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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