Political Science Collaboration: Two Heads Better than One?

teamworkA new study — itself co-authored — finds that political scientists are increasingly doing collaborative research and focusing less on the single-author research that characterized the discipline in the recent past.

They analyzed the research articles in American Political Science Review, the flagship publication in the field, and found that in 1970, nearly two-thirds of the papers were by single authors and more than 90 percent were by one or two authors. In 2008, a slight majority of papers were published by more than one author, with more than 20 percent coming from more than two authors. (Notably, the increases in female authors in the journal came entirely in co-authored articles.)

While the recent increases are not radical, the growth in multiple author papers has been consistent and extends to other journals, they write. In the three-year period of 2006-8, the American Political Science Review averaged 1.7 authors per article, while the Journal of Politics and the American Journal of Political Science averaged 1.9 authors. These average figures are 29 percent greater than figures from a three-year period in the 1980s.


While acknowledging plenty of superior work by single authors, they write that “successful collaboration efforts have greater potential to produce superior scholarship.” Large research teams, they write “often create working groups around research programs of great scope, depth, and breadth, and have access to more extensive opportunities for funding.”

And the funding factor, they note, could motivate many scholars to want to embrace teams — where a variety of expertise areas, and the ability to create or work with large databases can attract sources of financial support in ways that single authors may not.

This has been the norm in the physical sciences for years. Presumably, the rise of quantitative analysis as the predominate style and the ease of collaboration with colleagues around the world via the Internet are the primary factors here.

It simply makes sense to bring to bear two or more minds, complimentary abilities, and vetting into the project.  Presumably, two people working together can find synergies and produce more scholarship than they would alone.  The key is finding research partners who will put their own weight and genuinely enhance the project.

The trend is not without its headaches, however:

One convention that has never truly been established, according to another article in PS, is a clear procedure for the order of authors’ names in co-written pieces. Nearly two-thirds of political science journal articles with more than one author follow “the tyranny of the alphabet” and default to alphabetical order, writes David A. Lake, professor of political science at the University of California at San Diego. Many of those that don’t use alphabetical order don’t indicate whether that was random or a choice, and only a handful use systems such as saying an article is by one scholar “with” another, or in any way suggest primacy of one scholar over another in terms of contribution.

It’s remarkable that this issue hasn’t been worked out by now. Again, other disciplines have been doing this for years, so there’s no need to invent the wheel.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dunk says:

    As professional political scientist, I can confidently say “who cares?” The vast majority of the research I have read is pointless, verging on the absurd.