My SAJE post has generated a bit of interest. I have receieved an excellent rejoinder from Neil Rankin and would like to post it here for everyone.
As an academic researcher I empathises with your frustration and as an Associate Editor of the SAJE I think it is useful to partially respond to your post. I do not want to comment on the paper but rather to outline the process and the challenges we face as editors. I also want to put in the usual disclaimer – these are my views and whilst I think they are generally shared by the other editors I am not speaking for them.
For just about every submission I deal with I face the challenge of weighing the trade-off between an interesting question and academic rigour. Sometimes this decision is easy; in many more cases it is difficult. As you know, in many areas of potential research a lack of data is a serious constraint. In these cases I generally give more weight to the interest of the question. Once I’ve decided that the question is interesting and that the paper has a certain level of rigour I then send it out to the referees. My decision as an Associated Editor is then guided by the referee reports since the ‘gold standard’ of academic publication is peer-review.
In many areas of empirical micro issues like selectivity and heterogeneity are what we spend most of our time worrying about now. The level of what is now considered acceptable in empirical micro has increased substantially in the past ten years. Most referees are going to comment on these issues. Having said this, I do not think RCTs (or some other exogenous shock that allows for identification of a causal relationship) are a requirement for publication in the SAJE or that only work that uses panel data is acceptable. Cross-sections, good case studies and rigorous qualitative work tackling an interesting question are all acceptable in my mind. I will send papers using these techniques to referees equipped to evaluate the analytical approach but also with a knowledge of the specific research area. The outcome is then in the hands of the referees.
As an Editorial team we are committed to relevant and rigorous research and also following a transparent and well-defined process. I think we are also sensitive to the challenges facing those researchers working on developing countries. Please continue to comment and provide input on the SAJE. I think it is useful to have an ongoing dialogue on these issues and to let people know how the process works. And please continue to submit papers.
You also make a good point about the incentives South African researchers face – all journal publications regardless of the quality of journal, provided the journal is accredited, count equally to the bureaucrats in research administration. It is up to us as researchers to try to make the case to them that quality, not only quantity, is important. I like the strategy you set out in your comment – it nicely articulates what I think I’m trying to do. And working in a team is more fun too! Looking forward to our next joint paper.