A Closer Look at Philosophy Journal Practices (two updates)

A Closer Look at Philosophy Journal Practices (two updates)


Considering how important the publication of articles in peer-reviewed journals is to a successful career in philosophy, it is expected that curiosity and questions about the practices at philosophy journals would arise. Additionally, lately it seems as if there has been an increase in concerns about unfairness in access to publication opportunities, including insufficiently anonymous refereeing, bias, and cronyism. While I am not aware of any substantiated accusations against any particular journals in these regards, I thought I would invite the editors of some philosophy journals to comment on these concerns. Below are responses from the Australasian Journal of Philosophy, the Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Ethics, Mind, the Pacific Philosophical Quarterly,  Philosophers’ Imprint, Philosophical Quarterly, and Philosophical Review.

Editors at other journals are welcome to contribute additional remarks. Questions for the editors and other comments, concerns, and suggestions about journal practices are welcome.


From Stephen Hetherington, Editor, Australasian Journal of Philosophy

Here is a brief description of how AJP approaches the process of having submissions refereed.

  • The Australasian Journal of Philosophy (AJP) desk-rejects very few of the submissions to it. My estimate is that 95% or more of the submissions are sent to at least one referee. And most of the desk rejections are due to an author’s having failed a formal AJP submission requirement: for example, the paper is too short or it is just a critical response to a non-AJP paper or some single book.
  • No paper is accepted without having satisfied at least two referees, an Associate Editor (an AE), and the Editor. (I’ve been the Editor since December 2013.)
  • All refereeing is anonymous, in that no referee is told the identity of the author.
  • We ask for reports to be returned within one month; we send automated reminder letters; if need be, personal reminder letters from the assigned AE, or even from me, will be sent. We don’t want authors to be kept waiting any longer than is necessary. If need be, we will remove a paper from a tardy referee, and we might seek ‘emergency’ help from an member of the editorial board. We also call on editorial board members (EBMs) when the referees’ reports are not jointly decisive enough for us. Anonymity is maintained: not even an EBM is told the identity of an author whom they are refereeing.
  • We ask for referees’ reports to provide helpful explanations of their recommendation – helpful not only to us, but also to the author. We will seek a further report if we are not satisfied with the quality of the report’s tone (e.g. if  it is too snarky or rude) or with its reasoning (e.g. if it is too brief). We do this, even if the recommendation is for rejection, and even if we suspect that the recommendation is apt.
  • Any letter of inquiry from an author regarding the progress of his/her paper will be answered as promptly and courteously as possible, generally by me as editor. (I understand all too well the anxiety and pressures that authors can be feeling.)
  • Almost all of our accepted papers have been resubmitted at least once. I have instituted a policy of encouraging AEs and referees to recommend our staying with a paper that is not yet ready, if its key idea is promising and original. Already, this has resulted in more second revisions of papers – and in some excellent acceptances that otherwise would probably have been rejected earlier in the process.
  • I want AJP to receive more submissions in areas with which it has not traditionally been associated. For example, we now have an AE (Deb Brown) whose main expertise is in the history of philosophy, and we now have an AE (Karyn Lai) who is an expert in Chinese philosophy.
  • We never invite submissions (other than for book reviews and book notes). Every submission, no matter from whom it comes, is subjected to the usual refereeing process. I can assure any prospective AJP authors that we do not take into account either how well known an author is or his/her institutional affiliation.

From David Hunter, Editorial Board Coordinator, Canadian Journal of Philosophy:

The Canadian Journal of Philosophy is committed to the highest standards of unbiased peer review. We are always open to improving our processes and welcome this opportunity to share our practices and to learn from those at other journals.

As we sketch on our website, our process includes blind review at several stages. All submissions are first blind reviewed by me, the Editorial Board Coordinator.  In the last two years, I rejected about 20% of the submissions, some because they were far too specialized for a general interest journal like the CJP, but most simply failed to meet the minimum scholarly standards our readers expect. This decision was usually made within two weeks and without knowing who wrote the submission.

If I don’t reject the submission, I find out who the author is and then assign it to an executive editor on our editorial board whose own expertise best fits it, and after ensuring there is no obvious conflict of interest. The executive editor decides whether to seek external referees for the submission. This decision is made before the editor is told the author’s name. In the last two years, about 15% of submissions have been rejected by the executive editor at this stage. On average, this decision was made within six weeks of submission.

So, in the last two years, about 65% of submissions were sent to referees. To minimize bias, the executive editor is told who the author is before inviting two referees. The referees are never told who the author is, not even after they have submitted their reports. Sometimes, an invited referee will say that they refereed the submission for a different journal. Sometimes, they say they know who authored the paper. In these cases, the executive editor has discretion to invite a different referee, but this is not always needed. (I am happy to elaborate in discussion.)

After receiving the referee reports, the executive editor has several options. In the last two years, about 55% of submissions were rejected on the basis of the referee reports. For about 10% of submissions, the author was invited by the editor to revise and resubmit. On average, this decision was made within five months of initial submission.

Finally, the editor can recommend to the journal’s entire editorial board that the submission be accepted for publication. In that case, the submission, the referee reports, and a written recommendation by the executive editor are sent to the board. The editors are not told who the author is, but are told who the referees were. Each executive editor emails to me his or her response. This voting is secret: only I know how each executive editor votes. In the last two years, about 6% of submissions were accepted for publication. The vast majority of these were first revised and resubmitted.

In the last two years, all submissions brought to a vote have been accepted for publication. Still, this final stage in our process serves the useful purpose of forcing our executive editors to make a persuasive case to the rest of the board.

In addition to four regular issues, we also publish a thematic double issue every year, usually of invited papers. The editorial process for these is different and has varied from case to case. I am happy to elaborate in discussion.

I am sure there are ways to improve our processes, to make them fairer, simpler and faster. I look forward to the discussion.


From Henry Richardson, Editor, Ethics:

I am glad to have this chance to explain how the review process works at Ethics.  Our process has more stages than do most journals’.  We have two screening stages prior to sending manuscripts out to referees; then, after a manuscript has received strong support from referees, a vote by the editors determines whether or not it is accepted.  I have described the review process in detail in an editorial in the journal in Oct. 2009 and in the fall 2010 issue of the APA Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy.  Further explanation of our procedures is provided in our extensive Information for Authors pages.  Statistics about our submissions, review times, and acceptance rate are printed annually with the October editorial.  Here I present the central features of our review process for individual article submissions, focusing more on voting stage than I have elsewhere.

The journal uses a triply anonymous procedure in which each editor records his or her initial judgments about a submission without being informed of the authors’ identities, title, or affiliation.  This holds for our two initial screening stages (first by me as editor-in-chief and then by an associate editor).  It accordingly holds for the decisions made at the second screening stage, namely whether a manuscript should go out to reviewers and, if so, who to list as potential reviewers.  It also holds when the associate editors vote on a manuscript that the handling editor has put forward for a vote:  they do so without being informed of who its authors are.

Once an associate editor has screened a manuscript on this anonymized basis, decided to move it forward in the review process, and generated a tentative list of potential referees, we ask her or him to look at the authors’ identities in order to be sure that the manuscript is not sent to someone likely to be biased, such as a departmental colleague of one of the authors.  Once two outside referees are secured, they of course are presented with anonymized manuscripts.  If they both recommend rejection, then rejection is automatic.  In other cases, the handling editor has some decisions to make, such as whether to send the paper back for revision and resubmission and-—usually after an R&R stage—-whether to put it forward for a vote.  As I’ve already implied, the handling editor is aware of the author’s identity at these points.  Importantly, though, the subsequent voting stage, which is the final, determinative step of the review process, provides a strong layer of control over these intermediate decisions, as I will now explain.

In an age of increasing journal specialization, Ethics: An International Journal of Social, Political and Legal Philosophy-—to use the journal’s full title-—aims to cover a broad variety of topics and to represent a diversity of styles and approaches, always keeping in mind accessibility to our wide-ranging readership.  This aim underwrites our continuing commitment to the voting stage of our review process.  All thirteen of the associate editors and the editor in chief are invited to vote.  Manuscripts are put forward for a vote in an anonymized form.  They are accompanied by all of the reports from the outside referees, including their bottom-line recommendations.   Two of those voting do so having learned the authors’ identities:  I as editor-in-chief and the handling editor.  It bears pointing out, however, that any paper that reaches a vote is necessarily one about which both I and the handling editor reached favorable screening decisions while still uninformed as to the authors’ identities.  The remaining editors who vote—of whom there must be at least five and could be as many as twelve-—do so without having been informed of the authors’ identities.  Because our group of thirteen associate editors represents a wide range of specialties and approaches, this final, voting stage of our review process helps ensure that the papers that make it through are both broadly accessible and of interest to a wide range of readers.

I hope this is helpful.  We look forward to hearing your questions, suggestions, and concerns.  Jamie Dreier, one of our associate editors, has kindly agreed to respond to them for me.

Henry S. Richardson
Editor, Ethics


From Thomas Baldwin, Editor, Mind

For Mind’s editorial practices, I refer you to the statement of our review practices on our website. I would emphasise the ‘triple blind’ procedure described in this statement. I gather from our publishers, Oxford University Press, that this is unusual, and we have had to modify the ScholarOne submission software that we use in order to maintain this level of anonymity. But we stick rigorously to this rule—it is only once a paper has been accepted for publication that I learn the identity of the author (and I never get to know the identity of the authors of the papers which are rejected).

From Mark Schroeder, Editor, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly

Editorial Statement: The Pacific Philosophical Quarterly is edited by the faculty of the School of Philosophy at the University of Southern California.  The journal employs a managing editor who handles all submissions, allowing all papers to be handled in a completely triple-blind process.  Every paper is assigned for an in-house evaluation, before being assigned to one or more external referees.  Each editor makes final decisions on the basis of referees’ reports.  No one other than the managing editor ever knows the identity of an author unless and until an article is published.


From David Velleman, Editor, Philosophers’ Imprint

At Philosophers’ Imprint, the initial screening of submissions by the editors, and subsequent reviews by referees, are always blind. After the initial screening, however, the editor who selects referees for an article has access to the author’s identity. We believe this knowledge to be important for the selection of referees who will be impartial. At present, that editor is one of two who make the final decision on a manuscript, while the other editor participating in the decision is still blind. The recent addition of two new editors will enable us to ensure that final decisions are made exclusively by editors who are blind. Except for the selection of referees, then, our process will be blind throughout.
UPDATED to add: We desk-reject roughly 75% of submissions, in many cases because they do not meet the basic criteria listed on our web site. More statistics on our editorial process are available here.

From Jessica BrownChair of Editorial Board, The Philosophical Quarterly

I can confirm that papers are refereed blind (authors are asked to prepare manuscripts with all identifying information removed). In addition, editorial decisions are also taken blind (in other words, the editors do not know the identity of authors when decisions are made on manuscripts; they do know who the referees are).


From Louise Silberling, Editorial Associate, The Philosophical Review

Philosophical Review Editorial Policies for Authors

The Philosophical Review practices a system of triple-blind review (with some qualifications; see below). Manuscript readers are not aware of the identity of a manuscript’s author, and the editors are not informed
of the author’s identity until they have reached a decision on the manuscript.

Our in-house editorial board is composed of at least two faculty members of the Sage School of Philosophy at Cornell University. At least two editors evaluate each submission. If a manuscript passes this initial review stage, it is usually sent to an expert referee for further evaluation. Sometimes papers are refereed by other members of the Sage School; more often, they are refereed by philosophers not at Cornell.

Most manuscripts we send out to a referee are read by only one external referee, but we sometimes use more than one for a given manuscript.

Submitted manuscripts are either rejected without comments, rejected with comments (whether from editors or from an outside referee), conditionally accepted, accepted, or receive a verdict of revise and resubmit.

When it comes to resubmissions, the following should be noted. Since an author’s identity is revealed to the editors after a verdict has been reached, the editors will know the identity of the author in the case of a resubmission. Moreover, while the editors will typically aim to send the resubmitted manuscript to the same referee(s) who originally read the paper, there are exceptions to this general rule. The original referee(s) may be unavailable. Also, the editors can decide that it would be useful that a referee whose expertise is somewhat different reads the resubmitted version. Third, the editors who read the revised manuscript may be different from the editors who read the original submission.

Last year, The Philosophical Review received almost six hundred submissions. Less than 3 percent of submitted papers are accepted for publication. It is rare for a manuscript to be accepted outright. Most published papers have undergone at least one round of revision.

There is a great variety of reasons that submissions do not pass the initial review. Among those reasons are that the manuscript may be (a) not sufficiently original, (b) not sufficiently grounded in the relevant
literature, (c) too specialized to be of interest to a general readership, or (d) too heavily weighted to history or exegesis and not enough to philosophical content. We hope that authors will understand that their manuscripts may be rejected without comments and that this is somewhat mitigated by the quick turnaround time for the initial review.


Relatedly, Aidan McGlynn draws my attention to a post at Kai von Fintel’s blog at which he mentions two practices that the journal Semantics and Pragmatics employs in regard to referees:

  • Reviewers are copied on editorial decisions. They are sent the editor’s feedback to the author and copies of all the reviews.
  • Reviewers are notified when a paper they worked on for us is published.

 (art: “Short Story” by Kay Rosen)

UPDATE 1 (1/20/15): Ernest Sosa, editor of Noûs and Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, writes:

The website of each of Noûs and PPR contains a statement that the journal has adopted a policy of triple blind review, according to which submissions are blinded by the managerial staff before they are conveyed to the editorial staff. This policy requires the editorial choice of referees and the decision on publication to be made in ignorance of the author’s identity.

UPDATE 2 (1/22/15): Alyssa Timin provides a statement from The Journal of Philosophy:

We only review submissions that are formatted for blind review. JOP’s managerial staff only reveals author information to editors after papers have been accepted for publication. The identity of the authors of rejected papers are not divulged to the editors. Our blind-review policy has been in place since 2010. The policy does not apply to book reviews and articles in special issues – these are invited.

As for the review process, to start, submissions are sent by the managerial staff to one of three editors who form our Executive Committee. The Executive Committee decides which manuscripts to assign for review and to whom they should be assigned. Historically, nearly all assigned submissions were evaluated by one or more members of JOP’s editorial board. Recently we have begun to obtain reviews from a wider pool of referees. We seek one to three reviews per assigned submission.

At the conclusion of the review process, submissions go back to the Executive Committee for final decision. Decisions include rejection, revise and resubmit, conditional acceptance, and acceptance. Our acceptance rate is around 5%.

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Anonymous Junior Person
Anonymous Junior Person
6 years ago

I have had experiences with every one of these journals as a junior person on the tenure-track. It’s really great to hear from the editors. But I’d like to raise two questions, with the hope of a response:

(1) Why is Ethics’ refereeing strategy so complicated? If even Phil Review sees no need for this somewhat labyrinthine process, what good is it doing for Ethics? The process takes much longer. Further, I would argue that putting the pieces to a vote by the editorial board encourages a kind of implicit cronyism, because much of what gets through is what the board as a whole thinks is appropriate or interesting. It encourages a “we publish the consensus” attitude. When you have one editor who can’t possibly review all the relevant pieces, that is harder (unless you’re Bob Goodin at JPP). You might get lucky with an unorthodox referee.

(2) Could Mind speak to why, in the past, they have taken so VERY long to review submissions? Lately they have really turned things around, but it’d be good to know what reforms were made. I think the reforms might help point the way towards reforms for journals with similar pasts (and an acceptable reform IS NOT having a six-month submission window, like PPR and Nous).Report

Matt
6 years ago

This is useful, but I’d like to ask someone from Ethics (Henry or Jamie) to say more about a few aspects of the journal that are conspicuously left out here – the increasingly important (in terms of pages, among other things) “discussion” section and the common “symposium” section. (Also worth considering – the recent little “retrospective” articles. They make up a very large part of the most recent issue, for example.)

My impression and understanding is that these undergo a significantly different (and less rigorous and less anonymous) review process. It’s also not hard to note a significant percentage of “well connected” people involved in these. Now, that can be for reasons good or bad, but when one notes a high percentage of, say, the friends and former (or even current) students of editorial board members represented in these sections, it’s hard not to think there is a two-track (or more) system at Ethics, and that not everyone gets the same treatment. Perhaps this is justified. But, it would be very helpful to say more about what, exactly, the editorial process is on these parts of the journal, especially as they do make up a significant percentage of the total articles published.Report

PhD student
PhD student
6 years ago

AJP seems to me have the best policy. Referee’s report is really important. Even a terrible report is useful in some way. So sad that several editors don’t talk about their report policy, and some even candidly say that they do reject papers without any report. I don’t think that there is any excuse of not give a report (of course, there could be exceptions). It seems that it’s rare that other disciplines have such a no report practise as philosophy does. See http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2015/01/on-journal-reviewing-practices.html

Also, it seems strange that one of our most prestigious journals, Philosophical Review, has such a strange in-house review process. It inevitably encourages desk rejection and prolongs the review process. Not to mention the implicit bias and preferences of Cornell’s philosophers.Report

A Philosopher with Thoughts about Stuff
A Philosopher with Thoughts about Stuff
6 years ago

Triple-blind should be the status quo. I’ve had experiences with journals where the editor knows my identity and certainly doesn’t treat the paper the way they would if, say, I didn’t work in his particular area (e.g., emailing me on a personal email address not used with my submission to say that he’ll be refereeing the paper which, in effect, means that some of us are brought out of the normal blind review process in ways that could harm or benefit us). I’ve heard from similar experiences from others and have heard of editors sending pieces to friendly referees when the work is from a former student. (I hear this primarily from people who do this knowing that they’ll benefit from this, which I think is shameful.) Because publications impact all of our career prospects, we really should be worried about ways that the system can distribute goods unfairly. In the past, I’ve heard two objections to this. The first is that even triple-blind review won’t eliminate cases in which editors know a former students’ work. The second is that the introduction of triple-blind review isn’t effective. The posts above assure me that the second point simply isn’t true. The first assumes that we cannot expect editors to do what referees do, which is acknowledge a potential conflict of interest and ask someone else to take responsibility. If editors know the identity of the author, let someone who doesn’t assign a referee.Report

1
1
6 years ago

This is spot on. No one choosing referees should know the identity of the author. I am more concerned with editorial bias in choosing friendly or unfriendly referees than with the alleged conflict of interest. Editorial assistants are more than capable of checking for conflict of interest, especially if a procedure is set out in advance.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
6 years ago

@Philosopher with Thoughts: I wonder if these problems wouldn’t be better solved by making our careers depend less on the journal review process. Given present employment conditions, can the system of peer-review be expected to effectively do the jobs of advancing scholarly aims AND of determining employment decisions simultaneously?Report

Another Anon Junior Person
Another Anon Junior Person
6 years ago

I recently submitted something to Phil Imprint. Though I definitely appreciated the quick turn-around after the initial screening (my paper was rejected — and promptly sent elsewhere), I was put off by the fact that I received a personalized rejection from the personal email address of one of the editors.

Is there a reason why editors should learn of the identity of the author once an editor has decided to *reject* it after initial screening? There is a real worry that the editor who rejected the manuscript and learned the identity of the author will form a negative opinion of that philosopher and have that color the interactions between the two going forward.Report

Yet another anonymous junior
Yet another anonymous junior
6 years ago

At #7: I fail to see the concern. If you don’t want people to form opinions of your work, then you probably shouldn’t send it out. Moreover, your next interaction with this person qua editor will be one where she doesn’t even know she’s interacting with you again until she makes a judgment on the new paper. (Also, as an aside, judging from the comments from editors above, some reasons for desk rejections are not also negative judgments of the paper, but rather judgments of fit.)Report

Another Anon Junior Person
Another Anon Junior Person
6 years ago

@8 (from 7): I’m not worried about people forming opinions of my work, just as people who have legitimate concerns about editors knowing their identity after they have been *accepted* after initial screening (to go to reviewers) are not necessarily worried about people forming opinions of their work. Maybe I shouldn’t have put the point in a way that suggested as such.

I’m just advocating (I guess?) symmetrical blindness (for rejections and acceptances) on behalf of editorial reviewers going forward after the initial screening stage. As #5 pointed out, I’m not convinced that potential conflicts of interest in selecting reviewers cannot be anticipated or dealt with by editorial assistants who don’t professionally interact with authors. And as far as initial rejections go, anonymizing this process should be incredibly easy. You screen submission #853, vote to reject through the manuscript submission system, and the system sends an automated rejection to the author.

My worry from above is more about how such personalized interactions (unnecessarily personalized, in my view) can color one’s relationship with the editor going forward. Unfortunately, we cannot choose to interact with philosophers *qua editors* or *qua* whatever all the time – mostly we just interact with people. And it’s just awkward to run into someone at the APA or whatever and think: “Oh, hey! Last time we were in touch, you were desk-rejecting me from that journal!”Report

Larry Whipple
Larry Whipple
6 years ago

The European Journal of Philosophy is the only journal I am aware of that, as a matter of policy, doesn’t pass on comments to authors whose papers are rejected. This is really a rubbish policy. I could explain why, but it seems the reasons are obvious. Why, EJP, must you be this way?Report

David Velleman
David Velleman
6 years ago

@#3: With 500 submissions per year — and many of the journals canvassed here receive that many or more — it is simply impossible to obtain reports on every one, or even on a majority. Recruiting referees for 500 submissions would be impossible. Writing 500 reviews ourselves would be impossible. No can do.

@#7: Actually, our rejections are sent out by our editorial assistant. The difficulty is that Philosophers’ Imprint cannot have it’s own email account from which to send messages (though there is alias to receive messages, which get routed to our editors). So the emails have to come from a personal account. And even if the editors did see the identity of authors, you can be sure that we don’t remember the names of 500 authors a year.

@#4, #5: We realize that revealing the author’s name to the editor who selects referees is controversial: some think it’s essential, others think it’s unacceptable. In any case, the recruiting editor always recuses him/herself from handling submissions from present or former students, colleagues, etc. Our policy is designed to prevent bias, not enable it.

All: My guess is that, if there is “cronyism”, it is due not to editors but to referees who don’t recuse themselves from reviewing articles whose authors they know. The Internet has made it fairly difficult *not* to know about articles in one’s field — for example, if one receives updates from academia.edu on every relevant upload. It’s not clear that blind refereeing can survive (which is not to say that we’re going to give up on it).Report

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
6 years ago

Thanks to Justin, and to the commenters for their thoughts.

(Sorry, I’m trying to format but there’s no preview so I don’t know what’s going to work.)

Henry has already explained the reasons for the extra editorial decision stage at Ethics. It does increase the time till decision for the most successful papers, but I think our decision times are still pretty good.
I don’t know what Anon Jr Person means by ‘implicit cronyism’, but in any case I don’t think the process encourages any kind of cronyism. You are right that what gets through is what the associate editors collectively decide is good. But we think this is more like having a lot of referees than it is like requiring a consensus. (If each editor had a veto, then I would agree with your concern.)

The retrospective articles are special this year, for the 125th anniversary of Ethics. The symposia and discussion notes do have different refereeing processes, but not less rigorous. They are refereed by associate editors. The refereeing is anonymous.
I don’t believe these sections favor friends and students of editors, but I think it would not be a good idea for me to comment further on that topic since such a discussion is liable to comprise personal accusations pretty quickly, and I’m definitely not going to participate in a discussion like that.

1 says,

No one choosing referees should know the identity of the author. I am more concerned with editorial bias in choosing friendly or unfriendly referees than with the alleged conflict of interest.

I guess the Ethics editors disagree. If your thesis advisor refereed your paper, that would be a lot worse than a handling editor knowing you were the author. Keep in mind that the editor does assign referees first, and then discovers the identity of the author, discarding an inappropriate referee if it happens that one has been included in the list. (This is very unusual in my experience, but it may differ by subfield.)Report

Anonymous Junior Person
Anonymous Junior Person
6 years ago

Prof. Velleman, thanks for making yourself available in the thread. A quick question for you. Since PI accepts donations, would you be willing to consider taking up a practice implemented by many top economic journals of charging for submission and then using the proceeds (in part) to help pay referees to produce reports on time (or perhaps for producing a report at all?). The American Economic Review pays referees $100 for on-time reviews, they publish a ton of articles, and its econ’s flagship journal.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to submit, and I’ve donated $60 to journal to help PI along (I’ve received three rejections and no referee report), but I’d gladly pay more for feedback. As I gather, you could just suggest a donation, and those who donate above $X would be guaranteed a report. You’d win, the referees would win, and we junior people would win. If you’re worried about charging too much, just have a sliding pay scale like the APA has for membership fees.

I know this might be controversial among philosophers, but given the understandable demands on your time, it’d be wonderful to at least have the option of getting referee reports. I’d pay hundreds of dollars a year to get feedback on my articles at top journals. Some philosophers may insist that referee reports be free under any circumstances, but you’ve already provided a reasonable argument for not providing them. Why not let us help you make it possible?

I think you could also shave time off of referee turnarounds. For some evidence from economics, I found this study useful: http://www.voxeu.org/article/lessons-experiment-referees-journal-public-economics
And another nice paper in the area: https://ag.arizona.edu/arec/pubs/facultypubs/Thompson%20et%20al,%20SEJ,%20Jan%202010.pdfReport

Anon
6 years ago

I’m troubled by the 75% desk rejection at Imprint on grounds that these articles do not meet the submission criteria. The criteria probably need further elaboration and clarification if this many people are wasting their time. This statistic is even more troubling in light of the donations requested by Imprint— why would so many people pay to have a submission reviewed if the article isn’t even a possible fit for the journal? I very much doubt it’s clear what constitutes a mere “intervention” in a contemporary debate, as opposed to a reference to contemporary debate that aims to “engage directly a philosophical issue or historical figure.”Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

I wish that Nous and PPR would advertise when they plan to stop accepting submissions each year. I understand that they probably don’t want to be deluged as the deadline approaches. But the current policy clearly disadvantages anyone who’s not in the inner circle (i.e. who doesn’t know a Rutgers grad student or two).Report

Philosopher with Thoughts about Stuff
Philosopher with Thoughts about Stuff
6 years ago

I think things might be better in some ways if we could do that, but I don’t see any feasible alternative to the current system in which our careers do depend upon how successfully we manage to get papers into a very limited space. And since it seems to be recognized that our careers do so depend (right or wrong, good or bad), there’s a real obligation on the part of the gatekeepers to see to it that we all have fair access to it. Having said this, I’m starting to feel bad about an invited piece I’m working on for an upcoming book symposium.Report

Anoin
Anoin
6 years ago

Yes, I would also very much like clarification of Phil Imprint’s submission criteria. A cynical person might suspect that their submission criteria are deliberately vague to encourage submissions that violate them to increase the journal’s revenue….Report

PhD student
PhD student
6 years ago

Prof. Velleman, thank you for the reply. I’m #3. I don’t mind that papers are desk-rejected without any comment (though a tick on ‘not original’ ‘writing below standards’ ‘not fit’ is still helpful). But the use of desk rejection should be minimal, like AJP does. I don’t understand why AJP could desk-reject a few and tries its best to secure reports, but others can’t. If it is true, as #14 says, that 75% of the submitted papers to PI are desk-rejected, that seems unacceptable to me.

One thing seems particularly great about AJP is that it encourages the referees to recommend R&R if the idea is original and promising. That should be what peer review is about. If a few editors just desk rejects a huge proportion of papers based on their own philosophical preferences, a lot of interesting ideas would be buried. I wonder whether AJP has this policy because Hetherington, given his unorthodoxical but original view in epistemology, had similar frustration in his earlier years.

Again, since AJP is also a highly regarded journal (I assume it also receives similar amount of submission), I think that it’s a mere excuse that other journals say that the couldn’t have a similar policy.Report

Ben
Ben
6 years ago

Anon @ 15: I’m a Rutgers grad student and I don’t have any more information than you.Report

Yet another anonymous junior
Yet another anonymous junior
6 years ago

17: It boggles the mind to think that Velleman and Darwall have engineered a system designed to make them read hundreds of papers that are not a good fit for Phil Imprint, just to bring $20 a pop into the Imprint coffers. It is perfectly reasonable to ask for a clarification of the journals habits, but this cynical suspicion seems wildly fanciful.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

I have a hard time buying Prof. Velleman’s claim that PI can’t find 500 reviewers a year. Apparently many other journals do it, so why can’t PI? And if PI can’t do it, is that an excuse? Should a journal exist if it can’t utilize sound anti-biasing editorial practices? Also it is not just controversial to provide editors selecting referees with an author’s name. It is unacceptable, in that it invites obvious chances for bias in selecting referees.Report

David Velleman
David Velleman
6 years ago

@#14, 18: I believe that many journals with our volume of submissions desk reject at least 50% of submissions and in some cases as many as we do. Keep in mind that about 50% of our invitations to referee are declined. In some cases, we have to approach 6 or 8 referees in order to get 2 acceptances. And as submissions rates are climbing — by 25% in some years — members of the profession are complaining about the number of refereeing requests they receive. There simply isn’t enough refereeing man/woman-power to go around.

I believe that our selection criteria are clear enough — or, at least, those desk rejections which are based on those criteria are for submissions that very clearly violate them. A paper whose main point is a refutation of X’s argument for P, or a reply to Y’s refutation of X’s argument for P … well, that’s pretty obviously an intervention in the literature.

I agree that authors who receive a desk rejection after paying our submissions fee may feel that they haven’t gotten their money’s worth. But, first, a desk rejection is not entirely uninformative: two editors have reviewed the article and judged that it doesn’t meet our standards. (A desk rejection requires two “no” votes.) More importantly, self-selection is an important part of the reviewing process. Because our turn-around time is relative short compared with other journals, submitting to Philosophers’ Imprint is not a very big investment of time, and it’s all too easy to upload a paper in the hope of getting help from referees in improving it. Authors should not submit a paper unless they are fairly confident that they have perfected it to the point where it is worth a referee’s time.Report

Brandon
Brandon
6 years ago

I was, until reading in this thread, completely unaware that Nous and PPR only takes submissions for about half the year. This information is not posted anywhere that I can find on either journal’s web site. It certainly should be, if true. As far as its merit as an editorial practice goes, I will pass over that in silence.Report

Matt Weiner
6 years ago

I have a question about triple-blind reviewing, more out of curiosity than a concern: How do you avoid sending a paper to its own author for review without revealing the author’s identity?Report

Brian Weatherson
6 years ago

At Phil Review (which isn’t quite triple blind, but is at this stage), the journal manager is in charge of sending papers out for review. If the editorial recommendation is to send it out to X, where X turns out to be the author, the manager will report back to the editors that X declined to review it. Since most requests to referee are declined, this isn’t particularly strong evidence that X is the author.

It’s a little trickier if the paper is sent to X’s colleague, or advisor, or advisee, or spouse, etc. Then we rely on the referee doing the right thing and acknowledging to the manager that they aren’t in a position to offer an unbiased review.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
6 years ago

“Authors should not submit a paper unless they are fairly confident that they have perfected it to the point where it is worth a referee’s time.”

But of course prospective job applicants – especially those still learning to navigate the submission process – cannot afford to operate by this rule. If they want to have a decent chance on the job market, they need to submit early and often. No surprise, then, that submissions rates, desk rejections, and requests to referee are five feet high and rising.Report

one more anon junior
one more anon junior
6 years ago

@1: fwiw (viz., presumably not much, statistically) I recently went through the Ethics reviewing process and found its length to be a feature rather than a bug. One thing neither Henry nor Jamie mentioned (and I didn’t know in advance) is that authors get (anonymized) comments from many (all?) of the voting associate editors, and a final chance to revise accepted papers in light of them. I found many of these comments helpful, and it was nice to know that a range of senior people had read and thought about my work as a built-in part of the process. Others I’ve talked to have had similar experiences.

Also, the comments I got were pretty diverse, with significant disagreement about what was strongest in the paper and what still needed work. Though I have even less evidence, I bet this is pretty common.Report

Mark Schroeder
6 years ago

Larry Whipple: the European Journal of Philosophy returns verdicts on 85% of papers in less than two months. Please let me know if you know of any other journal with as good a record.Report

anon
6 years ago

No. 14 here. Prof. Velleman, thanks for the reply, but I am very unconvinced by it. If X’s argument for P is widely esteemed and accepted, and an author refutes X’s argument, well, that seems to directly illuminate P. So again, I’m not sure the PI criteria are clear, and I doubt direct engagement and literature interventions are exclusive categories. Moreover, the concern I and others have is not the high desk reject rate per se but the reason for it. If the rate were due to a decision that the papers just weren’t going to be high enough quality, that would be a very different matter. But what is troubling is that on your account of PI’s editorial practices, good papers are being rejected because of unclear submission criteria. Again, the 75% seems to provide very clear evidence that the criteria are not clear to members of the profession. Our perspective seems highly relevant.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
6 years ago

@one more anon junior: That’s a feature from the standpoint of promoting and improving scholarship, and it’s a bug from the standpoint of credentialing people for employment.Report

David Velleman
David Velleman
6 years ago

@29: a refutation of X’s argument for P may be extremely illuminating. It may be an excellent article. Our reason for not publishing such articles is not a matter of quality. We just choose not to publish articles of that kind. Every journal has its own character. We also don’t publish book reviews of discussion notes.Report

Karen Bennett
Karen Bennett
6 years ago

I’m one of the editors at Phil Review, and I just wanted to chime in to support David Velleman. It is simply impossible to provide comments on all submissions. We accept roughly 2-3% of submissions. Sometimes our reason for rejection is “pretty good, no obvious problems, but not big enough for us” — i.e., “perfectly fine but not in the top 2%”. Sometimes it’s “oh god, yet another paper on x’s response to y’s argument for z”. Why need we send comments like that to the author?

I add — and I speak for myself here, not my co-editors — that it is just a mistake to think that the journals have an obligation to provide detailed feedback. Your friends, colleagues, and mentors have that obligation. Not the journals. Please remember that the editors, like the referees, are actual people with teaching commitments and research careers of their own.Report

B
B
6 years ago

I’m puzzled about Mark Schroeder’s comment #28. It seems to suggest that time to verdict is somehow related to passing on comments to authors. Surely the referees who return a verdict within two months still give *some reason* that their verdict is correct. Then the question is, why is that not being passed on to the author? Is it because most of them are incomplete and sketchy, and authors would be furious to know their papers are being rejected on such flimsy grounds? If that’s so, then I’d rather have a lengthened review time so the referees actually pay close attention to the paper and write a good report. Perhaps the answer is something else. But I can’t think of an answer that makes it such that the referee writes a reasonable report to the editor and there’s some reason not to pass it on to the author.

This is also what had made me frustrated with Nous and PPR and other journals that don’t usually pass on referee reports on rejected papers. Surely your referees are giving you *some reason* not to publish the paper. Why is that not being given to the author?Report

Colin Farrelly
6 years ago

This morning I happened to be reading an article from a 1970s issue of Ethics when I was struck by the difference in length and reliance on citation/notes typical of articles in the journal from 40 years ago. So I decided to compare the Jan 2015, 2005, 1995, 1985 and 1975 issues of the journal to get a sense of how philosophical articles in the journal have transformed over that time. Here is what it looks like:

1975: average size of article is 13 pages with 17 references/notes.
1985: 14 pages and 25 notes
1995: 22 pages and 47 notes
2005: 33 pages and 53 notes
2015: 23 pages with 57 references/notes.

Many of the “notes/references” section of an article published today probably approximate the article length of some articles published 40 years ago.

Assuming (as I think is reasonable) this data indicates a larger trend in journal article publishing in philosophy, I think it is worthwhile pondering how prudent our current expectations are. Does the typical paper published today better exemplify the “intellectual virtues” we want the discipline to exemplify? Just some food for thought given the topic of discussion on this thread.Report

David Velleman
David Velleman
6 years ago

One more comment.

I realize that from an author’s perspective a journal is a gateway to professional opportunity — even professional survival. But consider the perspective of the journal. A journal is not founded for the purpose of providing credentialing. Knowing that we do play that role, we try our hardest to do it responsibly, but our mission lies elsewhere. Our primary mission is to provide access to excellent philosophical scholarship. A secondary mission is to increase the publishing capacity of the discipline.

Journal space and editorial labor are finite and fungible resources. The 30 papers we published last year would otherwise have taken up editors’ time and journal pages elsewhere. Everyone benefits from this expansion of the discipline’s resources — including those whose work we don’t accept.

Believe me, I understand why authors view journal editors as gatekeepers. I understand why graduate students feel a need to submit their work “early and often” (@#26). But as noted @#30, that comes at a cost to the discipline, and it is the discipline that it is our mission to serve in the first instance. After all, publishing in a journal designed to credential job candidates would not be much of a credential.Report

codeorange
codeorange
6 years ago

I applaud the efforts some journals are now making to ensure triple-blind reviewing.

I’m wondering why Philosophers’ Imprint doesn’t make an effort of blinding at every level? I didn’t quite follow the explanation Velleman offered in the initial description. Why should non-anonymity be required for finding reviewers? I’m genuinely asking here. The only thing I could think of is a conflict of interest, where perhaps the reviewer knows or even advises the author. But surely reviewers in this situation will know they are and can decline refereeing on the grounds of such a conflict of interest.

I think it is extremely important for the genuine meritocracy of our profession that all journals adopt the strictest of anonymization policies. For one thing, the easiest way to counter implicit biases of multiple kinds is to simply eliminate their possibility by anonymization. Journals should also explicitly and strongly urge reviewers *not* to try to ascertain the identity of paper’s authors (i.e., reviewers should *NEVER* google papers they’re asked to review!) I would go so far as to suggest that reviewers should be required by journals to sign something to the effect that they will not to try to determine who has authored the paper they’re assigned to review — they might already know or be able to guess the author, but that’s a different story. It’s just too tempting and incredibly easy to figure out author identity, so we need strong mechanisms to counter that tendency (even if authors don’t post the paper to their site, they’ve frequently given a talk on that paper at conferences whose schedules are online, etc.).Report

Tom Dougherty
Tom Dougherty
6 years ago

If many of the papers getting desk-rejected by journals are rejected for common reasons, then I wonder if it might be in everyone’s interests for the journal to have a “Frequent Reason for Rejection” page that elaborated on these common reasons. I suggest this tentatively, as I wouldn’t want to propose anything that meant a net increase in an editor’s workload, given how much service such a role must involve. But it occurred to me that it might in the long-run be a time-saver for editors, if it ends up pre-empting some authors from submitting something inappropriate.

And perhaps this sort of generic feedback might address some of the concerns people raise about not getting comments: a desk-rejection without specific comments would still provide evidence that one of the generic reasons-for-rejection applied to one’s paper.

I do think some sort of feedback, even generic, is a good thing for the profession. Reviewers and editors would presumably spend less time reviewing and editing if authors were more selective about what they submit in the first place. But it’s genuinely hard for inexperienced philosophers to learn how to be selective, unless they get feedback about why the papers they’ve been submitting aren’t making the grade.

Alternatively or additionally, if it appealed to Justin, perhaps we could have a separate thread on a topic like “Reasons Why I Reject a Paper” in which readers list the most typical reasons why they’ve been rejecting papers? That might lead to a group effort that provided this generic feedback. (Apologies if there’s already been such a discussion on this blog or another and I’ve just missed it.)Report

Ant Eagle
6 years ago

From speaking with Stephen Heatherington, it is clear that as editor he is going above and beyond. The submission rates for the AJP are as high as most journals mentioned here, and the efforts that Stephen and the AEs go to to solicit reports for prospective authors are heroic and should not be expected elsewhere. As Karen Bennett says, given that editors and referees (at least the editors and referees one would want looking at your paper) have teaching and research responsibilities of their own, it is simply not feasible for every journal to be like the AJP.

If every journal did try similarly hard to secure forwardable reports, I doubt it would result in referees changing their behaviour and writing useful reports in the same amount of time (let alone shorter). It would just take even longer to get papers refereed, and there would still be defectors who didn’t submit useful reports. When only a handful of journals are demanding on referees, referees can respond ad hoc to particular requests to produce better reports. But if everyone was that demanding on referees, the only way that would be sustainable would be for every journal to dramatically increase their desk reject rate.Report

ejrd
ejrd
6 years ago

I would like to discuss the point that Anonymous Junior Person mentioned in post #13. If the bottleneck is at the level of finding referees to accept invitations to review, why isn’t more work being done to think about how to change the system at that level. I, to use just one personal anecdote, know for a fact that I wouldn’t review book proposals from Blackwell-Wiley, say, were they not attached to an extra $100.Report

ejrd
ejrd
6 years ago

A slight amendment about my last claim: I don’t think I would review nearly as many proposals as I do without the extra incentive. I review 5-8 articles for journals each year but I think I would probably be nudgeable to do even more. The case study provided by the American Economic Review suggests that this method would be successful. I suppose another alternative (that I’m positive all philosophers, including myself) would reject would be to adopt the law school model.Report

Matt Weiner
6 years ago

Karen Bennett: ‘Sometimes our reason for rejection is “pretty good, no obvious problems, but not big enough for us” — i.e., “perfectly fine but not in the top 2%”. Sometimes it’s “oh god, yet another paper on x’s response to y’s argument for z”. Why need we send comments like that to the author?’

For my money and time, I think it’d be helpful to know whether the reason for rejecting the paper was “perfectly fine but not in the top 2%” or “oh god, yet another paper on x’s response to y’s argument for z” or “this paper is so underbaked that it shouldn’t have been sent out.” They’d call for very different things to do with the paper.

It still might not be worth the editors’ time to pass on this sort of comment, but if the suggestion is that these comments would not be at all helpful to the author I don’t think that’s true.Report

Bill
Bill
6 years ago

David Velleman @11:

‘Philosophers’ Imprint cannot have it’s own email account from which to send messages’

I don’t really understand this. Could you elaborate? What exactly is the problems here, and why is the situation at Phil Imprint different from the situation at journals which do have email addresses for the journal, such as the Phil Quarterly and Ethics?Report

Thom Brooks
6 years ago

In response to Mark Schroeder at #28 — answer: the Journal of Moral Philosophy (all due to the excellent efforts of our editorial board and referees).Report

Thom Brooks
6 years ago

Readers might know of my essay “Publishing Advice for Graduate Students” on the SSRN. I also have a similar essay “Guidelines on How to Referee” that might be of interest — http://ssrn.com/abstract=1719043 I am strongly contemplating writing a book on becoming an academic containing reworked versions of these essays and several others I’ve been working on.Report

endless nameless
endless nameless
6 years ago

Prof. Bennett writes: “Why need we send [short] comments like that to the author?”

One reason is that the review process is more likely to be fair whenever those passing judgment are required to articulate their reasons — even in the curt manner above — in a format that authors will be able to see. And surely, it’s in the interest of journals like The Philosophical Review to have a fairer review process. Another reason is that it is the very least that a journal like The Philosophical Review can (and arguably should) do to compensate authors for the exceedingly long (and arguably unjustifiable) review times they’re subjected to at journals like this.

Prof. Bennett also writes: “Please remember that the editors, like the referees, are actual people with teaching commitments and research careers of their own.”

This kind of rationalization — always trotted out when those involved in journal editing are called out for subpar practices — really ticks me off. First of all, it’s demeaning. No one needs reminding of this obvious fact. Moreover, no one is forcing you to edit this journal, or any other. So if you can’t juggle this responsibility along with your teaching commitments and research career, then perhaps you should hand off this responsibility to someone who can, or figure out a fairer, more efficient way to discharge it. That seems far better than acting as though *the authors!* are the ones at fault, and insinuating that their complaints with the review process are naïve.Report

Bill
Bill
6 years ago

In further response to Mark Schroeder @28: the EJP’s excellent record on turn-around times predates its adoption of the practice of not sending on comments on rejections by several years. So it would be nice to hear from someone who’s worked on the editorial side there whether the two things are connected in the way you suggest.Report

anon faculty
anon faculty
6 years ago

A great deal of the problem seems to be that referees and editors are overworked. Part of this problem arises from the fact that most people need to send out a paper multiple times before it is accepted. I have no idea what the average is, but say the average is something like 5 submissions before acceptance. Then consider a modest proposal:
You could cut the workload of referees and editors by about 4/5 if there were some sort of centralized submission system. The details would have to be worked out, but imagine something like this: rather than submitting your paper to some particular journal, you submit it to a centralized system that assigns the paper to several referees and asks them to score it in some way (top 2%, top 5%, top 10%, top 25%, etc, or maybe some numeric system). Then the paper is assigned to publication in a journal based on these ratings. E.g., if it gets top 2%, it goes in Phil Review. If it gets top 5%, it goes in Nous or PPR. And so on.

A system like this would have disadvantages, of course. But wouldn’t it, on balance, be much more rational? It would save everyone tremendous amounts of time.Report

Leon Hart
Leon Hart
Reply to  anon faculty
5 years ago

I’ve had a similar thought about graduate admissions. Instead of 15 different admissions committees working through a writing sample, why not just one? The man hours saved would be enormous. Report

David Velleman
David Velleman
6 years ago

@46: Sorry to have ticked you off. Recruiting referees is merely difficult; recruiting editors is nearly impossible. If the practices you favor were adopted, then no one in his or her right mind would agree to edit a journal. So the idea of “handing off” the responsibility is a non-starter.

@36: Could elaborate on the suspicion that bias can occur at the stage of choosing referees? I understand how there might be implicit bias in judging the merits of a submission. That’s why anonymity is necessary when editors decide whether to referee a submission and whether to publish it. But bias in choosing referees is a different matter. It would require referees to have predictable sympathies with respect to a submission; and then it would require an editor, on the basis of prejudice for or against the author, to choose referees known to be sympathetic or unsympathetic. Could that calculation really be unconscious? Or do you suspect deliberate rigging of the process?

Of course, if an editor expects a referee to know or guess the author’s identity, then the submission could be directed to the author’s known friends or enemies. But the whole point of revealing the author’s identity at this stage is to avoid that very situation.

In the end, authors must have some trust in the good faith of editors. Otherwise, why believe that we’re even telling the truth about our editorial processes?Report

hmmm
hmmm
6 years ago

hmm, at the moment JMP takes up to two weeks just to send the paper to the editor, as they use a publisher-employed, overworked editorial assistant.Report

hmmm
hmmm
6 years ago

It would require referees to have predictable sympathies with respect to a submission; and then it would require an editor, on the basis of prejudice for or against the author, to choose referees known to be sympathetic or unsympathetic. Could that calculation really be unconscious? Or do you suspect deliberate rigging of the process?

I’m puzzled that anyone could even doubt that the process is often “rigged” like this. Different journals have different agendas. There’s nothing wrong with that if the agendas are intellectual. But often other considerations come into play, as anyone who knows the main patronage networks can attest.Report

endless nameless
endless nameless
6 years ago

Prof. Velleman,

First of all, notice that the claim I made was a disjunctive one, and not the non-disjunctive one you incorrectly attribute to me. Clearly, I would hope that an editor would prefer to “figure out a fairer, more efficient way to discharge” their editorial duties (as I put it). But I would also hope that if one is unable or unwilling to do so, they would have the good sense and decency to step aside.

It seems as though everything else is under the microscope in these discussions; why not whether those in editorial leadership roles are in fact up to the task? I am not advocating that every journal replaces its editors. But given the atrocious record some top journals have when it comes to turnaround time, it stands to reason that editorial boards, and the editors themselves, should take a hard look at whether at least some of the problems are coming from the top.

Second, I truly do not understand why you would find it so onerous to expect someone in the editorial staff to write at least one sentence explaining a rejection decision. Surely, when you decide to reject a paper, you have a reason for doing so — it’s too narrow for Philosophers’ Imprint, for example. So, here is my ‘crazy’ proposal: after you have that thought, and before you click ‘send’ on your rejection email, you write the following sentence: “This submission is too narrow for Philosophers’ Imprint”. That doesn’t seem so time-consuming or onerous to me. (And if it is for you, someone in the other thread on journal editing suggested an official checklist of reasons to reject — in that case, you wouldn’t even have to write a single sentence!)

Why am I insisting on this? Like many (including you), I believe that a major contributor to this mess is the fact that there are too many submissions in the system, and too many of them are sent to inappropriate venues. Perhaps I’m wrong — since this is an empirical question — but it seems to me that if authors were made aware of why their submissions were being rejected, they’d send them to more appropriate venues, or pull them from the system altogether.Report

Sacco
Sacco
6 years ago

It’s clear that journals are overworked; they receive too many submissions. As far as suggestions for alleviating this problem, one (perhaps small) way to do so would be for journals to require that submissions from graduate students be co-signed by one or two faculty sponsors. Thoughts?Report

why edit?
why edit?
6 years ago

Another thread idea: why be an editor? Prof. Velleman suggests that it is very difficult to recruit editors. Yet we have one prominent philosopher editing two of the four top journals. What could possibly be his motivation? And what about other editors?Report

hmmm
hmmm
6 years ago

The phenomenon of “journal capture” has been amply discussed on a number of well-known blogs.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
6 years ago

In my experience as an author, I doubt that the kind of brief feedback people are requesting for desk rejections is likely to be very helpful or informative. For example, here is the text from a desk rejection I received from a top-tier journal:

“The topic of your paper, as you are no doubt aware, has received a great deal of attention in recent years and generated a large literature. Consequently, we have decided to apply a very high standard of innovation to the submissions that we receive on this topic. While I found your paper interesting, I regret to say that, in view of this standard, I have decided against publication.”

It would be easy for a first-time submitter to mistake this as probative information about their submission. I know of another author who received the same or similar feedback. They adjusted their paper in light of it, so that it would be clearer to a busy editor/referee just what made the paper “highly innovative.” The result was a lot of wasted time that only led to a future referee (for another journal) wondering what all that extra verbiage was doing there.

If the reason something is being desk rejected is that it obviously fails to fit the journal’s submission criteria, then that information is (or should be) already available on the journal’s submission guidelines. Beyond that it’s often not about the absolute quality of the paper (which may even go on to be accepted by another, comparable journal) but about the individualized judgment calls of editors regarding the relative quality AND interest of the paper, given the mass of other submission. Perhaps these judgments can be made more transparent at the margins, but the overall ratio of accepted to rejected papers (in journals that are prestigious enough to confer career advantage) isn’t going to change.Report

anon faculty member
anon faculty member
6 years ago

Like hmmm (51), I am puzzled as to why anyone would doubt that the process could or would be rigged in the ways described. I have first-hand evidence, and know many anecdotes, of cases where the editor is sympathetic to the author – for instance, because the author is a colleague – and therefore wants to rig the process in his/her favor. This is not very hard since the editor can reasonably predict, for instance (but not only) by consulting with the author, which referees are likely to be especially sympathetic or unsympathetic. (Some people in the profession have a widely known inability to exhibit any degree of sympathy to a paper that is critical of their views; some referees are known to be generally tough or generally lax,…)Report

Markos Valaris
Markos Valaris
6 years ago

Derek, this actually seems like useful feedback to me. It tells you, for example, that there was not a gaping hole in the argument, or that you had missed obviously relevant discussions in the literature, and so on.Report

Matt Weiner
6 years ago

Markos, I agree: That feedback seems very helpful.Report

endless nameless
endless nameless
6 years ago

I have to agree with Matt Weiner and Markos on this one, as do the vast majority of people I have talked with about this issue.

Derek: I don’t have much to say about the single case you mention (as I don’t know the specifics about it; for all I know, the author’s submission wasn’t all that innovative to begin with), and anyway not much of general interest follows from it. But you do say that “[i]f the reason something is being desk rejected is that it obviously fails to fit the journal’s submission criteria, then that information is (or should be) already available on the journal’s submission guidelines”.

But this is clearly not a convincing objection to the proposal under consideration. “That information” could refer either to information about submission criteria themselves, or to information about the reason(s) why a particular submission failed to satisfy them. If it’s the former, then what you say is obviously true, but completely beside the point: the proposal under consideration is whether editors ought to send information of the latter sort. But if “that information” refers to information of the latter sort, then what you say is obviously false: no journal I know of explains why this or that submission failed to satisfy this or that submission criteria.

Moreover, what you say immediately afterward undermines your objection further. For as you correctly note, a lot of these judgments are (i) individualized and (ii) sensitive to contingencies about how much is being submitted and on what topics, how the literature is developing in tandem, and so on. And that kind of information wouldn’t be reflected in the ‘official’ submission criteria, nor is it readily available on the journal’s website.

Finally, you seem to say that since publication in (some) journals confers career advantages, the ratio of rejected to accepted submissions in (some) journals will not change if the practice I suggested were broadly enacted. Given the plausible assumption that journals will not be increasing the number of submissions they accept, and treating these as exclusive and exhausted classes, in effect you are claiming that the practice will not help decrease the number of submissions (some) journals will receive. First of all, I have to say that I don’t hold your highly reductionist view about the motivations of philosophers (not all of which are tenure/tenure-track seekers, you know). But as I emphasized before, neither you nor anyone else knows how philosophers as a group will behave in such a case without doing some empirical work. This isn’t something that should be confidently asserted from the armchair.Report

Steven French
Steven French
6 years ago

I’m Co-Editor-in-Chief (with Michela Massimi) at the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science and I’d just like to echo a lot of what Prof. Velleman says – we too get 500+ submissions a year, and setting aside those that are clearly unsuitable in terms of content (e.g. an analysis of the thermal properties of coal!), we also desk reject others on various grounds (see our recent blog post: http://thebjps.typepad.com/my-blog/2015/01/deskrejectionfrench.html). We do so primarily for practical reasons – some submissions require numerous invitations before referees are found and of course the longer that process takes, the more complaints we get from authors about lengthy decision times – and because we do not see ourselves as a ‘finishing school’ for papers that are clearly not anywhere near publishable standard. We do try to supply comments when we can but as others have indicated here. we all need to be aware of the practical issues involved at all stages of this process. Anyway – check out the blogpost; hopefully it’s helpful.Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
6 years ago

Markos (et al):
It’s not clear to me that this feedback tells me as much as you think it does. (You do know this is a form letter, right? Notice the carefully chosen “this topic.”)

But even if it does, that still didn’t tell me how I (or the more experienced authors/reviewers who advised me to submit there) could have known in advance that the paper wasn’t right for this journal. It didn’t tell me (or the experienced authors/reviewers I went to for advice) anything new about which journals I should submit the article to next. It didn’t tell me whether or how to revise the paper. And it doesn’t tell me how to advise others on whether their otherwise interesting and high-quality article is suitable for this journal.

In short, it didn’t tell me anything that would make me more likely to avoid future desk rejections for this paper or to avoid future submissions to this journal that are likely to be subject to desk rejections.Report

David Hunter
David Hunter
6 years ago

Thanks to everyone who has contributed to this discussion.

#4. We at the Canadian Journal of Philosophy are certainly open to considering triple-blind review. But I am not convinced it would be much of an improvement on our current policies. At the end of the day, as others have noted, we all need to trust that referees will act professionally by disclosing biases and conflicts and by making a real effort to provide timely, helpful, and honest (but polite!) reports. And we reserve the right, of course, to seek out a third referee report if we receive one that we think is unprofessional.

#54. I enjoy my role as Editorial Board Coordinator. Of all the service tasks I have done, at different levels and different institutions, it is by far the most fulfilling. I enjoy managing the flow of submissions and helping to develop our special issues. We provide grants for conference and workshops in Canada. We organize an annual distinguished lecture. All of this is fun to work on. And there is something really satisfying (if a bit corny) about making a positive contribution to the profession and to the journal itself. Lucky for me, the journal gives me funding for this work, which I can use for research or for a course release. And I hire an editorial assistant to help. But teaching an extra section of critical thinking would be way easier and much less time consuming!

David Velleman says (#49) that recruiting editors to join the board is difficult. In my experience it is getting more difficult. We are fortunate in that we can provide some compensation for this work. Every year we provide funds, either for a course release or for a research grant, to two members of our board. It usually takes about five or six years of service to get this compensation. I’ll leave it to my board members to say how much of an incentive this was when they decided to join. But I suspect they were really moved by the promise of glory and fame.

Velleman is also right (#35) to stress the core mission of an academic journal. It cannot be to provide academic credentials. Getting published in a journal can contribute to credentialing only if the journal aims at publishing high quality work.

#51 and #58. Our entire board votes on whether to accept a board member’s recommendation to publish a submission. This internal transparency goes some way towards preventing board members from rigging the refereeing process to favour a friend.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

I’m just not clear on why philosophy journals can’t do these things when journals in other disciplines do. I’ve submitted papers in scientific fields that receive far more submissions than philosophy journals do yet they have faster turnaround times and have always provided comments. Seriously, a referee or editor does not have to write pages to justify a rejection. A single paragraph explaining their rationale would take, what, fifteen minutes to write?Report

Matt Weiner
6 years ago

Derek: Here’s what I’d take from that feedback:
1. The paper certainly doesn’t need an update to take account of the latest developments in the field, or at least that’s not why it was rejected. In this way it’s helpful to get this note rather than “We feel your paper is insufficiently cognizant of recent developments.”
2. There isn’t any other obvious revision that needs to be made.
3. I should try to send it to a somewhat less top-tier journal, probably. Other top-tier journals may also consider the topic somewhat played out.
4. Also, I shouldn’t send this journal another piece on the same topic unless it’s really mind-blowing.

I’m not an editor, so I can’t tell you how accurate these morals are (and I hope that journals would only send this out when they really mean it, not when they hate the paper but are trying to spare my feelings), but that’s how I’d take it.Report

Another Anon Junior Person
Another Anon Junior Person
6 years ago

I’d love for Phil Studies to weigh in!

They publish so many articles per year, and have somehow managed to be considered both very good as well as a common venue of graduate student work.

But their refereeing processes has slowed down quite a bit, I’ve noticed.Report

Sad
Sad
6 years ago

One of Phil Studies’ associated editors is a protege of the emperor of 50% of the top journal universe. That doesn’t bode well.Report

endless nameless
endless nameless
6 years ago

Anonymous #65:

“But but but that’s *impossible*! No one in their right mind would agree to this! Editors have kids and do research, you know? And all anyone wants to do is advance in their careers — they’ll just ignore the advice anyway! How dare you suggest that a journal care about anything other than increasing its prestige!”

…apparently many, many other journal editors outside of philosophy haven’t gotten the message, and seem to be doing just fine.Report

Neil
Neil
6 years ago

While the snark is uncalled for, the question is a good one. I don’t know the answer, but here are two reasons why turn around times are so different in philosophy and the sciences. One is a cultural difference. Philosophers think it’s perfectly okay to accept a request to referee and then sit on the property for months without looking at it. That’s more or less the disciplinary norm, though my sense is that’s changing. Editors have little power to change this: they can live with it or draw on a much smaller pool of referees. This is the fault of referees, largely. That’s one reason the snark is out of place. The second reason is that there are far fewer potential referees than there are in science. Again, that’s not something editors can do much about.Report

ejrd
ejrd
6 years ago

Neil, as I suggested upthread…if the fault is largely with the pool of reviewers (finding them, getting them to agree, and having them review in a reasonable amount of time) then the answer to this problem should be targeted at them as well. There have been a few suggestions that we look to the journals in other disciplines as guides and in this respect, it seems to me that paying referees for their work is worth trying (for at least ONE journal). As I personally opined in the thread, I think Blackwell’s (small but real) payment for book proposal reviews has had a motivating effect on me, at least (it motivates me to accept and it motivates me to return things within the deadline).Report

Sacco
Sacco
6 years ago

There are hundreds of qualified but unemployed recent PhDs. Some of these for-profit journals that can’t find enough referees to make turn-around times reasonable should consider hiring one or two of them as full-time referees.Report

Ben
Ben
6 years ago

Sacco (#72), if a journal hired one or two full-time referees, wouldn’t those referees end up reviewing many articles outside of their areas of expertise?Report

Neil
Neil
6 years ago

I’m not opposed to the idea, ejrd. But no science Journal I’m aware of pays their referees. I’ve refereed for half a dozen. I think we all need to change the culture prevailing in philosophy.Report

PeteJ
PeteJ
6 years ago

Perhaps part of the problem is that there is no requirement for contributors to say anything important. This opens the door to a very high level of submissions. There would be far fewer if contributors were required to say something new or actually solve a problem. From here it looks like a publishing merry-go-round that never goes anywhere, and it must always seem to be groundhog day for the editors. A bit cynical I suppose, but this lack of progress seems to me to have something to do with editors and referees.Report

Steven French
Steven French
6 years ago

@Petej
So, how would you go about *requiring* contributors to say something new?! We have an explicit statement on our website that we are looking for papers that ‘advance the debate’ and still we get > 500 p.a. Hence the number of desk rejects (see previous post) …
@ejrd
And where is the money going to come from? Big science journals make big profits so perhaps they can afford it. Specialist philosophy journals don’t, or, as in our case, a big chunk of the money earned goes to the society for conference and PhD scholarship support …
@Sacco
Thats just not feasible – in our case we have half a dozen associate editors covering the main sub-areas of the philosophy of science, each of whom calls upon numerous referees, many of whom are leading specialists in their area. To expect a couple of inexperienced PhD students to do that job is hopelessly unrealistic.Report

Walto (@WalterHorn)
Walto (@WalterHorn)
6 years ago

I’d like to hear from Analysis.Report

Brian Weatherson
6 years ago

@75: There is very much a requirement for contributors to say something important. The problem is that everyone (including me) overestimates the importance of their own work.

The requirement to actually solve a problem seems too strong. Would we say the inconclusive Socratic dialogues, or the Philosophical Investigations, are bad philosophy because they don’t solve problems? It’s just hard to say at any level of generality what makes a good philosophy paper.Report

Out of work young PhD
Out of work young PhD
6 years ago

Re: Velleman and Bennett’s claims about the obligations to provide comments to submitters

Everyone realizes, I suspect, that the high number of submissions presents challenges to providing comments to submitters, but I am a little surprised that Velleman and Bennett don’t think this is actually a problem to be solved. Do editors of all journals who don’t provide referee comments to all submissions not desk-rejected really not see this as a problem, but just as standard operating procedure?Report

Peter Brian Barry
6 years ago

Journal editors go to war, for the most part, with a volunteer army; you count on referees to show up, to perform their task well and quickly, all without much of an ability to provide a disincentive for performing poorly. At least, this is my impression of things having only served as a referee. Comments above suggest that at least part of what generates significant lag times is the challenge of finding referees–editors too, to be sure–who are capable of serving well and quickly, a problem that is compounded as the number of journals that merit publishing in has increased.

A question, then, for journal referees: how are potential referees recruited and solicited? Obviously, not everyone is up for the task, for various reasons, but there I suspect there are many, many of us who would be willing and able to serve as referees who are simply flying under the radar of some journal editors. I have no idea if there is decorum here that suggests that one should (or should not) offer one’s services absent a request. That strikes me as a bit pushy, but for all I know it is a practice that would be welcomed by some editors. When I’ve been asked to referee, it seems to come from out of the blue, perhaps guided by a Google search that led to some publication or other. At the risk of hijacking some of the above discussion, discussing journal practices w/r/t referees might suggest some solutions and improvements.Report

UK PhD student
UK PhD student
5 years ago

Desk rejections without comments clog up the system. When I get a desk rejection, I just have to send the paper out again. What if the desk rejection is that the paper isn’t original, for example, and I just don’t know this? Some kind of feedback would help authors make wiser choices.Report

RJ
RJ
5 years ago

My point is specifically about some comments I have received from referees. While I agree with one of the points made that journals, depending on their policies, have no obligations to send authors comments, once a referee is asked to provide comments, he or she should provide good comments—well-substantiated and well-reasoned (after all, they are philosophers, and this is what we do). Journal editors should also make sure to oversee these comments. If they are simply assertive (“This paper is no good”; “This paper ignores a crucial part of the literature”; e.g.), the editor should send these comments back to the referee and ask for elaboration or should send the paper to other referees. I have had a couple of cases in which I received comments like this, and they were simply bewildering.Report

R. M.
R. M.
2 years ago

I’m not a professional philosopher but I did once submit to Australasian Journal and the paper was desk rejected. (The paper was accepted by the next philosophy journal I submitted to.) At the time I thought that was very, very weird, in part because in my native field this had never happened to me but also because AJP had just publilshed a paper on the exact same topic and I thought it pretty clear that my paper compared favorably to that one. I now learn that the editor did this unilaterally, and that he apparently thought it was among the worst five percent of submissions! Only in philosophy. Report

THL
THL
1 year ago

I can confirm that the AJP editorial team is very responsive to inquiries. I’ve emailed them twice, and received responses in 1-3 days.Report