Saturday, December 12, 2009

For-Profit Journals.

There was a thread at Leiter Reports the other day about the ethics of refereeing for journals that operate on a for-profit business model. The Original Poster (Warren Goldfarb, not Leiter) thinks that it is wrong for the journal to make money from his donated labor, and proposes a referee boycott of all for-profit journals. This would include all Springer journals, and some others.

Several commentators pointed out that even if you accept the premise that these journals are exploiting their referees, this exploitation is small potatoes in comparison to the way they exploit the authors. It is a lot more work to write an article than it is to referee one, and access to the articles is the actual product our institutions purchase for us. And a referee boycott is much more likely to hurt the authors, and will hurt them in a more direct way, than it is to hurt Springer. These points seem 100% right to me.

It was also pointed out in comments that referee exploitation is not the real problem. The real problem is that for-profit journals are often prohibitively expensive to libraries, which can lead to libraries not carrying various journals, which is bad for scholars like us who need access to journals.

But again, no referee boycott is going to be effective, especially if the boycott is limited to referees in our discipline. According to Springer's website, they publish in the neighborhood of 2,000 journals. So I strongly doubt that a philosophy author boycott would do anything, either. It seems to me that if there were a professional association for college librarians, it might be better positioned to effectively protest this situation.

So one possible course of action would be to contact the ACRL and the head librarians at our own institutions and encouraging them to take action.

Another possibility is that journal editors might be in a better position than referees to do something about this. How much influence does the editor of a journal have over who publishes the journal? Could Stewart Cohen, for example, take Philosophical Studies to a not-for-profit publisher? Maybe we should start working on people like him.

--Mr. Zero


Anonymous said...

Jesus Christ, don't tenured professors make enough money? Instead of saying "I don't support for-profit journals, as an author, subscriber, or referee, because I think they're scum", he wants a cut of the action. I forgot, there's no such thing as 'enough money', and if there was it wouldn't be under $2 million a year.

And I'd love to hear any arguments about how they're not scum and how they offer a valuable service as compared to those crummy open access journals.

Anonymous said...

Goldfarb wasn't raising the issue in order to demand payment. He was trying to promote the non-profit model over the for-profit model. The payment issue was his way of raising that point.

The simplest and easiest way for us to combat this is by....not sending our papers to for-profit journals in the first place. There are plenty of good journals that are non-profit. Send there instead.

Anonymous said...

Though that is the more reasonable point, I don't think it's supported by his words. He says "I began to think, why should I donate my time for no compensation to a for-profit enterprise?" not "Why should I have anything to do with these people?". Again, it's "It's one thing when a not-for-profit journal asks (for me, it's usually the Jnl. Symb. Logic, or Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic, or Mind), but why should I give my time gratis to help Springer or Elsevier make money?". The gratis there is the key. He's saying if he's going to do this for them, he should get some money, not that he shouldn't do it all.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a horribly bad idea to start turning down referee jobs for Springer journals when there are already significant backlogs at many of the journals and dysfunctional review processes in place at others. We fuck ourselves so often in so many ways, let's not take the opportunity to do it again.

If Phil Studies, Synthese, Erkenntnis, and the other Springer journals start having harder times finding referees, the results will be very bad for those of us who are trying to get tenure or tenure track. In my admittedly limited experience, no one cares that it's absurdly hard to get papers published in philosophy or reviewed in a timely manner and they won't care that it's gotten worse during the very small window of time we have to make it in this business. Sure, pressure the people at the top to make changes but don't start encouraging people to shirk their refereeing duties. Horrible idea.

Speaking of which, as of today it's been 3 months that one of the Springer journals has had a paper of mine and I think they still haven't found a referee for it. WTF. My last publication with Springer took a year to get the first revise and resubmit because they couldn't find a referee who would actually give them a report. Please, please, please let's stop hurting young authors that need the evil empire of publishing.

Anonymous said...


How about if only the referees that accept papers for review but never follow through with them take part in the boycott? ;)

Anonymous said...


I hit three months in the same spot with a Springer journal about two weeks ago. I did email the assistant who promptly related that he would remind the assigned editor. It isn't clear that this has helped since my paper is still there.

Further, while all this was going on I sent another paper to a respected journal not in this hemisphere. I checked the status two days later, 'under review.'

Anonymous said...


I wouldn't let the "under review" status get you excited. I've had a paper at a respected journal not in this hemisphere (perhaps the same one?) for about four months now, despite it's going to "under review" status in a day or two.

Anonymous said...


Agreed. I suppose though at least one obstacle to timely review has been avoided. From what I can discern from most journals, it is either (a) that the editor can't, won't, etc... find ref or (b) that the ref lags that explains a long process. At least now, assuming the process doesn't start again, (a) won't sink me.


Anonymous said...

While we're at it, let's protest the teaching profession by not pursuing it and discouraging those that would pursue it.

The profession exploits the deep interest of those who like to teach by paying them a level of income that is unconscionable given the service they provide to society as well as inconsistent with the amount of work needed, pressures, and education required.

Oh right, we choose to do this freely, just as we do in submitting papers to for-profit journals. So stop wanking, or do something else.

Anonymous said...

"From what I can discern from most journals, it is either (a) that the editor can't, won't, etc... find ref or (b) that the ref lags that explains a long process."

Well, it's been 3 months of "editor assigned". The submission before this, paper I'm giving at APA rejected from Phil Q with supportive comments rejected from unnamed Springer journal without comments. The submission before that, received horrible and mildly abusive comments from unnamed Springer journal. Wrote (politely) to tell editor that I didn't think the ref did a particularly good job reviewing work for that journal. (Ref: A shows that so and so's view entails something that A and so and so think is obviously false, but some people in antiquity thought it was true so reject.) I have a sneaking suspicion that I won't be getting particularly good treatment from the editor anytime soon.

Anonymous said...

this leads me to question, what exactly is one supposed to do when one has submitted an article to a journal but doesn't hear anything? i kind of figured that it's just out of my hands, but then they don't want me to shop it around to other journals before they get around to rejecting it. what's s.o.p. here?

Glaucon said...

@Anon 1:13pm --

I find your closing words, "… stop wanking, or do something else" rather puzzling, as if a philosopher questioning a current practice of the philosophical profession on a philosophy blog were some sort of sin. It's the sort of response I'd expect in the comments section of my local small-town newspaper, of the "stop whining and be grateful you have a job" variety in response to an article about furloughs.

I don't see what's objectionable about questioning this aspect of the practice of refereeing, or why it counts as "wanking." Goldfarb did not really "propose[] a referee boycott of all for-profit journals," as the original post here suggests; he reported that he was "tempted to" begin a personal boycott and was interested in what readers of Leiter's blog thought. I've been tempted to do many things I've never done or proposed doing.

Volunteering to reshelve books at the local library makes perfect sense to me; volunteering to do so at the local Borders doesn't. But I suspect that the issue isn't merely about whether the institution is for-profit. Volunteering to give a series of talks without compensation at the community center makes perfect sense to me; volunteering to teach a class without compensation at my school doesn't -- though I can imagine circumstances in which it might. But Goldfarb was questioning something ordinary, nor extraordinary.

PS Even my relatively poor salary (it's well below the average for our peer institutions) is well above the median in my state; it's hardly "unconscionable."

Anonymous said...

Also, SCs can find you at the APA where they can leave messages for candidates at the site where all candidates sit and wait to be called in for their interviews (and you can leave messages for them). There's also a main bulletin board for everyone at the APA (not just those involved with searches) to leave messages for folks.

One thing to be aware of, if you aren't already, is that there are no dividers/curtains btwn all the tables (as there are at some other disciplines' conferences) so you'll likely be able to see folks with whom you've already interviewed interviewing others.

It's rather stunning that a group of relatively bright folks can't come up with a better (less traumatizing) system

Anonymous said...

And I just left that comment attached to the wrong thread, obviously.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:34,

I've heard from a former editor that it's perfectly okay to email a journal if you haven't heard back after several months (say, 3–6, depending on the journal). Be polite. Ask if they can tell you anything about the current status of the paper. It's usually not the editors' fault—it's some referee who's been sitting on a paper. Your email might even give the editor something to use in leaning on the reviewer.