Publishing in Peer Review?

I am close, but not quite, entirely finished with my current crim/cj peer reviewed papers. Only one paper hangs on, the CCTV clearance paper (with Yeondae Jung). Rejected twice so far (once on R&R from Justice Quarterly), and has been under review in toto around a year and a half so far. It will land somewhere eventually, but who knows where at this point. (The other pre-prints I have on my CV but are not in peer review journals I am not actively seeking to publish anymore.)

Given the typical lags in the peer review process, if you look at my CV I will appear active in terms of publishing in 2020 (6 papers) and 2021 (4 papers and a book). But I have not worked on any peer review paper in earnest since I started working at HMS in December 2019, only copy-editing things I had already produced. (Which still takes a bit of work, for example my Cost of Crime hot spots paper took around 40 hours to respond to reviewers.)

At this point I am not sure if I will pursue any more peer reviewed publications directly in criminology/criminal justice. (Maybe as part of a team in giving support, but not as the lead.) Also we have discussed at my workplace pursuing publications, but that will be in healthcare related projects, not in Crim/CJ.

Part of the reason is that the time it takes to do a peer review publication is quite a bit relative to publishing a simple blog post. Take for instance my recent post on incorporating harm weights into the WDD test. I received the email question for this on Wednesday 11/18, thought about how to tackle the problem overnight, and wrote the blog post that following Thursday morning before my CrimCon presentation, (I took off work to attend the panel with no distractions). So took me around 3 hours in total. Many of my blog posts take somewhat longer, but I definitely do not take any more than 10-20 hours on an individual one (that includes the coding part, the writing part is mostly trivial).

I have attempted to guess as to the relative time it takes to do a peer reviewed publication based on my past work. I averaged around 5 publications per year, worked on average 50 hours a week while I was an academic, and spent something like I am guessing 60% to 80% (or more) of my time on peer review publications. Say I work 51 weeks a year (I definitely did not take any long vacations!, and definitely still put in my regular 50 hours over the summertime), that is 51*50=2550 hours. So that means around (2550*0.6)/5 ~ 300 or (2550*0.8)/5 ~ 400 so an estimate of 300 to 400 hours devoted to an individual peer review publication over my career. This will be high (as it absorbs things like grants I did not get), but is in the ballpark of what I would guess (I would have guessed 200+).

So this is an average. If I had recorded the time, I may have had a paper only take around 100 hours (I don’t think I could squeeze any out in less than that). I have definitely had some take over 400 hours! (My Mapping RTM using Machine Learning I easily spent over 200 hours just writing computer code, not to brag, it was mostly me being inefficient and chasing a few dead ends. But that is a normal part of the research process.)

So it is hard for me to say, OK here is a good blog post that took me 3 hours. Now I should go and spend another 300 to write a peer review publication. Some of that effort to publish in peer review journals is totally legitimate. For me to turn those blog posts into a peer review article I would need a more substantive real-life application (if not multiple real-life applications), and perhaps detailed simulations and comparisons to other techniques for the methods blog posts. But a bunch is just busy work – the front end lit review and answering petty questions from peer reviewers is a very big chunk of that 300 hours (and has very little value added).

My blog posts typically get many more views than my peer review papers do, so I have very little motivation to get the stamp of approval for peer review. So my blog posts take far less time, are more wide read, and likely more accessible than peer reviewed papers. Since I am not on the tenure track and do not get evaluated by peer reviewed publications anymore, there is not much motivation to continue them.

I do have additional ideas I would like to pursue. Fairness and efficiency in siting CCTV cameras is a big one on my mind. (I know how to do it, I just need to put in the work to do the analysis and write it up.) But again, it will likely take 300+ hours for me to finish that project. And I do not think anyone will even end up using it in the end – peer reviewed papers have very little impact on policy. So my time is probably better spent writing a few blog posts and playing video games with all the extra time.

If you are an editor reading this, I still do quite a few peer reviews (so feel free to send me those). I actually have more time to do those promptly since I am not hustling writing papers! I have actually debated on whether it is worth it to start my own peer reviewed journal, or maybe contribute to editing an already existing journals (just joined the JQC editorial board). Or maybe start writing my own crime analysis or methods text books. I think that would be a better use of my time at this point than pursuing individual publications.

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  1. Jenn Gonzales

     /  January 1, 2021

    This is a great explanation, Andy! I have found myself writing more and more opinion and commentary pieces lately, but not the rigorous scientific ones that are draining and poorly cited in general. I plan to send this to anyone thinking about life after the PhD!

  2. Jeff Boggs

     /  January 6, 2021

    I am in no way as prolific as you, but have mainly focused on applied research (usually related to regional economic development, labor markets and poverty) in the last decade. It feels more satisfying, even if its not conceptually-cutting edge research. In part, this also relates to my own ADD and the luck of getting tenure. I get more positive feedback and emotional umph from teaching and mentoring, along with applied research, than I do from submitting papers to peer-reviewed journals.

    Given that some of your blog posts have a geospatial component, you might consider submitting papers to _Applied Geography_. Within Geography, this journal is usually ranked as one of the top 10 journals, and tends to attract fairly technical papers. My impression is that some sort of geospatial analysis is the unifying feature of most published submission instead of sub-disciplinary breakdown (e.g., political geography, physical geography, health geography).

    A methods or techniques textbook would be right up your alley, based on what you have published on your blog. Have you considered YouTube tutorials? What about online courses through Teachable? If you are interested in disseminating what you know how to do, those might scratch your itch. I’m always a sucker for this kind of material. And if you decided to go into consulting full-time, this might also help you generate more clients, if that is what interests you.

    Still, as a data scientist, I suspect the world is your oyster!

    • Thanks for all the comments Jeff — appreciate knowing at least one person is really reading the posts!

      Yeah Applied Geo would make sense. On the margins I’ve had better experience at Geo journals, but it is pretty similar overall to crim/cj journals IMO. This is true for both the content of the lit review and number of citations. It may still be CJ folks reviewing that I see though, I review not so rarely for a few different GIS journals.

      The CCTV paper I mention here I slightly wanted to avoid Geo, since it relies more on the Econ style quasi-experimental identification, and isn’t the more traditional geospatial modeling. But not even many CJ folks have training in that either, so it is common to get critiques that “you don’t control for poverty” even though the identification strategy makes that superfluous. So I suppose I should give some Geo journals a shot with that paper.

      Yeah I have debated on doing an online course and books as well. I’m not sure the market is big enough to justify spending a ton of time doing them, but maybe in the near future will work on something like python coding for crime analysis.


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