Plenty Of Woe To Go Around: A Post About A Philosophy Journal

What the hell is going on? You might occasionally ask yourself that question when confronted with the problems, missteps, malfunctions, and other obstacles that seem to be part of the normal experience of academic life—for example, when you send in an article to a journal and it, and the journal’s staff, seem to vanish. A reader of Daily Nous recently wrote in:

A lot of my work is metaphilosophical.  This makes the journal Metaphilosophy a natural venue for my stuff.  I really like the journal and a lot of stuff it publishes. Unfortunately, my experience submitting to them is a long way from ideal. The articles I have published with them took over 18 months to receive a first verdict and the articles I currently have with them have been there over 9 months. I send regular requests for information every month or so but all but one or two of these get no response. Maybe this is just my experience, but I suspect not. Does anyone else have stories to share? 

I know I could just withdraw and submit elsewhere but that’s not the conversation I want to start here. The discipline really benefits from having a journal for metaphilosophy. It would be really great if it could sort some of these issues out. 

Those are excessive wait times, and it is annoying—and possibly career-damaging—to deal with them, especially with an unresponsive editorial staff.

Yet let’s not forget that editing a journal is hard work. I suspect that for most editors, their work often goes not just unappreciated, but unnoticed—until there is something for someone to complain about. So if you have had a good journal experience recently, take a moment and send an appreciative note to the editor(s) there.

I reached out to the journal’s editor, Armen Marsoobian, of Southern State Connecticut University, where Metaphilosophy is housed, to see if I could learn more about what is going on there. He was rather forthcoming, and it isn’t a pretty picture:

Sorry to hear about the complaint. We did have a significant problem last year and earlier this year because the university put in a new spam filtering system called Clutter. Because of funding limitations we rely on a student worker to monitor our e-mail. She was unaware of what was happening and we lost dozens of inquiries over many months. Additionally, other computer-related problems compounded the problem. When complaints have come directly to me, I have tried to follow up promptly but I am human and may have missed a few… 

I agree that in some cases there has been an excessive delay in the review process. Referees have taken much more time to write reports and finding referees has become more difficult. Our submissions have multiple reviews with at least one substantive report. I also personally attempt a final look before the author is informed of our decision…

There’s more:

As you might be aware cutbacks in highuer education, especially at public institutions, have adversely impacted scholarship. My university has withdrawn all support for the journal—even our office space was severely reduced two years ago. I and my associate editor used to receive reassigned time (release time) of one course reduction for the editorial work on the journal. These hours were taken away from us four years ago. We have a four-course teaching load per semester at my university so you can guess what the impact has been. Colleagues in my own department who I have relied upon for evaluations have found it difficult to find the time to help due to an administratively-imposed increase in class size…. I have in the past made an attempt to find a better “home” for the journal but negotiations failed. I hope you get the picture. 

That is pretty bad, and I suspect that it is not the only journal facing significant obstacles and (to understate things) inadequate institutional support. With a fuller picture, we might consider a campaign to the administration of Southern State Connecticut College about the importance of having a publication in the profession addressing increasingly important metaphilosophical issues, and urging it to provide Metaphilosophy with the resources it needs to function well.

Professor Marsoobian notes that some improvements are in the works:

In August we will put in place a new automatic submission process which will send out acknowledgements and keep contributors informed of the status of their submissions. This will add an extra cost but we will try to find the money somewhere.

He adds:

I pledge that starting in August we will significantly reduce the backlog of submissions and put into place a more efficient and reliable process of evaluation. For those who have encountered difficulties with their submissions, I offer my sincere apology.

So one lesson here is that editors of journals may be facing down serious problems of their own. That said, this post should not be taken as one that encourages authors to refrain from contacting editors of journals where their work appears to be languishing. Feel free to contact and complain, but do so in a way that acknowledges the burdens of editing a journal and the possibility that there may be very good reasons for delays. Still, even if there are such reasons, it could be prudent and perfectly acceptable to withdraw the paper and submit it elsewhere.

Discussion welcome.

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