guest post: asa session organizers should accept extended abstracts

The following is a guest post by Daniel Laurison.

There are three things that bug me about the ASA conference submission system. I want to tell you briefly about each of them, and then what I’m trying to do about one of them. Over the years since I started really paying attention to ASA (sometime in 2007 or 2008, I think) I’ve asked many people over various media if they have an argument FOR any of these three elements of the system, and haven’t heard anything that convinced me, but I am entirely open to the fact that I’m missing something.

(TL;DR = I’m going to accept extended abstracts at my session on elites at ASA 2020; I hope other session organizers will do the same; if you’re on board, go to bit.ly/AbstractsASA)

  1. The timing (so soon after New Year’s, usually). This means many people who teach a full load in the fall semester and then want to take a little break between finishing finals and New Year’s, say, are either rushing to prepare/finish something by early-mid January, or have to submit something old, or just skip it. Of course, people COULD just prepare something before winter break, but A) many people teach 3 or 4 courses or more in the fall and I don’t know how you do substantial research/writing while also teaching that much and B) some of us work to deadlines.
    • Best argument (I know of) FOR the early deadline: ASA staff apparently insist they need this much time between submission and the conference to make everything work.
    • My response: many conferences have 6 months between submission and conference; even getting it down to 6.5 months would make many people’s January much better/make it more possible for people to submit.
  2. The number of possible sessions to submit to (200+ if I’m remembering right, divided between “regular” and “section” sessions with sometimes near-identical topics). First, this means that there is enormous variation in how many papers are submitted to each session, and thus how competitive each session is – I once organized a session that only had four papers submitted, so I accepted them all; I’ve heard of people getting up to 100 or more submissions for a single session. Second, it’s time-consuming to sort through all the possible sessions a given paper could fit into – and there have been a number of years where there was NO obvious single session for a project I was working on.
    • Best argument (I know of) FOR this is about section autonomy – there is certainly something to be said for the sections having the freedom to organize their sessions how they want to, and then if they’re going to do that then it might make sense for there to be some non-section sessions to make sure topics that aren’t in any section, or that cross sections, or that are timely or topical, get included.
    • My response: I think a FAR better system would be how political science does it – each section accepts papers on its topic, and THEN sorts them into panels; there is a single “everything else” pool for papers that really don’t clearly fit into one of the sections. Committees could sort through papers for each section, rather than individual organizers. I understand the desire to decide in advance to have specify session themes within sections, but I don’t think it’s worth the inefficiency.
  3. The full-length-paper requirement. This seems to be the thing that there’s the most consensus about, and is the thing I can do something about this year. My understanding of the point of presenting a paper at a conference is A) to give yourself an external deadline by which to have a new project in presentable shape and B) to get feedback on that new project. Presumably if you can write an full paper in January, you would like feedback before August. The early deadline makes the full paper requirement even more onerous, but I think it’s silly regardless. Ideally, we’d have a conference-wide extended-abstract due in LATE January, and then maybe a full-paper (or detailed slideshow?) deadline a week or two before the conference.
    • Best argument (I know of) FOR this is about making sure people don’t present half-baked research at the conference, or drop out because they don’t have anything to present because whatever they thought they would do didn’t happen.
    • My response: I’d rather see half-formed ideas presented than “here’s a summary of this work that’s already published/under review and I don’t want to talk about anymore” which is the risk with the full papers. And it’s much more useful to me as a scholar to present and get feedback on early work, generally. (And if I want to present already-done-ish work I can still do that if I don’t submit a full paper in January.)

What we’re doing about it:

So this year I was asked to organize the Regular Session on Elites, and I was about to say no because all the reasons, when I realized that if I do it, I can do something about #3, the full paper. SO, for my session, I’m accepting extended abstracts as well as full papers. There are already at least 4 other session organizers on board, and I’m hoping lots more of us will do this. Benefits, as I see them, are:

  • I get to read shorter things as I’m deciding what to accept – this would also, if implemented conference-wide, potentially facilitate a shorter turnaround time between when organizers get papers and when they have to decide, although I think the time is longer than it needs to be even for full papers.
  • The early deadline can be less of a challenge for folks who can’t/don’t work on their ASA papers in the fall semester
  • People can submit work that’s really in-progress, and continue working on it all year.

Disadvantages of this organizer-by-organizer, ad-hoc approach:

  • If your first-choice panel is extended-abstract and your 2nd-choice panel isn’t, you still have to write a full paper to be sent along to your 2nd choice (or hope your 2nd choice is sympathetic to the extended-abstract movement).
  • Some people might not hear about this and then it’s kind of unfair. My solutions to that:
    • I won’t *penalize* anyone who submits a full paper to my session
    • I’ll do everything I can to publicize this, including putting it in the session description if ASA will let me

Are you organizing a session and want to sign on, or considering it? Please fill out this form: bit.ly/AbstractsASA

Want an email when all the sessions doing this are known? Please fill out this form: bit.ly/EmailAbstractList

Daniel Laursion is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Swarthmore College

 

 

Author: Dan Hirschman

I am a sociologist interested in the use of numbers in organizations, markets, and policy. For more info, see here.

10 thoughts on “guest post: asa session organizers should accept extended abstracts”

  1. Great post.

    The key to getting good results from extended abstracts, which PAA does, is they focus on *results.* A common problem ASA submission is 20 pages of half-baked lit review and theory followed by extremely underbaked, or absent, results. This makes reviewing dozens of papers even worse.

    This proposal is great for the term timing issue but might not help with the quality problem associated with the early deadline. The deadline is way too early. PAA does 6 months. Just do it, ASA.

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    1. Philip, I have great respect for your scholarship and leadership. But “Just do it, ASA” seems to be your mantra for a range of things you’d like to see changed, and I think it ignores the fact that ASA contains some 13,000+ members, not all of whom have the same needs, interests, or preferences as you (or I); and that the annual meeting is a gigantic undertaking, requiring years of preparation and design. Honestly I don’t think it would be appropriate for ASA to “just do” significant changes without pausing at least to consider whether, how, and when to do so.

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      1. Right. People have been suggesting this and complaining about the current system for years. Of course “just do it” refers to a way to a multi year process with 10 committees, so may as well get started now!

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  2. First, I agree with all your arguments.

    Second, I want to suggest that there are several types of pre-paper situations, and your “extended abstract” solution addresses only some of them. The big one it misses is that the person has written something that is way too long in its current form, and what is needed to make it a “paper” is to shorten it. (This is typically a master’s thesis or dissertation chapter, but sometimes just a rambling draft). The 20 page limit deters a lot of people from submitting. I know you can get away with submitting something that is too long, because I have done it, but many young people just read the instructions and give up. Some colleagues have experimented and have said that there is some upper limit on what you can trick the system into taking, but I don’t know if that is true. I have also used the “additional documents” option to get more material uploaded. I have sometimes added a line in the paper abstract: “Note to reviewer: I know this is too long to present. I’ll be tightening and revising this paper and my talk will focus on X.”

    Relatedly, although seasoned professionals know that you can submit something that you have also submitted for review, as long as it is not yet published, junior people often don’t know that and think it is unethical for them to submit something to ASA that they have submitted to a journal. They have good reasons to want ASA exposure whether or not their paper has been accepted by the time of ASA. “Getting feedback” is not the only reason to present at a conference.

    In either case, if a paper already exists, the call for an “extended abstract” is asking the person to do additional work. So you might want to think about whether you really want them to do that work and do you really NOT want to see the paper, if it exists? You should also worry that young people might think that the extended abstract instruction is telling them NOT to submit if the thing is already written. Yo,u would be surprised at the assumptions young people make, especially if they are not well plugged into the networks.

    Third, given the inexperience most non-demographer sociologists have with extended abstracts, you may need to define what you are looking for. There are three broad situations: (1) What you have is a lit review and some ideas and you may or may not get the analysis done on time; (2) What you have is some preliminary results and a broad research question, and you need to get the literature review and theory written and refine the analysis; (3) You don’t expect to have any analysis, the paper is entirely conceptual.

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  3. I hate to be the naysayer; I do think there are lots of good ideas here.

    My view of this is based on the observations that: (1) the ASA meeting serves a very wide variety of sociologists with a very wide range of professional responsibilities and goals; (2) there is an essential tension in at least the research section of the meeting between quality and accessibility; and (3) the meeting is a huge, complicated, expensive undertaking that requires years of preparation and has many interconnected parts.

    I think it is important for ASA soon to have a committee work on overhauling the conference systematically to address several of Daniel’s points above, plus the ever-present “too expensive” vs “not a fun city” debate. I’d like to see the research-presentation sessions be one among several forms of activities, and increase different kinds of forums for contingent faculty, community college faculty, applied sociology, etc., instead of shoehorning most of them into the research panel format.

    That, ultimately, should leave cleaner space for papers that are really good to be presented in the research panels. I agree that basing them on an abstract submitted in the spring would be appropriate, as long as there is sufficient information in the abstract to evaluate the research, and presenters can be pushed to do a good job with the papers. Quality is already (speaking generally) too low, so I’d hate to see us inadvertently make it worse through this mechanism.

    All this leads to the naysayer point: I am concerned about the one-off practice of specific organizers and panels accepting just abstracts. I get the reason for it, of course, and y’all have every right to go ahead and do it as far as I’m concerned. But I think it will increase inequalities among submitters, reduce opportunities for those whose papers get sent on to other panels, and it may have other unintended consequences. How will you enforce when papers are actually do so the respondent can read and comment, for example?

    I hope I prove to be wrong :).

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    1. To AP I’ll just make the point that variability in what organizers accept has been happening for decades, decades. In the 1980s when I organized for CBSM, some top scholars sent me 1 paragraph saying something like “I promise I’ll have a paper, please take me.” I didn’t, because it didn’t seem fair, but they obviously thought they had a chance.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s my reaction too. The inequalities and unfairness generated by the unblinded submission process seem much more substantial than a session organizer following Daniel’s model here. Plus, as Paula England/Landon Schnabel pointed on twitter, EXTENDED abstracts are not disallowed by ASA policy either since there’s no minimum page requirement.

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  4. I did some Googling. I’m right. The concept of an extended abstract varies A LOT. For many people it is a short precis of a paper that is already done and should instead be called a “short paper.” Whether you already need to have the results varies, but you definitely should have the analyses planned, the hypotheses stated, some references and the theoretical orientation mapped out. Many people argue that it is MORE work to write an extended abstract than a paper. The general idea is that there should be enough there that the reader really can tell what the work is about. If you don’t explain what you mean, you are just going to make things worse for low information sociologists.

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