Friday, June 5, 2009

I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!

I've been following this thread at Leiter the last couple of days. It's the same old song about how terrible the editorial procedures are at philosophy journals, and how other disciplines would run their editors out of town on a rail for practices that we consider to be especially responsible. Practices such as egregiously long review times and comment-free rejections. A number of people have rightly pointed out that we shouldn't tolerate this kind of behavior.

But--and I mean this in sympathetic, unchallenging way--I don't see what choice we have. If every journal is terrible, what alternative to tolerating their behavior do we have? Short of not publishing at all, I mean.

I guess the journals wiki is a start, but is it having an impact? Are journals allowing the wiki to affect their editorial procedures?

--Mr. Zero

P.S. It was also suggested that journals should charge authors for submitting articles. I think this would be a terrible idea. I agree that such a plan would definitely cut down on the number of submissions. However, I don't see why it would cut down on bad submissions; it would cut down on submissions from the non-wealthy.


Soon-to-be Jaded Dissertator said...

I like the idea of protesting by not publishing. I've already been in on that action for quite a few years.

discriminating said...

If every journal is terrible...

Zero, do you really believe that every philosophy journal is terrible? That strikes me as wrong, and actually kind of silly -- it comes off, to me, as grumpy and complaining rather than serious.

I know, Mind has serious problems, and probably there are a few bad experiences people have had with a few other journals, but I think many are very good. (Nous, Ethics, Australasian J Phil are a few examples.)

If I'm right, then it's counterproductive to lump all of them together. Be discriminating in which ones you submit to and which you'll referee for, and you'll be doing your part to make things better.

Popkin said...

I think we have some sort of choice since not all journals are equally bad. I personally pay attention to the journal wiki and only send papers to journals with better turn around times. If everyone did this sort of thing I can imagine the situation improving somewhat (journals with terrible practices would receive fewer submissions and hopefully recognize that the quality of their publication would suffer unless they got their act together). If things do improve, though, I'd guess that the change is going to take a long, long time.

ADHR said...

The other option is for the more prominent members of the profession to publicly out certain journals and refuse to support them with publications. Unless such journals were willing to alter their behaviour, they'd have to sit back and watch their reputations slide slowly down.

Senior-Hater said...

Yeah, the big-name senior people in the profession need to step up here. I'm surprised Mind is still getting the support that it does. I'm happy that Philosophers' Imprint is doing so well. I think that means there's hope.

But the change needs to come from both ends (i.e. new [or modified existing] quick and open-access journals, but also boycotting of especially crappy journals that don't change). The senior people need to realize that it's not reasonable to expect the junior people trying to get tenured to do all this. They can't afford to boycott many of the big journals.

But, frankly, I think everyone can afford boycotting Mind. There are plenty of other big name journals people could publish in.

Mr. Zero said...

do you really believe that every philosophy journal is terrible?

Some are obviously better than others. But my understanding is that leading journals in other fields measure turnaround time in terms of weeks, not months. The Leiter commenter whose sentiments I am echoing, Roger Albin, was specifically talking about Nous (et al.). Though it isn't a particularly irresponsible philosophy journal, that's just because philosophy journals are, as a group, particularly irresponsible.

I'm not trying to be some old-man-grumpus. But it seems to me that the standard turn-around time is way, way too long, and I'd like to do something about it, and i don't know what.

Anonymous said...

It might help if grad students stopped submitting every piece of shit seminar paper they write.

I suspect that it might also help if editors handed submissions to refs that weren't functionally retarded.

Lessening the amount of stupidity on both ends would work wonders.

discriminating said...


I'm very skeptical that other fields have a dramatically faster turn-around time. Ask around. (I mainly agree with Mark Schroeder's comments in that Leiter thread.)

I think most of the lengthy waits have a lot to do with irresponsible referees. Boycotting won't change that. One way to cut down on the turn-around time would be to have no referee comments, but personally I don't think the gain would be worth the costs... though I should say I'm tenured, and I realize speed is more important when your tenure review lurks.

Manuel Vargas said...

For those who enjoy grousing, a few weeks back we had a lengthy thread on some of these issues at the Garden of Forking Paths. The discussion can be found here:

Anonymous said...

I think the fast turn around time of other fields has been somewhat exaggerated. I have done some work in visual perception and our normal journals (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Perception and Performance, Vision Research, The Journal of Vision) often have turn-around times of several months. Journals seem far less stratified (for quality) in psychology than in philosophy, so I would consider these the "leading journals" in vision. It is true that the very top journals that get interdisciplinary attention, such as Nature, are known for extremely short turn-around times but they are exceptions. In fact, it is common for researchers to send off a paper to Nature because when their rejection comes in a couple weeks they can then send it to one of the "normal" journals where it will take months for a response.

the spice is life said...

Re: graduate students submitting poor papers.

Agreed. Graduate students seemingly submit everything that they write. However, one reason they do this is because they do not know what the criteria are by which an essay is 'journal-worthy'. Faculty should be playing a much more involved role in this process before the papers get submitted. Also, many SC's in the profession now expect candidates to be published - in 'top' journals - before they have defended their dissertations. There has become such a focus on publishing at such an early stage of one's academic development, which often leads to the "keep throwing things at the wall until something sticks" mentality among graduate students. Most of them start going a bit mad, especially when preparing for the market, and so there is a desperate rush to get SOMETHING... anything... published. It's not a good idea at all, and I definitely do not blame the journals. Most likely this has to do with lack of professional advising on the part of faculty.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Mind isn't improving. They took a while to get me comments, but they comments were thoughtful and they gave me the chance to revise and resubmit. Someone put J Phil down as one of the good ones. They took 17 months to respond to me. (They responded with an acceptance, but I got lucky.)

Some journals (e.g., PPR, Nous, Phil Studies) tend to get me back comments quickly (6 months or less as a rule) but the comments tend to be very bad. They tend to be either incompetent or show that they are written by people highly motivated to find reasons to reject when, in my opinion, these are at best reasons to ask for revision or clarification.

sweater said...

One thing I can never see happening is the editor(s) of a given journal suddenly realizing that their submission quality has plummeted due to a bad reputation. There are enough good philosophy papers out there that even if submissions to Mind* dropped by 1/3 in 2010, the issues they publish that year probably wouldn't be appreciably different in overall quality from the issues from 2000. It's not like the editors of Mind would suddenly look at the 2010 issues of Phil Imprint and say "wow--we really got scooped there!" Maybe that could happen over decades, but it doesn't seem realistic in any short term scenario.

Also, speaking as a selfish bastard, if I knew people were informally boycotting Mind, I'd be pretty likely to send them something. Horreo vacui! (My hypothetical paper would be on game theory or the prisoner's dilemma or something like that).

*Sorry to pick on Mind--it's just b/c everyone else already does.

Popkin said...

"It's not like the editors of Mind would suddenly look at the 2010 issues of Phil Imprint and say 'wow--we really got scooped there!'"

That doesn't sound at all crazy to me. I can imagine the editors of Mind (or J Phil, or Phil Review) recognizing that all the best papers are coming out in other journals, and then deducing that philosophers must be sending their best work to other journals first. For instance, the editors might wonder why Nous and Phil Imprint (say) are dominating the Philosopher's Annual while their publication is being shut out.

Istvan Aranyosi said...

I would like to second Mark Schroeder, who says “I will never in my life submit a paper to JPhil again” The day after tomorrow will be a whole month since I submitted a “comments and criticism” piece to the Journal of Philosophy, without the journal even acknowledging receipt. They also do not reply to my emails (one sent to the managing editor, one sent to one of my acquaintances from the editorial board). Why they behave like this I have no idea, but I find it part of the minimal courtesy required by the notion of a civilized, international, and professional journal to acknowledge receipt. And it does not require any effort at all, except an automated message, of the form “dear author, we acknowledge the receipt of your manuscript, bla bla…”. That’s why if they send me an acknowledgment email now, it does not change anything in what any reasonable person’s opinion is about this case. They should have done it in 3 days, or 7, or 14 at most! If they send it now, it’s ridiculous. There is no credible excuse.

As I was born and raised in a Communist country, Romania, this kind of bad manners don’t surprise me, in general, because they were, and still are, unfortunately, part of the authoritarian mentality, where the public servant, for instance, is neither public (you need someone who knows him/her if you want anything that is your right to receive), nor a servant (unaccountable, with a superiority complex, etc.). But why does such behavior occur in a journal like this? And what am I supposed to do? Send the paper to some other journal? It looks as though the general rule is that paper should not be under consideration elsewhere. Tell J. Phil first that I pull the paper out? There is complete silence at their end. Just wait? It’s outrageous and humiliating!

It is the journals who should serve the authors and the readers, and not the other way round (if the journal is unable to serve its public and its authors, it should go out of existence, just like any other company, for-profit or not), but it looks as though this is very hard to for both journals and authors (who keep silent about such things, and do not make them public) to admit and act on it.