Reasons You Rejected a Paper
The discussion of journal practices is continuing, but, at the suggestion of Tom Dougherty, I am posting this as a place to gather “frequent reasons for rejection” of articles. Here is his comment from the other thread:
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.
I agree this would be valuable. Please share the typical reasons you, as editor or referee/reviewer, have used to justify rejecting a paper.
(image: “Felissimo 500 colored pencils”)
Consider this example: Acta Analytica isn’t is good as Mind. I have rejected papers from Mind which I would have conditionally accepted at Acta Analytica. Clearly one kind of reason for rejecting a paper is that it’s not good enough for the particular journal it’s being sent to. I suspect most referees are like me influenced in this way, even if they claim not to be. So, one pervasive kind of reason for rejecting a paper has to do with something other than any ‘intrinsic’ property of the paper being reviewed, but to do with a ‘relational property’ it has–in virtue of its being sent to the particular journal it’s being sent to.Report
As editor of Film and Philosophy, I desk reject perhaps 20-25% of submissions before sending them out to associate editors. The most frequent reason for doing so is if the writing style is not up to professional standards, either because it is simply poorly written or because English is the second language of the submitter. Many rejections result from the failure of the essay to cite other sources and meet a reasonable standard for scholarship. Rarely, I reject papers that completely fail to establish their thesis.Report
It’s a valid reason for rejecting a paper that the author’s first langauge is not English?Report
I find that it’s quite common for supposedly anonymous referees refereeing papers sent to journals from non-Anglophone countries to speculate as to whether the author is a native speaker of English. In my experience these speculations are often mistaken.Report
To put it another way: are signs of “non-nativeness” in the surface features of an otherwise acceptable text a valid reason for either rejecting it or asking that it be “nativised”?Report
Its a valid reason for rejecting a paper that it is poorly written. Some people who submit poorly written papers do so because they are not writing in their native language. Seems straightforward.Report
Native speakers of a given language can and often do produce poorly written texts too. No one suggests poorly written texts should be accepted. The question is does “shows signs of not having been written by a native speaker” = “badly written” for some editors and reviewers. I suspect it does.Report
As it goes, we just started our own ‘how to’ series over on the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science blog (must be something in the water…). The first installment concerns desk rejections and may be of interest:
@Tomatis: I assume that Dan Shaw meant this: one plausible reason for a paper’s writing falling short of professional standards is that the author is not a native (or fluent) speaker of English. Of course, you wouldn’t reject a paper simply because you think the author has a different first language, but you can certainly reject it very quickly if their grasp of English renders their writing incomprehensible.Report
This isn’t my policy at all! I use the same standards whatever publication I’m refereeing for. Otherwise, the lesser reputation of a journal becomes self-perpetuating. Acta Analytica would be as good as Mind if the papers it published were as good as those Mind published. Part of my job as referee is to try to help the journal choose the best papers it possibly can.
Sometimes a journal like Mind would have a backlog which forces it to raise how good a referee report must be for acceptance; but I see that as the editor’s responsibility to enforce, not mine.Report
I see that my comment was pre-empted while I was writing it. We’re now into speculation. In my own experience, there’s a difference between thinking a paper is written by a non-native English speaker, and thinking that it’s badly written; perhaps other reviewers and editors are more snobbish, but I’d hope not. But I don’t see how we’ll ever find that out.Report
I’ve recommended papers for rejection that fail to take into account fairly recent (like, past two years) work on the topic that clearly raises challenges to the author’s argument. (One can sometimes sense the paper is old and has been bouncing from journal to journal without recent revisions.)Report
Being a native *speaker* of a language has no necessary effect on one’s ability to *write* that language other than to the extent that text produced will be marked by signs of “native speakerness”. Or to put it another way, there are no native *writers* of English. The status of being a native speaker of English should not advantage anyone in philosophy or any other discipline but I rather think that it does.
And before anyone mentions it, I am aware of the advantages of English being the lingua franca of academic life. Reaping the full benefits of this requires it to be recognized that being a native speaker of English is a matter of chance, not a merit and certainly not a chance to stand in judgement of the writing of others if the only thing that is “wrong” with it is that it bears signs that the author is a native speaker of some other language.Report
Fair enough. I don’t see that we’re going to get far with this. You think that writing “text marked by signs of ‘native speakerness'” (where these are something like stylistic quirks) is an advantage in getting papers accepted; I don’t. I’m not sure how either of us would persuade the other in the absence of some sort of data beyond anecdote and general impression, and we seem to be rather derailing what could be an interesting thread. So I’m going to stop here.Report
One important part of Tom’s original prompt seems to have dropped out of the discussion: the fact that it’s hard for early career philosophers to know how to select which journals to submit to when rejections are often given without reason. As a referee, I always give reasons for a rejection, but I’m not always sure those are passed on to the author.
Editors of course have very limited time, but it seems worth exploring ways to give authors more information when their work is rejected. Here is one possibility (which I know a couple journals already approximate): for any referee request, the referee is given a list of, say, 5 common reasons for rejection. If the referee decides to reject the paper, s/he must at least check one of those 5 common reasons (one of which could be ‘other’), and at least that much information would always be passed onto the author. Are there reasons why something like this isn’t widespread?Report
Here are some reasons why I have rejected a paper:
– The paper argued against a strawman view that no one holds in the literature. Roughly, the paper asked whether we should accept some principle P, and the argued against it. However, P had neither been endorsed by anyone, nor did it seem particularly compelling, nor was it a background assumption to some existing discussion.
– The paper’s argument relied on a number of very controversial assumptions that were not defended or justified in any way.
– The paper failed to engage with clearly relevant literature, and thereby either ignored relevant problems, or ignored very similar views proposed by other philosophers. (In this case, I usually recommend rejection, but with the possibility to resubmit.)
– There was a large gap in the argument that needed to be filled in order to establish the conclusion.
– The writing and structure of the paper made the argument too hard to follow, and were not up to professional standards.
– A comment on the native/non-native speaker or writer thread: it seems obvious that both native and non-native speakers are capable of writing poorly, and that this can be a reason to reject a paper. However, if a paper is otherwise clear, but contains some odd mistakes or phrasings, this doesn’t merit more than a suggestion that the paper needs some proofreading, in my opinion.Report
Kevin Klement, but would you really use the same standards refereeing a paper at Mind as opposed to Acta Analytica? I suspect that the well-documented ‘prestige bias’ probably affects us to a surprising extent in these kinds of cases.Report
I’d *try* to use the same standards. Of course, despite my best efforts, I might be influenced unconsciously by various biases all the same: it’s hard to comment on that!Report
Kevin Klement: One thing that seems relevant and legitimate is breadth: a paper may be of sufficient general interest to be published in journal A but not journal B.
I guess this is more controversial in cases where both journals advertise themselves as being ‘general’ journals: do you have any thoughts on this?Report
I wasn’t meaning to say anything about breadth; obviously, breadth considerations are sometimes relevant, and so might mean that I would treat the same submission differently for a different journal. If both advertise as “general”, but past publication history makes me think that this advertisement is misleading in a certain case, I might ask the editor about it, but I wouldn’t let it affect how I report my assessment of the submission’s merit.Report
When refereeing for top journals, I will reject a paper if it isn’t sufficiently ambitious or interesting. Such a paper might well be suited to publication in a less selective venue. I think it’s unfortunate when top journals publish relatively trivial / uninteresting papers, but it would also be bad for people to be unable to publish papers that are “OK but not great” (in terms of ambition / interest) anywhere, given the “publish or perish” nature of contemporary academia. For this reason, I think it’s clear that we ought to apply different standards when refereeing for different journals, and find it rather baffling that anyone would deny this.
(Kevin worries that this will lead to journal reputations being “self-perpetuating”. This strikes me as a feature, not a bug. The ‘filtering’ role of a journal is better achieved if it’s common knowledge which are the most selective and sought-after, and hence most likely to publish papers that are worth your attention. This filter is obviously imperfect, in both directions. But even a rough guide is better than none at all.)Report
Richard, I guess what’s baffling to me is why anyone would think that “relatively trivial / uninteresting” papers (your words, not mine!), ought to be published anywhere. The fact that the publish or perish model makes this desirable seems like a reason to change the publish or perish model, not a reason to publish less than up-to-standards work. If I wasn’t going to recommend that anyone read it, why would I recommend anyone publish it?
I do, however, see the case in favor of having some journals have a different target audience than others, and what may be uninteresting to many may be interesting to some. That falls under breadth. When I say that I don’t use different criteria for different journals, I only mean that I don’t use different standards of *quality* for different journals. Recognition that a paper may be more interesting to a specialized audience rather than it is to a wider audience doesn’t seem to me to have to do with quality. I don’t object to taking that into consideration when making a final recommendation, though I would try to write my report in such a way as to make it clear to the editor whether my recommendation was based on quality considerations, or on breadth, or both.Report
After reviewing my referee reports I’ve come up with a list of some of the more common reasons I’ve rejected papers. In no particular order:
1) Thesis and argument are not novel – they exist elsewhere in published work that I am familiar with.
2) Author misunderstood (by “misunderstood” in both this and the below case, I mean something like: interprets in a way that deviates substantially from the norm, seems to me to be implausible, and without explanation for why such a reading should be accepted) the argument they are responding to.
3) Author misunderstood and hence misuses supporting literature. Similarly, author appeals to what strikes me as a clearly false premise in their argument (again without explanation why such a premise should be accepted by the reader).
4) Author does not suggest how the paper will contribute to existing or future scholarship or practical applications and I cannot think of any manner that the paper might contribute to existing or future scholarship or practical applications.
In response to above comments. I tend to not consider an authors facility with English. As long as I can get some sense of what the author’s arguing I will judge the paper on the merits of its arguments and I’ve never been asked to review a paper where I could not understand the argument due to poor writing. I also do not modify my standards. There has never been an instance where I would have rejected a paper for one forum but would have accepted it in another (when the forums publish work in the same field.Report
Do you really think that all philosophy journals should apply the same quality standards as Mind, Kevin? Mind receives, on average, papers that are significantly better than those sent to Acta Analytica. Of those submissions, it eventually accepts less than 5%. Apply those standards to all papers and there will not be enough papers published to support more than a handful of journals. Perhaps you would think that a good thing. I don’t. There are plenty of papers (some of them by me) which I think worth publishing because they help advance debates in a modest way, but because they do so in a modest way wouldn’t pass muster at Mind.Report
Neil, Mind’s acceptance rates are not that low simply because *referees* use higher standards for them. I know from personal experience from refereeing at Mind that sometimes they will not publish a paper even if *multiple* referees advocate acceptance. Sometimes they will ask a third referee. Sometimes they will just pass on something if the referee reports aren’t enthusiastic enough. I mentioned in my first comment that sometimes the editors need to be more selective if they have a backlog. I don’t have a problem with this, but I think that’s the editors’ job to enforce this additional selectivity, not the referee. If they want the referees the be especially candid about their enthusiasm level, fine, but my enthusiasm level for seeing something in print doesn’t vary by the journal.
I think in the digital age, that sort of thing is becoming less of a consideration anyway. I’d love to see all journals move to online only, get off the X issues per year model, and publish all and only the number that meets the appropriate standard, however many that ends up being.
I am really very disturbed by the suggestion that when I referee something, I am supposed to evaluate the journal along with the submission, and respond with something like, “Well, I wouldn’t publish this in *my* journal, but it’s good enough for the likes of *you*….”
Frankly, I don’t have time to keep track of which journals are highly regarded by my colleagues, etc. Sometimes I am asked to referee for a journal I know very little about. But I wish them all the best, and I would never advocate that they publish something I wouldn’t want to read, and if I want to read it, I assume that at the very least those with the same interests as me want to read it. If the area is too specialized for a general journal, that’s fine, but again, that’s not a quality issue.Report
The ‘relatively’ is important here. Significance comes in degrees, and some things can be worth saying even if they’re not worth saying in Mind.Report
In my experience as an associate editor at AJP, Julia’s list @16 and Clement’s @23 capture the large majority of reasons referees recommend rejection.
I would especially emphasise the following (related) problems, which sink many otherwise competent papers:
“– The paper argued against a strawman view that no one holds in the literature. Roughly, the paper asked whether we should accept some principle P, and the argued against it. However, P had neither been endorsed by anyone, nor did it seem particularly compelling, nor was it a background assumption to some existing discussion.” (Julia)
I would add that the mere fact that someone (even someone famous) has held that P is *still* not enough to get a paper published. AJP, among other journals, has a policy of not publishing papers that are predominantly reactions to existing discussions in the literature (we do publish short discussion notes of papers that have appeared in the AJP). So if you are going to argue against P you need to give a clear motivation for why P is worth responding to.
“4) Author does not suggest how the paper will contribute to existing or future scholarship or practical applications and I cannot think of any manner that the paper might contribute to existing or future scholarship or practical applications.” (Clement)
It is a very common complaint by refs that authors don’t do enough to explain: (i) who their target audience is; (ii) why their argument matters.
I would also slightly qualify the following, by Julia and others:
“– The paper failed to engage with clearly relevant literature, and thereby either ignored relevant problems, or ignored very similar views proposed by other philosophers. (In this case, I usually recommend rejection, but with the possibility to resubmit.)”
It is true than many refs will recommend rejection in these circumstances. However, at the AJP at least, it is our policy to encourage papers that have promising ideas but are not yet quite ready for publication. So in general this wouldn’t be the *sole* grounds of rejection for a paper, although it certainly doesn’t help!Report
Thanks for creating the thread, Justin, and sorry to be slow to join in. My reasons have been covered already but I figure it doesn’t hurt to repeat them insofar as this suggests they are common.
Looking through some reports I’ve written, I think the most common reason I’ve given is that there’s a problem with the paper’s central argument that I didn’t think could be fixed with an r&r. This could be because e.g. the argument relied on implausible assumptions, because there was a big gap in the reasoning or because there was what struck me as an insuperable objection. I guess there’s no obvious advice to give on how to avoid this problem, except to try to seek more critical feedback on one’s work before submitting to a journal. For the most part, I doubt I’ve seen problems that an audience member at a talk wouldn’t have seen.
Another reason I’ve given more than once is that the paper didn’t make enough of a contribution to the literature, for example e.g. because its ideas / arguments were already published or weren’t big enough points. Also, perhaps I’m overgeneralising from my own shortcomings, but my sense is that it’s easy to underestimate how much detail an idea or argument has to be worked out in, in order to count as a contribution. Having an idea that adds something isn’t enough, unless it’s presented in the right way. I guess the way to avoid this is to dig deeper into the literature or to try to develop more of a sense of what other published papers contributed, and why these were significant contributions.
To put a more positive spin on things, here’s what my dream paper would look like, as a reviewer. The paper’s on an important topic. The paper accurately sets out the debate in as much detail as it needs to motivate its topic, and make clear why its point adds something significant to this debate. The paper then makes a reasonable argument for this point (i.e. an argument that one could expect might persuade a significant of people and would need to be taken seriously by people who end up disagreeing). The paper considers objections that are likely to be raised and has something plausible to say in response to them. The paper’s clearly written, and finds the right balance between being concise and its points being spelled out in enough detail. If it did all these things, I’d think “the paper makes a contribution and it makes it well, so it should be published.”Report
Just to clarify: that’s not necessarily my ideal of a philosophy paper. Just the sort of paper that would make my job very easy as a reviewer, and would lead me to recommend publication. It’d be easy to decide it should be published and easy to explain why.Report
Kevin, you *do* have time to keep track of which journals are highly regarded by your colleagues. There are a number of rankings out there: Brian Weatherson, Leiter, Thom Brooks, and others. They all converge on roughly the same rankings for the general journals (actually, I’d be surprised if you didn’t have a pretty good idea of these rankings anyway). It will take you 2 minutes to check. These rankings are stable across time, indicating that status is indeed self-perpetuating, which in turn indicates that referees tend to discriminate in the way I do (and your example of Mind using referee enthusiasm to make decisions is evidence *for* that claim, not against it). For the specialist journals there is more disagreement in rankings, but that’s because the rankings aggregate the votes of people who are not specialists in the area with those who are: if you are asked to referee for a specialist journal, there is a high probability your sense of the rankings is not idiosyncratic. Here’s a comment from my most recent decision (paraphrased to ensure anonymity of my resubmission; the remark is common enough that I have no worries that I risk compromising it: “While this is a good paper, it needs further work before it can be published in a journal as good as X”. I write that line frequently and I see it frequently.
No one is suggesting that you advise publication of things you regard as trivial. As Richard says, significance comes in degrees.Report
Maybe it’s hard to believe, but I actually do not have a strong feeling about relative assessment of quality of journals. I’ve been more influenced by specialized papers not appropriate for Mind for breadth considerations than I have my things in journals like Mind in recent years. I do have opinions about how wide various journals take their audience to me, which I think too many people confuse with the same thing as quality. Mind tries to publish things that nearly everyone in the profession will find interesting. That’s a breadth consideration, and I’m fine with that. Again, all I’m saying is that I don’t vary what I take to be the level of quality that I think is sufficient for publication.
And I still don’t see the need for me to try to calibrate it. I can be completley forthright about my level of enthusiasm. The editor will always know more about their backlog — or I suppose, to allude to a problem mentioned earlier — their possible need for content which might bring them lower standards, than I will, and will always be in a better position to enforce their own special standards. A line like yours doesn’t seem more particularly helpful than just writing, “This is a good paper, but not a game changer….” or something like that.Report
I am very confused. Writing “This is a very good paper, but not a game changer…” just is a way of making the kind of judgment I am saying I make and I take to be the standard way of approaching these things. Maybe we should do a poll? As I say, I think the relative stability of the rankings is good evidence that reports are calibrated to journal quality, but you’re not the only person who reports not making this kind of judgment. Justin: any interest in asking the profession at large?
By the way, I think *much* of the kind of judgment I am advocating is actually captured by breadth considerations. One way of getting at quality, though not a reliable enough way to replace the kind of judgment I’m suggesting we do and should make, is to ask yourself something like this: how engaged would I have to be in research on *precisely that* question to find reading this paper worthwhile? If a paper is on X, for some fine-grained value of X, but you think lots of people who aren’t working on X-related things would find it valuable, that’s a good heuristic for thinking the paper should be in a more selective journal. If you think this will only be of interest to people working on precisely X, then that’s a good heuristic for thinking it should be in a less selective journal.Report
We may be talking past each other then. In my mind, quality considerations and breadth considerations are completely distinct… or at least I try to keep them so.Report
Here’s one thing that I use as a ground for rejecting the paper: the target audience of the paper is not the target audience of the journal. There are two common ways that happens:
1. The target audience is the reviewer. So the paper will spend a lot of time on the second order question of why this is an important paper, rather than on the first order philosophical question it is supposed to be about.
2. The target audience are the five people who are still interested in this debate after it’s been done to death, or who care about this precise technical detail.
It’s obviously hard to know when one’s own writing falls under point 2. I know some of my own stuff does, but I’m probably underestimating how much of it does. And it’s not that one should never do stuff that only a small audience cares about. Sometimes that work is instrumentally useful. I care about getting the details of epistemic scoring rules right in part because those details matter for thinking about epistemic consequentialism, and epistemic consequentialism is philosophically important. And sometimes it is just good scholarly practice to get the details right, even if it isn’t a question that others care about. But don’t think that a journal read widely in the profession is the place to present that work.
Here’s one heuristic that’s useful to keep in mind. When you’re sending a paper to a generalist journal, imagine first that someone did a colloquium talk to your department on that topic. Do you imagine that the general reaction would be “Nice paper – I liked it and learned a lot from it”, or “Well, I’m sure that was interesting to some people, but…”? Papers on X’s reply to Y’s objection to X’s theory of some abtruse point of metaphysics are going to fall into the latter group, aren’t they, as are papers on dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s of some formal model. I’m generally going to reject those at generalist journals, but not at journals that specialise in just that speciality. (Caveat: this heuristic fails if you imagine your department not liking the paper because it falls under one of those fields, e.g., metaphysics, feminist philosophy, medieval scholarship, etc., that some departments simply don’t care about. That’s not a reason to not send it to a generalist journal. I’d certainly accept such papers as editor of a generalist journal. I just mean cases where you imagine an audience being interested in the field you’re working in, but not really the level of detail you’re working at.)Report
Just registering my agreement with K. Klement here. Quality and breadth to me are two completely distinct categories, and like him, I have gotten a lot more out of papers that appear in specialized journals of my field (history) rather than in generalist journals.Report
I never claimed that quality and breadth are not distinct dimensions. I claimed that breadth – of interest – was a reasonable heuristic for quality. A paper might be on a narrow topic yet of general interest due to its creativity or other virtues.Report
I wonder how often an editor really needs a referee’s input on whether a given paper is sufficiently “game-changing” (or “beyond-interventiony” or whatever we want to call it). I would have thought she could decide that from the abstract (assuming it’s what she’s looking for in editing her journal), and that she’s sent it to a referee to find out whether it in fact fails to change any sufficiently snazzy games for reasons that only a specialist will be able to spot. So, for example, I see Brian Weatherson’s heuristic as apt for how an editor ought to go about assessing papers (which is consistent with his point being highly valuable to authors), but perhaps less so for how a referee ought to go about assessing papers.Report
I, along with many contemporary Scandinavian value theorists, am deeply put off by the use of Times New Roman font. When I receive a paper written in TNR, my first instinct is to roll my eyes and consider what the author’s choice of font might reveal about her philosophical ‘vision’–and my conclusion is typically bleak indeed. I am not, for the record, suggesting that anything that’s not written in one of the hottest new fonts (OMG have you seen the latest version of Fournier MT Std?), it’s just that using TNR is really having a laugh. At least use something with a modicum of respectability such as ITC New Baskerville or Centaur. (PS I am NOT a monster; I once gave an R&R despite my instincts telling me otherwise, to a paper written in TNR’s bastard outdated cousin, ‘Times’.)Report
I began routinely rejecting papers from an editor who had been exploitative. I had exhausted all other efforts to induce this editor to stop taking advantage of my good will. This worked.Report
I reject papers that don’t cite my work!
Just kidding. That’s the impression I get from some referee reports I’ve seen over the past few years. (Just a gentle reminder that every paper fails to mention something that’s relevant in the literature and that it’s very unlikely that the referee in particular is the person who most deserves a mention in the bibliography. If you are going to mention your own work as something that needs to be cited, it better be that this is because (a) it makes a unique point that isn’t already made by someone else first (surprisingly rare!) and (b) that the decision to recommend this is based on an impartial judgment about the work that needs to be cited that wasn’t cited. It’s very unlikely that the problem with a paper’s citations is that it doesn’t cite your work or the work of you and a close friend. I’m finding the narcissism of referees (many of whom out themselves by insisting that their work gets a mention) increasingly tiring. Maybe this is something that just younger people do because they’re insecure. I don’t know. Just know that some of us can figure out that your awesome but unpublished work that you think must be cited by everyone and anyone is -your- work and I’m part of a group of people who find narcissism off-putting. Bah, young people are the worst! It’s all selfies and abuse of their powers as referees these days.)
Like Kevin, I apply different standards for different journals, but I tend to think that ambition is an important variable. If a paper’s central argument isn’t good, I wouldn’t recommend its acceptance in a lower tier journal but I’d be more likely to overlook the fact that the paper isn’t terribly ambitious if it’s not in a top-tier journal. I think that it’s important for pieces that are essentially response pieces to get into the literature, but I can see why we’d want to reserve some space for more ambitious pieces of work. My most common reasons for rejecting a paper:
1. The central argument is unclear.
2. The paper is insufficiently ambitious (scale for venue taken into account).
3. There’s a mistake in the argument where the mistake in question can be identified as a mistake even if I don’t take on board any particularly weighty philosophical assumptions.
If a paper meets all of this but faces an actual philosophical objection where I think the literature will part ways on whether it can be met but the objection seems v important, I’m likely to give an R&R so that the author has a chance to do some philosophy. If there’s one thing that annoys me to no end it is the practice of some referees rejecting papers (nominally, at least) on the grounds that somebody could object to something.
I think it would be a good idea for editors of journals to provide a basic sort of rubric that they want referees to use. I don’t think it’s good for anyone to just leave it in the hands of referees to find the right sort of criteria for acceptance. As someone who referees a lot of papers (maybe 5 per month on average (where this includes R&Rs I’m seeing for a second or third time)), I think it would make my job a lot easier if the editor said something like: “In reviewing this paper, will you see if the paper meets most/all of the following criteria… before recommending acceptance”. I’d be happier as someone who submits papers to journals there were at least some guidelines communicated to all parties about what it would take to get a paper into a journal (or what should keep something out.Report
I worry that people think that just because a referee suggests that someone should cite so-and-so’s work, that the referee was so-and-so. I submit that that is an unreliable inference. And if one infers that so-and-so was the referee and is thereby narcissistic (or something similar), then the author who received that report is going to inappropriately think ill of so-and-so, even if they had nothing to do with the referee report. So I hope A Junior Person stops forming those inferences.Report
Sometimes it’s obvious. (I didn’t describe the total set of evidence that makes it a give away. Just a friendly piece of advice for junior people who are not using the sort of objectivity that we can all rightly expect from referees. Maybe the reason I think it’s junior people is that senior people who would do the same thing think they are too important to referee papers. A better criticism of my point would have criticized me for omitting that.)Report
In my experience, philosophers are overly confident in what they take to be “obvious.” I’ve had my own cases where I thought it was obvious that the referee was requiring that their own work be cited in the review process. It turned out I was wrong. Take that datum as you will.Report
Fair enough, anontoday. In my experience, some philosophers are sometimes disposed to make hasty generalizations when they draw conclusions about what others know from their own mistaken judgments.Report
I’ve refereed over 250 papers over the past eight or nine years, for close to fifty different journals, not counting papers that I have handled as an editor. I’ve been involved with editorial decisions about maybe another 200. When I read a paper as an editor, I am interested in different things than I am as a referee, but there is some overlap. Most of all, I am interested in a ratio. Into the numerator of the ratio go factors like how important and underappreciated the question of the paper is, how successful it is at tackling that question, how much more light the paper sheds than has previously been shed on that question, and how insightful the method of argument. Into the denominator go factors like how much work I need to do in order to figure out what the contribution of the paper is, and how much work it is likely to take the author, in order to revise and polish the paper into suitable form.Report
Tom Dougherty [in comment 28] insists that papers contribute engage with a longstanding, ongoing, detailed discussion. However the truly original paper will look at things with fresh eyes, take a new approach, so does not engage (or not much) with the current discussion in the literature. It may be precisely by avoiding certain (mis)conceptions prevalent in the current discussion that the author is able to make a substantial advance.
Related to this point, I would be interested in knowing how long reviewers spend trying to understand a paper. It does not take long to grasp a paper that employs most of the same assumptions and moves as the other papers on that topic. However if a paper contains big new ideas then it can be very difficult and time consuming to get to grips with them, to understand them and make them your own. I cannot help suspecting that often reviewers simply reject anything which does not conform to their preconceptions, and that they do not understand after a quick read through, and blame the paper.
I realise a balance needs to be struck – especially when reviewing heroic numbers of papers as, for example, Mark Schoeder and David Velleman do. But still….Report
PS In my reply to Tom Dougherty I suppose I am suggesting that failure to discuss or engage with the literature is not a good reason to reject a paper. All that counts is that the paper makes an original contribution to philosophical understanding.Report
DD, it seems that even papers which tackle prevalent misconceptions would do well to engage current literature on the topic. Arguing that there exists such a misconception seems hard to do (well) without demonstrating the fact that it underlies a significant portion of contemporary thought on the issue. As you point out, much of the work that goes into motivating an alternative to the misconceived view may not involve direct discussion of the literature. But a paper that motivates an alternative without also demonstrating the existence of the misconception in the literature would seem to be lacking in this regard.
So even though the sort of paper you describe represents worthwhile and (one would think) publishable work, the fact that a paper is of this sort doesn’t seem to warrant a lack of engagement with current literature.Report
Hi DD, The paper you’re describing sounds great. It would definitely make a contribution to the literature.
Just to be clear, I didn’t mean to imply that failure to discuss the pre-existing literature in detail is a reason to reject a paper (or indeed a reason why I’ve ever rejected a paper.) At the end of my 28 comment, I was just describing a paper that I’d find easy to accept. I didn’t mean to imply that meeting that description was a necessary condition for a terrific philosophy paper.
If we move the discussion away from “reasons to reject a paper” and towards “valuable things in a paper,” then it’s not clear to me why, for the paper you are describing, it wouldn’t be helpful to clarify the relationship of the paper’s contribution to the old discussion, even if this is misconceived. Take, for example, Elizabeth Anderson’s “What’s the Point of Equality?” Part of the reason why that was such an important paper is that it nicely developed a novel take on egalitarianism but did so in a way that made clear why she thought the previous discussions of egalitarianism were so misconceived. Her paper did “look at things with fresh eyes,” and “take a new approach.” But nonetheless it also did “engage…with the current discussion in the literature.” And, if you end up agreeing with Anderson, then “precisely by avoiding certain (mis)conceptions prevalent in the current discussion… the author [was] able to make a substantial advance.” Of course, it would have still been a terrific paper if all it did was set out democratic egalitarianism. But it made a more important contribution to scholarship because it made clear how this moved forward the pre-existing debate about egalitarianism. Also, while I admire Anderson’s sustained critique in that paper, there’s no reason in principle why locating a discussion in a literature need be a lengthy affair. I think of the first two pages of Niko Kolodny’s “Love As Valuing a Relationship” as a pretty much flawless example of how to do this incredibly concisely.Report