An Objection Does Not A Rejection Make


“If philosophers are serious about improving the way their journals function, they need to consider not only how to improve the mechanics of the reviewing process, but also how to improve the way they criticize one another.”

What are good grounds for a journal referee suggesting a paper be rejected? Tim Crane (CEU) has some thoughts on that.

In a recent piece at the Times Literary Supplement, he discusses the low acceptance rates of philosophy journals (discussed previously here, here, and here, for example) and suggests an increase in publication:

The discipline has high standards, but the number of competent philosophers in the world and the number of articles they are trying to publish are all growing. Given this, and given the new opportunities presented by digital technology, there is no reason why the leading journals should not just publish more stuff. Of course, it might mean that publication in one of these journals may no longer be that sole decisive achievement that will get you that job or grant. But this could be beneficial: rather than evaluating someone’s work by looking at which journals they publish in, assessors would have to actually read the work itself. 

However, one obstacle to publishing more philosophy, Professor Crane notes, is “the attitude of philosophers who act as peer reviewers”:

Many behave as if finding an objection to the claims of a paper is a sufficient reason to reject it, or to ask for revisions before publication. Authors are regularly asked to revise their papers to take account of a wide variety of more or less plausible objections. This inevitably results in papers that are longer than they should be, and in many cases far more boring and hard to read than the original. The whole “revise and resubmit” process also adds months to the publication cycle. In many cases, journal editors would do a service to their readers if they took a few more risks and published even those papers to which someone might—shocking as it may seem—make a good objection.

It will be difficult to improve this situation without making some fundamental changes to the way academic philosophers are trained. In the analytic tradition, philosophers are taught to write in a style that, in the memorable words of Bernard Williams, “tries to remove in advance every conceivable misunderstanding or misinterpretation or objection, including those that would occur only to the malicious or the clinically literal-minded”. It is therefore unsurprising that the criticisms often put forward in peer review can seem uncharitable, pedantic and pointless. If philosophers are serious about improving the way their journals function, they need to consider not only how to improve the mechanics of the reviewing process, but also how to improve the way they criticize one another.

The full essay is here.

Edmund Dulac, illustration from “The Princess and the Pea”


Related: “Don’t Forget to Remove the Scaffolding

There are 33 comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  
Please enter an e-mail address