The Fragmentation’s Disvalue

The Fragmentation’s Disvalue


Over the summer, Nicholas Rescher (Pittsburgh), in his capacity as executive editor of American Philosophical Quarterly, published a brief editorial entitled “Growing Pains” (vol. 51, no.3) in which he notes the growth of the philosophy profession and laments its bad effects.

He writes:

The scholarly output of the profession has far outstripped its numerical growth. Over the period from 1975 to 2005, the number of professional journals increased from approximately 100 to approximately 300. And the number of philosophical publications (books and papers) increased from just over 5,000 to about 12,000. Over the period at issue, a profession that has grown by only some 20 percent has increased its published output well over twofold. Under the pressure to “publish or perish,” the productivity of academics has seen a striking increase. By all visible indications, academic philosophy has become not only more professionalized but also substantially more professional.

But while all this is doubtless to the good, it has its negative side as well. For, perhaps inevitably, the growth in professionalism has been accompanied by a marked increase in specialization and division of labor. During this 1975–2005 period, the number of thematically specialized philosophical societies in America increased from around 50 to around 90. The discipline’s topical fragmentation has kept pace with publication, and thereby far outpaced its population growth.

The proliferation of academic philosophers has served to impede rather than promote the sharing of common interests. Ironically, when philosophers look for discussion partners for sharing their own concerns with colleagues, the fragmentation of an enlarged profession affords them fewer rather than more opportunities.

Has there been increased specialization and fragmentation in philosophy over the past 40 years, and does it have the bad effects Rescher thinks it does?

(Thanks to John Schwenkler for the heads up about Rescher’s editorial)

guest
86 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Enzo Rossi
6 years ago

Interesting. Is the thought that fragmentation is driven mainly by the pressures to publish more, i.e. by the decline in available jobs? A larger profession allows for more self-contained specialisations, but it’s not clear why there would incentives for this fragmentation unless one had to produce lots of publications, in which case it becomes handy to create specialist journals in which one is able to publish stuff that 95% of philosophers don’t find interesting. It would be interesting to see how many of those 200 new journals are specialist rather than general (and I say this as the editor of a specialist journal founded only in 2002, albeit one that sits between philosophy and political science — the European Journal of Political Theory).Report

David Velleman
6 years ago

The pressure to publish has many deleterious effects in addition to the ones adduced by Rescher. It has flooded the literature with formulaic papers on the “puzzles du jour” and discouraged work that requires long gestation. It has overburdened existing journals, requiring referees and editors to make decisions on the basis of less and less thought. It has forced graduate students to publish their ideas prematurely, truncating their graduate studies. The resulting professionalization forced on graduate students seeking jobs has trickled down to undergraduates seeking admission to graduate school, crowding out undergraduates who majored in subjects other than philosophy — students who traditionally have brought fresh ideas to the discipline.
I have recently heard from colleagues two suggestions for slowing this trend. One is for the tenure process to be based on the candidate’s “best 100 pages” — surely enough evidence on which to base a judgment. Some of the sciences already limit the number of papers that can be submitted in a tenure dossier, and the REF process in the UK imposes a similar limit on what it will evaluate. If departments won’t institute this practice on their own, external referees in tenure cases might refuse to read and comment on more than 100 pages. The second suggestion is for graduate programs to reach an agreement on discouraging their students to publish, so that publication is not necessary to competitiveness on the job market.
I would add three further suggestions, for journal editors. Journals should refuse to publish formulaic “interventions” in fashionable debates. (Philosophers’ Imprint already has this policy; see our “About” page.) Journals should cut their subscription fees and replace the lost income with submission fees. (Philosophers’ Imprint already has this policy. Our subscription fee is zero and our submission fee is $20.) Journals should refuse to publish work by graduate students. (Philosophers’ Imprint does *not* have this policy, though some of the editors would favor it.)Report

Dale Miller
6 years ago

I guess that when Nick Rescher says we’re publishing too much, it’s time to pay heed.Report

Zara
Zara
6 years ago

I agree with or am sympathetic to everything David Velleman says except the last: Journals should refuse to publish work by graduate students. First, whether a paper is accepted for publication should depend on the excellence of the paper and not on the professional status of the author(s). Second, this reinforces the unfortunately, if sometimes necessarily, hierarchical nature of the profession. A question: if a graduate student closes an important open question in modal logic, should she wait until she defends her dissertation before being allowed to publish her work?Report

p
p
6 years ago

I think there could be some special issues for graduate students or something of that sort to allow some exceptional cases to be published.Report

grad
grad
6 years ago

I’m in many ways sympathetic to David Velleman’s suggestions. But it’s important to keep in mind that publication is one important way that less privileged grad students can make up the competitive difference between them and those who started out at pedigreed undergraduate institutions.Report

Michael Cholbi
6 years ago

Rescher has 359 entries at PhilPapers. Physician, heal thyself!Report

Michael Kremer
Michael Kremer
6 years ago

Michael Cholbi — one is reminded of this entry in the Philosophical Lexicon…
resch, (1) v. To evince an extravagant or pathological degree of intellectual energy in many directions. “He is always resching into print – one can’t keep up with his stuff.” (2) rescher, n. A unit for measuring the volume of printed pages, equal to the collected works of Francis Bacon (hence, a rescher of Bacon). 1 rescher = 10,000 sheffers. “The new wing will increase the library capacity by over a thousand reschers.”
http://www.philosophicallexicon.com/Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

I posted this earlier this morning, but it did not show up. I repeat it here:

David Velleman’s suggestion that journals should refuse to publish work by graduate students strikes me as outrageous for a number of reasons. I’ll mention just one. If the work meets the standard of quality set by the journal’s editors and the referees, it seems obviously irrelevant to a decision whether to publish if the author is a graduate student (or an undergraduate student, or a high-school student, or a kindergarten student, or…). I don’t see how this point can be denied. So Velleman’s suggestion that Journals should refuse to publish such work — work that by hypothesis meets the relevant standards — strikes me as a suggestion that individuals who wield professional power should put up arbitrary barriers to success. Perhaps Velleman thinks that work by graduate students (or undergraduate students, or…) never meets the relevant standard. But then his suggestion should be that journal editors adhere more strictly to their own standards; but he provides no evidence that journals fail to do so, and I certainly don’t think there’s any evidence in the offing that journals seem to favor work by graduate students (or undergraduate students, or…). Certainly, triple-blind journals cannot be accused of doing so. (On a related note: Is Philosophers’ Imprint triple-blind? I cannot discover whether they are committed to this obviously fair practice on their website.)

One of Velleman’s other suggestions seem to me equally unreasonable, viz. his suggestion that departments discourage their students from publishing in order to achieve the result that publication is not necessary for competitiveness on the job market. I don’t object to the goal of making publication not necessary for competitiveness on the job market. What I object to is Velleman’s unsupported (in my view, naive) implication that discouraging graduate students from publishing would have the desired effect. That is, I don’t see why discouraging students from publishing would result in their publishing any less. After all, even if publishing is not necessary for competitiveness on the job market, publishing surely contributes (to a large degree) to one’s competitiveness. So there will still be (almost exactly the same) incentives to publish, against which the discouragement will, plausibly, fair weakly. Unless Velleman thinks that publications while in graduate school should count *against* a job candidate (and some of his remarks seem to have this flavor, though I’m not attributing the view to him), so long as publications contribute to one’s level of competitiveness, publication by graduate students will increase.

(It’s also worth noting that, if Velleman is right in either of his two suggestions, then the same sort of arguments would seem to be suggest we should discourage VAPs and Post-Docs from publishing. If VAPs and Post-Docs are allowed to publish, or are encouraged to do so, it will have the same effect as graduate students doing so. Surely Velleman does not think that only tenure-track professors should be allowed and encouraged to publish.)Report

David Velleman
6 years ago

Yes, publication was until recently a way for less privileged grad students to overcome the disadvantages of their “pedigree”. If I thought that it was still an equalizer for those students, I wouldn’t have made my suggestion. My sense, however, is that the pressure to publish has now reached even the most advantaged students in the most “prestigious” departments, so that publication no longer serves as an equalizer and may even exacerbate the inequalities. If I’m wrong about that, then I’d withdraw my suggestion.Report

shane
6 years ago

I’m confused about the claim that publication no longer has an equalizing effect. If a graduate student at a non-elite program is able to publish at elite venues, then that publication “equalizes” the non-elite grad student with elite graduate students, no? So what could be the evidence that this no longer happens? Your comment above seems to imply that all elite grad students now go on the market with an elite publication. That’s manifestly not the case—I’ve seen several elite job candidates who didn’t have any publications at all, let alone elite ones. Or perhaps you mean that publication at elite journals is now so competitive that no non-elite graduate student could possibly get a paper published in such a venue. But that’s surely incorrect too. (Or at least I hope it is—I’m waiting to hear back from Phil. Studies as we speak!) At any rate, I would find some policy of arbitrarily refusing to consider submissions from graduate students systematically unfair and liable simply to exacerbate the divide between The Anointed and The Non-Anointed rather than to provide access and opportunity to the dedicated.Report

David Velleman
6 years ago

In response to anonymous: I didn’t say that journals shouldn’t publish work done while the author was a graduate student; I said that journals shouldn’t publish that work while the author is still in graduate school. Most assistant professors spend their time mining their dissertations for publications, as they should, and so they end up publishing what was originally their graduate-student work. Work that was good enough to publish when the author was a student will still get published; it will just get published a year or two later, when it is bound to be still better, to the benefit of both the author and the discipline. And the author’s graduate education will have benefited as well, since the tasks of packaging ideas in marketable form (and yes, it’s a kind of marketing), responding to referees’ reports (which are rarely as good as the comments of one’s advisor), and dealing with copyeditors (who can be a pain in the ass) detract from the work of getting a graduate education.
Then there is the issue of competition between graduate students and assistant professors. Publication may be a competitive advantage for graduate students, but it is a life-or-death necessity for assistant professors. Journal space and referees’ time are finite resources. When the work of students crowds out the work of pre-tenure faculty, the aggregate effect on academic careers is negative, and the discipline suffers.
Harmful competition doesn’t only travel up the age scale; it also travels down. As publication becomes a requirement for job placement, graduate programs will have to select for applicants who will be ready to publish in only four or five years. Highly polished, almost-publishable writing samples will count for even more than they already do. Talk about inequality! Students at middling state institutions are far less able to produce those professional-quality writing samples than students from gold-plated colleges. And late-comers to the subject are increasingly being shut out of graduate programs.
Finally, you have to consider the effect that graduate-student submissions are having on journals. Philosophers’ Imprint currently receives about 500 submissions a year, and almost a quarter of them come from students. We are on track to receive 20% more submissions than we did only three years ago, and we hear from the editors of other journals that they are seeing the same trend. This volume of submissions unavoidably degrades the editing and refereeing process, with deleterious effects on the literature. And it is simply becoming unmanageable.
As I said above, Philosophers’ Imprint is not — I repeat, *not* — adopting the policy of refusing to publish student work. But we are not the only journal that has discussed policies of this general kind. It is not enough to argue against these solutions to the problem. If you don’t like them, tell us how you would solve the problem instead. Something’s got to give.Report

Jozef Muller
Jozef Muller
6 years ago

I think that the pressure to publish, felt already at the graduate student level for the reasons already discussed, is both detrimental to the profession as well as creating a number of practical issues (David Velleman mentioned these). I think the proposal to stop publishing the work of graduate students, draconian as it might seem, would actually level the field to some extent for the job candidates and bring significant relief to especially graduate students at state institutions that have to teach a lot (one less thing not quite in their hands to worry about); but also to journals (better referring process and so also higher quality), and early career faculty too (shorter and better turnover times). At this point, the need to publish is so present in the students’ minds that discouraging it would not help since they would be, in the current system, not acting entirely in their own interest. They can concentrate on dissertations, conferences, and now perhaps also some content-driven blogs. I do not have any suggestions of my own, but I think this would actually merit a serious APA-led debate and maybe a decision of that sort. This would set clear guidelines and rules for the profession and these could then be communicated to the appropriate administrative units within the universities.Report

David Velleman
6 years ago

Shane: When publication was very unusual among graduate students, it could make an application salient. An application from a less prestigious program would jump out of the pack and get attention. If publication becomes common, that effect will go away. Even if that applicant has publishes in equally prestigious journals, he or she will still have the disadvantage of coming from a less prestigious program.

A policy of refusing to publish student work would not be arbitrary: it would draw a principled distinction, based on the reasons I gave above. It wouldn’t distinguish between the ‘anointed’ and the ‘non-anoited’. It would distinguish between those who are at a career stage where the discipline should encourage publication and those at a stage where the discipline should discourage it.Report

Dale Miller
6 years ago

Ultimately, the reason that publishing exists is to contribute to the creation and dissemination of knowledge. While that’s the justification for the practice, obviously as individuals we have additional careerist motives for publishing. Still, tying the ability to publish to career stage seems to send the wrong message about publishing: that it’s only about career advancement or is about this first and foremost. How else to construe the argument that better papers by graduate students should remain unpublished so that worse papers by assistant professors can make it into print? (If journals started to adopt this policy then no doubt this would give rise to a new definition of ‘open-access journal’: a journal that will publish anyone’s work, even graduate students’.) I do think that some version of the “best 100 pages” limit for tenure is really promising, although I can see some potential stumbling blocks. To name just one, there would have to be a culture of judging applicants’ only on their best 100 pages period, as opposed to one of sending the best 100 pages out for external review but still taking quantity into account internally.Report

Jozef Muller
Jozef Muller
6 years ago

Dale: I think you are getting things upside down. The idea is that journals are overrun by papers that are not yet of publishable quality (but perhaps could be later) and they refereeing practices are getting worse (and so also their quality) because of that. It also seems to be the case that many or majority of these half-baked papers come from graduate students who are trying to publish in order to be more marketable (rather than for the sake of dissemination of knowledge as you suggest) as well as from early career faculty who are pressured to publish within a few years to be able to get tenure (and so they need to be fast). In other words – the wrong message is out there and operational – that is the problem. DV’s proposal is to counter it by action by the professional community. Since publishing for graduate students used to be both optional and exceptional (but has now become almost obligatory and mundane) but junior faculty publishing is obligatory (but has become difficult and highly stressful): make it a rule that grad students do not publish so that they can in fact concentrate on advancement of knowledge in their dissertations which will later yield papers while simultaneously ease the pressure on early career faculty so that they would eye quality rather than quantity. No doubt, there will be some grad students with amazing ideas over and above their dissertations – well, they can publish them later and they can also make them known through conferences or various online venues before then. That should be enough for being marketable. Philosophical ideas can wait a bit – they usually get even better.Report

Dale Miller
6 years ago

Jozef: I understand the problem. However, I continue to think that a blanket policy of refusing to publish papers from graduate students regardless of the importance of the contribution they make is incongruent with the reasons that we think publishing matters in the first place. DV made more than one suggestion about how to address the problem, and I think that at least one other has real promise, as I indicated in my response. I’m just not persuaded by this one. (If philosophy papers, like wine, improve as they age, perhaps we ought to limit publishing to full professors!) However, perhaps there is a less drastic way to get some of the benefit that some people think would come from this policy. Suppose that journals required submissions from a graduate student to be accompanied by testimonials from one or two faculty members at the student’s university stating that they consider the paper to be of publishable quality and explaining why. I’d like to think that faculty would care enough about their own reputations that this would keep some of the crap papers from being submitted, and if editors found the testimonials unpersuasive they could always give a desk rejection based on that alone.Report

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
6 years ago

I share many of David Velleman’s concerns about excessive publishing and the glut of submissions to journals. No, grad students shouldn’t send their seminar papers to journals. It would be helpful to keep something like the 10,000 hour rule in mind. Philosophical thinking and writing is a skill it takes a lot of practice — disciplined practice, more specifically — to acquire and develop. I certainly didn’t have it in my early years.

But I don’t share David’s view about equalization. If there were no grad-student publications, those coming out of elite graduate programs would have a big advantage in the job market. But, assuming blind review, in publishing they have no advantage. David may be right that if elite and non-elite grads publish in equally prestigious journals, the elite grad will retain his or her advantage — though I suspect the advantage will be diminished. But the more important point is that the non-elite grad has a chance to publish in *more* prestigious journals. That’s where the equalizing effect comes, when the non-elite’s publications are better. And it requires the possibility of publication.

Twenty-plus years ago I visited for a term in David’s then-department at Michigan. A grad student there told me Michigan students were advised not to publish. Their big plus was their Michigan pedigree, and without publications that would be the most salient fact about their application and set them apart from grads of lesser programs. Once they started to publish, however, they put themselves on a level playing field with those other grads and on that field they could lose. I’m not suggesting that David’s motivated by any thing similar in floating his proposals, but I do think those other Michigan faculty advisers (assuming my informant informed me correctly) had an accurate understanding of how the job market works and how publications and pedigree interact within it.Report

Jozef Muller
Jozef Muller
6 years ago

Dale: I am not sure about the faculty refusing to write testimonials for their own students. In any case, I think we need some wide-ranging discussion of this issue since it has become a problem.

Tom: maybe there could be special issues or journal (or journals) dedicated to grad student papers only to which grad students could submit under certain conditions (say, the paper has been presented at the APA or some other peer-reviewed conference, or has two testimonials, or something like that). So we could have a venue for grad students to publish, but it would be limited and aside from the regular ones? Or maybe this is too complicated.Report

Derek Bowman
6 years ago

Tom Hurka writes, “If there were no grad-student publications, those coming out of elite graduate programs would have a big advantage in the job market. But, assuming blind review, in publishing they have no advantage.”

But that’s just silly. Of course they will.

Students who receive more effective mentorship for their publications will have a better chance to publish in top venues. Those whose faculty advisors have more experience publishing in, refereeing for, and editing top journals will, in general, be able to provide much better advice and mentorship on how to navigate that process.

Students whose peers, or close predecessors, have published in top journals will have better peer guidance on how to navigate that process.

Students whose ‘research assistantship’ work involves doing administrative or editorial tasks for top journals will have more experience seeing what kinds of papers get accepted and rejected and on what basis. They too will be better prepared to navigate the process of submitting to top journals.

Students who have more paid ‘fellowship’ semesters and lighter teaching duties will have more time to prepare and revise research of sufficient quality to make it into top journals.

Students who meet top scholars in person and have the chance to read their cutting edge work before it is published will have a competitive advantage in preparing top quality articles responding to that work.

And those are just the advantages I can think of off the top of my head.

And as to the anecdote about Michigan, I think the key phrase there is “twenty-plus years ago.”Report

Different Anon Grad
Different Anon Grad
6 years ago

I agree that even the most prestigious universities (with full disclosure: like your own) must also play the “publish or adjunct” game. But it’s obviously not the case that the field is now *even*; the prestigious schools are still benefited, they just no longer have it as easy as they used to. The less privileged graduate students are still less privileged, and are forced to publish even more than their privileged counterparts.

Your suggestion that journals refuse to publish work by graduate students is naive, insulting and extremely worrying, given your status as an editor. The profession should attempt to equalize the playing field, not to damn those perceived as less well off.Report

MD
MD
6 years ago

Behind a couple of David Velleman’s arguments (in comment 12) against grad student publishing seems to be the assumption that by having them hold off on submitting the papers they think worth submitting until they are no longer students will significantly reduce the number of papers being submitted to journals. But this isn’t obviously true, at least if we look beyond the first few years of instituting such a policy (I’m assuming it would be a policy that would be somehow officially instituted rather than something more realistic, but that’s just for ease of discussion and doesn’t affect the point I want to make).

Suppose I have a paper I think has a shot at being published in a good journal, and that the faculty at my school who have read it think so too. Since grad students are no longer publishing, I don’t submit it as a student. But what do I do as soon as I am no longer a student? Submit it, since I want to build a tenure file. And of course I also submit stuff mined from my dissertation and other papers I write after graduating. So instead of submitting n papers in my grad school years and m papers in my post-grad school years, I submit n+m papers in my post-grad school years. If this is true for pretty much everyone, then pretty much the same number of papers will be submitted. And after the brief period where the only pre-tenure people submitting papers are the ones who had the opportunity to submit papers in grad school, pretty much the same number of papers will be submitted per year (and changing at the same rate, just a few years behind). So the policy will have no long term effect and make no difference to the fact that the “volume of submissions unavoidably degrades the editing and refereeing process, with deleterious effects on the literature. And it is simply becoming unmanageable”. What about “the issue of competition between graduate students and assistant professors. … Journal space and referees’ time are finite resources. When the work of students crowds out the work of pre-tenure faculty, the aggregate effect on academic careers is negative, and the discipline suffers.” ? Well, now the competition is just between assistant professors (and their graduate selves) and other assistant professors (and their graduate selves). Since there’s roughly the same amount of work competing for the same amount of space, this isn’t much of an improvement.

Now, I can think of a few ways that someone’s n (submitted papers that were written in grad school) might be decreased by the policy: (i) the people who leave professional philosophy directly after grad school probably won’t submit any papers they would have submitted as students, (ii) maybe I’m less likely to be happy enough with a paper to submit it after having it sit around for a couple years, (iii) the main arguments and ideas of the paper are more likely to be thought of and published by someone else before the person who wrote them up in grad school gets around to publishing. However, I’d guess that these effects are pretty minor. (iii) won’t make any overall difference, since someone else had to submit the paper that scoops mine. (ii) might make a difference, but there’s nothing special about it being a grad school paper that would make it so–implementing a policy where nobody, no matter their rank, can submit a paper they’ve written in the past two years would probably decrease the number of submissions too (I take there to be some obvious objections to this policy, but they apply just as well to the proposed end to grad students’ submitting papers. Indeed, I think this policy is probably more defensible than the one that applies just to grad students). This leaves us with (i). To know how much it matters we’d need to have an idea of the proportion of submitted papers that are written by grad students who would have left professional philosophy directly after grad school, before even attempting to get stuff published, if the policy were implemented. I suspect it’s not that big. But even if it were significant enough to noticeably ease the pressure on journals and referees, it would be worrisome to me if this were the main reason for the policy. It wouldn’t be too far from saying “No, we don’t want to consider your writing, since you’re not going to become part of our privileged group anyways”.Report

p
p
6 years ago

I think, rather, that many of those papers would never be sent to the journals. It’s not just that the papers are half-baked, but many do not really have all that much to say. That is the idea.Report

Chris
Chris
6 years ago

What if grad schools, discipline-wide, admitted half as many students?

As long as huge numbers of PhD grads face the prospect of being turned away from tenure-track careers, I think they will desperately turn to something to give them a perceived advantage on the job market. If publishing is put off-limits, some other activity that distracts from graduate studies and occupies the time of faculty somewhere will almost certainly take its place. My sense is that students, especially at lower-ranked programs, are so (rightfully) anxious about the job market that they are not willing to sit back and let their ideas become refined and perfected over time. So, I am afraid that Velleman’s proposal will not get to the root of the problem.Report

M.
M.
6 years ago

I really don’t see the point, D. Velleman. I think that one of the techniques that a person should acquire in grad school is undoubtegly to know how is it to publish an original contribution in what some people called here ‘an elite journal’. As a grad student, I think that this is the best way (even better than giving talks) to test if your ideas really make a contribution to the discipline. In my personal case I finally got published a certain number of papers in top journals, and I think that my dissertation would really benefit from the comments and suggestions that reviewers made to my original ideas. Instead of precluding grad students from getting published, I think that you all should encourage them from obvious reasons.Report

David Velleman
6 years ago

Tom H: I was one of those at Michigan who advised graduate students not to publish, but I’ve never heard the version of that advice that you relate. I suspect your grad-student informant misunderstood. The advice that I and my colleagues gave was that publishing was an undesirable distraction from the business of graduate study and should therefore be avoided by those who didn’t need it to make their applications salient.Report

David Velleman
6 years ago

MD: My point was that student papers that are good enough to publish will eventually be published, not that student papers that are submitted will eventually be submitted. With a year or two of hindsight, many former students will realize that their excellent seminar papers weren’t going to be published anyway. A fair number of them will be relieved that those papers weren’t published.Report

FM
FM
6 years ago

abandon peer review (inevitably leads to cronyism and journal “rankings”) and the commodification of academic research (by disassociating from for-profit and the allegedly not-for-profit publishers), open submissions to all (grads, faculty, and non-affiliated alike), and make all of this work freely available online (though philpapers.org perhaps). let the cream rise to the top all by itself. *that* would level the playing field.Report

David Velleman
6 years ago

M: I don’t agree that the the technique of getting a paper published should be learned in graduate school. It’s a technique that is only tangentially related to work of learning philosophy and developing a sustained project, which are the most important elements of a graduate education. The Ph.D. dissertation is not just a hoop that graduate students have to jump through in order to get the degree. It’s a way of learning how to develop some ideas at length before packing them into article-sized bundles.Report

Dale Miller
6 years ago

If all papers were just dumped into a repository, without the curating function of journals via peer review, only the papers of people who already have reputations and/or are at elite institutions would ever be read. Great work by people not known for great work would never be noticed and hence would never be recognized.Report

S
S
6 years ago

Rescher’s editorial reminded me of a lovely and incisive viewpoint I once heard a famous philosopher set out (she, in turn, attributed it to Bernard Williams). When a child is learning to write she has to do various exercises. A parent will say “well done”, maybe give some helpful feedback, and stick the relevant piece of work to the fridge. It would be crazy to send “what I did in my summer holidays” to a newspaper expecting them to publish it. By analogy, there is great value in grad students writing papers which respond to standard views, set out positions in current debates, propose new thought experiments, and so on, but the value is that these exercises hone some of the skills necessary for writing good philosophy, rather that that they contribute to philosophy. Sending the work to journals is like sending the homework to the newspaper. The difference, of course, is that we have set things up in such a way that journals do publish such exercises, students feel compelled to publish them if they want to get jobs, and so on. Given this ecology, it may well be unfair for journals to refuse pieces by grad students, but that doesn’t mean that the ecology is healthy!Report

David Velleman
6 years ago

There is a vicious cycle that begins when overburdened editors and referees find it easier to judge a paper with a bright idea on a hot topic than a paper that proposes a new question or a new approach. The value of the former paper, however slight, can be quickly recognized; the value of latter is often that it is ambitious and thought-provoking — virtues that are compatible with leaving room for serious objections, which may actually be more interesting than the total contents of the former paper, but who has time to figure that out? The second phase of the vicious cycle now kicks in. The literature fills up with more bright ideas on hot topics, and authors infer, quite reasonably, that such “contributions” are the ones that get published. The model of what’s publishable changes, and the discipline is worse off. When I teach our pro-seminar with a reading list of agenda-setting papers, I repeatedly think, “That could never get published today.”Report

Brian Weatherson
6 years ago

I don’t at all agree that journals should refuse to accept graduate student papers. Most of the reasons for this disagreement have already been given, so let me just add an anecdote.

I once saw a term-paper by a first year graduate student that their professor had, very much contrary to that professor’s usual practice, recommended that the student write up for submission to a generalist journal. The paper was on a topic that would commonly lead to publication in specialist journals, so this was very strong advice.

And I think it was the right advice; it was an excellent paper, making real progress on an important but neglected topic. (It also showed that I had gotten something badly wrong, but that wasn’t why it was excellent, since lots of papers can do that.)

If we said the student should wait until they are employed to publish it, that would mean delaying 3-4 years. The topic in question was neglected, but not so much so that they would have no fear of being gazumped over that time. So it would seem terrible to tell someone who had done excellent philosophical work that they couldn’t publish simply because they don’t have the right status to do so.

Now I don’t want most term papers published; I don’t even want more than a vanishing fraction submitted. But the solution here is not a global rule, but good judgment on the part of advisors. When first year students do great work, which sometimes they do, they shouldn’t have to wait five years to publish.Report

Enzo Rossi
6 years ago

There are still plenty of good TT hires of unpublished ABDs from top departments.Report

european grad student
european grad student
6 years ago

a different point of view from the other side of the Atlantic. most European post-docs are granted on the basis of your publication record. many european grad students must publish something during graduate school, if they want to have a future in academia in europe. this is true also for students coming out of american phd programs: even though you come out of a leiterrific department, many granting agencies will not give you any funding, unless you have already published something.
it goes without saying that the quality of many publications is mediocre. but nobody has figured out an alternative yet.Report

p
p
6 years ago

Brian: this could be solved by some of the suggestions above. In my case, I had a paper which was repeatedly reviewed for a long time and rejected. It was one of these papers that try to break new ground, so people thought it was all “fantasy”. After 5 years, I gave up only to see the same thesis published now by a senior person in a book, with the very same but less careful arguments (in fact, it looks like an early version of my paper, for some reason – same evidence, same claims, but let’s put that aside). I am a junior faculty and this was a huge blow to me since this was by far my best idea and it came from my dissertation. For me, this is not just unfortunate, this is a serious setback to my life and career. I would have greatly benefited from better review practices of the kind DV describes and shorter turnover times. Normally, I would think that perhaps my paper was no good, but now I know that that was not the case. It still might not have gone through even then, but I think DV’s suggestions would increase its chances. And I am not the only one with this sort of experience – I know at least 2-3 people who went through this at the junior level.Report

David Velleman
Reply to  p
6 years ago

P: I hope you haven’t quit trying to publish that paper. In philosophy, the whole idea of being “beaten to the punch” is questionable. If your formulation of the arguments is more careful, the order in which the things appeared won’t matter.Report

Not a full professor at nyu
Not a full professor at nyu
6 years ago

I have to say that I’m finding it a little difficult not to get worked up over a lot of what Velleman is suggesting here. He doesn’t like “formulaic” papers on the “puzzles du jour”? That’s fine. Plenty of us do, however, and it’s a more than a little insulting to see people like him mocking the practice of submitting the kinds of papers that, as far as this commentator is concerned, obviously make contributions (however small) to advancing philosophical progress. Don’t like these papers? Don’t read them. Don’t like these papers enough not to consider them for publication in Phil Imprint? Don’t consider them. But how about we not discourage others from reading and considering such papers? Let a thousand flowers bloom, right?

It also seems to me that whatever problems that too many journal submissions are leading to are best solved not by banning submissions from graduate students, but by (a) hiring more journal referees, (b) encouraging them to be more selective, and (c) incentivizing people to be even better referees by, wait for it…paying them for their services.Report

David Velleman
Reply to  Not a full professor at nyu
6 years ago

Not a full professor: I’m afraid that your proposed solutions aren’t workable. There are only so many qualified referees in the profession. Many people tell me that they now receive several refereeing invitations a month. Half of our invitations are declined. For some papers, we have to send out seven or eight invitations in order to recruit two referees. Paying referees more than a token amount would raise the price of journals and put open-access journals out of business. And most academics are not incentivized by money anyway (though we like it as much as anyone). The most valuable commodity in academia is *time*.
In any case, refereeing is not the only bottleneck. A much worse bottleneck comes at the stage of deciding which submissions to referee. A journal that receives 500 submissions per year cannot referee more than a fraction of them. (Imagine trying to recruit 1,000 referees by sending out 1,500 invitations.) But someone has to evaluate all 500 submissions in order to decide which ones to referee, and very few people are willing to take on that task. The labor pool for handling journal submissions is being stretched to its limit. As I said before, something’s got to give.
Finally, I hope that I wasn’t mocking anyone or anything. The journal Analysis publishes small-scale contributions. There is now (or will soon be) a similar journal titled Thought. There is a place for such work. But in my opinion, it shouldn’t flood the literature as it is threatening to do.Report

Derek Bowman
6 years ago

Brian Weatherson,

This anecdote just isn’t responsive to the kinds of reasons David Velleman has raised for banning grad student publications. You’ve pointed out one cost of such a system without comparing it against the substantial costs of the present system. It’s as though someone advocated that lowering the speed limit would reduce the number of accidents and you responded by telling us about the time driving the current speed limit helped you get to your child’s graduation on time.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

I would like to suggest that some less-drastic changes (aside from deterring grad student publishing) might help resolve David Velleman’s worries. David is concerned that journals are becoming overburdened (by, among other things, grad student submissions), and that the rush to publish early has shifted philosophical standards in favor of small contributions on “topics du jour” over more ambitious, agenda-setting pieces. He also adds, “When I teach our pro-seminar with a reading list of agenda-setting papers, I repeatedly think, “That could never get published today.””

Now, I wouldn’t go so far as suggest that small, careful contributions to the literature are not important. They often are. But, let’s face it: small contributions are in general easier to make (which is why they are all over the literature), and large, agenda-setting contributions far more difficult (which is why the latter are so far and few between). Since grad students are far more well-equipped to make small contributions over agenda-setting ones, one way to address all of the problems David raises–too many submissions, philosophical standards shifting in favor of small contributions, etc.–is for editors to (1) make it a clear editorial policy that their journal aims to publish agenda-setting research, and (2) explicitly instruct referees to privilege that kind of work over smaller contributions. I’m not suggesting that all journals should do this, but, I want to say, if the more highly-ranked journals made it clear they are looking for agenda-setting work, this would likely (A) deter over-submitting to top journals by grad students, (B) lightening the load on referees/editors at those journals, (C) encourage grad students to send small contributions to lower-ranked journals (where David suggests smaller contributions belong), (D) encourage people to only submit potentially-agenda-setting stuff to more highly ranked journals, thereby also (E) improving standards for what counts as the kind of groundbreaking work top-ranked journals should aim to publish. In other words, explicitly shifting editorial emphases and directions to referrees might resolve all of the issues David raises.Report

Barry Lam
Barry Lam
6 years ago

David, this is good advice once the collective action problem you have described is solved. In the meantime, some reviewer of P’s paper will recommend rejection on the basis that Super Senior person has already said this. The overtaxed editors will have to reject the paper since they already have 10 papers they can’t publish that don’t have rejection-recommendations. This will be the nth rejection P receives for the paper. Now we have an even more discouraged P, and only the Siberian Journal of Philosophy left as a venue. Unfortunately, being “beaten to the punch” is too common and too easy a reason to reject, given that reviewers are now seeking such reasons given the huge backlog of papers that editor’s face (how about even accepted papers appearing 3 years after acceptance?)Report

Zach
Zach
6 years ago

In psychology they desk reject papers at the top journals. This is often because the topic of the paper is not sufficiently interesting to a broad audience. At psychological science, for instance, they desk reject approximately 70% of papers within two weeks of submission. Is there anything wrong with this solution at the very top journals in philosophy?Report

Meta
6 years ago

A meta-observation: the eminent prof. Velleman can post under his real name and so add weight to his opinion. Anyone who disagrees pointedly with him seems to prefer anonymity. Is this what the philosophy blogosphere has become?Report

Derek Bowman
Reply to  Meta
6 years ago

Meta:

Your comment makes no sense. At least three named posters have responded in disagreement with Velleman’s proposal. And one non-tenured named poster has disagreed pointedly with prominent philosophers Brian Weatherson and Tom Hurka.Report

Anonymous Gloominary
Anonymous Gloominary
6 years ago

Ban grad students from submitting to journals? Gosh, if we did that, then there would be (almost) no way for grad students outside the top ten or so programs to claw their way back & become competitive for research-friendly jobs. (Philosophers on hiring committees seem not to have the time to read very many writing samples, and so they’ll read only the ones from top ten students.) As a result, pedigree would count for everything on the job market, and the vast numbers of talented graduate students at programs outside the top ten would be locked out of the profession forever. (Seriously: VAST.) If you ban grad students from submitting to journals, you’re basically deciding to select the next generation of philosophers based on who has fancy-name letter writers when they’re 21 years old. In short, you destroy philosophy. It is obvious, but apparently worth stating: the reason journals are flooded with grad student submissions at the moment is precisely because of the nasty effect of pedigree on the job market. If you start by addressing the outrageous pedigree bias problem, then you may find that there is less pressure on graduate students to publish, and so David Velleman’s job would become a whole lot easier.Report

Marcus Arvan
6 years ago

Barry: Anonymous 6:31 here (now posting non-anonymously). I’m a bit unclear on why you think it is good advice only “once the collective-action problem…is solved.” I was offering the suggestion in part as a solution to that problem. I want to say that editors possess the power to address the collective-action problem by changing editorial emphasis. What am I missing? (I have to confess that I didn’t quite follow your example. If a someone–e.g. a senior figure, or a junior figure–has already beaten P to the punch, so to speak, doesn’t that make the piece P not so agenda-setting?).

Anonymous Gloominary: How do you suggest the discipline address pedigree bias? Again, I would suggest the best way to do it is through editorial practices. The more top-ranked journals insist upon agenda-setting work, the more open they could be for anyone with agenda-setting work–pedigree or no pedigree–to make a name for themselves by publishing such work there.Report

Barry Lam
Barry Lam
6 years ago

Marcus, not clear that I understand. I was responding to David Velleman’s response to P, not to your suggestions. David’s response was that P should continue to submit and try to get the work published, since ideally order of appearance should not matter.Report

Marcus
Marcus
6 years ago

Barry: my mistake. It looked to me as if your comment was a response to mine!Report

p
p
6 years ago

Barry – I think DV is at least partially right – philosophical ideas are as detachable from their medium (text) as, say, mathematical ideas and sometimes or often the arguments that support those ideas can differ (even drastically) and that can and does matter. So I am not altogether discouraged. But unless one comes across a reviewer who appreciates this, one might be lost in the practicality. In fact – I did continue for a bit, but the rejections went from “fantasy” to “already discussed in the literature” (for obvious reasons, right?). So I was scooped out, as it were. In any case, particularities of my case notwithstanding, I think something like DV and others have suggested should really be discussed seriously and perhaps implemented. I do not think it would drastically change the way job market goes either – having been on some committees – papers that people published as grad students do not actually count for all that much – many of them are clearly not that great and I witnessed decisions to not count them in so as to not diminish the candidate’s chances. So, in fact, I think the way people often thinks it works is not actually how it always works.Report

p
p
6 years ago

are NOT detachable, sorry!Report

Robert Gressis
Robert Gressis
6 years ago

Meta, I noticed that too. I have two guesses* as to why so many people are responding anonymously:

(1) They are worried that people don’t like being disagreed with, and will punish them in some way for airing dissenting views. Hence, they publish anonymously.
(2) They are worried that they will say something foolish, and don’t want to be remembered by other people as “that person who said that dumb thing once in a blog comment”.

I think (1), should it correctly describe anyone, is a misplaced fear, at least in the context of this discussion. As for (2), though, I think it’s a credible worry. Many times, in blog comments, I see someone respond to someone else by saying, “your argument for X shows that you need to learn more philosophy/you’re not really suited for philosophy/etc.” I don’t know how serious are the people who write this, but I think it has something of a chilling effect; I think it is somewhat responsible for some of the anonymity we see in discussions like the one we’re having .I also think it’s wrong: for one thing, a person can be very good at epistemology while also being very bad at ethics; a person can be very good at Kantian reasoning, but very bad at utilitarian reasoning; etc. Moreover, I don’t think the writers of blog posts should be held to the same standards as the writers of journal articles. Sure, if someone makes a bad argument in a blog post, it’s fine to call them out on it, but I think it would be far too quick to render a global judgment of them as a philosopher on the basis of one blog post. But sometimes, I think that’s what people do, at least if their online remarks are to be believed.

*–I realize there are probably many more explanations as to why people are posting anonymously, but I think the two I’ve listed are at least live options for many people. They certainly are for me.Report

Zara
Zara
6 years ago

I’ve got a serious counterproposal: Full professors with strong reputations should not submit their work to any journals at all. They should simply self-publish on their web pages, and give everything away for free. Here are my reasons:

(1) They’re Full Professors: they don’t need the career boost or promotion boost that a journal publication gives them.

(2) They’ve got good reputations and will reach wide audiences merely by self-publishing on their web pages. A Velleman paper does not have to be published in a major journal to get read by a lot of people.

(3) They would then stop clogging up the journals with stuff that doesn’t need a journal’s imprimatur to grab people’s attention.

This would go some way towards alleviating some of the stress on journals. I actually do not see the down side.Report

Not a full professor at Princeton
Not a full professor at Princeton
6 years ago

A number of good journals use in-house graduate student volunteers (among others) to help decide which submissions to referee. Perhaps you’ll say it’d be a distraction from writing the dissertation, but from my experience (I’m an editorial board member of a journal where this occurs) the skills they develop and the breadth of knowledge they gain far outweigh a few hours away from the dissertation each week (at most). Why shouldn’t more journals adopt this practice? (I realize that not all journals are ‘in-house’ in the way that, say, *J.Phil* is; but surely it’d be easy for the EIC and associate editors to set up an online forum where a group of volunteers from their own institutions can communicate.)Report

PhD student
PhD student
6 years ago

Second to this proposal. The fact that people (graduate students included) submit their papers to a journal is because they see papers like theirs published in that journal.
Is it true that PI or other top journals don’t publish formulaic papers or puzzles du jour? If the editors feel that more papers you receive make only small contribution rather than agenda-setting, that’s because people see that you publish these sorts of stuffs in your journals! If those big names can publish these sorts of stuffs, why can’t us publish these sorts of stuffs in your journals? Hey, this is the editors’ responsibility.
That’s another sort of agenda-setting papers that makes only small contribution. That is, some BiG Names recycle their theories again and again with small amount of alteration and improvement. But you know? Those papers are published in JP or PPR (etc.)
Yes, Big Names, I’m talking about you! Stop doing this! You can publish anything you want with OUP or CUP anyway. So please stop publishing some book chapters in journals that you know you’re going to publish them as a monograph within a few years!
Please, editors, stop complaining that the papers you receive are insignificant. All you need to do is to stop publishing these sorts of stuffs! And state it as your policy!Report

PhD student
PhD student
6 years ago

I was replying to 41 Anonymous.
Don’t know why it doesn’t appear as such.Report

flabbergasted
6 years ago

Grad students having a major impact on desk reject decisions? Really? What journals are we talking about? This strikes me as terrible.Report

flabbergasted
6 years ago

It is still the case that the majority of those who disagreed with Velleman have chosen to do so anonymously.Report

Not a full professor at Princeton
Not a full professor at Princeton
6 years ago

Why does it strike you as terrible? Perhaps this isn’t true of your Ph.D program, but graduate students in the one I’m affiliated with are more than informed enough to discern whether a submission deserves external review.Report

Not a full professor at Princeton
Not a full professor at Princeton
6 years ago

Let me also re-emphasize that I’m not advocating that *only* graduate students play this role, nor that this is what occurs at the relevant journals. In the case I’m best aware of, postdocs and faculty play at least as large a role in making these decisions. Graduate students get more than enough training on what to look for from the more seasoned participants (both by example and by instruction).Report

p
p
6 years ago

Yeah, that grad students should judge the work in this way does sound quite terrible. I barely trust most of other faculty, including myself! I could see, perhaps, if they were to weed out papers that are unsuitable formally, but other than that, I am really not sure this is the right way to do it at all. I remember getting one or two papers for review as a grad student, and I rejected to do so since I did not feel qualified at all at that stage. After finishing the diss, I felt a bit more comfortable within a rather narrow range of topics (progressing slowly further!).Report

Former Grad Student Initial Reviewer
Former Grad Student Initial Reviewer
6 years ago

I think it is important to keep the following in mind when thinking about grad students doing initial reviews. The real worry is that a student will issue false negative verdicts (don’t send for external review). It is not that she will issue false positive verdicts. But it seems to me that grad students at a suitably advanced point in their studies are in a good position to issue negative verdicts based on a variety of factors (eg. the point of the paper is unclear, no or ineffective arguments, failure to consider obvious and seemingly insurmountable objections) without being subject to a high chance of false negatives – or at least a much higher chance than professors.

In my time serving as a grad student initial reviewer, I wouldn’t dare reject a paper because I thought it didn’t relate to the literature in the right way. And I wasn’t expected to make this sort of judgment. Such judgments (and other more detailed ones) are why we send papers to external reviewers. But it seemed to me that I was in a position to make reject judgments on the basis of a paper having general features of philosophical work that needs much improvement.Report

Not a full professor at Princeton
Not a full professor at Princeton
6 years ago

Thanks, Former Grad Student Initial Review — this comports exactly with my experience as well. Also, it’s also worth noting what the exact mechanism is: submissions are posted to an online forum that everyone has access to, and graduate students (among others) will then *volunteer* to serve as one of at least two initial reviewers. This more or less ensures that only those competent in the relevant area are the ones involved in the initial review; otherwise, one wouldn’t volunteer.Report

anon
anon
6 years ago

For what it’s worth, graduate student initial reviewers do sometimes yield false negatives. I had a paper desk rejected at a journal that uses graduate students for initial reviews. This after vetting at conferences and several prominent scholars in the relevant field encouraging me to submit the paper. One such prominent scholar is currently using the paper as required reading in a graduate seminar. Now, it’s possible that the paper doesn’t merit publication or could benefit from revision, but it seems unlikely that five prominent scholars would all encourage someone to submit a paper that lacks whatever basic criteria initial graduate student reviewers are supposed to be looking for. Perhaps mine is the only case of this ever happening, but from the prospective of an early career scholar, it even happening this once is a problem.Report

Not a full professor at Princeton
Not a full professor at Princeton
6 years ago

Anonymous #64,

Surely you would admit that exclusively faculty-driven peer review has yielded a false negative “once”. Would you conclude that exclusively faculty-driven peer review “is a problem”?

No, of course not. Thus, nothing you’ve said so far poses a problem for peer review that involves graduate students at least in part.Report

anon
anon
6 years ago

When faculty-driven peer review yields false negatives, as I am sure it does and often, the failing, I claim, is not because faculty as a whole are not the appropriate set of people to be performing peer review. When graduate student initial review fails it is, I would argue, because graduate students as a whole are not the appropriate set of people to be performing reviews of scholarly work. The faculty failure is a failure of degree (some faculty reviewers are better than others). The graduate student failure is a failure of kind (graduate students don’t have the appropriate level of expertise to review articles). It’s possible that I am wrong about the appropriateness of using graduate students as reviewers or the potential of graduate students to possess the relevant kinds of expertise, but I still think those are different claims.Report

Not a full professor at Princeton
Not a full professor at Princeton
6 years ago

Indeed, those are different claims. But so far, no one has presented any good reason to believe that (all) graduate students lack the relevant kinds of expertise. If there are, I’d be keen to hear them.Report

David Velleman
6 years ago

Keep in mind that the rate of desk rejections at many journals today runs around 60% – 75%. So the people doing the initial screening are the main gatekeepers. And of course their negative decisions are final. The question is whether it is wise to give graduate students the final say on 60% – 70% of papers in the discipline.Report

Junior faculty
Junior faculty
6 years ago

I’m not sure that grad students (as a whole) are less likely than others to issue false negatives. My experience is generally limited, but I’ve known at least a few graduate students who are very quick to say “No one thinks p!”, maybe with an “anymore” afterward, or “Clearly this person hasn’t read X!” (I’m posting anonymously so as not to point a finger at anyone specific.)

Even if I’m right, of course, that doesn’t settle the question: maybe graduate students are susceptible to giving false negatives, but less so than folks with jobs; maybe editors relying on grad students are good at identifying which ones are well-suited to editorial work; maybe the kind of quickness to say things like the above is rarer than I think.Report

Not a full professor at Princeton
Not a full professor at Princeton
6 years ago

Prof. Velleman,

I am well aware of that fact, as I am involved in the maintenance of a well-regarded journal myself. But to repeat myself yet again, no one (least of which me) is advocating that *only* graduate students should be involved the initial vetting of submissions, or even that they have the *final* say. That is a misrepresentation of my position. Rather, I am merely suggesting that graduate students can *play a substantive, useful, mutually advantageous role* in this process.

I really wish someone would present arguments against the position I’m actually defending, rather than caricatures of the position I am defending.Report

Anonymous Gloominary
Anonymous Gloominary
6 years ago

Marcus Arvan: How do I suggest the discipline address the pedigree bias? Stop giving jobs to people largely on the basis that they’re coming out of a top ten school so that you can improve your ranking on the Leiter Report!! (Rankings per se are not the problem, but rather the obscene fetishisation of rankings, and the obsession with where one’s school ranks, that is fed by the Leiter Report in particular.)

Ultimately, it is up to FACULTY. Have some guts and appoint the best candidates, not the Leiteriffic ones (or the ones whose advisers you want to network with).

Also, many grad programs are hell bent on getting their graduate students jobs (again, in order to make themselves look good on the Leiter report!). This puts added pressure on faculty to exaggerate their students’ abilities in letters of recommendation, rather than give an accurate assessment. This is true of all the top ten programs too. Since faculty at top schools have many more connections in the discipline (and also because more people want to network with them), this has the effect of their students getting more of the jobs.Report

Derek Bowman
6 years ago

This whole discussion of the role of grad students in the review process seems to be based on the assumptions that there’s a relatively clear, unequivocal standard for a “good philosophy paper” (or “great” or “good enough”) and that a paper’s meeting that standard means that it deserves to be printed in a (top?) journal.

But both of those assumptions are clearly false.

If the judgments of quality are clear and transparent, how do professionally trained philosophers get it so clearly wrong so often that they end up sending clearly inadequate papers to the journals 60-75% of the time? And how do papers that are so clearly flawed that they don’t deserve external review often end up getting later accepted by other competitive journals?

Suppose a journal that now allow grad students to play a role (whatever role you’d like to imagine) in determining desk rejections eliminates that practice and, as a result, eliminates whatever level of ‘false-negatives’ you’d like to imagine. Will that journal end up publishing more articles than they do now? Are there ‘false positives’ that the journal is currently publishing that will be displaced by the new gems discovered by this better process? It seems more likely that the same number of papers of the same average quality will be accepted and rejected.

Using grad students in the reviewing process is neither the problem nor the solution. The problems are much deeper than this. I think David Velleman is right that eliminating grad student publications is one way of addressing some of those underlying issues. Increasing tenure-track hiring (or even more reliable, full-time non-tenure-track hiring) and reducing the overall number of PhDs awarded are also needed.

If those things are insufficient – or if they cannot be implemented – then we need to seriously question whether the benefits of keeping universities at the center of the philosophical community is really worth the costs.Report

Marcus
Marcus
6 years ago

Anonymous Gloominary: It’s one thing to tell people that they should stop hiring on the basis of pedigree–but this is sort of like shouting at the wind: it doesn’t accomplish much. People in every discipline and business on earth have always had analogues to pedigree biases. What a good solution to a practical problem needs to do is provide a more feasible solution. Journal editors like David Velleman have the power to make editorial decisions that–in ways I outline in my earlier comment–could dramatically change the situation for the better, and in ways that I believe might also go some way to better counteracting pedigree bias.Report

Not a full professor at Princeton
Not a full professor at Princeton
6 years ago

Derek Bowman:

The discussion of the role of graduate students is in no way based on either assumption. It is perfectly consistent to believe both that graduate students can play a substantive, useful role in helping journals with initial review, and that (i) there is no “clear, unequivocal” standard to guide them and that (ii) even if it there were it would not entail that a submission meeting that (rather low) standard deserves publication. I challenge you to show otherwise.

Moreover, the fact that (i) and (ii) are true surely doesn’t show that we shouldn’t allow non-graduate students to play such a role. So why would the fact that (i) and (ii) are true show that we shouldn’t allow graduate students play such a role? What is the relevant difference? So far no one has been able to articulate such a difference that doesn’t also undercut the entire peer review process altogether.

Also: I was not advocating this policy in order to make less likely that “the same number of papers of the same average quality will be accepted and rejected”. Rather, I was advocating this policy as an alternative way to help reduce the strain on journals that Prof. Velleman in comment #12, which seemed to push him to (what I would argue are) advocate unfair, unworkable, and counterproductive measures like refusing to accept graduate student submissions. (I attempted to post my comments directly in response to comment #12, but the Daily Nous interface keeps sending my comments to the bottom of the thread.)Report

Derek Bowman
6 years ago

You misunderstand my point, Not-A-Full-Prof. The whole idea of ‘false negatives’ seems to rest on the presupposition that there is some evaluator-invariant standard according to which certain papers deserve to be sent to external reviewers (or published?). As I see it, your debate is about whether or not grad students are sufficiently qualified to avoid generating such ‘false negatives’ at a greater rate than faculty reviewers.

The deeper problem is that there are too many papers being submitted and the stake of submission are too high, such that any selection procedure is going to frequently rule out quality papers by (and sometimes, thereby, rule out careers for) well-qualified philosophers. As a result people are going to need to submit more (and submit more strategically), leading to a viscous cycle like the one David Velleman identified above.

Having more or fewer graduate evaluators won’t change that fundamental dynamic.Report

Chris
Chris
6 years ago

If a paper receives a “false negative” desk rejection from one journal, it could presumably be submitted to another similar journal right away, putting the submitter at just a slight disadvantage. If using grad students as part of the initial review process slightly increases the odds of this fairly small harm, that does not seem like a big problem to me. Moreover, if the use of grad students slightly speeds up the review process, then the good and bad would wash out over time. Some papers would get accepted a few weeks earlier because of the increased speed, others would get set back a few weeks due to a “false negative” desk rejection. (If grad students had the power to sit on a paper for six months only to reject it at the end, that would obviously be another story.)Report

Matt Weiner
6 years ago

It seems like most of the discussion here has focused on the role of graduate students; whether they should publish, the extent to which they should review. And here it seems to me that, insofar as the problem is too many people trying to publish too many things and too many papers for non-grad students to review them all, the root cause is the scarcity of jobs and oversupply of candidates. If publication is going to be an important criterion for hiring, and there are way too many candidates for too few jobs, we can hardly expect people who are looking for jobs to lock them out of publication.)

(I also agree with Zara @ 53, at least to some extent; journals are useful for verifying the quality of people’s work and bringing it to wider attention. Really Big Names don’t really need either of these things done for them, because people will read them anyway. Though I’m not sure that if all the Really Big Names stopped submitting it would really make an appreciable dent in the volume of submissions. It probably would open up a lot of space for more publications in the journals, though.)

About David Velleman’s other suggestions, which haven’t got as much attention:
1. I don’t think switching to submission fees from subscription fees is going to help much. People who work at areas with research budgets are just going to have the department pay the submission fees. And the incentives to submit are so great that people without research budgets are going to have to pony up from their bank accounts–just as job applicants submit a huge number of applications even when they have to pay for their own copying/dossier services. If this drives down submissions it’ll drive down submissions from people who can’t afford to submit, not from people who don’t need to submit or don’t have anything to say. (Keeping journal costs down to the level where this is plausible is admirable in itself, or course.)
2. I think it’d be great to have more journal space devoted to “articles that engage directly with a philosophical issue or historical figure” rather than “‘interventions’ in contemporary debates or commentaries on contemporary figures” (from the Phil Imprint mission statement). But I also think there’s a place for those interventions. Even in a negative sense, if there hadn’t been a flood of attempted tweaks to the definition of knowledge in response to Gettier-style arguments, we wouldn’t be able to have nearly so much confidence that tweaking is futile; and we probably wouldn’t have got to Zagzebski’s article on the Inescapability of Gettier Problems, which is worth having even though it might be counted as an intervention in a debate.
One way to approach this would be to have some journals, more than there are now, that exclude “interventions,” while making it clear what counts as an intervention. And if that means those journals got fewer submissions and didn’t have to desk as many articles, and even that they had more space to publish on more different kinds of philosophy, that’d be great for those journals. It might not solve the problem of people feeling pressure to publish interventions in other journals, but as I said I don’t think journals can solve that problem, and in any case the existence of all those journals publishing papers directly engaging with issues rather than literature might help with some of the overspecialization that Rescher was initially worried about.Report

David Velleman
6 years ago

I should make clear that my suggestion about submission fees is not based on the assumption that they will make submission unaffordable for some people. The fees should be low enough to be within everyone’s reach. My idea is that the fees will simply deter impulse submissions. In the old days, you had to type the paper, write a cover letter, address an envelope, put a stamp on it. Today, you just click “add an attachment” and “send”. People submit papers without thinking whether they are ready, just on the off chance of getting comments. The professor said it was a great seminar paper: why not send it off and see what happens? Having to pay a minimal fee, even if it’s just the cost of a few lattes or beers, may make you consider whether the paper is really worth submitting.Report

Matt Weiner
6 years ago

David,
I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that you wanted to make submission unaffordable for anyone. I guess that the idea of impulse submissions or submissions just to get comments is very far outside my experience, but it’s been a long time since I wrote a seminar paper or worked closely with grad students who write them. The concern I’d have is that for grad students with families (especially) or adjuncts we might be looking at more of a hardship; money that would come out of the diaper budget rather than the latte/beer budget.Report

Derek Bowman
6 years ago

Exactly right, Matt. Adjuncts are already doing their research for free – they shouldn’t also have to pay to get someone to read it.Report

David Velleman
6 years ago

The open-access movement represents a vast redistribution of resources, taking them from predatory commercial publishers and transferring them, first, to academic institutions and, second, to teachers and students around the world who have no access to scholarship — including those at schools and community colleges in this country that lack well-endowed libraries. As the movement grows, institutions may have to redirect a small fraction of the savings to subsidize submission or publication fees for their faculty and students. We don’t yet know how these arrangements will develop, but my own personal view is that submission fees have the advantage of spreading the costs more broadly and, as I suggested above, structuring the incentives in a way that also lowers costs.

Of course, there is the problem of making a transition from the current system of academic publishing to an open-access future. But in philosophy, the early steps of that transition have consisted in the creation of new journals (Philosophers’ Imprint, Ergo, the Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy), which publish articles that previously would have taken up space in other Journals. Those who cannot afford to bid for opportunities to publish in these new journals will find more opportunities available elsewhere — the more opportunities, the more we can lower the costs of publishing these journals.Report

Matt Weiner
6 years ago

To be clear I think open access journals are an unalloyed good.

What I might suggest is some kind of waiver process for authors who could plausibly claim hardship; this could even structure the incentives so as to deter impulse submission, since it’d add a step to the submission process, and probably wouldn’t cut the revenue raised that much (at least I hope most people who could afford fees and/or are at departments that would reimburse them wouldn’t try to ask for waivers). There’d be equity concerns about making people jump through an extra hoop, but it’d probably be possible to make the waiver process no more annoying than the process of getting reimbursement from your department while still deterring impulse submissions! (There’d still be concerns about making people present themselves as charity cases, perhaps.)Report

Anonymous Gloominary
Anonymous Gloominary
6 years ago

David Velleman: You say: “My idea is that the fees will simply deter impulse submissions. In the old days, you had to type the paper, write a cover letter, address an envelope, put a stamp on it. Today, you just click “add an attachment” and “send”.”

Why not, then, abolish online submissions, and require postal submissions? This would achieve your goal to reduce submissions, and not be financially burdensome on grad students who really feel they have something worth submitting.Report

David Velleman
6 years ago

Again: Those who can pay thereby fund an increase in the total publishing capacity of the discipline, which benefits everyone, including those who cannot pay. Philosopher’ Imprint currently has 55 papers under consideration. Those papers are not occupying the time and attention of editors at other journals. This year the Imprint will publish slightly more than 30 papers. Those papers will not take up space in any other journals. These resources are finite and fungible. Everyone has a slightly better chance of publishing — which is all that one would have gained by paying the fee. Of course, the fee buys a 6% chance of publishing in this one journal, whereas the space freed up elsewhere represents much smaller chances spread across many journals. But that’s the only difference, and it doesn’t strike me as calling for means-testing the fee. The best way to provide people with opportunities to publish is to increase the total capacity for publication, and that’s what the fee does.Report

JDRox
JDRox
6 years ago

It is interesting to note how outraged most commentators are over the vaguely rule consequentialist reasoning Velleman gives here (because we’d be cold-heartedly ignoring the plight of the “exceptions” to the rule), whilst most were outraged that anyone would resist the vaguely rule consequentialist reasoning given by the Northwestern graduate students (because we’d be cold-heartedly ignoring the plight of those in the typical case). I honestly don’t mean to troll–do people really mean to be denying that a policy of not publishing graduate student papers would have (overall) salutary effects? If so, those arguments need to be made more clearly. Most of what I see here seem to be arguments that there will be cases where such a policy would harm graduate students in certain exceptional cases. Yes, but…

(Note that I’m not claiming that the percentage of graduate students who would benefit from being able to publish is the same as the percentage of false rape/sexual harassment reports. I’m merely claiming that both percentages are less than 50.)Report

Mike Titelbaum
Mike Titelbaum
6 years ago

May I make a modest proposal? I advise graduate students I work with never to send a paper off to a journal unless they have presented it in front of an audience first. The venue need not be anything so fancy as the APA; they might present at a graduate student conference, or even in front of their colleagues here. (Our grad students periodically organize to present their work to each other.) Presenting before sending yields helpful feedback on one’s work and provides a sense of how valuable it really is. I actually came up with the policy because I found it an incredibly useful rule to follow with my own work. But in the present context, the policy would also have the benefit of introducing a “speed bump” (of the sort discussed above) to the automatic submission of seminar papers. Perhaps if we all offered (and followed) such advice the situation for journals might be marginally improved.Report