
Reviewer: Yup.
Me: And were they then accepted?
Reviewer: Hmm. Two got revise-and resubmits, and one got rejected.
Me: And did you revise and resubmit the two and submit the other one to a different journal?
Reviewer: Yes.
Me: And did you have any older papers that were out for review last year?
Reviewer: Yah, two or three of them that I’d finished the year before and revised.
Me: Okay, now let’s do the math. Last year you reviewed eight or ten papers, maybe twelve. During the same year, you generated a need for, let’s do the math, three reviews each of your three new papers on the first time around – that’s nine reviews – plus three more apiece when you sent them out for the second time – that’s nine more reviews – plus three more apiece on the third round – that’s nine more reviews – plus, say, six to nine for the older papers you were still circulating from the previous year. So you wrote somewhere between eight and twelve reviews while creating the need for somewhere around 35 reviews. It sounds to me like you’re not carrying your weight. You’d better get busy writing some more reviews.
Reviewer: [Sputtering noise heard – expletive deleted.]

(Very worth reading: WH Moore’s suggestion in the comments.)

2. Never eat with him either.

3. And never get a letter of recommendation from Andrew Gelman.

I get asked for a fair number of letters of recommendation or evaluation, and I take about 15 minutes to write such a letter and email it off (to someone who prints it on letterhead paper and mails it). From the remarks above, I suspect that it’s considered a norm to spend more time than that, but I think it’s a bit of an arms race: your letter has to be long so it can compete with other people’s letters. So by writing short letters, I’m doing my part to make the process more sane. There’s a well-known statistician who always writes letters for his students saying essentially that they’re the second coming of Cauchy; he’s recognized for doing this. As long as people have the expectation that my letters will be short, everything should work out fine.

Ok, that’s probably not true. The sheer force of a letter from one of the top quantitative badasses in the discipline is probably enough to outweigh the fact that the letter says “Dear Committee: Joe Schmoe was, on the whole, an acceptable student for my purposes. Sincerely, Andrew Gelman.” Heh. Or not. One hopes fifteen minutes is enough to write a better letter than that. (But personalized? Pity the poor students.)


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