First Study on Publication Activity of Swiss Political Scientists Published

The slogan “publish or perish” is certainly appropriate in the sense that, in most countries and universities, becoming a professor is impossible unless the respective candidate has published. This slogan does not tell us, however, how many publications of what type are required to make it into and survive in academia. There are, of course, no absolute standards. As in any competitive situation, how good is good enough depends on how good your competitors are. Fair enough. But can we really compare in any meaningful way political scientist A with political scientist B or any given peer group of A? Can we compare political science department A with department B? Can we compare academics and institutions in country A with those in country B, strongly differing national academic traditions, requirements, and capacities notwithstanding?

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Climate Change and Security

Research on the security implications of climate change started in the mid-1990s and has by now become one of the most productive interdisciplinary activities in which political scientists cooperate closely with natural scientists, engineers, and economists. One major result so far is that claims by many policy-makers and also some scientists that climate change increases the risk of civil wars or even interstate wars rests on very shaky empirical foundations. Ongoing research suggests, however, that climate change may increase risks of (non-state) communal violence. While research on the climate change – security nexus is making good progress in collecting and analyzing data on the past, efforts are under way to also couple climate and hydrological models with political and economic models to understand risks that climate change may create for socio-economic wellbeing and conflict over the coming decades.

If you are interested in catching up on the state of the art in this research area: many of the most productive researchers in this area have recently met in Trondheim, Norway, at a conference organized by the Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters and the Peace Research Institute Oslo. You will find the program and most of the papers here.

Ethics rules and procedures for political science research

Most funding agencies, professional associations and universities have established ethics rules and procedures for research (see e.g. here and here). By and large, and in global comparison, these rules and procedures are weaker with reference to political science than the life sciences. The main reason is that lab and field experiments affecting humans have become more popular in political science only in recent years. As to Switzerland, which I know best, I can’t think of any political science research project in recent years that voluntarily or involuntarily went through formal screening by a governmental or university-based ethics committee. (Note that I am not talking about codes of conduct concerning authorship, plagiarism, etc., but rules and procedures designed to protect the targets of research activity against negative effects that may result from such activity).

In my view, it is only a matter of time before some political science project in Switzerland runs into trouble on this account. Think of field-experiments in which politically contested information treatments affect political behavior, where privacy issues arise, or where informed prior consent is not possible.

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