Philosophy that’s a Pleasure to Read

“People have been asking me: what will you acquire? In most cases I gave the obvious response about seeking new directions in these fields and at the same time furthering established dialogues scholars are already engaged in. And that answer is true, but it’s not the full story. What I’m actually looking for is clear, vivid thought.” That’s Jenny Gavacs, the new sociology and Asian studies editor at Stanford University Press, in a recent blog post entitled, “So You’re Writing a Monograph.” She adds, “when a scholar’s writing has been refined to transparency her idea shows through in all its glory.” She has a bit to say about word choice, too; I disagree that “a priori” is “just bluster” but perhaps I am part of the problem.

Meanwhile, Oxford University Press philosophy editor Peter Momtchiloff, in his interview at Aesthetics for Birds (previously), says, “Of course a lot of philosophy is hard work to read. But one thing which I tell my colleagues about philosophers is that they generally have reasons for saying what they say the way they say it rather than some other way. Philosophers’ writing tends to be considered, which is better than unconsidered.” Yes, better than unconsidered, but that on its own is kind of a low bar for readability (and yes, I know that words like “readability” only get in owing to low bars, but this is just a blog post, mkay?).

I think a lot of philosophers take readability as something they have to make a concession to in their writing. That is somewhat understandable, as comprehensiveness and fine distinctions and other aims may take us away from readability. But it is also kind of weird, since the main point of writing, one would think, is to be read. Perhaps it would be good if we had some exemplars of excellent philosophical writing to inspire us, or to emulate. Help us out. What are your examples of philosophy that’s a pleasure to read?

Heap of Links

1. “Sometimes a deepening of a view may go so deep as to change its character without actually changing its letter,” says Joseph Raz (King’s College, London), in a wide-ranging interview at 3am Magazine.
2. Huw Price (Cambridge) is part of “The scientific A-Team saving the world from killer viruses, rogue AI and the paperclip apocalypse.”
3. A Time Travel Dialogue by John Carroll (NC State) is a new release from Open Book Publishers, which makes freely accessible online versions of all of its publications. An article about the book, which Carroll wrote with his students, is here.
4. “After death, nobody’s life should be off limits to researchers,” says history and science writer Jack El-Hai.
5. Do we really live in a two-dimensional hologram?
6. “Finnish avant garde composer and musician M.A. Numminen… caused a stir in the 60s by setting sex guides to music” and recently “took it upon himself to do the same for many of the Tractatus’s propositions.”
7. “I’m making this animation about a philosophy book, and by the way it has nine directors attached to it, they all have different styles, nothing looks the same, and it’s 2D. But don’t worry because the author is Lebanese,” says Salma Hayek.
8. “Man the killer ape versus man the benign, noble savage.” David Livingstone Smith (University of New England) is interviewed for the documentary Man’s First War.
9Peter Momtchiloff, who has been the philosophy editor at Oxford University Press for over 20 years, is interviewed at Aesthetics for Birds.
10. Luciano Floridi (Oxford) on the value of uncertainty.
11. Students, are your parents upset by your liberal arts degree? This chart may be of help.
12. What would a philosopher king really be like?

BONUS UPDATE: “What Mary Didn’t Know” — Dorian Electra & the Electrodes rock out to Frank Jackson’s famous thought experiment. (via David Chalmers)

Salaita’s Contract to be Forwarded to Board

According to undergraduates who met with her today, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne Chancellor Phyllis Wise “has forwarded Professor Salaita’s appointment to the Board of Trustees, and they will be voting on his appointment during the Board of Trustees Meeting on September 11th, on the UIUC campus.” It appears that the boycott (discussed previously here) is having some effect, though see the report from the undergraduates for more detail.  (via John Protevi)

Philosophy Tag

In the previous game, Charlie Kurth (Washington University in St. Louis) tagged Valerie Tiberius (University of Minnesota). Now, Tiberius makes a move that is especially suited for today, if you have the day off (as many in the U.S. do, owing to Labor Day). Check it out.


Many of us have had the experience of going out into nature (a weekend at a lakeside cabin, camping in a National Park, a hike to the local waterfall, and so on) and feeling a sense of peace, contentment or “unwinding”.  In “Central Park: Nature, Context, and Human Wellbeing” (International Journal of Wellbeing, 1 (2), 235-254), Dan Haybron of St. Louis University locates this experience in philosophical discussions about happiness and well-being, presenting empirical evidence for the claim that contact with nature increases happiness and using this example to argue that important determinants of our happiness are not under our control.  Some of the empirical evidence Haybron discusses is surprising and cool.  I also like that this is a piece of philosophy I could give to my (highly educated, but non-specialist) parents to read and have a reasonable hope that they’ll like it! So, Dan Haybron, you’re it!

#APSAOnFire

Way back in the 2000s, at the Eastern APA’s conference hotel in DC, the fire alarms went off in the middle of the night. The hotel was briefly evacuated, but, because it was winter, rather than keep everyone outside, the hotel let people take shelter in the ballroom—the very ballroom at which the Smoker had taken place earlier that night. The tables were still in place.  Some people, it seems, had actually taken the time to put on a suit. I imagine there were job candidates going around to philosophers in their pajamas saying, “I neglected to mention this during my interview but…” And of course there was speculation about the cause: perhaps someone looking to create a few new openings in next year’s job market? It was all over in an hour or two.

All of this is prelude to the fact that our neighbors in political science have just experienced a worse version of the same thing. The annual American Political Science Association (APSA) meeting, which is orders of magnitude larger than the APA Eastern, is taking place at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park, which was on fire last night, apparently owing to multiple instances of arson. People were evacuated from their rooms for most of the night. Many slept outside on the lawn.  It doesn’t appear that anyone was injured, and attendees seem to be making the best of it with various quips on Twitter. Some gems from #APSAOnFire:

“Whoever set fire to the conference hotel, I wish I had your IRB.”

“If you thought the NSF funding crisis was a fire drill for political science, check out their annual meeting.”

“If you are wearing your name tag in Salon 1, you are a douche.”

“And if political scientists didn’t think DC liked them before, trying to burn the place down isn’t going to help.”

“I, for one, am certain it was the sociologists.”

UPDATE: IHE article on the fire here.

UPDATE 2: Several readers remind me that it was the same hotel both times.

UPDATE 3: “People start to yell at the various authorities on the stage. I silently debate whether the faction that I am going to lead will focus on hoarding the water or controlling access to the restrooms as our strategy when order breaks down.” A first person account of the night, here.

Heap of Links

1. Why are they so angry? Amia Srinivasan (Oxford) makes the case for anger, arguing that it can be a huge source of strength and power, particularly for the apparently weak and powerless, on the BBC. (via Aidan McGlynn)
2. When people who have been blind their whole life are given the power of sight, what do they see? — on the puzzle William Molyneaux posed to John Locke regarding touch and sight (via Matt McAdam, Robert Long). More here.
3. The current multi-chapter issue of Nautilus (#16) is dedicated to nothingness. One part: an article by physicist Alan Lightman on consciousness of nothingness.
4. Parasites affect our thought and behavior. The most studied of these parasites is toxoplasma gondii, which affects perhaps half the world’s human population. There’s some new research on how it operates.
5. A now-classic poem which you should send to all of your students at this time of year.
6. “Has anyone ever tried to date a philosopher?… Because if you ever have… you will know you never should date a philosopher” — and so begins Jess Zimmerman’s rather funny telling of “When Your Asshole Boyfriend is a Philosopher of Neuroscience,” a story about her dating her philosophy professor (click the white ►on the bottom of the screen).
7. Some profs think that Richard Dawkins would fail PHIL 101.
8. I’m thinking of how fun the next APA could be if everybody would do Somebody. Get your mind out of the gutter, perv — Somebody is a messaging app that is also a performance art project. That’s possible, right, philosophers of art?
9. Three logicians walk into a bar.

The Morality of the Boycott

Over 500 philosophers have signed on to the boycott of University of Illinois, initiated after it rescinded Steven Salaita’s job offer. Already, the boycott has affected the university’s department of philosophy. David Blacker (Delaware), cancelled a talk he was to give there that was co-sponsored by the philosophy department. Eric Schwitzgebel (Riverside) reports that he has withdrawn from presenting a talk and a keynote address at a mini-conference on experimental philosophy there in December. And Mark Van Roojen (Nebraska) has let me know that he, too, has pulled out of talk he was scheduled to give there this term.

One of the moral difficulties with boycotts is that they sometimes involve the attempt by one party to get a “guilty” second party to do something by harming or imposing a cost on an “innocent” third party. In this case, hundreds of philosophers, along with thousands of other academics, are attempting to get the administration at the University of Illinois to respect the free speech rights of Steven Salaita, and are doing so by imposing costs on faculty and students there. These faculty and students are being deprived of interaction and opportunities for the development of intellectual community at their institution with visiting scholars. Plans are disrupted, and presumably the attractiveness of the department to prospective students and employees suffers as the boycott goes on.

A question to ask in light of this is whether we ought to do something to make up for the undeserved harm we are visiting upon University of Illinois philosophy students and faculty. (For example, we could make special efforts to include them in events held elsewhere.) Yet, a concern is that to do so would be to make the boycott less painful, and so, less effective. What, if anything, should we do? I welcome discussion of these and related issues.

UPDATE: UIUC Philosophy Department votes no confidence in Chancellor Wise and Board of Trustees (via John Protevi). The statement:

Whereas the recent words and actions of Chancellor Phyllis Wise, President Robert Easter, and the Board of Trustees in connection with the revocation of an offer of employment to Dr. Steven Salaita betray a culpable disregard not only for academic freedom and free speech generally but also for the principles of shared governance and established protocols for hiring, tenure, and promotion, the faculty of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign declares its lack of confidence in the leadership of the current Chancellor, President, and Board of Trustees.

Blacks in Philosophy in the US

In “What is the State of Blacks in Philosophy?” a recent article in Critical Philosophy of Race, authors Tina Fernandes Botts (Michigan), Liam Kofi Bright (Carnegie Mellon), Myisha Cherry (John Jay College), Guntur Mallarangeng (San Francisco), and Quayshawn Spencer (San Francisco) “introduce into philosophical discussion the preliminary results of an empirical study on the state of blacks in philosophy.” Among their findings:

- Blacks make up just 1.32 percent of the total number of people professionally affiliated (as grad students or faculty) with U.S. philosophy departments.

- Approximately 0.88 percent of U.S. philosophy Ph.D. students are black.

- Approximately 4.3 percent of U.S. tenured philosophy professors are black.

- Of black philosophy Ph.D. students in the U.S., half are female. That is about double the rate of the U.S. philosophy Ph.D. student population as a whole.

- The distribution of black female Ph.D. students across philosophy Ph.D. pro-grams is much lower than black males. Specifically, 69 percent of black female Ph.D. students are at Penn State.

- The top areas of specialization for U.S. black philosophers are (1) Africana, (2) Race, (3) Social and Political, (4) Ethics, and (5) Continental philosophy.

The article contains more data, along with figures and commentary, and is accessible here.

Philosophers’ Ethical Non-Monogamy Group

Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins (British Columbia) and Rebecca Kukla (Georgetown) have informed me that they have created a new, private, “Philosophers’ Ethical Non-Monogamy Group” on Facebook.

This is a group for the exploration of political, personal, disciplinary, and theoretical issues surrounding ethical non-monogamy. We welcome those who identify as professional philosophers (or philosophers-in-training) and who are sustaining, building, or attempting to build ethical non-monogamous relationships.

By ethical non-monogamy, we mean participation in romantic and/or sexual unions that are consensual, critically and consciously constructed, and do not fit into the traditional exclusive dyadic form.

This is a discussion group, not a dating group. It is not, under any circumstances, to be used for hook-up attempts. It is also not, at this time, for allies, nor is it for those who are skeptical of whether ethical non-monogamy is possible or those who are merely interested in talking about it.

Joining the group constitutes your consent to keep its membership and discussions completely confidential. Violating the privacy and confidentiality of any member of the group will result in immediate expulsion.

To join, you can contact either of the organizers by private message on Facebook, or by email at conceptualtruth@gmail.com (Jenkins) or rkukla@gmail.com (Kukla).

Why Not Skype Interview?

Over the past few years more and more philosophy departments are moving to a model of hiring that ditches the interviewing of candidates at the Eastern Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association and replaces them with interviews over Skype or other video-conferencing technology. The case for doing so seems quite strong. It is less expensive for candidates and for departments, interferes less with people’s holiday travel plans, and the technology is very good now. There are have been two recent discussions about this at the Philosophy Smoker, arguing in favor of using video-interviews rather than in-person ones for the first round, and various previous discussions online. Yet I know that some departments are still planning to interview at the APA. Why?

Please note that I am not asking why candidates, if given the choice between interviewing via Skype or at the APA, should choose one or the other. Rather, I am asking why departments would choose to conduct APA interviews at all.

Heap of Links

1. A symposium at Boston Review called “Against Empathy,” featuring Paul Bloom, Peter Singer, Nomy Arpaly, Barbara Fried, Jesse Prinz, and others.
2. “Imagine that women are proportionately represented in the journals we are discussing…. Could there be any reason for ensuring that more papers by women are published in these journals? Possibly, yes, for two reasons,” says Meena Krishnamurthy (Manitoba), at Philosop-her.
3. Brian Leiter (Chicago) discusses the Salaita case on the television show, “Chicago Tonight.”
4. I don’t know what’s up with Forbes and all of their articles on philosophy lately but here’s another one, this time on philosophy of biology, focusing on the work of Peter Godfrey-Smith (CUNY).
5. “My view is that… all children should, without exception, be encouraged to think critically – and thus philosophically – even about the moral and religious beliefs they bring with them into the classroom. Religious parents should not be able to opt out.” Stephen Law on philosophy and religion in public schools.
6. Joshua Foa Dienstag (UCLA) on pessimism in True Detective.
7. While we’re on television, here’s a piece on Machiavelli, Plato, and Socrates in Game of Thrones.
8
. How to avoid annoying your professor (should we send this to our students?).
9. “I take joy very seriously, and partying is the formal pursuit of celebration itself.” Andrew WK and the philosophy of partying.
10. Summer vacation for academics.

Indie Film by Philosopher about Job Market

Shahin Izadi, who received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin, must have decided that the academic job market was too easy and so decided to go for a sure thing — indie film-making. He is currently making a movie called Ironwood, about two candidates for an academic job who take a roadtrip to do their interviews and go camping. You can learn more about the film and the fundraising going on for it here. (via Hallie Liberto)

What Was I Thinking?

As I pressed the “publish” button on the “Philosophical Topics of Interest to Women?” post, the old Saturday Night Live commercial for “Chess for Girls!” popped into my head. It was a warning, but one that I allowed to go unheeded. In part this was owed to exhaustion, in part to distraction, in part to what might be a less-than-optimal amount of conscientiousness about certain things, and in part because the person whose inquiry was featured in the post is, in fact, a good and smart person who I know to be sincerely concerned with improving the climate for women in philosophy, and so I did not have my guard up.

A minute after I published the post, criticisms started rolling in—via instant message, email, Facebook, and eventually in comments here at Daily Nous. I headed off to a full-day philosophy workshop, finding time here and there to approve each comment in the growing pile of objections. It was nice to be forced away from the blog for much of the day as this was going on. But now the workshop is over. I have reread the comments here, the post at Feminist Philosophers about it, and can now share my thoughts, in case you’re interested.

First, let me thank those of you who have written to me about this, either privately or in comments here or on Facebook or on other blogs. I’m grateful for the criticisms, and see them as chances for learning. I’m also grateful for the charity that most commentators have extended to me while making their objections, in regard to my intentions (and also to the professor whose question I posted, in regard to his intentions). And I am also appreciative of those who included kind words about Daily Nous when presenting their objections.

Second, it should have been rather clear to me that the question, as presented, embeds some explicitly sexist assumptions and lends itself easily to a further sexist read apart from those assumptions. Also, my posting of it placed a burden of explanation on those who already have their hands full dealing with and fighting sexism elsewhere. So, even though the ensuing discussion was really very interesting and I think quite useful, I apologize for posting it as I did. It was a mistake to post something so sexist.

Third, let me address the call that some people made for me to delete the post. I did not do this for a few reasons. Mainly, it felt like a cheat—an attempt to revise the record. Better, I thought, to not try to hide the mistake, but rather to use it as a learning opportunity, for me and for the readers. I’m kind of Millian about these things, and have the hope (perhaps unfounded) that, generally (generally, not always), further discussion of problematic issues is better than silence.

Fourth, just to be clear, I’d like to say what I would do if I could do it all over again. I would post it again, but, first, I would have edited the query before posting it, eliminating the sexist examples, and eliminating any language that assumes that there are “topics that are more likely to be of interest to women than other topics.” Second, I would have added some editorial remarks that indicate explicitly that, along several dimensions, the value of asking this question is up for discussion. Third, I would have added remarks that stress that acceptable answers to the query will be based on data and people’s real teaching experiences and not on sexist assumptions and speculation. And finally, I would have made some remarks about how even data-based generalizations about students’ preferences may be of little use, and may reinforce harmful and limiting stereotypes.

Let me again thank everyone for taking the time to comment on these matters, and apologize for posting the question as I did. I recognize that Daily Nous is a kind of public space for the profession, and that I need to exercise wisdom in tending it. I am still working on the wisdom thing, though, and so I appreciate you all stepping up to help when I need it.

Justin

P.S. Today is another travel day, so comments may be slow to appear.

Another Colorado Investigation

An associate professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado, Bradley Monton, is being investigated by the university.

Associate professor Brad Monton is the subject of a report by Denver-based attorney David Fine for university administrators…. CU declined to provide the Camera with the results of Fine’s investigation and would not disclose the nature of the probe, citing confidentiality around personnel matters.

The rest of the story is in The Daily Camera.

Philosophical Topics of Interest to Women?

A philosophy professor sends in the following inquiry for discussion:

One way to try to make introductory-level philosophy courses more appealing to women is to include more articles written by women on the syllabus.  I have seen a good deal of discussion and suggestions about this.  Another way might be to try to include more topics that are more likely to be of interest to women than other topics.  I have not encountered any useful discussion of this possibility and wonder what your readers think and whether they know of any useful resources I might consult.  There are a few obvious examples within ethics and political philosophy since they involve pregnancy (e.g., abortion, commercial surrogacy) and one can come up with other examples in these areas along similar lines, but I’m curious about whether there is anything useful that can be said beyond that relatively narrow range of cases.  Are there less obvious topics in the values area that are particularly good at generating interest among female undergraduates?  Topics in other areas such as metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics, philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, etc?  I would be particularly interested in any concrete data on this topic, but merely anecdotal evidence would also be appreciated.  Thanks.

Suggestions and comments welcome (though they may take a while to appear, owing to travel). 

UPDATE: I am taking a beating in the comments for posting this. At the moment I do not have time to write a substantive reply, but let me just say a few things: (1) criticism of the decision to post this is welcome; feel free to add or elaborate, as I appreciate the feedback, and I think it is perfectly worthwhile to ask whether this is a question we should be asking at all; (2) if you do wish to provide an answer to the reader’s inquiry about topics, please base your answer on data or your experiences, and not on speculation or guesswork; (3) I will post a reply tonight or tomorrow, if not sooner. Thanks.

UPDATE: I make additional comments about this post here.

Sen on Poverty, Energy, and the Environment

I would like to comment on two quite different, but ultimately related, areas of neglected environmental analyses that demand immediate attention. The first is the general problem of not having anything like an overall normative framework, involving ethics as well as science, that could serve as the basis of debates and discussions on policy recommendations. Despite the ubiquity and the reach of environmental dangers, a general normative framework for the evaluation of these dangers has yet to emerge. The second is a much more specific problem: the failure to develop a framework for assessing the comparative costs of different sources of energy (from fossil fuels and nuclear power to solar and renewable energy), inclusive of the externalities involved, which can take many different forms.

Amartya Sen (Harvard) has a long and wide-ranging article in the New Republic discussing issues related to the environment, energy, and poverty.

UPDATE: In the comments, dmf points us to a response by Wes Alwan at The Partially Examined Life, describing Sen’s piece as “a lengthy and repetitious series of platitudes… [that] doesn’t possess any substantive merits or demerits. What interests me is how terrible this article is as an attempt by an intellectual to communicate with the general public.”

What’s Wrong with Oxford Scholarship Online?

Oxford Scholarship Online (OSO) is the digital imprint for Oxford University Press, making available electronic versions of OUP books. According to Bob Pasnau (Colorado), they are terrible. His library started an OSO subscription and stopped purchasing hard copies of OUP books, and he has not been very happy.

For a great many purposes, I prefer to read material on screen, and I have accumulated the usual collection of programs and devices to facilitate that sort of thing. So my objection is not that OSO marks a prominent step on the path toward the end of books in academia. The problem is that what OSO offers, in place of OUP books, is, to be blunt, execrable….

OSO gives the reader something like an .html version of the book, one that looks nothing like the book itself, even if in principle it is a word-for-word duplicate. Their fear, presumably, is that if an exact digital version of the book were made available, it would soon become available everywhere for free. The worry is a reasonable one, but unfortunately their solution is to make their product so wretched that no one could possibly have any interest in circulating these OSO editions.

It sounds very frustrating, but Pasnau writes in such an amusing way as he substantiates his charges that it is quite fun to read about. His remarks about the lack of care with typography are spot on, and the part about the endnotes will make you cringe. You can read the whole post at his blog, In Medias Phil.

Heap of Links

1. “Scientists that talk philosophy down are simply superficial: they have a philosophy (usually some ill-digested mixture of Popper and Kuhn) and think that this is the “true” philosophy, and do not realize that this has limitations,” says scientist.
2. The Phaedo may be missing some painful, convulsive, gasping.
3. The Critique is a site that aims to bring philosophy to bear on a variety of current events, from police brutality to the Emmy awards.
4. A series of posts on philosophy and a basic income.
5. “How to solve the hardest logic puzzle ever in two questions” and the four other most-downloaded articles from Analysis this year are now available free of charge.
6. Feminist Philosophy Quarterly, a new online, open access journal, is now accepting submissions.
7. “Not all interactions with fellow humans are positive” — on the advantages of robot graders.
8. Philosophers of art, this is great but I don’t know why.
9. The bias towards the past.

Dan Kaufman Sues University of Colorado

Dan Kaufman, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado, is suing his university and several of its employees for $2 million for damages relating to his “banishment” from campus for two months this past spring.

Kaufman has filed four notices of claim, a step required by Colorado law for anyone seeking to sue a public entity, and alleges that he has suffered discrimination and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. He is also claiming defamation, slander and intentional infliction of emotional distress by the university, among other claims….

The most recent notice of claim, filed Aug. 6, names Provost Russ Moore, College of Arts and Sciences Dean Steven Leigh, philosophy chairman Andy Cowell, and CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard as employees involved in Kaufman’s injury. Kaufman is seeking damages for lost future employment opportunities, severe emotional distress and attorney costs.

The Daily Camera article from which the above information is quoted appears to have been moved or removed; however, a cached version of it is here.

UPDATE: The Daily Camera article is now here.

Salaita Decision Reaffirmed

It does not appear that the University of Illinois will be altering the decision to rescind Steven Salaita’s job offer. From a post at the “Chancellor’s Blog”:

The decision regarding Prof. Salaita was not influenced in any way by his positions on the conflict in the Middle East nor his criticism of Israel….

We are a university built on precisely this type of dialogue, discourse and debate. What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them. We have a particular duty to our students to ensure that they live in a community of scholarship that challenges their assumptions about the world but that also respects their rights as individuals…

A Jewish student, a Palestinian student, or any student of any faith or background must feel confident that personal views can be expressed and that philosophical disagreements with a faculty member can be debated in a civil, thoughtful and mutually respectful manner. Most important, every student must know that every instructor recognizes and values that student as a human being. If we have lost that, we have lost much more than our standing as a world-class institution of higher education.

The rest of the post is here (via Michael Otsuka). A separate article reports:

Wise’s message was followed up later in the day by one signed by University of Illinois trustees, President Robert Easter, University Senates Conference Chair Donald Chambers and several top-level administrators.

The authors of the letter endorsed Wise’s statement and stated they “write today to add our collective and unwavering support of Chancellor Wise and her philosophy of academic freedom and free speech tempered in respect for human rights – these are the same core values which have guided this institution since its founding.”

How to Accelerate Refereeing

People have been experimenting on journal referees and have learned some useful information. First off, whatever you do, don’t ask Professor Procrastinate to referee for you. He cannot be trusted. Second, shorten deadlines. Third, offer cash rewards or publicize how long the referees took to do the work.

We randomly assign referees to four groups: a control group with a six-week deadline to submit a referee report; a group with a four-week deadline; a cash incentive group rewarded with $100 for meeting the four-week deadline; and a social incentive group in which referees were told that their turnaround times would be publicly posted. We obtain four sets of results. First, shorter deadlines reduce the time referees take to submit reports substantially. Second, cash incentives significantly improve speed, especially in the week before the deadline. Cash payments do not crowd out intrinsic motivation: after the cash treatment ends, referees who received cash incentives are no slower than those in the four-week deadline group. Third, social incentives have smaller but significant effects on review times and are especially effective among tenured professors, who are less sensitive to deadlines and cash incentives. Fourth, all the treatments have little or no effect on rates of agreement to review, quality of reports, or review times at other journals.

The article, “What Policies Increase Prosocial Behavior? An Experiment with Referees at the Journal of Public Economics,” appears in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, and can be accessed here. (via Lewis Powell)