Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Alternatives to publishing in journals

In the discussion about Sympoze below, Anon posts the following query:
Like many readers of this blog, I'm a young untenured faculty member. I think I have some really good papers, but thanks to the awful review process (and my tendency to work in isolation) it's been difficult to get many of them published. I've had a few minor successes but spend a lot of time waiting to hear back on several papers (and racking up rejections!)...all this while I'm scared to death of getting my best ideas "scooped" by someone else (i.e. published before me). Here, then, are my questions: how does everyone feel about posting working papers to places like SSRN? Is it a bad idea, because it "unblinds" what is supposed to be blind review? Or, is it a good idea, because it's a good way to publicly stake your claim to an idea ("getting there first"), even though it's just a repository for working papers? I just don't know, and I'm stressing myself out. The publishing game just sucks, and I could basically just use some advice on how to best deal with the issues I raised. Any ideas are greatly appreciated!
My initial response is to wonder if this a common problem and/or concern in philosophy, having "your idea" published by someone else. (This obviously gets into interesting territory about identity, and the possession of ideas, and idea provenance, and inception.) Given the long time it takes to get anything published, how would you know who had the idea first (and would it matter)? Is this something we should be worried about to the point of posting WIPs online? And is posting WIPs online a solution to this problem, or a way to facilitate the theft of your ideas? (Your papers are copyrighted (by law) when you create them, but you can't copyright your ideas. And you wouldn't want to.) Again, the provenance issue comes up -- posting your paper online would not seem to really prove that it was your idea first. Just that you posted it online before anyone else did. And anyway, don't we have a long history in philosophy of commenting and elaborating on ideas that are already out there?

Which is not to dismiss the question or the concern. The process of getting published is unnecessarily onerous, and someone doing really interesting and original work might rightly have concerns about their work gathering dust while something similar gets published.




Anonymous said...

And anyway, don't we have a long history in philosophy of commenting and elaborating on ideas that are already out there?

Yes, but let's keep track of the context Anon introduces--the challenges untenured faculty face. And one such challenge for many such folks is getting your stuff published when research time is scarce. And one upshot of not getting there first, Anon implies, is rejection. (If the editors and/or reviewers know of the other paper(s), and they don't see anything importantly different about what you're doing, they're going to reject your paper.)

Sure, you can elaborate on the idea that someone else published before your submission made its way into print. But that's more research labor, where time for research is scarce.

I've been beaten to the punchline twice now. In both cases it was mostly my own fault (I'm slower than I ought to be, even given how little time I have for research.) But in any case, it's not fun to write in your annual review that you spent a year writing a great paper that very probably won't ever be published.

Now, as for whether posting working papers to SSRN would help usually, rarely, or not at all--that I really don't know.

Anonymous said...

I've felt the same concerns as Anon. Because of that, I only show work in progress to people I know; I even feel uncomfortable using ideas I'm working on in public comments or discussions.

In the big picture, I think trying to hoard ideas like this until they're published is detrimental to the my quiet moments, I wish things in general were less competitive and more cooperative.

Despite all this, I don't think I 'own' any of my ideas, even the ones I think completely original; I know I don't create them in a vacuum. Like Anon, I'm mostly concerned with losing opportunities to secure my professional status.

Anonymous said...

".in my quiet moments, I wish things in general were less competitive and more cooperative."

This, I think, is one of the major problems with professional philosophy. I'm really familiar with many other departments in the humanities and the environment in philosophy seems, to me, to be distinctly competitive and slightly toxic. We're encouraged to put one another down both verbally and in print in ways that are very unusual in other disciplines.

I think it helps create an air of desperation and anxiety that makes being a professional philosopher even more burdensome than it would be to be untenured in another humanities discipline.

These are all anecdotal observations of course so they don't have much evidential value. I wonder if there's ever been a study of the conversational norms of different disciplines. I'd bet ours trends toward the excessively masculine (competitive, mean, etc)

Anonymous said...

Sorry to thread jack, but I figured you all might enjoy this:

I just received an emailed PFO for a job I applied to in 2009.

Now, it wasn't from the department, it was from hr or some such office, but still, WTF?!?!

Anonymous said...

Hello everyone, this is "Anon." I'd really like to thank the Smoker for posting my comment. One thing I left out of my initial comment is that, like Anon 8:13, I very much share the wish that our field were less competitive and more cooperative. And I guess that's really my question. Given how much publishing is the "luck of the draw" -- one surely can get a string of bad reviewers in a row -- isn't there *some* way that our profession (and academics more generally) can find a way to distribute credit for ideas more fairly.

[I say all of this in the context of having gone out to lunch with English Department people, having heard horror stories of "idea theft"].

Anyway, thanks again for the discussion - I look forward to hearing everyone's thoughts!

Xenophon said...

Did you show up in 2010 and ask where your office was?

Anonymous said...

I think this is exactly why was created.

Anonymous said...

Is the image attached to this post supposed to imply that we unemployed philosophers should try to take over hollywood, make massive amounts of money, and laugh at the schmucks in academia making peanuts? Or is it to imply that it is all really a twisted dream that will cause us, in the end, to wish we had not chosen this line of work in the first place?

Anonymous said...

As a tenure-track professor, I have often wondered this myself. Due to total confusion about the optimal strategy, I adopted a mixed strategy. On my website I post some but not all of my unpublished papers (the ones I don't post I say I am happy to email to people).

One advantage I have found to posting unpublished work is that it gets read. One of my unpublished papers is among the most downloaded in the relevant category on PhilPapers, has been assigned in at least one graduate seminar, and has been cited by several other papers (some of which have subsequently been published). I've also received comments from people I would not have thought of sending it to, which really improved subsequent versions. That is all nice, though of course it will only be indirectly relevant, if relevant at all, to my tenure review.

That said, if someone manages to publish the same idea before the (second) prestigious journal I submitted it to gets back to me, I will be extremely frustrated. None of the earlier comments really spoke to whether posting a paper raises the threat of this happening, which is the main thing I am interesting in knowing...