Deciding which Papers to Referee

Some philosophers receive an excessive number of requests to referee papers. How should they go about deciding which papers to agree to referee?

Of course the paper should be in one’s area, but even that criteria leaves some people with more requests than they could reasonably be expected to fulfill, and so, with a decision about which requests to accept. One might use a random method, such as “first request of the week / month / quarter, I accept, the rest I decline” or something less systematic, like, “I don’t feel too too busy at the moment, so yes I’ll agree to referee this one.” Or one could be more strategic and make decisions in a way aimed at affecting the profession. Along these lines, one philosopher writes:

Not infrequently, I receive requests to referee papers which don’t cite any papers by women. In many such cases, it is easy for me to think of a paper by a woman philosopher squarely on topic quickly off the top of my head. As a published author, I think I am obligated to referee some papers each year.  Since I can’t accept all referees requests, my policy is to focus on those papers on topics about which I am among a relatively small number of experts.  But even with that restriction, I still receive more requests to referee than I am obliged to accept on grounds of fairness.  (I receive 1 or 2 such requests each week.) 

I have very few options at my disposal for helping the profession change its pattern of under citing women. Deciding which papers to referee is among the few tools for influencing the profession in a positive way that I have.  Putting all of these considerations together, I am sorely tempted to adopt the policy of not refereeing any papers that could easily cite papers by women, given the topic, but don’t. 

I would be interested in hearing others’ thoughts on this, to help me think about it. I would be interested to know of any good moral objections to such a policy.  I’d also be interested to hear whether others who don’t find it objectionable would consider adopting this policy. I wonder whether, if it were known that a number of us have adopted such a policy, we might together make some difference.

The idea, I take it, is that authors would come to know that it will be less difficult for editors to find referees for their papers if their papers cite relevant works by women, and that if they fail to do so there is chance that it will take longer for their papers to make it through the review process, if they get through at all. Of course, such a strategy could be employed on behalf of other groups whose members may also be under-cited, such as blacks, the disabled, junior faculty, conservatives, continental philosophers, non-western philosophers, and so on. Are there objections to referees employing this kind of strategy? Would you do it, and in support of whom?

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