The Publication Emergency (guest post by J. David Velleman)


The following is a guest post* by J. David Velleman, professor of philosophy at New York University. It discusses the problems that arise from graduate students publishing more and more, and presents a pair of suggestions for how to improve matters.

(Some of these ideas were discussed before at Daily Nous in the comments to a previous post. See, also, this rather different proposal.)

Professor Velleman notes that he is speaking here for himself, not in his official capacity as an editor at the journal, Philosophers’ Imprint.


[Will Staehle, “The Night Ocean” (manipulated detail)]

The Publication Emergency
by J. David Velleman

In the past several years, the convention in philosophy of waiting to publish until after the Ph.D. has broken down. Graduate students now believe that they must publish in order to get a job, and most of them are right.

This development is having many deleterious effects. The volume of submissions to journals has exploded. It is not uncommon for a journal to receive 500-600 submissions per year. The amount of attention that can be paid to each submission, the percentage of submissions that can be refereed, and the selectivity that editors can exercise in recruiting referees—all have declined proportionately. The need for an author to make an immediate impression on over-burdened editors, and the greatly diminished probability of success, have discouraged risk-taking in research and encouraged the production of formulaic papers on safe topics. As one colleague put it to me, the literature is becoming like AM radio (you had to be there for the heyday of FM.)

The likely secondary and tertiary effects of this trend are alarming. Graduate programs will need to favor applicants who show promise of being able to publish after only a few years of study, exacerbating the trend away from attracting undergraduates who have majored in other fields, especially in the humanities. Graduate students will spend time on navigating the publication maze instead of experimenting with a variety of sub-disciplines. Philosophers will become narrower and narrower—well qualified, perhaps, to run the narrowed publication maze but unequipped to open up new frontiers in the subject.

Today’s assistant professors are in an untenable position. Many earned their degrees before the flood of graduate-student publication began—hence without having published as students—but are now facing twice as much competition for journal space as their predecessors. And the younger assistant professors coming up behind them will have many more publications, preemptively raising the expectations for tenure and promotion.

I propose two policies to address these problems. First, philosophy journals should adopt a policy of refusing to publish work by graduate students. Second, philosophy departments should adopt a policy of discounting graduate student work in tenure and promotion reviews. These policies would be designed to halt the arms race in graduate-student publication.

One might argue that some work by graduate students is equally worthy of publication as the best work by faculty. My answer: if the work is that good today, it will be even better in a few years. The author—and the literature—will benefit from the delay.

One might worry that journals cannot weed out graduate-student work if they are to review submissions anonymously. My answer: the veil of anonymity is lifted before publication, and authors will know that they will be unmasked in the end, and their work rejected, before it sees the light of day.

One might argue that students have a right to be heard in the philosophical conversation. My answer: editors have a right, and indeed an obligation, to manage their journals in whatever way they judge to be of greatest service to the discipline. And publication is not a right.

One might argue that assistant professors should be evaluated for tenure on the basis of their complete corpus of published work. My answer: this policy is designed to discourage students from wasting their intellectual capital in premature publication. The can still be evaluated on the basis of their complete published corpus, provided only that they publish it at the right stage of their career.

One might worry that it would be impossible to gain widespread adherence to these policies. My answer: journal editors will jump at the chance to cut their volume of submissions and concentrate their efforts on work that is more mature. And departments will see the wisdom in judging a tenure candidate on what s/he has been able to publish while on the job, in their midst.

One might object that philosophy can benefit from publications by outsiders who have no Ph.D. in the subject. My answer: the proposed policy is not to require a Ph.D. in philosophy for publication; the policy would be to reject submissions by students who are in the process of earning that degree.

Finally, one my object that the very proposal of these policies is an insult to graduate students. My response: the proposal neither assumes nor implies anything about the quality of graduate students’ work.


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lessmoneymoreproblems
lessmoneymoreproblems
3 years ago

This proposal would be a fine solution if this particular problem of pressure to publish were the only problem philosophy were facing. But as it stands, I think it clashes with another perennial problem that philosophy has always faced which is that 75% of jobs are taken by graduates of the top 15-20 universities. The only way that many graduate students below the top-20 get any notice beyond the halo effect of other people is by publishing more than them. As a graduate student not going to NYU, without a single publication, how do I distinguish myself? What should Post-doc and Job committees rely on? Letters? Other than publications almost all other indications point purely at the reputation of the school you came from. Publications are supposed to be the great leveller. (In real life I am not naive enough to think that publications really are the great leveller, but the point is that taking publications away makes things even worse, if that’s possible)

Not to make this completely critical, I would like to push forward a MUCH better solution that for some reason hasn’t been mentioned at the top of the page and that is Jennifer Whiting’s “Slow philosophy” idea. That tenure committees should only evaluate the best 4 pieces of work of a philosopher and promote based on that. This would disincentivize graduate students and frankly other faculty from submitted garbage and would incentivize more adventurous work. Here is the link to this, I think, better proposal:
http://dailynous.com/2015/12/31/a-modest-proposal-slow-philosophy-jennifer-whiting/ Report

Not Until I have Tenure
Not Until I have Tenure
Reply to  lessmoneymoreproblems
3 years ago

1. I don’t see why this proposal would be any different from one that in which editors simply refused to publish submissions from people without PhDs or not at Leiter top-20 schools etc. In all of these cases an arbitrary line is being created that vastly benefits those already in the profession (and already at good schools) over those who are not.

2. As someone not at NYU, Princeton, or Rutgers, Dr. Velleman’s suggestion seems to amount to an attack on programs outside of those that can place students on the basis of name recognition alone. I am in complete agreement that it would be much better if grad students had less pressure to publish, but I think that judging graduate students on publications is substantially better than judging them on the basis of who wrote their letters or where they got their PhD.

3. These impressions are furthered by the fact that Dr. Velleman is at NYU (which is mildly but not totally unfair—I suspect he doesn’t appreciate how important publications are for job candidates outside of the top schools) and by the fact that he doesn’t seem to recognize the serious problems with prestige bias that his solution would only exacerbate (which isn’t unfair at all). If we’re going to suggest sweeping changes to the profession, why not suggest that hiring and tenure committees insist that the materials submitted for a job or tenure case make no mention of where the candidate received their PhD and that letters of recommendation be sent in without a name attached? These suggestions are equally radical (and probably equally difficult to implement) but have the bonus of not screwing over everyone not at a big name school.

4. I see the harms merely being shifted here: graduate students want to publish and hiring committees hopefully want ways to sort candidates that actually indicate the quality of their work (as opposed to the fame of their teachers). Even if Dr. Velleman’s suggestions were adopted, the result would simply be that journals that allow graduate student submissions would take the place of those that don’t, both as a venue and as an (unofficial) marker of quality.

5. Let me be blunt: this suggestion is one that would benefit (a) established professors qua journal editors; (b) graduate students who are at the best institutions. At the same time, it represents a genuinely existential threat for graduate students at institutions where placement is more difficult. The rich get richer the poor get poorer. Report

Current Grad Student
Current Grad Student
Reply to  Not Until I have Tenure
3 years ago

Requiring that applicants make no mention of where they received their PhD is a swing way too far in the other direction — an overcompensation, no doubt motivated in part by good intentions, but also motivated at least in part by projection of one’s own relatively less prestigious school. It absolutely matters whether, say, an applicant has worked with Gideon Rosen on grounding at Princeton, or with expressivism with Gibbard at Michigan.

We want to make the process as fair as possible, but trying to eliminate these features is not productive or wise. It’s an overcompensation. Report

Worried grad
Worried grad
Reply to  Current Grad Student
3 years ago

I’m not sure I agree: the question is whether the price of the extra information outweighs its benefits.

Regardless, I don’t think “Not Until” was making *that* suggestion seriously, given that they said it was “equally radical” to a position they rejected.Report

Patrick Stokes
Reply to  Current Grad Student
3 years ago

“It absolutely matters whether, say, an applicant has worked with Gideon Rosen on grounding at Princeton, or with expressivism with Gibbard at Michigan” – does it, though? If a student is being evaluated on the merits of their dissertation, does it particularly matter who their advisor was?

(Disclosure: I’m outside the US, and in the systems I’ve worked in things like letters and ‘pedigree’ don’t seem to count much in hiring decisions, whereas publications are nearly always decisive). Report

Grad Student #3682
Grad Student #3682
Reply to  Not Until I have Tenure
3 years ago

Re #2: I don’t think Velleman would recommend judging job candidates merely “on the basis of who wrote their letters or where they got their PhD”. Any good hiring process would weigh these factors among others, such as research interests, departmental service, sociability, writing samples, and work at conferences. Velleman’s proposal, or lessmoneymoreproblem’s, might even incent people to do better work at conferences and to make conferences a better professional forum.

I’d also like to chime in on a third rail in professional philosophy: professional philosophers work in an unlicensed profession that, like many professions, is impeded by bad work and bad workers. Philosophers who aren’t good at what they’re trying to do bog down journals, lure young academics into a profession where they won’t succeed, and spread bad ideas. These mediocre philosophers also draw on scarce academic resources that better philosophers could draw on instead. Philosophers have good reason to restructure academic processes to improve the profession’s integrity. The profession should more actively confront this fact and address whether making things harder for students at “low tier” is a suitable price to pay for a better profession. Report

Philodemus
Philodemus
Reply to  Grad Student #3682
3 years ago

I’m not sure exactly what you mean by students at “low tier,” but I can say with some confidence that I know some pretty mediocre philosophers from highly ranked schools who “draw on scarce academic resources that better philosophers could draw on instead.” I’m all for setting up some scheme to push out such philosophers, so long as it applies equally to everyone regardless of their school ranking. (Of course, I doubt the profession could ever actually agree on such a scheme.)Report

Grad Student #3682
Grad Student #3682
Reply to  Philodemus
3 years ago

I agree! I’d be glad to see a scheme that gave mediocre philosophers more incentive to leave, or to not join at all. I’m not confident, however, that that scheme wouldn’t also make things harder for philosophers at what I called “low tier” places (for lack of a better term). I meant “low tier” as a broad brush descriptor for places that produce little good work, train students who are unlikely to get academic jobs, and where those who do get jobs don’t do especially well.

I think it’s worth confronting, too, that large scale shifts in professional policy are never perfectly fine-grained or equitable. Some good students will get shafted, some weak students unfairly amplified, and there’ll be rough periods as the profession adapts to new policy. Report

K
K
Reply to  Grad Student #3682
3 years ago

Forgive the ad hominem, but these comments are fairly ‘grad student’ indeed. I didn’t realize the field was filled to the brim with hack mediocre philosophers from ‘low tier’ places gumming things up for us geniuses on top.

The problem as Dr. Velleman describes it is not that the work being submitted is bad work by bad workers. I imagine 400 clearly bad papers aren’t what’s so challenging for journals to handle. Instead, it seemed like the problem was that there is a glut of reasonably acceptable but less ambitious/more formulaic work, and more generally that the pressures of publishing early on disincentive becoming philosophically well-rounded. That seems pretty fair, though I’d echo the first comment – disallowing grad student publications will lead to more emphasis on the program someone merely could get into and the fame of their advisors.

What’s supposed to be so bad about having mediocre researchers in the field anyway? Most of the actual jobs are teaching jobs after all. These comments paint anyone who would rather focus on teaching as not being worthy of the field.This is all fairly academic though, because I’ve met very few if any bad philosophers, typically only arrogant ones.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Grad Student #3682
3 years ago

Your judgments and characterizations of the worth of others and their work would be a bit more convincing if you weren’t a random, anonymous poster on the internet.Report

Patrick Stokes
Reply to  Grad Student #3682
3 years ago

It must be quite a burden being able to spot all these mediocre philosophers running around, somehow getting their work past peer-review in what we all seem to agree is a massively competitive and overcrowded marketplace. I have to admit I’ve never noticed them, which probably means I am one. Report

Becca
Becca
Reply to  lessmoneymoreproblems
3 years ago

I (a grad student) love this idea, and would like to see more discussion of it. Why not have a (lowish) cap on how many articles a tenure committee may consider during tenure decisions, to encourage quality over quantity? (Does anyone already effectively do this in practice, or is it all about quantity, relying on journal prestige to determine quality?)Report

real_email_fake_name
real_email_fake_name
Reply to  Becca
3 years ago

For what it’s worth, this is already the case with T&P at *many* institutions. At my school, for example, I submitted only my “five best” articles in my application for T&P.Report

Matt
Reply to  Becca
3 years ago

Why not have a (lowish) cap on how many articles a tenure committee may consider during tenure decisions, to encourage quality over quantity?

At many schools, such things are set by the university, and individual departments have limited input to the decision. Other departments may not like the idea. So, there is certainly no way to make a general rule on this, even among PhD granting institutions, and certainly not beyond it, even assuming it’s a good idea. (It may be – I’m not certain.) Report

What Is Done Is Done
What Is Done Is Done
Reply to  lessmoneymoreproblems
3 years ago

I totally agree with your suggestion. It makes much more sense compared with what was proposed in this article. I see no reason why restricting graduate students from publishing papers could either (i) reduce journals’ pressure of reviewing submitted papers or (ii) reduce the difficulty for young scholars to get promoted.

It does not help (i) because, as long as the procedure for submitting and reviewing papers maintain anonymity, there is no way to prevent graduate students from submitting their papers. Even they cannot publish their papers, they can at least know whether their papers reach the quality of being published. If their papers get rejected, they can working on it based on the review comments. If their papers reach that quality, they know they don’t need to keep working on the papers. So the next step for them is to turn to another project and to produce some new papers. The more publishable papers they produce during their graduate studies, the more paper they can publish once they graduate. Since merely getting one’s paper reviewed has its own benefits, there is no reason why forbidding graduate students from publishing papers could solve the pressure faced by journal editors.

Moreover, since graduate students can prepare for their to-be-published papers during their graduate studies and get these papers published once after they get graduated, the number of publications they will have when they are evaluated for tenure will be similar whether they are restricted from publishing during their graduate studies or not. So Velleman’s proposal does not really help to reduce the challenge now young scholars are facing with.
Report

Stephen
Stephen
Reply to  What Is Done Is Done
3 years ago

“If their papers get rejected, they can [keep] working on it based on the review comments.” Who says they would get comments? Journals could ask submitters to certify that they are not grad students. That alone would dissuade most grad students from submitting their work. Journals could also decline to supply any reports if it turned out that the author were a grad student (which could be checked fairly easily by the editorial staff).Report

Abraham Graber
Abraham Graber
3 years ago

Having (lots) of publications is the only way for graduate students from less prestigious institutions to be competitive on the job market. If you’re not from a highly ranked program, it’s already nearly impossible to find a job. Take away the opportunity for graduate students to publish and it will be effectively impossible. Report

NJB
NJB
3 years ago

This proposal would, in effect, make tenure-track jobs inaccessible to graduate students. The jobs would go to people who are a few years out of the PhD, who have had the chance to prove their publishing capability. (Of course, a trend towards this is already present in the current job market.)

This seems to me like a bad result, but people could reasonably disagree about that.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  NJB
3 years ago

They already pretty much are, at least in departments like mine, where teaching experience is key. Because of the terrible job market, they are competing with large numbers of people who have already been in the pipeline for years, racking up both teaching experience and pubs,

Graduate students would do themselves much better going out and humping as many adjunct professor jobs in as many possible areas as they can get, rather than add crumbs on top of the enormous piles of largely worthless philosophy we already have, due to the perverse publishing culture we have now. Report

Becca
Becca
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

Personally I’m going to go with “hell no” to the “as many adjunct professor jobs in as many possible areas as they can get” option. Having known a couple of people who have done that, honestly that’s usually a pretty miserable life for very little money (really just appallingly little) and basically no prestige and very probably no payoff in the form of a permanent / TT position in the end, after years of, well, being exploited. If, when I’m on the job market, it turns out that that’s my only real option for remaining in the discipline (after a couple of years of trying), I’m jumping ship and finding a different career path. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Becca
3 years ago

I’m talking about while you are in graduate school. By the time I finished my graduate program, I had extensive teaching experience in a number of areas, due to adjunct positions that I obtained at community colleges in NYC. It’s one of the main reasons I got a job straight out of graduate school.

I am *not* suggesting one do this *after* one has already finished the PhD.Report

Becca
Becca
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

I’d been considering trying to do something like this while finishing my PhD, but to be quite honest, the hours and pay for adjunct professors here seems to be actually worse than my home department’s TA positions. There are a whole lot of downsides (less money, less time, more stress –> less likelihood of even finishing the PhD?) for a pretty dubious upside (more experience teaching the sorts of classes that adjuncts get to teach). If anyone wants to pay me a respectable full time salary for a “lectureship” position or some such while I’m working on my dissertation, I’d be glad to do that, but the practical reality of adjuncting is a dealbreaking step down from TAing, I’m sorry to say.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Becca
3 years ago

That’s fine. I’m just telling you that it worked for me and was the reason why I got a tenure track position straight out of graduate school. I could go into interviews and say, “I’ve taught Introductory Ethics and Applied Ethics, Introduction to Philosophy, and Philosophy of Mind, for years already. My own free-standing classes, not someone elses.”

By the time I got my Ph.D. I had been teaching my own classes for four years.Report

art
art
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

First, as an advocate for the primacy of teaching in philosophy, I deeply appreciate your department’s commitment to hiring primarily on the basis of a good teaching record. And, I agree most schools are schools like yours insofar as teaching is prized over research production or, if not prized, at least it’s recognizably the main thing being done. Furthermore, I love your points about (a) remembering that philosophy is a humanities discipline not a science and (b) the cessation of tenure faculty continuing to publish.

Still, I’m concerned that your comments strongly suggest that publishing is a less promising route to a TT career than getting more (and varied) teaching credits are (1) based on too little evidence and (2) hard to square with my experience.

Regarding (1), I’m probably overlooking something, but from a quick review of your comments you support your suggestion with two things. First, you point out that committees you’ve headed/been on at your institution focused primarily on teaching record. Second, you point out that there are more teaching-focused (or non-research-focused) institutions than research-focused institutions.

From those two points alone it doesn’t follow that increasing ones teaching-expertise is more likely to put them on a path to TT (at non-research-focused institutions). Is there evidence that the vast majority of these non-research-focused schools’ search committees have a search method like the one at your institution?

Regarding (2), I have an extensive teaching record, have won a teaching award, and facilitate workshops on how to teach philosophy thru my active participation in the American Association of Philosophy Teachers. Still, I have only had three interviews in my three years on the job market.

(To be clear, I like thinking about and working out philosophical problems, but my heart is in the teaching. That’s the only reason I want a ‘philosophy career’. I apply mainly to non-research-focused schools (including two year institutions). My phd is from a non-L-rific program. And, fwiw, I have only two refereed pubs, only one in a ‘recognized quality journal’ and two published book reviews. I have a ton of presentations and lots of service added to my CV.)

I realize this doesn’t mean that what you say is incorrect. Perhaps I’m just just thinking that your comments/suggestions should be qualified a bit.

In any case, thanks to you and your department for prioritizing teaching over research. And, thank you for your insightful comments.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  art
3 years ago

Is there evidence that the vast majority of these non-research-focused schools’ search committees have a search method like the one at your institution?
= = =
You are absolutely correct that the arguments I’m making here are based on my own experience and on anecdotal knowledge acquired by way of discussion with others I know in similar institutions. For what it’s worth, two other professors at institutions like mine have echoed my sentiments here, in this thread.Report

Michel X.
Michel X.
3 years ago

Isn’t (2) already largely in effect? I was under the impression that usually, unless one specifically negotiates otherwise, the work one produces prior to arriving on the TT at most institutions doesn’t count towards tenure.

As for (1), it certainly goes some way towards solving one problem by cutting the number of submissions (or does it? Do we *know* that the increase is mostly due to graduate student submissions?). But I think it would do so by sinking the ability of graduate students to get their first jobs, especially if they’re not coming from NYU or Princeton to begin with. Not to mention that it would put young philosophers at an even greater disadvantage vis-à-vis obtaining postdocs, especially from interdisciplinary granting associations. You have to remember that (unfortunately) the first job you get sets the tone of your career trajectory, either by removing obstacles or adding them. And if you don’t have a first job, it’s pretty hard to continue in the discipline. Maybe that’s a desirable effect, but if so then it should be pointed out up front.

A more palatable alternative, IMO, would be to tie one’s ability to submit new work to a journal (i.e., after the first submission) to one’s (timely!) service as a referee. That may or may not do much to cut the volume of submissions, but it also doesn’t punish the new generation of scholars for the actions of previous generations. The publication cat is out of the bag, and it’s not going back in.Report

Eric
Eric
3 years ago

Hiring committees use publication volume and venues as a way to judge the excellence of candidates. Take that away and committees are going to lean even more heavily on the prestige of the candidate’s grad department. New (old) problem: students from high-prestige universities get all the advantages on the market. This is, of course, already a problem. But this policy will make things worse. As things are now, the only way for low-prestige students to get an advantage over high-prestige students is to out-publish them. It’s their only way to show their excellence relative to high-prestige candidates. I’m sure all the high-prestige candidates would love this policy. Now they can coast on their department’s reputation. As a student from a low-prestige department, I hate it. I want a chance to put-hustle the supposed big dogs. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Eric
3 years ago

Hiring committees use publication volume and venues as a way to judge the excellence of candidates. Take that away and committees are going to lean even more heavily on the prestige of the candidate’s grad department.
= = =
This is just flat-out wrong. Our initial cuts have been made entirely on the basis of teaching experience in the areas we are looking.

The overwhelming majority of philosophy teaching is done in non-Leiterrific schools.Report

Philodemus
Philodemus
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

I think you can charitably read Eric’s comments as being about hiring committees for TT positions at Leiterrific schools, or research-oriented schools more generally. It’s fair to say that those positions are the most coveted in the profession.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Philodemus
3 years ago

Yes, and I think that’s really unfortunate and we ought to push back against it as much as we can. There are all sorts of advantages to teaching at a school like mine over a Leiteriffic one.Report

Philodemus
Philodemus
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

I’m sure that there are advantages, especially for those who are interested primarily in teaching, but are there advantages for those who are interested primarily in research? Because I think that many, if not most, of those who enter PhD programs are interested primarily in research. You might think that this is unfortunate and that these people are somehow misguided, but that would be a whole other discussion. The main worry being expressed on this discussion board is that these people would have more difficulty realizing their goals if Prof Velleman’s suggestion is accepted (unless they are grad students at a Leiterrific program, which means they probably went to a well-regarded undergrad program, which means they probably have an affluent econommic background). Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Philodemus
3 years ago

What you want and what the world wants may be two very different things. Philosophy is not science, it is part of the humanities. The subject neither needs, nor is benefited by the amount of publishing currently being done. As I indicated in another comment, the idea that we need more publications from our current philosophers — even the top ones — than we needed from John Stuart Mill or, in the last century, W.D. Ross or Gilbert Ryle, is ridiculous and has led us into the terrible situation we are in now.

At most universities what matters is credit hour production, which means teaching. And in terms of what our society needs, it is graduates who are educated in the history of philosophy, logic, and maybe a small portion of what goes by way of contemporary research. The rest, I hate to say, is filler and serves no other purpose but professional advancement within what is a perverse system. If we don’t self-correct, it will be done for us, as is evinced by what is happening to humanities at universities across the country, other than at the most elite places, and I hate to tell you but it will come to those places too, just a little bit later.

So, yes, I am suggesting that people think very hard about why they want to go into the discipline. And if they are doing it because they want to do gobs of research like one finds in the sciences, they have a fundamental misunderstanding of the humanities and their value.

Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Philodemus
3 years ago

If the comment is about Leiterific schools, then people from non-Leiterific schools have literally almost no chance as things stand. And if it’s about other schools then Kaufman has a point, although I think it’s overstated. Report

Philodemus
Philodemus
Reply to  JDRox
3 years ago

I think the comment, charitably understood, is about Leiterrific schools, or research-oriented schools more generally, as I said. We shouldn’t conflate these two things, of course, since there are many research-oriented schools not listed on the PGR top 50. These are among the most highly coveted jobs in the profession and people from modestly ranked or even non-ranked programs definitely have a shot at these schools, but not a good shot if they fail to publish some stuff before completing their degree. Report

Dale Miller
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

My program is about as far from Leiteriffic as yours, and yet we’d be very unlikely to hire anyone for a TT job without a publication. We do value teaching experience and ability, and our interviews include a teaching demo that is far from pro forma. But junior faculty here do have to publish to get tenure, and we’re Millian enough to think that the best evidence of the ability to publish is actually having done so. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Dale Miller
3 years ago

Oh, I’m not suggesting that they should have *no* publications. Just that it’s not the highly published people who are getting the jobs in our department, but rather the experienced and highly rated teachers.Report

AtaLeiterrificProgram
AtaLeiterrificProgram
Reply to  Eric
3 years ago

I’m sure that some on some search committees operate as Eric describes. And I share many of the worries that have been expressed here by others about making the playing field on the market as fair as possible for newly minted PhD’s from programs outside of the top 5 or 10.
That said, fwiw, I and several others at my department have adopted this policy in hiring: writing samples first (yes, even on round one). I’m not so naive as to claim that no prestige bias creeps in, but I can tell you that in my experience, if I read a writing sample and think it’s crap, it’s almost impossible for any amount of prestige or publication list to overcome that. This focus on the actual content of applicants’ work is reinforced by the fact that the current Chair (who has a similar procedure) insists that search committee (and later, after the campus visit, departmental) conversations focus on the content of the candidate’s work.
I don’t know if there’s any hope that this procedure could be adopted profession wide, and if it were, it would mean a great increase in the amount of work for members of search committees who do not already operate this way. But it would also greatly ameliorate the bad downstream effects of the policy Velleman proposes about which some here have expressed concerns.Report

Philodemus
Philodemus
Reply to  AtaLeiterrificProgram
3 years ago

Wouldn’t it be pretty easy to anonymize the writing samples, so that there would be virtually no possibility of prestige bias creeping in? You could ask applicants to anonymize their samples just as they would when submitting to a journal. And I assume that you could have someone not on the hiring committee retrieve these samples from the application, make copies or whatever, and provide them to the committee. I might be misremembering, but I think that I’ve applied to a few schools that have asked for anonymized samples.Report

AtaLeiterrificProgram
AtaLeiterrificProgram
Reply to  Philodemus
3 years ago

I think that would be great, and yes, that they are non-anonymized does open the door to various kinds of bias creeping in. [Prestige bias in particular is I think somewhat less likely if one follows the procedure that I do, because I start reading when I’ve got is a file with all of the writing samples, and I read through them one at a time. At that point, I have no idea from which institution a particular candidate hails. I take the notes, reach a verdict on each of the writing samples, and then open the full files of each of the candidates. I am *only* reporting my own reactions, but my own reaction when I discover that a crap sample came from a prestige institution is not to revise or doubt my estimation of the sample] Fully anonymizing the writing samples wouldn’t be possible where I am (for reasons having to do in part with the role that the university as a whole plays in the receipt of applications process) without introducing a huge amount of work for the administrative assistants, who are already incredibly overburdened. Insisting that I take on more work for this is one thing; making their lives worse is another. And we don’t yet have unanimity in the department that this is how things should be done– the Chair and the younger-ish members of the department are fully on board. More resistance among the ranks of the full professors.Report

David Velleman
David Velleman
3 years ago

Yes, publication has in the past been the best way for graduates of lower-ranked departments to get a leg up in the market — but only because students at higher ranked departments were being discouraged by their advissors from publishing. Now that students at MIT and Princeton are going on the marketwith publications on their CVs, there is no comparative advantage in having published — only a comparative disadvantage in not having done so, and a much higher bar to doing so.Report

lessmoneymoreproblems
lessmoneymoreproblems
Reply to  David Velleman
3 years ago

This is a very frustrating answer to the challenges above that everyone else seems to see.

While what you say might be true about the highflyers from these prestigious institutions it certainly is not true for the average student at these institutions.

The first thing we must understand are that search committees are risk averse and that they are prestige bias (both implicitly themselves and also because they have to answer to administrators who only know ivy league reputation)

With 300 applicants and zero publications, my chance at a job or post-doc is nil compared to the student from the prestigious institution. Search committees are looking for any reason to shorten that pile. But if I am able to have 3 good publications (which now seems to be the minimum for a job) while Princeton grad has only 1, I can make a good case for at least getting noticed and for the search committee member who is willing to take a chance to be able to justify to her/himself and administrators that “yeah, this person doesn’t come from an ivy league institution, but look, with 3 good publications without ivy league institutional support, this is evidence that they will easily make tenure in 6 years with support”.Report

Lacks_Predigree
Lacks_Predigree
Reply to  David Velleman
3 years ago

Even if students at all programs now are being encouraged to publish, it doesn’t follow that all of them are. Trying to publish isn’t sufficient for getting publications! Some grad students from lower-ranked programs can and do publish more and in better venues than those from higher-ranked programs. So it’s still a way for people from lower-ranked programs to compete.Report

Douglas W. Portmore
Reply to  David Velleman
3 years ago

Not all students from higher-ranked departments are going on the market with publications, and not all those that are going on it with publications are going on it with publication records that are as good as those of some coming out of lower-ranked departments. So, there is some comparative advantage for those at lower-ranked departments to be judged more on the basis of their publication record and less on the prestige of their graduate program and letter writers. Also, there is an advantage for hiring departments with respect to this trend, assuming (plausibly, I believe) that past publication record is a more reliable indicator of future publication success than the prestige of one’s graduate program and letter writers is. Indeed, there are plenty of examples from the old days of students coming out of higher-ranked departments and doing much better on the job market than students coming out of lower-ranked departments with otherwise equally glowing letters and equally good dossiers but then doing much more poorly in terms of productivity despite their having more productivity-compatible jobs. Also, I fail to see why we should attribute the fact (assuming that it is a fact) that “the literature is becoming like AM radio” to the fact that graduate students now feel like they have to publish. Isn’t it entirely due to journals accepting more AM radio type articles? If journals would accept more risk-taking pieces and be less concerned with submissions being unobjectionable, then graduate students and others would feel that they needed to publish risk-taking pieces to get a job and, in that case, the graduate students publishing would only make the literature less like AM radio. And have you or others looked to see how much of the AM radio pieces are coming from graduate students as opposed to those out of graduate school? If not, then why think that this trend is responsible for the putative effect?Report

Mark Phelan
Mark Phelan
Reply to  David Velleman
3 years ago

Yes, because no journal is better than any other and every graduate student can at most publish one paper. Report

Recent PhD who published in grad school
Recent PhD who published in grad school
3 years ago

Until recently, I was a PhD student at a very modestly ranked philosophy department. I had a good advisor, but I lacked the prestige network and opportunities that come with being in a top program. In the current job climate, odds for someone in my position were not good. The only way I had to distinguish myself was to publish a lot – and I did. In a field obsessed with rankings and prestige, where the branding of your alma mater matters far more than it ought to, the anonymity of the peer review process allowed me to overcome my modest pedigree and show that I was just as good of a philosopher as the PhDs coming from the top programs. I haven’t snagged that TT job yet, but I know that my only hope of doing so rests on the publication record that I worked hard to build as a graduate student.
OP’s suggestion that graduate students be banned from publishing would be catastrophic for people in my position. There would be no way for students from unglamorous institutions like my own to compete with those in the Leiter top 20 or top 10. The anonymous peer-review process is an equalizer for someone like me. Without it, I would have no chance at getting a job.
Now, I get that OP’s suggestion is meant to address a different set of problems – that the volume of submissions from graduate students is (1) affecting the quality of publications and (2) the expectations for tenure, and that this is stressful for assistant profs. But I see no reason to believe that (1) is true, and if (2) really is happening, then it’s a testament to the fact that our field is much more competitive than it used to be. That really is a shame (trust me, grad students feel it too), but the solution isn’t to recommend that we sabotage aspiring philosophers (particularly those from lower-ranked institutions) in order to protect those who already have jobs. That’s just punching down.Report

Current Grad Student
Current Grad Student

The proposal would allow committees to review less work and so look at the substance, rather than the number, of written work product. That way, you *can* distinguish yourself from students from more “prestigious” schools. (And, that way, we can better evaluate the claim that the discipline puts the stock into prestige that you say it does. After all, perhaps the differentiation between students based on the prestige of their schools *is* in fact a function of the quality of their work/potential. I see a lot of students complain about prestige if they are not at prestigious schools, but perhaps the differential treatment is tracking something real. We’re not in a position to deny that simply because we don’t like the notion of prestige playing a differentiating function)Report

Recent PhD who published in grad school
Recent PhD who published in grad school
Reply to  Current Grad Student
3 years ago

Sure, maybe prestige is an indicator of quality. But I find it hard to believe that the decisions made by an grad admissions committee 5+ years in the past are a *better* indicator of quality than the actual philosophical output of an applicant, as measured by success in the peer-review process. After all, search committees are supposed to be looking for people who can get tenure. Getting publications in good journals is *exactly* what gets a person tenure. And if students at prestigious schools are really that much better as philosophers, I’m sure they’ll do just fine. Report

Mark Phelan
Mark Phelan
Reply to  Current Grad Student
3 years ago

This strikes me as an idealistic assessment of the kind of attention a search committee is able to give to 100+ applicants. That is, some approach other than careful philosophical consideration of the work of 100+ applicants must arise in a first round review of applicants. Publication record strikes me as one of the fairest benchmarks for first round review. Report

Mats
Mats
3 years ago

In University of Tartu (Estonia) publishing is a requirement to get your PhD. You write your thesis and then you still need to have at least one publication to get to defend your thesis.

Also, there is an option, which many students are taking, to publish 3-4 things about one specific topic during your studies and then get your degree based on those publications. So your proposal would make it nigh impossible for some PhD students to get their degrees.Report

Kris McDaniel
Kris McDaniel
3 years ago

I have many reservations about this idea, though I grant that there is a problem to be addressed in some way.

One reservation concerns the function of scholarly journals in philosophy. My view is that, ideally, their function is not fundamentally different from other scholarly journals from different disciplines. Specifically, the function of journals of philosophy is to disseminate philosophical knowledge.

I’m a little wary of tinkering with journal submission standards to achieve desired (and perhaps even desirable) non-epistemic goals.

If a graduate student’s paper makes more of a contribution to the field than a paper from a full professor, I’d rather the graduate student’s paper be in print. And (on the view described above), a journal that declined that graduate student’s paper wouldn’t be doing what journals are there to do, or at the very least, wouldn’t be doing it as well.

(I published several papers as a graduate student, although I suppose I did so prior to the current “crisis”. At least two of them are reasonably highly cited (according to google scholar) for whatever that is worth, which suggests that they made some sort of contribution worth making.)

Report

Lelia
Lelia
3 years ago

Another downside to the proposed policy: it assumes that students will definitely get jobs as academic philosophers, at which point they can publish all the stuff they worked on in graduate school. But I am not sure that I WILL get a job; and if I don’t, I’ll have to get an industry job. So it might be that my only chance to publish is NOW. It would be devastating to leave academia without even a tiny legacy in the form of some publications.Report

Derek Bowman
Reply to  Lelia
3 years ago

Nothing in this proposal would prevent philosophers working outside academia from submitting articles to journals. Some philosophers working in other industries still write articles for journals, and they could certainly submit work they’ve already written and revised as graduate students. Report

Nils Franzén
Nils Franzén
3 years ago

Isn’t publishing as a graduate student more or less mandatory in many academic disciplines? Does the author think that they differ from philosophy in some relevant respect? Report

David Velleman
David Velleman
3 years ago

Graduate students should not extrapolate from the effects of a publication record on the job prospects of their predecessors to the expected effects of their own. The change in publicarion practices is very recent, and it is accelerating. Between 2015 and 2016, submissions to Philosophers’ Imprint jumped 25%. The shift among hIghly ranked departments from advising their students not to publish to coaching them on how to publish is just getting into high gear. This route to employment will soon be clogged.Report

Current Grad Student
Current Grad Student
3 years ago

I support the proposal by Professor Velleman, and write to note a curiosity in the criticism of the first few comments. Part of the motivation behind the proposal is that *quality* matters more than *quantity*. So even if it is true that a student from a “less prestigious” school has more publications than a student from a more prestigious one, why is that relevant? The goal is not to get as many papers published as one can — if we look to quality of work alone, the product will speak for itself, and the student from the less-prestigious school should not try to gain a leg up by merely publishing more often.

What we want to encourage is good philosophy, not either of (a) more philosophy or (b) a kind of informal compensation scheme for graduates of less prestigious schools. The criticisms of Velleman’s proposal seem to be self-serving: something like “someone in my position would not benefit from this, so it’s not viable.” But the proposal is meant to better the *discipline*, not individuals from certain backgrounds.

If the Princeton grad has 1 publication and the less-prestigious grad has 3, the thing to do is look at the qualify of the publications, not how many there are. Report

lessmoneymoreproblems
lessmoneymoreproblems
Reply to  Current Grad Student
3 years ago

I agree with you, but you seem to be arguing for Jennifer Whitting’s idea and NOT Velleman’s? Look at how you’ve argued this: for us to see if quality matters, both grad students will have to have published 1 paper. You can’t make comparisons of quality with zero publications from either. Slow philosophy seems to be completely geared toward quality over quantity. Report

Recent PhD who published in grad school
Recent PhD who published in grad school
Reply to  Current Grad Student
3 years ago

Nobody is saying that quantity matters more than quality. But if you forbid grad students from publishing, then when they go on the market and can’t get a job, they’ll have neither quantity nor quality to speak of.
Besides, think about the way a search committee works: they go through a stack of 300+ applications, and find ways to pare it down. At that stage, nobody is reading applicants’ publications for “quality.” They’re looking at the number of articles and where they are published (and, of course, where the PhD is from). Only at later stages in the process do the committee members actually read anything.
Anyway, how is having more competition for spots in journals resulting in lower quality publications? Shouldn’t the opposite be case? The argument OP makes is that people are writing safe, boring papers instead of profound, brilliant ones. But in a competitive marketplace, it seems like low quality, boring papers should be at a disadvantage! Also, newsflash: journal editors get to decide which papers they publish, and which ones they reject. If OP doesn’t like some of the papers being submitted to his journal, he should reject them. But let him reject them based on the content of the paper itself, not the career-status of the author.
Report

Daniel Kaufman

Besides, think about the way a search committee works: they go through a stack of 300+ applications, and find ways to pare it down. At that stage, nobody is reading applicants’ publications for “quality.” They’re looking at the number of articles and where they are published (and, of course, where the PhD is from).
= = =
Wrong. I have chaired three Search Committees and been on many more. The first thing we look for is whether the candidate has real teaching experience — not TA experience — in the areas we are looking for.

And the overwhelming majority of schools are schools like mine. Large, no frills, middle of the road public universities. Report

Philodemus
Philodemus
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

Again, you can charitably understand Recent PhD to be speaking about hiring committees for TT positions at research-oriented schools, which are the most coveted. That’s not to say that teaching full-time positions at “middle of the road public universities” are not also coveted, of course. Report

Puzzled
Puzzled
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

Dan: Is there some reason to think that someone with two or three publications in PhilStudies, PhilImprint etc. but no teaching experience would NOT be able to step up and teach courses in her AOS competently (assuming that you’re looking for someone to teach courses in her AOSes)? This way of cutting down the application pool seems absurd to me.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Puzzled
3 years ago

Sorry you find it absurd. We who are doing the hiring do not.

That someone has taught in the relevant areas and been deemed excellent teachers by both faculty and students is a far better indicator of whether they will be good undergraduate teachers than whether they have some publications in the area. While knowledge is necessary for good teaching, it is not sufficient. Teaching is a skill-set in itself, beyond the requisite knowledge.

I am actually quite surprised at this question and the confidence with which you punctuate it. I would have thought the point regarding teaching rather obvious. Who among us has not studied with the research genius who isn’t also the worst teacher in the world? Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

Edit: “who *is* also the worst teacher in the world”Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Puzzled
3 years ago

See also the replies from Kate Norlock and Ben Rider, below. They also don’t find it “absurd” to privilege teaching experience, when hiring teachers.Report

Ben
Ben
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

Daniel, you often say that ” the overwhelming majority of schools are schools like mine. Large, no frills, middle of the road public universities.” In my experience — I was on the job market last year — this is simply not true. A majority of the TT track jobs (certainly in my field) were at research institutions. And research institutions were the only ones who gave me any attention.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Ben
3 years ago

In any given year that might be the case, but it’s simply a matter of math. The number of public state, regional, community and other such institutions is gigantic, which means that the majority of teaching of students, period, is going on in those places. Report

AtaLeiterrificProgram
AtaLeiterrificProgram

Not “nobody”. I have no idea how many, but as I said above, it’s done by a good number of people in my department, and is becoming increasingly standard. Yes, it absolutely means that whenever I am on the search committee, I spend the entire winter break doing nothing but reading writing samples. That, in my view, is what fairness and concern about the quality of candidates’ work requires. I wonder if one way to ‘sell’ this to others who do not already have this practice would be precisely by combining it with Velleman’s proposal– i.e. ‘look, yes, you’re going to lose three weeks every winter to this (or at least some of your colleagues will, and you will sometimes) but in addition to being a more just way of assessing candidates, you’ll have half or 1/4 of the refereeing to do the rest of the year, so…”Report

Patrick Stokes
Reply to  Current Grad Student
3 years ago

It may be true that ” if we look to quality of work alone, the product will speak for itself” – but if we’re working through 300+ applications for a single job, we’re not going to read your work to see if it stacks up until we’ve shortlisted you. That means that, for good or ill, quantity *does* play a (defeasible) role, along side unreliable proxies for quality such as place of publication.

Every time I’ve been on a job committee, the first thing I’ve done with each application is look for a monograph. It’s horrible, but that’s how it works.Report

Peter Macy
Peter Macy
3 years ago

Does anyone know why philosophy is so different from other academic disciplines? In psychology, there is similar pressure for graduate students to publish in journals–it’s seen as an important part of graduate training–but there isn’t the same sort of crisis. Is one difference that other disciplines have more high-quality journals, leading to more opportunities to publish? Report

Sara L. Uckelman
Reply to  Peter Macy
3 years ago

Peter, I suspect (though I don’t know whether this is true of psychology specifically) that in other fields, there is a lot more co-authoring, and hence papers that graduate students write are often the exact same ones as lecturers and professors are writing, because they are collaborating.Report

chronos
chronos
Reply to  Peter Macy
3 years ago

The American Psychological Association has around 117,000 members. The APA (phil) has like 10,000. The problem Velleman is addressing has merit. Report

Wesley Buckwalter
Wesley Buckwalter
3 years ago

Increase supply rather than decrease demand — more philosophy journals to support the growth of the field or stop turning up noses at anything but a handful of existing journals. But on the problems you list, there’s actually much more work on a wider array of topics than ever before, and trained assistant professors not having to spend their first 5 years figuring out how to author a paper are good things?Report

Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

I teach at a large, public university. Not an R1 — we have Masters but no doctoral programs or medical or law schools — and very run of the mill. The sort of place in which the majority of Americans receive their educations.

I have also chaired three Search committees, been on more than I can count, and been Dept. Head during a search.

Full disclosure: I also was a student of David Velleman way back in the 80’s when he was at Michigan. Took a course on British Empiricists with him.

He is absolutely right in his suggestion. The publishing arms race is ridiculous and includes undergraduates, now, as well as graduates. There already was far too much publishing in our discipline, which has yielded a watering down effect, with very little that is published being of much enduring worth, adding to the already strong impression that our discipline is dispensable. There is no reason anyone today — and I mean, anyone — should be publishing hundreds and hundreds of articles, and I suspect that it is not accidental that this development occurs at a time when we seem no longer to be producing philosophical minds of the caliber of earlier generations. (And no, we aren’t — not even close.) Time to go back to an earlier model. Publish less and only publish your best. And with the exception of the truly exceptional, focus a lot more on teaching.

For those worried about the effects of the proposal on those entering the job market, two points:

1. There already is a huge competition problem given how many people have been in the pipeline for years. No newly minted graduate student has ever had a chance getting any of the jobs in our department since I came on board in 1999, as a freshly minted PhD, as he/she has always been up against people who got their degrees years ago and were floating from temporary job to temporary job, publishing all the while. This situation is to the shame of our discipline and should entail a moratorium on accepting graduate students until the situation abates.

2. The significance of the publications of newly minted graduates is wildly overrated. Ditto for pedigree. Yes, if you want to get a job at Princeton, you’d better have the pedigree and the pubs. But how many jobs are there at places like that? The overwhelming majority of teaching in philosophy is done at places like mine, and here, we privilege teaching experience — amount, variety, and quality of — above publications and pedigree. Indeed, those from the most Leiteriffic schools fare very poorly when applying for jobs in our department, as they typically have less teaching experience, in fewer areas than those from non-Leiterrific places. This most recent search we just did is no exception.

So I say we give David Velleman’s idea a try. Our discipline is in the worst place its been in the entire time I’ve been in the discipline (since the mid 1980s). It can only help or at worst, do nothing.Report

Benjamin Rider
Benjamin Rider
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

I am also a professor at a regional public university, and I have participated on several search committees. We place much higher value on teaching experience and breadth, especially if the candidate has a teaching statement that demonstrates thoughtfulness, creativity, and devotion to teaching. A long list of publications, apparently merely for the sake of accumulating large numbers than out of any genuine passion, can often be more of a negative than a positive.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Benjamin Rider
3 years ago

Yep, this whole conversation is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. Namely, that the way in which job selection is done at places like ours — the majority of places — is the way it’s done at Leiterrific schools. And that just isn’t the case.

IReport

Kate Norlock
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

Agreed, I’m surprised at the certainty among the commenters that those of us on typical search committees are making decisions based on number of publications. That’s simply not the case at all. Like most search committee members in Anglophone philosophy, I’m looking for a teacher of undergraduates, and the very first thing I look at is evidence of interest in and/or thought about teaching excellently, followed by actual teaching experience. Applications with six articles that never mention students or teaching are more likely to fall on my “no” pile than are applications with one or two articles and a teaching dossier that reflects actually seeking out information on how to do the number one thing we need done. Report

Ben
Ben
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

I completely disagree with everything you say:

1. As I said earlier, it is a myth (in my experience) that most TT jobs are at teaching-centered schools. Your school is not the norm (for TT jobs — it is the norm for adjunct jobs).

2. More publishing is better — let a thousand flowers bloom. It is very difficult to tell which of ones work will have an impact on others anyway. If some of what you write is bad, so what? What’s the real loss? The good stuff will float to the top.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Ben
3 years ago

I completely disagree with everything you say:

= = =

That certainly is your prerogative. I stand by what I said. And I don’t have a small amount of experience, as indicated above.Report

dig
dig
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

Daniel, what you are ignoring is the unfair balance of power here. Pretty much everyone agrees that the discipline as a whole has gone astray and needs to cut on publishing. The thing is that the suggestion above displaces the burden of that revolution on the ones seeking to get either a job or a secure job, and especially those who were not fortunate (pun intended) enough to get into a top school. And that is unfair.

Regarding the factual disagreement you have with the rest of the commentators- you have much more burden of proof to bare than merely anecdotal evidence. Everything and everyone in this discipline has been signaling for years (even decades perhaps) both “publish or perish” and that teaching doesn’t count for much. What’s more, the very structure and raison d’etre of the university is research oriented and has these principles at its institutional core. In my university (not in America) you can’t get a job if you haven’t studied abroad and have at least one publication in a top journal. Even in cases where teaching is highly regarded, all things being equal teaching wise, prestige is still valued very highly, and the only way to compete with school prestige is with publication prestige.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  dig
3 years ago

I agree with this. This sort of format doesn’t communicate irony very well, but as I think the main cause of the publishing arms race is the professors, not graduate students, my agreement with the proposal was not meant entirely seriously.

The point regarding teaching was just to indicate that people should remember that at *a lot* of schools, it is teaching that is valued over research and figures very heavily into hiring decisions, as several other professors from regional and unranked schools have echoed here in this thread.Report

David Velleman
David Velleman
3 years ago

I agree that the discipline needs more publication venues. But how many philosophers will want to start a journal under present conditions? What’s more, the supply problem is not just in the supply of journal space; there is also a problem in the supply of willing referees. Unless the profession expands, or the demands on people’s time decrease (hah!), there is a limit on the volume of philosophy papers that can be refereed. As we approach that limit, there is not just one bottleneck but two.
Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  David Velleman
3 years ago

I agree that the discipline needs more publication venues.
= = =
Why? I would argue that far too much publication is going on already. Report

Wesley Buckwalter
Wesley Buckwalter
Reply to  David Velleman
3 years ago

It may not help that issue, no. My suggestion was made for the concerns motivating your current proposal: to promote risk taking and provide venues for assistants. But I am puzzled: how would reducing the time assistants have to publish prior to tenure review promote risk taking?Report

Matthew Smith
Matthew Smith
3 years ago

I share David Velleman’s alarm at the publication arms race. I disagree with his solution.

My objection, in addition to all the other objections, is that if something merits publication, then it ought to be published regardless of who the author is. The mere fact of some work’s author having completed a PhD is irrelevant to whether that work ought to be published. Suppose a grad student submits on March 1, receives her PhD on April 30, and the paper is accepted on May 1 (yeah yeah). What then? Does that one day matter? Suppose there was a delay in submitting the completed dissertation to the official office because, say, inclement weather shut down the university.

Furthermore, would this make a real difference? Now I imagine graduate students saving up a dozen papers that they flood journals with as soon as they receive their PhDs. That would be the prudent course of action, on JDV’s proposal.

It seems to me that the source of the problem is that there are just too many PhDs in philosophy and not enough institutional capacity to support that. There are not enough jobs, not enough journals, not enough post docs, not enough external funding, and so on. In the absence of an increase in institutional capacity, we must look to the only alternative: cutting down the number of PhDs.

The best solution, then, is a moratorium on the granting of PhDs. For, say, 5 years all PhD programs should stop accepting applicants. This moratorium should then be reinstated every, say, 15 years. MA programs would stay open.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Matthew Smith
3 years ago

Agree entirely with your last two paragraphs. Do you really think its feasible, though? Where are all the big shots going to get their slave labor? Report

nicholesuomi
Reply to  Matthew Smith
3 years ago

Any reason for a 5 year block-out across the board rather than

a) Just lowering the total number of entrants/graduates or
b) Staggering across schools?

This seems to be a very random condemnation of 25% of the population based on arbitrary birth year, and blocking out possible talent on a metric that in no way tracks anything worth tracking. Moreover, it adds incentives for applicants who might otherwise be shunned to worsen their undergraduate education to speed things along (no time to study the liberal arts — need to graduate in three years to have a shot) or go deeper into debt to kill an extra year in undergrad. (Fifth year of undergrad plus a two year MA would let someone stretch out three years to subvert the block.)

Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  Matthew Smith
3 years ago

I largely agree with Matthew Smith’s comment, though I do not support a moratorium on the granting on PhDs. Of course the best long-term solution is to eliminate economic injustice altogether — including the system of property rights that forces people to make slaves of themselves in order to live comfortably –, but as that cannot be achieved soon (though we should, and can, still strive for it), in the short term pushing for more jobs, journals, funding, etc. while reducing the number of students admitted to PhD programs per year are partial solutions. Total moratorium is not justified when these alternatives are available.

Another suggested solution is to expand non-academic career options, and make those options feasible for grad students. For example, teaching high school Philosophy is an option I suspect many grads will accept, so that should be made more feasible.

Finally, I propose a change to the pay structure of universities, such that there is no difference in pay between any academic worker who does roughly the same amount of work. Tenured professors do no more work than your average TA, grader, or adjunct — in fact, they probably do less, at least less of the gruntwork that we don’t like (e.g. grading undergrad exams) — yet they get paid considerably more and treated with more respect. Not only is this unjustified and wrong in principle, it also results in fewer jobs being available. Therefore I propose a pay cut for tenured profs and pay rise for all other academic workers who are currently underpaid (i.e. most of us), and a use of the funds that this frees up for increasing the number of jobs and journals in Philosophy.

Now of course hardly any tenured prof will support this, because of their vested interest. Instead at least one of them (as we have seen) supports discriminating against grad students as a solution to a problem we are not responsible for. That’s… interesting, to say the least.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Sikander
3 years ago

“Finally, I propose a change to the pay structure of universities, such that there is no difference in pay between any academic worker who does roughly the same amount of work.”

Who are you proposing this *to*?

– to any individual university? But quite apart from the legal challenges they’d face if they drastically slashed salaries of existing faculty, they’d be at a huge recruitment disadvantage if they paid so much less than every other institution.

– to universities collectively? But that would probably be illegal anticompetitive behavior (they’d be forming a cartel to drive wages down) and in any case there’d be big opportunities for any university that decided not to play along and so had its pick of staff.

– to individual faculty members? But that’s really just an invitation to them to voluntarily give away most of their salary. Even if they were so minded, what would make them decide that graduate students’ salaries in particular was the best use of their charitable donations?

– to Congress, to enforce by law? But now we’re back to your “long-term solution… to eliminate economic injustice”. Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  David Wallace
3 years ago

“Who are you proposing this *to*?”

Everyone willing to listen. I’m making a statement of principle. The issue of implementation is distinct. I agree this is not easy to implement, but it is nevertheless right. Interesting that the obstructionist strategy of immediately shifting conversation from ethics to implementation (I’ve seen this strategy used often, even outside the context of this issue; I call it the Implementation Obstruction) and the question of who the proposal is being made to were not used/raised by you in response to any other suggestion. It’s only the suggestions that people don’t like that are immediately met with the Implementation Obstruction and irrelevant questions of detail.

Nobody has so far been able to produce any strong consideration against the ethical rightness of my proposal. The presumption is in favour of equality, which means the initial burden of proof is on those against equality. In this case that’s those defending unequal pay for equal work (or less pay for those who do more work and more difficult work), so the initial burden of proof is on them. This burden of proof has not been carried by anyone in my experience. People don’t even try because they take for granted that unequal pay is fine and act like I’m the oddball for being against it.

Also, slightly off-topic, but the U.S. is not the only place that exists (I say this because you mentioned Congress, an American institution, though nothing I said limited my suggestions to the U.S.).

“Even if they were so minded, what would make them decide that graduate students’ salaries in particular was the best use of their charitable donations?”

This is not a charitable donation. This is a complete (and probably deliberate) misrepresentation of what I’m proposing. It also reveals a conservative way of thinking IMO. I’m saying it is *unjust* for there to be a difference of pay, not that some people happen to be poor and those who aren’t ought to give charity to them out of generosity.Report

InterdisciplinaryGradStudent
InterdisciplinaryGradStudent
Reply to  Sikander
3 years ago

Sikander, with all due respect, David Wallace is arguing that if this were implemented top-down, it would be illegal (because it would be anti-competitive), and if were implemented bottom-up, it would be unethical (because professors could do more good by voluntarily donating “unfair” salary to other, more deserving causes).

While I am very sensitive to rhetorical shifts in the burden of proof, you are missing the force of his point if you suggest that these are simply “implementation.” These are the reasons why Rawls allowed some knowledge of the economic system even behind the veil of ignorance. What you are suggesting implies dramatically different institutions than we have now (this is not to say that what you are saying is ethically wrong, only that it is inconsistent with existing institutions).

With respect to applying these arguments outside the U.S., David Wallace’s points would be much stronger in Europe, where anti-competitive laws are more strictly enforced, compared the the U.S. context.Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  InterdisciplinaryGradStudent
3 years ago

Why would it be illegal? How is it any more ‘anti-competitive’ than having minimum wage laws and other labour laws? Even if it would be illegal that doesn’t mean the law is right. The law can be unethical, and a law that makes it illegal for there to be egalitarian pay structure is an unethical one that should be changed (this doesn’t mean I concede that it is in fact illegal in the U.S.A.).

“While I am very sensitive to rhetorical shifts in the burden of proof…”

I wasn’t doing any ‘rhetorical shifts’. I was making a point about the burden of proof being on those who oppose equality, one that I assume most people agree with since it is highly intuitive. It’s a substantive and relevant point, and there’s no ‘shifting’ going on. It is like if we were discussing the gender pay gap, and someone made the obvious point that gender pay gaps are unethical. They can bring up the fact that there is a presumption of equality and the pay gap violates it, which places the initial burden of proof on those defending the gender pay gap.

What I am proposing may be inconsistent with the existing law in the U.S. and elsewhere, and of course is inconsistent with the existing status quo. But that’s obvious. I’m calling for a change in the system, which presumes the system is not already what I am proposing it to be. Even what Velleman is proposing in this article is calling for a change. What is the point of telling me the thing I’m calling for does not already exist, other than obstruction? It is in fact a great example of the Implementation Obstruction.Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  InterdisciplinaryGradStudent
3 years ago

“… if were implemented bottom-up, it would be unethical (because professors could do more good by voluntarily donating “unfair” salary to other, more deserving causes).”

I already addressed this point, which is just being repeated. It is not a donation nor a charitable contribution, and should not be framed as such. If the point is that professors could also give their unjustly higher salary to other unjustly underpaid people, then that at most means it is not clearly ethically better to give it to one rather than another. But that doesn’t mean it is *unethical* to give it to one rather than another. The only way it can be unethical to give it to a TA/lecturer/etc. is if one is some sort of act utilitarian who claims it is unethical to give money to anything other than the most needy, which is the kind of view Peter Singer has (possibly more extreme) and I disagree with. But from this it also follows that buying yourself a chocolate or a shirt more than you need or flying first-class or whatever are unethical. I’m pretty sure neither you not David Wallace hold this, so why do you hold that it is unethical to give to a TA/etc.?Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  InterdisciplinaryGradStudent
3 years ago

“The only way it can be unethical…”

I meant:

“The only way it can be considered to be unethical…”Report

InterdisciplinaryGradStudent
InterdisciplinaryGradStudent
Reply to  InterdisciplinaryGradStudent
3 years ago

Sikander,
“What I am proposing may be inconsistent with the existing law in the U.S. and elsewhere, and of course is inconsistent with the existing status quo. But that’s obvious. I’m calling for a change in the system, which presumes the system is not already what I am proposing it to be. Even what Velleman is proposing in this article is calling for a change. What is the point of telling me the thing I’m calling for does not already exist, other than obstruction? It is in fact a great example of the Implementation Obstruction.”

The difference is that you are proposing changes to the overall economic system, while Velleman is proposing changes specific to the philosophy profession. Even if you are correct that there is an ethical duty to change the overall economic system, it does not follow that philosophy can or should change within the existing system. In the presence of strong individual and institutional incentives, the scope of the solution must fit the scope of the problem.Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  InterdisciplinaryGradStudent
3 years ago

I can’t reply to your most recent reply to me directly, so I’ll reply to your first reply to me.

I am not merely proposing a change to the overall economic system, but a change to academia, and I could even narrow my suggestion to academic philosophy without taking away from the point of my original comment. I proposed various levels of change: broad structural change to overall economic system, relatively narrow structural change to academia, and changes specific to academic philosophy. The scope doesn’t matter as long as it’s a solution to the problem. As long as it’s true that the changes I propose will in fact fix the problem being discussed, whether it’s specific to academic philosophy or not is irrelevant.

Again, I don’t see the point of your pointing these things out other than obstruction. It’s true that it’s more easy to ban grad students from publishing than equalize pay in academia or in academic philosophy, but it is still the case that the latter would contribute to solving this problem, so I have every right to suggest it here just as others have been suggesting their solutions.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Sikander
3 years ago

InterdisciplinaryGradStudent is dead right about the point I’m making. I might add that (i) I make implementation-based objections to proposals on Daily Nous all the time, so I don’t think the evidence supports your speculation about my motives; (ii) the strategy of seeking the ideal way the world should be without proper consideration of implementation has led to a lot of tragedy across the ages.

On the question of ethics: no, I can’t see any fairness-based reason why full professors should be paid more than graduate TAs; nor can I see any fairness-based reason why full professors should be paid more than fast-food workers or office cleaners; indeed, I can’t see any fairness-based reason why anyone should be paid more than anyone else anywhere in the economy. Salaries in a market economy are not set on grounds of fairness but on grounds of supply and demand, and the supply/demand situation for graduate students is just wildly different than for full professors. The case that this is ethical isn’t going to be based on local fairness but on a general argument that market-based economies are a better way of generating peace and prosperity than the alternative; it’s perfectly possible to reject that, but that debate seems pretty irrelevant to the concrete questions of this thread. And while your post nominally distinguishes utopian “restructure-the-economy” solutions from more near-term possibilities, your proposed change to universities’ pay-structure is really just a special case of the utopian solution, which isn’t implementable in isolation.Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  David Wallace
3 years ago

Wallace:

Okay, so now you’re defending the general system that allows for these ‘local unfairnesses’. I agree that it is unfair that a full professor be paid more than a fast-food worker. But since we’re discussing reforms in academia, we can propose a more egalitarian pay structure without having to bring about more egalitarianism in the world at large. It’s whataboutery to bring up the situation of the economy as a whole when someone proposes reform within academia (to be fair, you were not doing that, but I’m just making a general remark).

While I disagree with your general position on political economy, I appreciate your attempting to justify such a system, instead of wrongly placing the burden of proof on me (which is what people have tended to do when I’ve proposed this).

“… your proposed change to universities’ pay-structure is really just a special case of the utopian solution, which isn’t implementable in isolation.”

It may be possible to implement by simply changing the law, though obviously there will be a lot of political resistance to it. It’s not relevantly different from a minimum wage law. It’s more utopian than the other three solutions I proposed in my original comment, I agree, but I don’t see why that’s a problem. I’m fine with being utopian.Report

David Velleman
David Velleman
3 years ago

I agree with Matthew that there is also an over-supply of PhDs. But i have no idea how to fix that problem given the economics of higher education in the US. PhD students are an eassential (an inexpensive) source of teaching. Replacing them is bound to raise the already excessive cost of higher education. I’m not saying that I like the arrangement ; I’m just saying that I don’t know how to change it. Moratoria on admissions are not a possibility.
As for the principle of publishing the best work irrespective of its author’s position, my proposal would not prevent any of the “best work” from being published. Ours is not a discipline that advances so quickly that a delay of a few years in publishing a paper will detract from its contribution. As things are going now, the delay to publication will be imposed on everyone anyway, as people have to submit a paper to more and more journals in order to get an acceptance. (My FB feed is full of laments from friends about this problem, and about the deteriorating quality of refereeing, which is also a result of the publication arms race.)

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Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  David Velleman
3 years ago

PhD students are an essential (an inexpensive) source of teaching.
= = =

Really? We don’t have any. I’ve taught 200 undergraduates in a semester. Our standard load is 4/4, with 3./3 reserved for those who are research active.

And there are a lot more schools like mine than yours.Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  David Velleman
3 years ago

“PhD students are an eassential (an inexpensive) source of teaching. Replacing them is bound to raise the already excessive cost of higher education.”

Interesting that the possibility of a pay cut for the highly paid profs and administrators is not even being considered here. PhD students are ‘inexpensive’ because they are underpaid: if this is seen as a virtue, or if the potential benefits of this are seen are worthy of explicit consideration in this discussion, then it should be noted that this virtue/benefit can be attained by any case of underpayment. Professors can also become an essential and inexpensive source of teaching for undergrads. People occupying admin positions can also become an essential and inexpensive source of administration for undergrads. Only the underpayment of TAs is being considered because we are not held in high enough regard that our rights rather than the utility of the university is treated as a priority.Report

Jack Woods
3 years ago

There are papers that don’t benefit from a few years of polish; some issues get stale, some points will be made by others (for good and bad reasons), etc. Some issues benefit from rapid-fire back and forth in small essays. yadda yadda.

Moreover, some papers/books seems to me to be actively harmed by being sat on for a long time and overthought (I’m sure folks can fill in their favorites here.) More time = more engagement with sprawling and mostly useless bits of the literature = writing of footnotes. yadda yadda.

None of these points are decisive, of course, but they’re important. Report

Grad Student #3682
Grad Student #3682
Reply to  Jack Woods
3 years ago

This is a good issue to highlight. I wonder whether, under Velleman’s proposal, the economy for rapid-fire publications would move to conferences or personal websites. I’m not sure whether this would be good for conferences but I’d be happy to see some professional attention shift to personal websites or other venues. This might even include *more* graduate students since they could be just as involved in these online dialogues. Graduate Student #3682 could offer a short response to Professor P’s article and Professor P could publish on her website a response a month later where everyone could read it.

Who knows, Velleman’s proposal might even improve philosophers’ online demeanor (we can dream!).Report

MC
MC
3 years ago

I worry that this policy will reinforce the content bias that already exists in philosophy. Philosophy is currently heavily dominated by cisgender white males. Who will publish new perspectives in feminist philosophy, critical race theory, transgender theory, critical disability theory, etc.? Change in philosophy cannot wait until the next cohort graduates, nor can we simply accept the received wisdom flowing out of pedigree institutions. As Sandra Harding says, strong objectivity comes from outside and below – not from the middle. I appreciate the author’s suggestion, but we also need to take into account the broader context. Report

Michel X.
Michel X.
3 years ago

It seems to me we’re missing something here: how confident can we be that the increased volume of journal submissions is due largely/significantly/mostly/primarily/pickyouradjective to graduate student submissions in the first place? (And a related question: how much of the referee burden is being borne by graduate students?)

Above, David Velleman noted that PI’s submissions increased by 25% from 2015-6, and that this increase roughly correlates with increased publication support for graduate students at highly-ranked departments. Although that seems intuitively true, how robust is that correlation? How much of the increase is attributable to graduate students vs. adjuncts/postdocs/TT faculty, and how much is attributable to high- vs. low-ranking graduate students? How does the correlation fare over time? And, out of curiosity, how much of the increase in journal submissions over the last decade is attributable to *tenured* faculty?

I’m not convinced that this is a good solution to the problem. But I’d like to first be convinced that the problem is as it’s being described.Report

Cody Gilmore
Cody Gilmore
3 years ago

Many parts of philosophy are fast moving, and grad students are often at risk of being scooped. Report

Philodemus
Philodemus
Reply to  Cody Gilmore
3 years ago

I think this comment, and Jack Woods’s comment above, are good rebuttals to Prof. Velleman’s claim that if a paper is publishable, it will still be publishable a few years later. I myself was scooped in grad school. I read a paper by a pretty prominent philosopher arguing against a pretty popular position in the philosophy of language. The paper was about 3 or 4 years old. I was readin lots of stuff on the topic for my dissertation and a response paper occurred to me. Being busy, I didn’t begin to draft my response for a few weeks, only to discover that another philosopher (not so prominent then, but much more prominent nowadays) had published his own response, making fundamentally the same sort of point that I was intended to make. Of course, he spun the point in a slightly different way, and he had some stuff to say that I didn’t intend to say, and I had some stuff to say that he didn’t say…but the fact of the matter was that I was scooped. For a while I tried to salvage my paper, but eventually just dropped it. Now, I realize that these sorts of response papers are typically not brilliant or groundbreaking, but they’re one way of making philosophical progress, and one way for grad students to show that they can contribute to the profession. I cut my teeth in grad school learning how to publish such response papers, and without a few of those publications, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have a job now (full-time NTT position at an R1 school, coming out of a modestly ranked PhD program). Report

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
3 years ago

The bloat in journal publications is due to deep problems in academic philosophy. One of which is of course the lack of jobs as Smith notes. Sadly we don’t have much control over that though. But the biggest factor that we have any control over is the obsession with research to the detriment of everything else. Even teaching focused schools often disproportionately weigh the candidate’s perceived potential for research in hiring decisions and don’t weigh other factors. I’ve seen this even from my interviews. For instance, in one on campus interview for a job I had at a commuter school I was asked not one single question about teaching in over two hours of formal questioning. Yes they did have a teaching demo, but I couldn’t help but notice half the hiring committee didn’t show up and one of the one’s who did had his nose buried in his phone. The only time I did get many teaching focused questions in an interview for a full time permanent position was when I interviewed for the community college job I currently have. Every other single interview committee I’ve had has been more interested in my research.
And of course most people equate research potential with going to a Leiterrific school. The only way that people who don’t go to a Leiter top 20 school can prove that they have any such research potential is to publish like crazy. As the other commentators note, Velleman’s suggestion would in effect mean that anyone who didn’t go to a prestigious program cannot compete for most jobs.
Moreover, a lot of the bloat, especially at the most prestigious journals, is due I would wager as much to the insane publication requirements for tenure at R1 schools (and schools that fancy themselves such), R2s, and even many SLACs, as it is to grad students trying to get a leg up. If you need to publish a minimum of 5 papers in top journals in five years, and those top journals have at least 90% rejection rates and months long turn around times, you are going to get as many papers as possible out there to improve your odds. I have friends at R1s who have over a dozen papers under review because they think that’s the only way to have even a fighting chance at getting the publication record they need to get tenure.
Velleman’s suggestion in effect treats the symptoms rather than the disease (and likely won’t do a good job of treating the symptoms). A better way to address this would be to have more balance in the factors hiring and tenure committees consider; at the very least teaching should play a much bigger role than it usually does. As a bonus people with full time jobs in philosophy might actually start worrying about doing a good job serving the people who pay our salaries (that is students) rather than obsessing about nothing more than reaching some arbitrary milestones when it comes to publications.

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Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Sam Duncan
3 years ago

This is an excellent comment. Really excellent.Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
Reply to  Sam Duncan
3 years ago

During my time in graduate school at a “top” program, I had zero oversight and no training when teaching my classes. It was really quite astounding.

As long as tenure is the brass ring of the philosophy world, it will be nothing but a status game, and research is seen as high-status and teaching as low-status (you don’t go on a research sabbatical to concentrate on teaching, after all). Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Urstoff
3 years ago

Experience and excellence in teaching count quite a lot when applying for jobs at non-Leiteriffic schools, which are the overwhelming majority. All of our last hires were of people from such places, over their Leiterrific competitors, and what made the difference was their teaching.Report

Michael Kremer
Michael Kremer
3 years ago

I agree that there is a problem with too much publication by (and publication pressure on) graduate students. But was there ever a “convention in philosophy of waiting to publish until after the Ph.D.”? I published two papers in graduate school, and I received my PhD in 1986. Others among my fellow grad students also published prior to graduation and one had published in Phil Studies as an undergrad. I also recall a job candidate in the 90s with close to ten publications, straight out of grad school, though that was exceptional.

Publishing in grad school can be a good thing if done in moderation. It’s a learning experience, as they say, and it accustoms one to something one will have to do more of later on.

I do not think an outright ban is the solution, but we do need a correction in the direction of our collective culture. I encourage students to think of reasons for publishing other than the purely prudential.Report

Jonathan Kramnick
Jonathan Kramnick
3 years ago

I wrote this comment on friend’s facebook page and was encouraged to make it public.

This is an absurd proposal. I write from the perspective of another discipline. English experienced the trend toward graduate student publication more than a decade ago, and it has produced none of the dire outcomes Velleman predicts, not a one. Yes, journal editors have more work on their hands. I know, I edited a premier journal in my field for three years. But it has not led to conformity, path dependence, or insularity. If anything, it’s led to an opposite push to innovate and differentiate yourself by novelty. Nor has the bar for tenure been raised proportionately. It turns out that academics are reasonably adept at adjusting to new realities on the fly. There is a kind of precious, disciplinary self-adoration in the view taken by Velleman. But philosophy is really a discipline like every other. It will be just fine.Report

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
3 years ago

I sympathize with David Velleman’s attempt to solve a real problem, and I also remember FM radio, but is a simpler solution for journals just to raise the percentage of desk rejections, i.e. rejections where a paper isn’t sent to referees? Imagine desk rejections going to, say, 75% and being based on things like a paper’s being badly written, on too small a topic, too hard to follow, etc. These rejections could be quick — so not much time lost by authors — and wouldn’t involve comments — a journal isn’t a free comments-on-your-paper service. This would relieve some of the pressure on referees, and though it would be more work for editors, I don’t think it would be a lot more. Don’t they read a submission before sending it to referees? (I did when I was editing a journal.) And it could improve the quality of the journal. When a paper on topic X is sent to referees, it’s typically to people who work on topic X and are likely to think the next tiny move , or next reply to a reply to an objection, is vitally important. So why not have editors, who take a broader view, make more decisions themselves? If David thinks his journal is sounding too much like AM radio, why not do more song-selection himself?Report

David Velleman
David Velleman
Reply to  Tom Hurka
3 years ago

Thanks, Tom Hurka. Our desk rejection rate is already close to 85%. And reading the submissions is an overwhelming task. It is unavoidable that as submissions increase, the amount and quality of attention we can give to each one decreases. Report

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
Reply to  David Velleman
3 years ago

Kudos to Phil Imprint if it’s doing that, David, but I wonder how many other journals are? Sending a paper off to referees can be one way an editor avoids the hard work — sometimes harder than reading the submission — of making a decision.Report

Aaron Garrett
Reply to  David Velleman
3 years ago

Are the authors known to the editors who do the desk rejects? Or is it triple-anonymous?Report

Philip Kremer
Philip Kremer
Reply to  Tom Hurka
3 years ago

A similar suggestion would be for journals to make it clear both to submitters and referees that, if a referee advises rejection within X days (where X = 7 or so), then there is no expectation of any commentary from the referee. Maybe I’m unusual in that I always feel the need to explain it when I advise a rejection, and maybe a simple reject-without -commentary is not unusual. But if referees feel permitted, indeed encouraged, to make quick commentary-free rejections, it might alleviate some of the burdens on editors.Report

Dale Miller
3 years ago

A comparatively modest alternative would be to require graduate student submissions to be accompanied by a letter from a faculty member in their department certifying that they have read the paper and consider it to be of publishable quality. This might reduce the total number of graduate student submissions and help to ensure that those which are sent out are on average more polished, although I wouldn’t expect either effect to be dramatic. Report

Scott Forschler
Scott Forschler
3 years ago

Even as a non-tenured philosopher myself, I don’t like this very much because I’d rather that at least the best journals be open to pure quality rather than using such extraneous selection factors. But I have another thought.

I am not very familiar with law reviews, but I remember reading somewhere that some of these have joint submission pools–you don’t submit to an individual review, but to a pool. Then a joint committee decides which law review the submission is most appropriate for, or the editors decide after getting comments from the joint reviewers, or something like that.

Regardless of whether this is an accurate description of how they work–and feel free to correct me on this if it is not–it sounds like a useful idea. It certainly could reduce the workload: if, say, 10 journals have a joint submission pool, the initial reviewers could give each incoming article *twice* the attention they would normally give it (i.e., giving constructive feedback and advice, having multiple reviewers read it, etc.) and still work 1/5 as much as they did before (well, assuming that the article could otherwise have been sent to all 10 journals one after another–but even if that is a high estimate there’s still some time savings).

Of course, this means that to some extent a journal editor gives up control to an external group. But they already do so, to a group of reviewers associated with the journal; the chief editor certainly doesn’t read many initial submissions. And the journal editor/board could certainly have a say in how the joint committee is run.

It seems to me that this could solve several problems at once. It reduces reviewer’s workload, but allows each reviewer to be more productive; if authors can get more feedback, and/or more reviewers to sympathetically review the work, they can be less frustrated with having to do multiple submissions, or getting rejections from a single reviewer who clearly has a bias and/or simply didn’t have time to read the work carefully, which sometimes even results in the reviewer submitting a mendacious report which flagrantly misrepresents the content of the submission (this has happened to me many times, sadly). Sometimes they could then get the message quicker that “X doesn’t publish that kind of stuff, but Y does.” Or “look, four of us from different perspectives have looked at this, and we agree you’re making a fundamental mistake, Z,” so the author learns that this is very likely truly an error and needs correction or abandonment instead of just hoping that the next journal reviewer “gets it.”

It might improve the quality of submissions if everyone can focus better on a smaller range of materials, trying to make each one better rather than just having to reject as many as possible on inadequate reasons. This is important because, frankly, my frustration at the long wait times and difficulty at getting published is only a little less than my surprise at seeing the kind of garbage that sometimes gets through (and which top journals which I shall not name often refuse to print rebuttals to, even when multiple reviewers have agreed the original article was seriously flawed in ways the rebuttal identifies (yes, this happened to me too!)) If articles get rejected because only one biased person looked at them, I also fear that some get published because one or two reviewers saw something that could have gotten nipped in the bud with a couple more critical eyes.Report

JF
JF
Reply to  Scott Forschler
3 years ago

This is a terrific idea that merits a post of its own.Report

Scott Forschler
Scott Forschler
Reply to  JF
3 years ago

I would be happy to do so if the DN editors agree.Report

GF-A
3 years ago

A couple of more historical remarks, since the OP includes claims about historical trajectories:

1. People used to finish their dissertations much more quickly: 3 years was not unusual, unlike the 7 or so today. So if we counted the number of publications not by “PhD in hand or not?” but rather “Years from initial admission to a grad program,” the increase in journal submissions might not seem as big: what people were previously doing in their first 3 years out of grad school, they are currently doing in their last three years of grad school. But time to completion of PhD might only make a tiny difference in accounting for the ‘publication emergency’; we would have to look more closely at the data.

2. Many of the philosophers we today think of as bringing about major changes to the field often started out doing what might be meant by AM radio articles (if the meaning of ‘This article is AM radio’ includes that the article is boring to most philosophers/ too esoteric for most philosophers). Almost all of Quine’s early publications were in mathematical logic, and they were often (though not always) quite niche, and would not have seemed interesting to people outside of the small circle of logicians. (And the early papers that we today think of as more interesting often look more interesting to us with the advantage of hindsight, e.g. “Truth by Convention.”) Many big-name philosophers established their philosophical abilities within some smaller, niche area, and then parlay the reputation gained into something more sprawling (e.g. “Word and Object”). So there is a tradition of moving from AM to FM.Report

Barry Lam
3 years ago

Here’s a constructive suggestion, wherever the chips will fall about the bottleneck problems in professional journals, let’s give people in the field alternative forms of career advancement to peer-reviewed academic publications, not only formally, but culturally. We stop using it as the predominant way to evaluate worth of a career or time. How worthwhile are 90% of papers published out there really? for the benefit of knowledge? For the advancement of philosophy in whatever tradition you’re in? Are they so worthwhile that we set up the infrastructure of our entire field around it? I’ve noticed something weird about mid-career people I’m talking to in the production of Hi-Phi Nation. They make it through the process, and now they’re ready to do stuff completely outside the publication wheelhouse, stuff they care about, could never have done pretenure, gives them more fulfillment, and makes a larger impact outside of their professional niche, whether it’s public work or just coding software or working with Amnesty International. Why can’t junior people or grad students do this? We all know the answer to that, and it’s a real shame. Its not something APA statements alone are going to fix, it starts with a culture change. For the gatekeepers who are sympathetic, it’s time to show some leadership.Report

Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

While I agree with Velleman’s proposal, as I indicated, it doesn’t nearly go far enough. It also seems to me imperative that we reduce the number of graduate admissions and thus the number of PhD.s in the pipeline. Velleman’s reply as to why that is impractical only makes me think it is more imperative, not less.

Why? Because the dirty secret here is that it isn’t just graduate students who are publishing too much, it’s tenured professors and even the top tenured professors. The volume of publishing being done completely misunderstands the nature of humanities and of their value to society as a whole. The idea that we need more publications from our current stock of Leiteriffic professors than we did from John Stuart Mill or more recently, W.D. Ross or Gilbert Ryle is just ridiculous; it doesn’t pass the laugh test.

The argument that we can’t put a moratorium on Ph.D.’s because we need graduate students to carry teaching loads so Leiterrific professors can publish hundreds of articles is just bogus. And everyone is catching on to this. The current model, given the current situation in the university more generally, simply will not permit it. Report

Worried grad
Worried grad
3 years ago

I don’t think Velleman or those supporting him appreciate just how bad the situation is for job prospects outside of the very top schools. The problem isn’t that people can’t get jobs; it’s that there’s no path in sight for how to get a job other than publishing and networking, and of those, only in publishing is the playing field even remotely even.

To be sure, it would be better if grad students didn’t focus on either publishing or networking and spent their time on developing serious depth of knowledge and worked-out and well-informed positions relative to the literature. That would be a better world. But the reality for the last decade has been that if you’re not at NYU, Michigan, etc., the *sole* thing that you can do to try and improve your chances (and it’s not failproof by any means!) is to spend time on trying to get something published on the small chance that it will get you in the door.

Believe me: graduate students at non-top 10 schools are under no illusions that publications are sufficient for you a job. Most of us have very good evidence that they aren’t. Over the last few years, however, they do seem to be necessary, or close to it. It’s hard to imagine anyone at a 20+ PhD program authoring this post. Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Worried grad
3 years ago

Read my comments in this thread. What you’ve said is simply not true. None of the people we’ve hired recently fit the profile you describe. They’ve all been hired on the basis of teaching experience. You are much better off going out and getting adjunct positions to build up a real teaching portfolio — i.e. not TA positions — than you are trying to publish your way into a job. Of course, if you only want to teach in Leiterrific schools, you are correct, but I would strongly suggest you think about why that’s what you want. Report

Jack
Jack
3 years ago

David Velleman claims that once graduate students at top departments are pushed to publish, publishing will no longer afford students at lower ranked departments an opportunity to distinguish themselves on the job market. This is preposterous. It assumes that students at top departments are categorically superior to those at lower ranked ones, and this is false. Some students at average departments are capable of doing better research than many students at top departments and thus will get better and more publications provided journals review grad student manuscripts.

Velleman also claims grad students are a necessity. Nonsense. Research faculty just need to teach more. It’s not as though they can’t be replaced with hungrier scholars if they refuse. I doubt this will increase costs in philosophy since relatively few philosophers pay their own salary from grants.Report

Thomas Mulligan
3 years ago

This strikes me as a bad idea for the following reason: The predoctoral publication record is the strongest signal for merit available to us (where “merit” is understood as the quantity and quality of research production). (See, e.g., Burris’s “Academic Caste System”.)

The profession seems beset by claims of anti-meritocratic behavior (sexism, nepotism, overreliance on pedigree). Why make the situation even worse?Report

Current Grad Student
Current Grad Student
Reply to  Thomas Mulligan
3 years ago

Anecdotal impressions that the discipline “seems to be beset” by these things is a path down the wrong road, for lots of reasons. For one, of the entire system of actors and actions in the discipline, sometimes these things (sexism, nepotism, etc.) happen. Hardly justifies the alarmist claim that the entire discipline is beset by them. Same goes for the so-called overreliance on pedigree. Maybe individuals sometimes overrate work based on where the author went to school. But also, maybe students at Michigan and NYU really are better than students at for example Iowa or Washington State, in no small part because they can learn from, and interact with, the best philosophers on a daily basis. (And because some of the best philosophers served on the admissions team that picked them up, based on their written work/assessments made by other faculty).

The crucial point is this one: The proposal is aimed at making the discipline as a whole better off, not to try to ensure students from lower-ranked schools have just as good a shot at tenure as others. That’s not the purpose of philosophy, and to insist it is is to lose sight of why we do philosophy. It may well be that the responsible thing to do, in aggregate, entails some sacrifices. Some call this “punching down.” Even if that’s an apt characterization (and it’s probably not), it doesn’t make it the incorrect way to proceed.Report

Thomas Mulligan
Reply to  Current Grad Student
3 years ago

I believe you are right that “students at Michigan and NYU really are better than students at for example Iowa or Washington State” (the mean students at these institutions, let’s say).

And I certainly agree that the profession ought not “try to ensure students from lower-ranked schools have just as good a shot at tenure as others”. The profession should focus on producing high-quality philosophy.

This is precisely my point. If the profession behaves meritocratically, as I think it should, then if there is a correlation between pedigree and merit, it will be reflected in hiring. Indeed, this would be true if pedigree played NO role in the hiring process (pedigree would still positively impact the merit signal, whatever it be). Rational people rely on the best proxies that are available to them. (I discuss some of these issues in my recent paper, “Uncertainty in Hiring Does Not Justify Affirmative Action”.)

When it comes to philosophical hiring, the best proxy is the predoctoral publication record. By following this proposal, we would abandon that important signal. Therefore, following this proposal would reduce the quantity and quality of philosophical research. (That said, it could be beneficial from the point-of-view of teaching or service; I do not know.)Report

Clayton
3 years ago

I share many of the concerns already raised about this proposal and thought I’d add one more: departments in the UK are under pressure to only appoint people that we’ll know will be REFable (i.e., able to submit a suitable number of publications for the REF). If departments in the UK can only appoint candidates who have publications (because only such candidates will be acceptable to the administration), it would be a shame if these departments could only appoint candidates who have been out of graduate school for a year or two.

For what it’s worth, a friend on facebook suggested a very different response to this problem, which was to ban (or restrict) submissions from people in permanent positions (positions with tenure or the nearest thing in countries that don’t have tenure). (I’m not mentioning her name because I haven’t asked her permission to discuss the proposal with her name attached.) We could free up space in the journals for those who need the publications to advance towards a stable and permanent position. We could try to work out an alternative venue for tenured or permanently employed academics to make their work available.

I do think that there are good reasons not to push people into publishing early, but if we had to choose which group would lose space in the journal, I can see some reason to think that we should ask the established philosophers amongst us to find alternative venues to make their work available. Report

deverettf
deverettf
3 years ago

Apologies if this has already been suggested, but couldn’t the issue Velleman raises also be solved in part by reforming the editorial process? A quick fix: have more editors in charge of desk-rejects so that no ONE editor has to cull through all the articles. Have 3 or 4 (or more!) people in charge of desk-rejecting and sending things to reviewers.

Report

David Velleman
David Velleman
3 years ago

I do appreciate the difficulties faced by job candidates (and grad-school applicants) from less prestigious schools. My point is that those difficulties are about to get much, much worse. Those candidates would be much better off in a world where recruitment committees had to read and judge writing samples for themselves rather than outsourcing that judgment to journal editors and referees. Once the majority of applicants have publication, theirs won’t win them attention from recruitment committees as they once did. They’ll be back at square one — except that they’ll be competing, not just with other job candidates, but with everyone who is trying to publish, from graduate students to full professors.
I know that I am sounding harsh. Believe me, I take no pleasure in saying these things. I hate this situation more than I can say. But it is the situation that is harsh, and I’m just trying to figure out how to ameliorate it.. Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Reply to  David Velleman
3 years ago

Hi David,
I collected some data this past spring on a random sample of graduates who now have permanent positions. This is a small sample (randomly selected 100 from a particular set of subfields, but only have publication information on 87 of these 100), but it doesn’t look to me like there is a clear upswing in publications since the year 2000, by a few different measures. (Measures include publications at graduation, publications per year post graduation, and publications at first permanent placement.) Furthermore, it does look to me as though publications fluctuate year to year and that in this particular group the publication numbers were lower in 2014, which means they look like they are going up in 2015 if you just focus on those two years. Do you think it is possible that the recent surge is not part of a longer term pattern, but is a local fluctuation? How many years of data are you working with? Here is the chart–you can hover over it to see the average number of publications per year for each data line: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/14uyQW3nhUT86gg2zFeoK4pOS-hJ-ZhFLsYvpBEaH4WQ/pubchart?oid=545455044&format=interactive . Note that I counted publications using the graduates c.v. as follows: I counted peer reviewed journal articles, chapters, and publications in other disciplines but NOT book reviews, commentaries, proceedings, squibs, edited volumes, encyclopedia articles, or introductions. Co-authored publications are counted as equal to solo-authored publications, and books are counted as three publications. Report

ejrd
ejrd
Reply to  Carolyn Dicey Jennings
3 years ago

I’m glad that some data has been brought into what is clearly an empirical issue! Intuitions about publishing, its problems, and its causes simply will not do, especially when “solutions” as drastic as Velleman’s are being proposed.

Thank you Carolyn Dicey Jennings for making clearer what the landscape actually looks like!Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Reply to  ejrd
3 years ago

Here is something else from this sample that is relevant to some of the points made in this thread: only 18 graduates of the 87 were from programs that were not rated by the PGR in 2014 (about 21%), but that group outperformed those from PGR rated programs in terms of number of publications. The average number of publications for grads from PGR-rated programs was 1.5 at graduation and then 1.6 per year post graduation. The average number of publications for grads from programs not rated by PGR was 3.2 at graduation and 2.1 per year post graduation. Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Reply to  Carolyn Dicey Jennings
3 years ago

And those from PGR-rated programs had an average of 3 publications at first permanent placement, whereas those from non-PGR-rated programs had an average of, wait for it, 7.3!Report

Philodemus
Philodemus
Reply to  David Velleman
3 years ago

Is it really THAT common for grad students from highly ranked programs to be advised to publish before getting a job? I don’t doubt that MORE such grad students are being advised to publish before securing a job, but that alone wouldn’t mean that things are about to get “much, much worse” for competing grad students from lower ranked programs. Your remarks make it seem as if MOST or NEARLY ALL grad students from highly ranked programs are being advised to publish before getting a job, but the people I know from such programs have told me that they were advised to hold off on publishing, and I’m talking about people who received their PhD just a few years ago. (Of course, some of these people also told me that they wish that they hadn’t waited, and that, now that they’ve secured their TT position, they’re finiding it trickier to publish than they would have thought.) All that said, you’re on the ground floor, so I’d believe you if you told me that nearly all grad students at highly ranked programs are now being told to publish before completing their degree.Report

M
M
Reply to  Philodemus
3 years ago

All it takes is to see your brilliant grad student colleagues 2-3 years ahead of you not getting any job at all (let alone a TT job), over multiple years on the market, for grad students to see that they really must try to publish. Being *advised* to do it isn’t needed.

Candidates from NYU, Rutgers, Princeton, etc. often do not get TT jobs (or any jobs) their 1st, 2nd, 3rd (etc.) year on the market (I’m recent insider here). After that 1st attempt, most are advised, and begin trying very hard, to publish so that they can be more competitive the next year. Sure, sometimes such candidates get jobs their first year out, and without publications. But that is becoming (or is already) the exception, not the norm.Report

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
Reply to  David Velleman
3 years ago

I think publications will still matter significantly for applicants from non-top programs even if those from top programs publish just as much.

If a hiring committee has 300 or so applications, the first thing hey do is select the ones they’ll look at more closely, e.g. by reading the writing sample. Many applicants from top programs get through this stage even without publications, because they have letters from famous philosophers saying how fabulous, creative, etc. they are. What about applicants from non-top programs? Some of those also get through, but only if something in their application separates them from other applicants from similar programs. And a publication or two in highly regarded journals can do that. It can allow them to go on to the next stage and have their work compared directly for its quality with that of people from higher-ranked programs. And in that comparison it may do well.

The role of publications here isn’t to put the applicant from a non-top program ahead of ones from top programs. It’s to separate him or her from applicants from other non-top programs and get him or her to the next stage. If graduate students weren’t allowed to publish, there would be less to distinguish one applicant from a non-prestige program from others, and a higher probability that they’d all be set aside to concentrate just on applicants with the right pedigree.

Something that doesn’t give you an advantage in the last phase of the hiring process can help you significantly in earlier ones.Report

David Velleman
David Velleman
3 years ago

@deverettf: we have 7 editors, 2 of whom look at every submission. But there is a supply problem here as well. It’s hard enough recruiting 1-shot referees; recruiting editors is even harder.Report

David Rowthorn
3 years ago

This proposal assumes that collective action can and will be taken by either journals or universities. Where there is a vested interest in individual journals and universities breaking with this plan, it can only be implemented top down, which it it never can or will.

Without wanting to be dismissive, what is the point in proposing solutions that could never come to pass? The best solution is for individual journals to put in place standards for the originality, scope and development of papers such that graduate papers rushed out do not meet that standard. The individual journal benefits from having better papers than other journals. It does not require any cooperation among journals.Report

jj
jj
3 years ago

I would like to support David Velleman’s proposal and I hope at least some journals adopt it. Two worries. First, I do share the worries concerning the job market esp. for people from not the top 20 or whatever program (it’s a bit more difficult since many programs now specialize and that is important too). But I wonder if some journals at least could not have a special “GRAD STUDENT ISSUE” as part of their annual publication for which there would be a window of submission and for which submissions would be conditioned by, say, seniority (dissertation stage) or something like that. So it would be quite something to publish there, but it would drastically reduce the number of submissions and concentrate it. Second, what about European (and other) grad students? They do not work in the same way as US/CAN/AUS etc grad students. They are much more considered employees and share different expectations.Report

David Velleman
David Velleman
3 years ago

@philodemus: For over 30 years, I advised graduate students not to publish, except in rare cases. My colleagues did the same. That changed about 2 years ago. I now talk to my students about what and where and how to publish. My department has just instituted a gradate-student workshop for professional development, including publication. I have heard of such worshops at two of our “peer” departments; I imagine there are more. Where the consensus of my colleagues was previously against encouraging publication, it is now in favor, and I hear the same from the coleagues I meet at conferences. (I should add that publication in highly selective journals has not spared some of our very best students from going without offers on the job market.) Report

Mike Titelbaum
Mike Titelbaum
3 years ago

Here’s something we can all do right now, while we debate and try to implement larger proposals: Discourage graduate students from submitting bad papers to journals. Students often don’t realize that getting an “A” on a paper in a seminar doesn’t mean it’s of publishable quality. Or they want to take a chance on throwing the thing out there, just in case it manages to somehow slip through. I recently had an interaction in which a student wrote a solid “A” paper for my seminar, and came to me a month later asking what she could do to make it publishable. We talked through the paper, and she ultimately agreed with me that this paper was a long way from engaging with the literature and answering plausible objections sufficiently to make a good publication, and would require a lot of work to even get close. Then she sheepishly admitted she had already sent it off to Ethics.
From my refereeing experiences, I get the sense this is happening a great deal. Of course I can’t speak to proportions from anecdotal evidence, but I get a lot of submissions to referee that were obviously 20-page seminar papers responsive only to the assigned reading list. Even worse, some professors are encouraging students to submit to a journal, and if their paper is rejected, just send it off without changes to another one. These practices are causing all sorts of damage to our profession and our field.
I am in favor of graduate students (and anyone else!) publishing when they have good material. I have many times encouraged my students to publish something, or have worked with them to produce a joint publication. My most frequent advice on these matters is not to submit something for publication until you’ve presented it at a conference. (I try to follow this rule myself!) I think at least some of the problems discussed in this thread could be ameliorated if everyone was better informed and followed better practices about when something is ready to submit. Report

Mike Titelbaum
Mike Titelbaum
Reply to  Mike Titelbaum
3 years ago

Sorry, I just realized I should’ve said “Discourage graduate students from submitting *mediocre* papers to journals.” I try not to give “A”s to *bad* papers. But of course part of the problem here is that—at least in my case—the standards are different for seminar and published papers, so a good seminar paper may make for a mediocre publication submission.
And before you ask how a mediocre submission could make it through initial screening and get sent out to referee: I imagine that editors are already desk rejecting a whole bunch of these, adding to their workload. But I work in some technical fields, and often editors are not in a position to recognize such mediocre work, so they send it on to me to check.Report

Andrew Moon
Reply to  Mike Titelbaum
3 years ago

“Even worse, some professors are encouraging students to submit to a journal, and if their paper is rejected, just send it off without changes to another one. ”

Mike,
Why is that bad? Or were you assuming that the professor shouldn’t have encouraged the student to submit in the first place?

I like your general advice. I generally don’t think a grad. student should submit a paper to a journal unless a professor (or someone of similar status) has recommended that paper be submitted.Report

Mike Titelbaum
Mike Titelbaum
Reply to  Andrew Moon
3 years ago

I am not a fan of anyone (grad student or otherwise) adopting as a general submission strategy “Submit to a journal, if receive rejection, submit immediately to another journal without making changes.” I understand isolated cases in which referee comments accompanying a rejection seem so far off-base that they don’t merit changes before the next submission. But to adopt this as a general policy seems to me seriously problematic.

First, referees often put a great deal of time and effort into writing what they hope will be helpful comments to the author of a piece. I don’t like the attitude towards those efforts embodied by this policy. Second, presume for a moment that in most cases the paper would be improved by making changes in response to those comments. (This has certainly been true of the papers I’ve had rejected.) Then making no changes before resubmission decreases the quality of submissions, and increases the number of mediocre submissions made.

I know some of the people reading this thread think that referees and editors tend to be fancy people with secure positions, so burdening them with more submissions isn’t a serious problem. But (just to take one example), in a recent Facebook conversation a number of folks acknowledged that the number of refereeing jobs they’re asked to do leads them to decrease the quality of their assessments. I mean not just the comments they write, but the research and thought they put into making a call about whether a submission should be published. This results in more papers being published that shouldn’t be, which strikes me as problematic for the profession as a whole.Report

Andrew Moon
Reply to  Mike Titelbaum
3 years ago

Thanks for the reply, Mike!
I almost missed that you made a response. Sorry, I was thinking about rejections where there weren’t comments (which, for me, might be about 50% of the time). I see now that in your comment, you were assuming there were comments. Yeah, it makes sense that if you get comments, you should revise your paper in light of them.Report

Andrew Moon
Reply to  Andrew Moon
3 years ago

oh wait, I read your comment more carefully. you weren’t assuming that there were comments. You were objecting to the general rule. Yeah, that sounds right to me.

I’d say the exception might be if there are no comments. And even then, it’s probably good to give the paper another read through. Normally, we find ways to improve the paper after going away from it for a bit.Report

Untenured Ethicist
Untenured Ethicist
3 years ago

Whatever you think of Velleman’s proposal, he is pointing to some real problems. The growing pressure for graduate students to publish is not good for graduate education. It encourages students to specialize too early and to choose smaller, safer projects rather than more ambitious ones. The growing competition for space in top journals creates incentives for others in the profession (especially but not only job-seekers and untenured faculty) to adjust their research agendas for a more competitive environment. If people perceive that pieces advancing smaller, safer claims are more likely to get published, then fewer ambitious pieces will be written, even if the total volume of publication grows.

The best feasible remedy I can see is for more journals to announce a policy of preferring ambitious pieces (as the Journal of the APA now does) and for senior faculty members at R1 institutions publicly to adopt a norm of giving more weight to ambitious pieces when making personnel decisions and when writing tenure letters.

Reducing the number and size of graduate programs would also help the problem, but unfortunately, I don’t see that happening any time soon.Report

Phoenix, son of Amyntor
Phoenix, son of Amyntor
Reply to  Untenured Ethicist
3 years ago

I especially agree with your comment: “The growing pressure for graduate students to publish is not good for graduate education. It encourages students to specialize too early and to choose smaller, safer projects rather than more ambitious ones.” I see this on the teaching side now. Students increasingly expect my classes either to (a) hand them a topic on which to write a practice publication or (b) give them lecture notes they can use with undergraduates. No element is of interest for its own sake.Report

Andrew Smith
Andrew Smith
3 years ago

I appreciate this suggestion from Prof. Velleman, and the attention to this issue more generally, which I have personally talked about with a few faculty at various points, some of whom have offered similar suggestions. I don’t really participate in the blogs because I am not convinced they are good for the discipline as a whole, but I want to offer the following thought, which is probably going to sound sarcastic at points but I promise that it is not, and that I am offering it in what I hope is good faith.

While I recognize and have more or less come to accept, on the basis of various discussions on- and offline, that I am too stupid, lazy, and insufficiently connected to the right kinds of people to be seriously considered for an academic job, because I don’t have anything to say and so don’t try to publish, because I am not at a highly ranked program, because I don’t go to conferences in order to network and get to know the aforementioned “right kinds of people”, because the means to an academic position don’t always strike me as good (for instance, “networking” seems to me to be a kind of treating as a mere means, though of course that won’t matter to everyone), and so on, I and some other grad students, I think, would nonetheless like the time and space not to have to think about publishing things, in order to have the time and space simply to think about substantive philosophical issues, without having to worry about, say, making a new claim, or offering a new insight to everyone, or so on. I think there is something of worth in simply getting to the point where we can have the same thought as other people, whether of the past or present, and it also seems to me that this is not something always easy to do. These shared thoughts and insights, while not necessarily new for the discipline as a whole, are new for the person having them, and having them seems to me to be an important part of education generally: for instance, this is the kind of insight which people (hopefully) have when thinking about and trying to understand the concept of validity, something we take to be important in learning logic. The thought, in other words, is that the focus on publication promotes this view where we place too much importance on the value of institutional and disciplinary novelty when there is much of educational and philosophical value outside of that, including but, I think, especially for graduate students, whether these insights I mentioned lead to a job or not. They won’t lead to jobs in many cases and for many people, but those insights and their value is still possible regardless.Report

ejrd
ejrd
3 years ago

I am not convinced by Vellemen’s anecdotal information that graduate student submissions are the cause of the publishing bottleneck nor am I convinced that the publishing bottleneck problem is as drastic as he makes it appear. Much more, and better, data should be brought in at this point to move us from the armchair to the real world.

Having been a grad student five years ago, I feel that we should listen to the grad students here who believe that a moratorium on grad student publishing would only increase the unfairness and inequality already built into the academic job market. It strikes me that such a proposal would also make the job of search committees harder, not easier.

As someone who has now been on nearly a half dozen search committees at a desirably located SLAC that requires 6 peer-reviewed publications for tenure, I think that it would also be unwise to institute a ban on grad student publications. Tenure lines are scarce, and growing scarcer, and search committees absolutely need to feel re-assured that person that they hire will be able to earn tenure. Past publications (especially a consistent record of past publication) is by far the single greatest predictor of future success. Even though mine is not a “research” institution and even though we care very much about teaching, we have not made a TT hire in the last five years that did not have at least two publications and none of them have been from elite institutions.

Having said all of this, I think one solution to the problem (insofar as it is a problem), is to push for a greater variety of academic appointments beyond the research-laden tenure track job. I don’t mean immoral and exploitative adjunct labor either. I have noticed an uptick over the last five years, for example, for teaching-focused jobs (even at R1s) with “security of employment.” Such jobs grant something very much like tenure but without the publishing expectations that go along with it. At my institution we have a position very much like this: the senior lecturer. Senior lecturers teach more than tenured folks, have heavier service duties, but also have indefinite contracts and can only be fired for cause. Senior lecturers attend department meetings and have a vote on all department matters as well (they are not excluded from any decision).

If even 20% of articles in the pipeline are there because of the pressure to publish in order to earn a job that provides a living wage, perhaps more respectable jobs like the ones I describe above are another option. Clearly there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to the problem (something Velleman would be wise to consider) but I think that an openness to alternative forms of secure academic labor are one strategy to reduce the number of publications in the pipeline. Report

SD
SD
Reply to  ejrd
3 years ago

This is an excellent comment. One of the problems with the profession is that it’s the research track or the adjunct track with nothing in between. But it’s important that such positions pay a living wage, have due process for firing, and have a career track. I used to have a lecturer job that only the first of those three (though the school seems to be improving) and I was almost as desperate to get out of there as I was adjuncting. And so of course I put a lot effort into publishing while I was there. Anyway you’re right though, if one wants to point at a rare positive development in academic philosophy the fact that there are more and more such lecturer jobs is a big one.Report

Cyrille
Cyrille
3 years ago

It’s all well and good to try to level the playing field like this, but preventing graduate students from publishing would have a negative impact on the ability of graduate students to learn their craft. When I started the (non top-tier) PhD program I just finished, the official line was to neither try to publish nor submit to conferences in grad school. And I think that line stunted my growth as an academic. If this were to be implemented, departments would have to take great care to make sure they’re still treating grad students like potential colleagues and training them in how to write publishable work.Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
3 years ago

Cue an explosion in the number of papers co-authored with graduate advisors. Report

Sara L. Uckelman
Reply to  Urstoff
3 years ago

Which isn’t actually a terrible thing (as is witnessed by the much higher level of co-authoring in non-philosophical disciplines.)Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
Reply to  Sara L. Uckelman
3 years ago

Not if it was a genuine co-authored publication, but I would suspect that there would be lots of advisors slapping their names on a paper 95% done by a graduate student just so they can get it published. Report

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
Reply to  Urstoff
3 years ago

I had the same thought. If we put these “reforms” in place there are a bunch of ways to game things so as to get around them. For one, there’d be an explosion of “co-authored” pieces you mention. I also bet that programs would push their grads out to the PhD sooner, but make much more space to keep them in positions that are post-PhD so they could build up a publication record. Hello 3 year PhDs and 5 year post PhD whatever we end up calling them. Also, I bet the grad students with the cash to support themselves would end up taking breaks from their grad programs so that they could publish while technically out of grad school (which would of course be yet another way this helps the rich get richer). And again I’m sure schools would find infinite ways to game this possibility as well. Imagine giving your students a year off between the MA and PhD., so they’re not technically students, but still allowing them to adjunct or even TA to pay their salaries. And what are journals gonna do, retroactively yank the paper a year or two later when the person technically starts back in their program?Report

Udo Schuklenk
Udo Schuklenk
3 years ago

Dr Velleman should reconsider editing a journal if he seriously believes that status of author as opposed to quality of submission should be a decision making criterion. If he finds the number of submissions difficult to manage, perhaps it’s time to move on. Peer reviewed publications level the playing field, because junior faculty hiring committees have more to base the decision on than website gossip or institutional prestige. Report

Jc Beall
3 years ago

Would some of the objections to Velleman’s proposal be suitably answered by an officially recognized pre-print service (e.g., on models like https://arxiv.org/find/math)? Here, the work can be in the public domain, be cited and so on while not being published in a full-on refereed journal. If a paper makes a splash its citation record — we can hope — will show as much. (Specialization won’t disappear easily. Those working on specialty topic X will carry a burden of staying in touch with pre-prints, etc. (One can hope.)) Making a splash in one’s pre-print might well motivate some journals to enter into a contract with the author to publish (after one’s PhD were Velleman’s proposal to actualize). Report

Alan Nelson
Reply to  Jc Beall
3 years ago

I was going to post the same idea. I can’t think of any downside to the proposal.Report

Jc Beall
Reply to  Alan Nelson
3 years ago

Hi, Alan. Since floating the idea I too have been trying to think of a downside. I fail to see any. In fact, this idea might be worth considering on its own, apart from Velleman’s proposal about graduate-student publications. (The idea remains directly relevant to that proposal but the idea has virtues — and, as yet, no recorded downsides — that are independent from that proposal.) Debate will tell if the topic is debated. Report

jdkbrown
jdkbrown
3 years ago

An alternative, modest, proposal: journals refuse to publish work by *tenured* philosophers. These philosophers don’t need the gatekeeping/signalling function of peer-reviewed publication anymore, and with the internet and cheap data storage, there’s no bar to them making their work widely available outside the journals. (Something like arxiv.org–perhaps attached to PhilPapers?–could facilitate this.) This would relieve a vast amount of pressure on editors and referees and open up much more space in the journals for those who really need it, the untenured and those philosophers who haven’t landed permanent positions.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  jdkbrown
3 years ago

Nicely done. And needed to be said.Report

Philodemus
Philodemus
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
3 years ago

For once you and I can agree on something. jdkbrown’s suggestion makes more sense to me than Prof Velleman’s.Report

TP
TP
Reply to  jdkbrown
3 years ago

The prestige of the top journals is due in part to the very fact that even prominent philosophers are still trying to publish their best work in those journals, and so one is competing against even them for space in those journals. If journals barred tenured philosophers from publishing, the journals would compromise the very prestige that makes publishing in them such a strong “signal” in the first place. You can’t turn the Phil Review into what would be, in effect, a graduate student (or “untenured”) journal, and then expect publishing in the Phil Review to be any sort of “gatekeeper” in the profession. This isn’t a proposal on which publishing in top journals retains its prestige, but that prestige is simply transferred to a more limited market; it is a proposal on which that prestige is destroyed. Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  jdkbrown
3 years ago

I was going to pose the same suggestion, though for rhetorical purposes (i.e. ask why Velleman, etc. didn’t suggest this, instead of picking on grad students). Reading your comment I think it’s a plausible suggestion, though I don’t ultimately accept it because it’s too much of a restriction and might come across as discriminatory.

IMO both grads and tenured profs should be allowed to publish wherever, but if we’re going to use force to stop one group from doing so, that group being tenured profs makes a lot more sense than it being grads.Report

Michael Cholbi
Michael Cholbi
3 years ago

The general worry that journals are swamped with submissions seems like a perfect storm of bad trends in academic labor: too many PhDs chasing too few jobs trying to bolster their chances by publishing in too few venues, etc. (I’d also add that the journals’ reliance on largely free labor exacerbates these problems.) That said, I’ve not yet seen anyone adduce hard evidence for the claim that it’s grad student submissions in particular that are driving the deluge of journal submissions, so I’m skeptical that Velleman’s proposal targets the right causes.

In addition, I’d be curious to know to what extent Velleman’s own experience at PI (or what knowledge he might have of goings on at other journals) is representative. Thanks to its institutional backing and open access model, PI very quickly became a high demand venue for authors. But a glance at the APA journals survey data (https://airtable.com/shrWKotYTw0ezNN4N/tbl9E479DxjlJf2zJ) indicates that there are still plenty of journals, many with established reputations, with acceptance rates 2-4 times higher than PI. (As reported there, PI’s overall acceptance rate is 9%; but (just to select a few general journals), Pacific Philosophical Quarterly’s is 21%, Erkenntnis’ 27%, Ratio’s 31%, Southern Journal of Philosophy 22%.) Might the problem here be not that journals are overwhelmed with submissions but that journals with reputations of the sorts that are perceived as likely to impress hiring committees are overwhelmed with submissions? As several commenters noted above, institutional prestige bias is a problem in philosophy — but I’d suggest that bias regarding publications venues is just as bad.

If my speculations are correct, perhaps a solution here would be to consider policies that reduce venue bias. One thought: limits to how often authors could publish in any given journal — once every five years, say. That might siphon strong work away from the high-demand/high-prestige journals, make where one’s published less important, and equalize editorial workload across journals.

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Franz Huber
3 years ago

Speaking for myself only, and not in my role as editor: the fact that people can get jobs primarily on the basis of their actual work – as opposed to solely on the basis of what their teachers (who have an interest in their students’ doing well) say in letters of recommendation – is one of the best developments the profession has seen in recent years. As long as graduate students also contribute as referees, they have every right to submit their work.Report

Kate Norlock
Reply to  Franz Huber
3 years ago

I have misgivings about relying on graduate students to be referees. I worry that shoving off refereeing, which seems to me to be the obligation of senior scholars, onto students who may never even find employment in philosophy is both exploitation of students’ time and labor as well as risky with respect to the quality of referee reports. (I know, I know, sometimes the best expert in a field is a graduate student. I find it risky, not necessarily bad.) Tenured and tenure-stream scholars owe it to the not yet employed and the underemployed to do the service of refereeing, because it was done for us, because graduate students do not owe us or each other this form of service, and because those of us who attain senior status did so by at least purporting to be experts in a position to be qualified educators and mentors of graduate students. This is part of the deal with attaining that mentoring, leadership position.

I type this self-consciously as I know that on a few occasions, I’ve asked a graduate student to referee for FPQ, or for special issues of other journals. I have tried to hold the line on those requests, and sometimes a graduate student really is the most well-published and savvy scholar on a topic, especially an emerging topic. But I still think I’m right that we shouldn’t be asking unless they really are the most appropriate experts for the occasion.Report

Franz Huber
Reply to  Kate Norlock
3 years ago

Like everyone else, graduate students are free to decline referee requests. There is no harm in asking them and let them decide for themselves.

Moreover, graduate students may find the opportunity to act as referees helpful. It’s something they can put on a CV that is still developing, showing that others in their field respect their judgement.Report

Bob Lockie
Bob Lockie
3 years ago

Velleman’s suggestion, is, I take it, that of a provocateur – surely no-one is going to take this seriously (at least: I hope no-one is). But as a provocative statement designed to highlight a real problem it has merit. Pace Velleman, the only way to prevent a deplorable system of patronage & preferment is to accord high weight to publication (this doesn’t even nearly prevent the pernicious influence of patronage & preferment, but it’s the only thing that even partially redresses the balance). But this leads to a tragedy of the commons: grotesque over-publication. This grotesque over-publication is awful for the profession, quite apart from the fact that it is extending downwards into the grad student population. So our discipline resembles more and more late scholasticism. A lot of good stuff doesn’t even get published, or not published in a good enough journal to be read, because it’s too ambitious, too original, too wide in scope, too unprofessional (in a good sense), or it is simply drowned out by a search space of too many other publications. And the refereeing system is, as Velleman notes, breaking down (and can be sustained at all only to the extent that everyone is ‘on the same page’ – with horrible levels of super-specialisation and narrow, highly professionalised consensus permitting swift summary judgement by referees). As I said, this problem emerged, and was severe, long before any increase in would-be publication by graduate students – though this latter has made things far, far, worse. (See the preface to Michael Dummett’s Seas of Language for a fine polemic against over-publication 25 years ago). By the way: I don’t even nearly have any ideas as to how to deal with this problem and I don’t think anyone else does either – but denying it is (that much of a) problem is not the way forward.Report

Peter Adamson
Reply to  Bob Lockie
3 years ago

Actually late scholasticism is pretty interesting. Just saying.Report

E
E
3 years ago

Junior members of the profession (including grad students) produce much of the most interesting work in my subfield, and I hear the same about other subfields. The more senior members of our profession in this thread who are disparaging work from younger philosophers would know this, if they actually bothered to engage with any of it, which apparently they don’t, by their own admission (“there’s too much to keep up with!” And so on). Report

Maja Sidzinska
3 years ago

Or this: refereeing could begin to be counted (formally) as hours contributed to the profession, on par with teaching hours or committee service hours, etc. This work should no longer be invisible. Report

Gradstudent #Something
Gradstudent #Something
3 years ago

While I do recognize some of the motivation, e.g. graduate student arms race, I find this policy highly discriminatory. For reasons Dr Velleman also somewhat reluctantly recognizes: grad students might also have good work. Dr Velleman, however, quickly dismisses this reason, by arguing that

(P) if grad students have good work now, they will have good work later.

From (P), Dr Velleman seems to infer that

(C) grad students are not harmed by this discriminatory treatment.

There are at least a number of problems with this argument. First of all, even if a grad student will have good work later based on good work now, it doesn’t mean that this early good work is not worth publishing.

Second, even if later work might also be good, this early work now might be time sensitive, i.e. if not published now, will never be published. This latter point might be because the trend of journals, or generally that someone else might come of with the same idea before the grad student in question receives her PhD.

Third, (P) might simply be false. It depends on the ambiguity of “good work:” good enough to be published, or better than other works. It is quite possible that the best paper of some philosopher is not her last work, but her early work. It would be unfair to deny someone’s opportunity just based on her (lack of a) degree, especially if we also take the second reason into consideration. (Which would add up to, probably because of time sensitivity, someone’s masterpiece would never be published.)Report

Ted Shear
Ted Shear
3 years ago

I am sympathetic to the proposal, but wonder about the best way to handle co-authored papers between graduate students and faculty. At least in the circles that I run in, the number of such papers is steadily on the rise and, in my view, that is a really good thing. I won’t bother to go into the obvious benefits of this, but wanted to raise the question of how such papers would be handled under the proposal. It seems to me that it would be a bad thing if co-authorship in philosophy were disincentivized, especially when one of the authors is a graduate student.Report

Keith DeRose
Reply to  Ted Shear
3 years ago

I worry about allowing such co-authored papers (though I agree with Ted about their value) while not allowing single-authored grad student papers. Grad students with their own idea would have incentive to sign on with a faculty co-author just so that they could get published. Report

loretta
loretta
3 years ago

David Velleman suggests that the job market is about to get much worse for people at low-ranked departments, because now people at high-ranked departments are being urged to publish.

I have three responses. 1) Those people were trying to publish already. It may have taken you this long to realize publications are important for everyone, but your students realized it years ago. 2) Not every person at a high-ranked department will succeed at placing their papers — in fact, most will not. So, 3) things are only about to get worse for people at low-ranked departments who have not published as much, or who have published only slightly more (prestige bias will help balance the scales), than people at high-ranked departments.

I think Velleman will be surprised to discover that students at top-ranked aren’t any better at publishing than students at low-ranked departments. Students are accepted to top-ranked departments in large part based on what undergrad institution they attended and how good their best piece of writing from undergrad is. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t a particularly accurate measure of how good their papers will be after a few years of dedicated graduate study.

(And of course, as we have all been reminded of many times, things are very different at Daniel Kaufman’s department, where only actual teaching experience matters.)Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  loretta
3 years ago

I wouldn’t say that teaching experience is the only thing that matters to us, but it is our first consideration. Research helps us to choose among equally qualified teachers.Report

David Velleman
David Velleman
Reply to  loretta
3 years ago

No, with very few exceptions, my students have not tried to publish while in graduate school — until a few years ago. Publication was strongly discouraged by both departments in which I have taught.Report

Javier Cumpa
Javier Cumpa
3 years ago

What Velleman’s proposal shows, I think, is a weakness in the excellence system and the hiring process of the so-called “top” departments in the US and Europe. Namely, that there is no real substantial qualitative difference between publications of grad students in top and non-top departments in the US and Europe, and that top departments today hire merely based on non-excellence criteria such as reference letters and supervisor’s connections. The proposal should be quite other: Top departments, it is time to open your gates to brilliant grad students from so-called “non-top” departments in the US and Europe.Report

Alan White
Alan White
3 years ago

What the OP and much of the thread tries to address is a problem *within* the profession. But it’s very possibly not the most dire problem *of* of the profession itself, given the withering public support of public higher education, and the increasing economic pressures on smaller privates that both have increasingly focused on the supposedly questionable role that philosophy plays in the overall welfare of society. If we do not address why philosophy is needed, both as a serious intellectual inquiry at R1s but also at the many-fold number of other schools that purvey the value of philosophy to the public at large, then the problem within philosophy will solve itself. There will always be R1s at the highest level that will continue to focus on it as a valuable intellectual pursuit after all, and the fight about how to value available candidates might continue. But if enough state and private schools close their grad and undergrad programs, it’ll only be a problem among a relatively ranked class of surviving elite programs.Report

Alan White
Alan White
Reply to  Alan White
3 years ago

Sorry about the *of* of typoReport

Maja Sidzinska
Reply to  Alan White
3 years ago

It seems true that philosophy’s work economy (which includes things such as teaching, research, committee work, and refereeing) is tied to the broader work economy. And it seems that that broader work economy does not particularly value philosophy in general, and that it does not value philosophy journals in particular, else we’d have different institutional arrangements surrounding publishing in philosophy. It seems important to look at the bigger picture, as your post suggests. Resolving upstream problems might resolve downstream problems. Imagine if article authors, and journal editors, referees, and managers all got paid for the hours put in. That should be the goal, and as your post suggests, the fact that they don’t get paid for this work has to do with problems in the general economy, such as lack of demand for philosophical materials. Part of the reason for that, I think, is overspecialization; there are other reasons as well.Report

Alan White
Alan White
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
3 years ago

Thank you Maja–that was more eloquently put than I could muster, and puts the bigger picture square at the problem of problems.Report

Chris
3 years ago

I would not have had several of the interview requests I received when I went out on the market if it were not for publishing as a graduate student (I was told so explicitly by members of more than one search committee). This is because I went out on the market as an “expert” in an area that was entirely unrelated to my dissertation. For complicated reasons, I defended a dissertation in an area that I cared about, but was secondary to what I spent most of my time researching and was especially passionate about. I was, as a graduate student, fortunate enough to publish a paper in one of the more prestigious venues for work in the area I cared about most and wanted to pursue professionally. I was told this publication played a large role in assuaging legitimate concerns about my expertise and I doubt I would have been able to overcome the obstacles my unusual path through graduate school raised without it–I was ultimately hired for a position in my preferred area 🙂

I recognize my story is exceedingly rare and that cases like it would not, on their own, outweigh other legitimate concerns. I mention it only because the possibilities a given proposal precludes are not always obvious and I suspect that the present proposal’s consequences would include harms that I, at least, wouldn’t have predicted.

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Mark Phelan
Mark Phelan
3 years ago

I appreciate Professor Velleman raising this very real problem and attempting to offer a solution. However, the more I think about them, the more the current proposals strike me as unworkable (in addition to being inequitable). The first proposal requires journals to attend to whether or not authors are graduate students, but I wonder whether the status of being a graduate student isn’t too porous to support such a major policy. Are you a graduate student only when you are matriculating, so if you submit during the summer it’s okay? Some of my friends in grad school took a year or two off mid-way through. Could they have published during this time off according to the proposal? What if you took only a semester off? You almost want to change the proposal to reserve publication for people who have Philosophy Ph.D.’s. But then what about people who get jobs only after completing a Master’s (rarer now, though it is)? I knew someone who had a long-term adjunct position even though she only had a Master’s degree. Later, she had the opportunity to change it into a tenured position on the strength of her publications, if she went back to school and earned a Ph.D. According to the first proposal, would her subsequently getting the Ph.D. make it the case that her previous publications didn’t count? On a separate point, how would the proposal be enforced? Would it be self-defeating in that, rather than decreasing, it would in fact add to the editor’s workload the job of reverse truancy officer, investigating whether authors were in school and punishing them if so?

As for the second proposal, it seems inevitably to undercut its intended aim. When I was a graduate student it was my understanding that most jobs didn’t count grad student publications in tenure review. But that didn’t discourage me in the least from trying to publish, since I thought that I had to in order to get a job. I published as a graduate student and decided to worry about whatever publications I needed for tenure later, if ever I had the luxury of doing so. The second proposal, then, seems unlikely to dissuade graduate students from publishing. Instead, it will just force those who get jobs to publish more later, exacerbating the publication emergency.
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Patrick Stokes
3 years ago

With respect to Prof. Velleman (of whom I’m a fan), this seems like a wholly US-centric answer to an international problem, and would, if widely implemented, have pernicious effects outside the US.

The arms race is very real, and I don’t deny it’s a problem. As supervisors we now need to factor publishing into PhD students’ already crowded research timetable, adding to their workload and stress levels and thereby adding to already high rates of non-completion. But its important to remember that journals don’t just service American academics, and the US job market works very differently even from the UK, Australia, NZ etc, let alone Europe. (I can’t speak intelligently to the situation in Latin America, Africa, or Asia but I’m sure similar remarks apply). We don’t hire on reputation or letters etc. but instead tend to take research track record – publications, grants etc. – as the main factor, along with teaching record. Hence I’m always faintly surprised when I get applications from American ABDs, who usually have better teaching records than their Australasian counterparts but few if any research outputs.

So while this proposal might work in the States, where things like where you studied and who has recommended you count for shortlisting, outside the US the net effect would be to significantly lengthen the period of postdoctoral work – already typically a few years of sessional/adjunct work, or time-limited research grants if you’re very, very lucky – while newly minted PhDs scramble to get enough publications out to be competitive.

It’s good that we’re talking about this problem, but I don’t think this is the solution. Report

Justin Snedegar
3 years ago

This isn’t the main issue here, of course, but the original post and some of the comments (as well as many other posts on philosophy blogs) complain about the abundance of work on safe topics as opposed to more ambitious, risk-taking research. Of course, it doesn’t follow that just because grad students are sending off these kinds of papers that they aren’t doing the more ambitious stuff, as well. There will just be less of that, and it’ll take longer to do.

But maybe more importantly, shouldn’t we expect most work to be “non-ambitious”, if that means pressing objections to and developing existing views? And doesn’t that seem like a good thing? We’d like to know what the best version of a view is, and this requires “small” or “safe” work, rather than always trying to revolutionize the field. Without spending time going through objections and tweaks, we won’t know whether the field needs revolutionized. I don’t mean to attribute the most extreme version of this kind of view to Velleman or anyone else, but I do think it’s important to recognize the importance of the “small” or “safe” work, and not disparage people for doing it. Report

Mark Alfano
3 years ago

I agree with many of the criticisms of Velleman’s proposal already voiced above. One further criticism is that this proposal, unless it were university-wide and not just in philosophy, would make it nearly impossible for philosophers to do interdisciplinary research during their PhDs. Since other fields expect publications from graduate students, those with interdisciplinary interests would either have to flout those expectations or hide them from their philosophical peers. And one thing that I’m sure of is that making philosophy even more insular won’t help anybody who deserves helping.Report

Grad-who-published
Grad-who-published
3 years ago

I wonder how many submissions to Philosophers’ Imprint or other journals are by people (grad students or not) who have already submitted a paper to that same journal within the past 12 months or so. If that number is high enough, then a policy prohibiting submission of a new paper to the same journal before such stipulated period has passed would help to decrease the amount of papers to be evaluated at any given time.
As far as I know, the Australasian Journal of Philosophy has one such policy, and it might help to hear how it has worked there.
In addition, journals would still be able to publish the best work irrespective of who wrote it, insofar as people prioritize submitting their best work.Report

Curt Doolittle
3 years ago

A VERY DIFFERENT HYPOTHESIS THAT IS FAR MORE LIKELY OUTCOME

I would say that the American model of undergrad > grad > phd > prof is no longer any more necessary than are elected representative politicians and is probably on its way to being dead, and with it the upper unversity system. And just for the simple reason that access to information, to books, to research, to intellectuals, no longer requires the university system, and we are in the early stages of circumventing the university system, and drastically reducing demand for professors.

What I expect is that the top teaching professors will produce content and teach online, earning appropriately scaled incomes, and that this early market will turn into a competition that drives down prices until those that are the best TEACHERS of the material drive out competitors.

I suspect that just as private grade schools will exist for normative and physical defense of high investment children, or for remediation of those with behavior problems, the vast majority of students will combine working with a degree over longer periods, producing little or no debt, with the emphasis on starting the ‘degree’ process earlier and earlier – which will, as a consequence cause the necessary reformation of the junior high school, and high school experiences, which, along with the university undergraduate experience are the source of the lack of competitiveness of American students.

If it isn’t clear what that market analysis means, it’s that universities have created a demand for an overpriced underperforming good the externality of which has allowed the monopoly that exists in the form of the state-education system, to be insulated from market demands, and to produce generations of underperformers. The consequence of which has been national underperformance, increase in the demand for better disciplined, harder working, better educated immigrants.

The research function then will no longer be able to subsidize from the sale of non-performing indulgences, and be increasingly dependent upon research money. That research money will be provided outside of the university system, to groups that specialize in research.

And I suspect (and hope) this will eliminate the Cult of the Humanities, and the Social Pseudo-Sciences that has succeeded in replacing the Supernaturalism of the relatively moral church punished for its sale of indulgences during the reformation, with the drastically immoral Pseudo-Science that the postmodern academy is so happy to attempt to profit from – repeating the process of reformation once again.

The evidence is that very, very, few people who publish contribute to the discourse, and that the vast majority of ‘papers’ are valueless. And that the era of papers has largely ended, because only the book format allows sufficient illustration, application, and defense of any addition to the body of thought.

The evidence is that the german PhD system which requires you survive prosecution by professors (judges) in a ‘trial’ is superior to the american system.

The university’s sale of the diploma as an indulgence necessary to enter workforce-heaven will end as soon as accreditation is available online. And the second largest cost after house, and divorce, that we call ‘buying a college degree’ will be forever eliminated from our cost structures, and the original function of ‘colleges’ which was to pay professors independently for their work will return.

In other words, the accreditation (licensing) process creates an artificial monopoly that is easily ended by electronic means. And with it, the social indoctrination that is the primary function of the university.

So I’m not claiming that the university system aside from the science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and law disciplines, is simply immoral and pseudoscientific – but that it cannot and will not survive market competition now that their partial monopoly is no longer necessary nor affordable. And that as always, the market will do its work on the University as it did to the Church.

Now, we can test this hypothesis easily if we require universities to carry the debt of students, and for that debt to be limited to ten years deducted as an equivalent of a payroll tax. If the universities are unwilling to do that it means that they are unwilling to warranty their products and services.

I will close with the fact that the most likely alternative solution to the physical sciences and the most likely solution to the social sciences, and by consequence the most likely solution to moral and conscious artificial intelligence, have been produced outside of the university system by those of us unwilling to forgo years of our productive lives and serve as labor to the specialization and paradigm anchoring of the postwar university system.

Markets always win.

Curt Doolittle
The Propertarian Institute
Kiev, Ukraine
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David Velleman
David Velleman
3 years ago

To those who have suggested that my proposal is out of keeping with the practices of other academic fields: Please see https://academia.stackexchange.com/questions/48399/how-many-papers-should-a-phd-student-in-math-try-to-publish-before-graduating
(I think that mathematics, as a discipline, is far more similar to philosophy in relevant respects than either the sciences or other fields in the humanities.) Report

Curt Doolittle
Reply to  David Velleman
3 years ago

(Although papers in mathematics are far less embarrassing than papers in philosophy, history, and literature. I mean, I have no idea what submissions look like to you, but every time I go through a stack of publications I’m horrified by the quality of the work. Until philosophy follows physics and psychology into the use of operational language – which is what I work on – the discipline will continue to produce thirty one flavors – permutations – of expression of the same concepts producing little more than alternative decorations of the same furniture. I mean, what philosophy of any substance has been produced in the past decade? I am not sure that since Kripke, anyone has said anything of substance. And Even Kripke is better explained by Turing and Godel.) I fact, the only meaningful work of philosophy that I know of was produced in psychology by Haidt, who connected political behavior to moral intuitions to evolutionary biology and brain structures. And so, why would anyone study something other than cognitive science, experimental psychology, artificial intelligence, economics, the common law, and voting patterns – other than to continue a century of what appears to be malinvestment in pseudo-scientific fantasy moral literature?

I mean, isn’t your article’s argument nothing more than one of creating a narrow monopoly for the purpose of rent seeking? That’s basic economics.)Report

Chris Stephens
Chris Stephens
Reply to  David Velleman
3 years ago

David: Thanks for the math link, and for beginning this conversation. The math page you link to suggests many mathematicians do publish before finishing the PhD, and that is varies by subdiscipline how much. (I also think they’d never go for prohibiting students from publishing). But although there are some ways in which philosophy is close to math (e.g., mostly a priori in its methods), there are also, I think, some important differences that might be relevant to these issues. In mathematics, there is much more consensus about what constitutes good or publishable work. I don’t have a link handy, but I remember seeing that there was a considerable inverse correlation between this consensus issue and acceptance rates. So even top journals in the sciences like Science or Nature have considerably higher acceptances rates that middle of the road philosophy journals. This is because the scientists themselves (and presumably this applies also to mathematicians) have a better sense of what is good or significant and worthy of publication. So they don’t bother sending mediocre stuff to top journals as much. But in the humanities, there is usually less consensus about this.

So: I think this greater lack of consensus in philosophy makes the problem you’re addressing worse. People have suggested having your advisor check before and student submits but I think this would only slightly address the problem because of these disciplinary differences.

Another important difference between mathematics and philosophy, if the link you refer to is trustworthy, is that it appears there are far more postdocs and it is far more common for mathematicians to post-doc first. In this sense they are more like the sciences. So those mathematicians who remark that it is OK to not necessarily have published while finishing the PhD also say that you must publish while a post-doc before getting your first job. So that’s another important difference.

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David Velleman
David Velleman
Reply to  Chris Stephens
3 years ago

Thanks, Chris,

I agree that lack of consensus reduces the amount of self-selection that goes on in the submission process. But I think the differences of opinion are not among authors; they’re rather between authors and editors. There is an unfortunate degree of consensus among most philosophers as to what constitutes quality in a philosophy paper: quality consists in a well-known problem, a review of solutions attempted thus far, and a tweak to one of those solutions, or a way of combining some of them.Report

PostDoc
PostDoc
3 years ago

Why isn’t the solution to have journals adopt this policy: stop publishing formulaic papers on safe topics? Once people realize these type of papers are not getting published, that will discourage the writing of such papers and encourage risk-taking in research. Another effect would be that journals are less inundated with garbage. Report

E
E
Reply to  PostDoc
3 years ago

You’re maybe the 10th person in this thread to disparage a whole swath of work as “formulaic” and “safe.” But I have very little idea what you or anyone else are talking about when you describe work in this way. But how about this. Why don’t you link us to some of the creative and dangerous work _you’ve_ published?

Sure, I could ask you to help me get a grip on what you mean, by asking you to link us to any bit of creative and dangerous work. But presumably the stuff _you’ve_ publish is _especially_ creative and dangerous, given how quick you are to trash other people’s work.

How about it?

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PostDoc
PostDoc
Reply to  E
3 years ago

Actually, I never claimed or even implied that my own work is creative or dangerous. In fact, I’d probably be the first person to admit that I often play it safe, precisely because the in current climate (and given my career stage) I’ve found it easier and faster to publish these sorts of papers. And I publish them because I have been lead to believe that I need to keep turning out publications.

And if you can’t tell the difference between work that is formulate and safe vs. creative and dangerous, then I suspect your problems are much bigger than mine. Report

E
E
Reply to  PostDoc
3 years ago

“In fact, I’d probably be the first person to admit that I often play it safe, precisely because the in current climate (and given my career stage) I’ve found it easier and faster to publish these sorts of papers. And I publish them because I have been lead to believe that I need to keep turning out publications.”

You self-consciously contribute to “inundating” journals with “garbage,” then? Seriously?

“And if you can’t tell the difference between work that is formulate and safe vs. creative and dangerous, then I suspect your problems are much bigger than mine.”

Please. You know full well that there would be serious disagreement surrounding any example you could supply of a putatively “formulaic” and “safe” paper.

But maybe you are right. Maybe it really is as easy as you suggest to spot published “garbage.” I doubt it. Let’s test this out, though. I originally suggested that _one_ way to sort all of this out would be for you to supply your own creative and dangerous work. But that’s not the only way. Examples of your self-described “formulaic” and “safe” work will do, too. Give us links.

You won’t, of course. And sure, you’ll point out that it isn’t prudent to do so. But where I’m from, we have a lot of words that probably wouldn’t fly on this kind of forum for people like you – people who talk shit without the courage to back it up. But hey, at least we’ve cleared _something_ up.

(If this comment gets pulled for not being sugar coated in faux academic politeness, the comment from “postdoc”‘ – in which the work of our colleagues is described as “garbage” – damn well better be pulled, too.)

Report

PostDoc
PostDoc
Reply to  E
3 years ago

If you think there aren’t clear cases of excellent and creative and trail-blazing papers, as well as clear cases of uninteresting or narrow or safe papers, then, well, I stand by my earlier comment that you’ve got a big problem. The mere fact that we cannot expect universal consensus on the issue provides little reason to doubt this. I could point to some safer papers, including my own, but as you mentioned it would be imprudent to do so. Participating in academic suicide to appease some random person on the internet (who seems unreasonably upset about my fairly benign comment) hardly qualifies as “uncourageous,” to my mind.

I’d also like to point out that at no point have I talked shit about anybody, I’ve merely suggested in the abstract that there are very good and very bad papers. I’m not even sure that qualifies as smack talk. Report

David Velleman
David Velleman
Reply to  PostDoc
3 years ago

Yes, this would indeed be a solution. At Philosophers’ Imprint, we refuse to publish “interventions” — that is, incremental contributions to ongoing debates. This policy introduces other distortions (which are a topic for another day), but it does tend to eliminate a lot of formulaic workReport

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
3 years ago

Yet one further reason that this is a terrible idea just occurred to me, and I don’t think anyone’s noted it: If philosophy were to adopt this it would amount to pretty much cutting our own throats as far as recent PhD’s getting postdocs that are open to applications from multiple disciplines. We already do bad enough at that, but just imagine if every philosophy grad student had zero publications while competing against graduate students in the rest of the humanities with multiple ones. Further, it would also put early career philosophers who apply for grants at a bad disadvantage as well. Even if they could start publishing after they get out of school they’d already be way behind those in other disciplines who were publishing in grad school and playing catch up. Report

Michel X.
Michel X.
Reply to  Sam Duncan
3 years ago

Yeah, I said it in my first post way up above, at the beginning of the thread. But it’s worth repeating, because it’s true (and got buried!). Philosophers already don’t do especially well in interdisciplinary grant competitions. Having to add a note to the proposal explaining that graduate students aren’t allowed to publish in any journals would not help at all.Report

Samuel Duncan
Samuel Duncan
Reply to  Michel X.
3 years ago

Michel X. Sorry about that! It’s a long long thread though. I guess it’s kind of like research; you think you’re making an interesting point and find you’re reinventing the wheel.

And yeah we do badly indeed. In fact, the last time I applied for a grant the person helping me spent a long time telling me just how badly philosophers fare in such competitions.Report

KV
KV
3 years ago

When I first went on the market with zero publications, I got interviews in the US but not in other markets, like the UK and Australia. Philosophers working in other countries have often said that job candidates with no publications aren’t remotely competitive, and are often eliminated for bureaucratic reasons. If things haven’t changed in this regard, then David’s proposal just can’t work. This is worse than the (also serious) we wouldn’t be competitive for postdocs, etc., that are open multiple disciplines. Looking over some of the more recent comments just now, I see that Patrick Stokes made the same, or a similar, point. It’s worth repeating though. It strikes me as pretty decisive. Report

Boaz Miller
3 years ago

Rather than judge the papers by their merit, and stop accepting mediocre papers (“formulaic paper on safe topics”), Velleman is suggesting reintroducing numerus claususes, which have always been the easiest solution for preventing less privileged people from flooding a field, e.g., Jews in medical and law schools. I have an alternative solution. Journal editors who cannot keep the gates based only merit considerations should resign and clear the way to editors who can. Report

Douglas W. Portmore
Reply to  Boaz Miller
3 years ago

Let’s keep in mind that this is just a proposal, that Velleman is clearly concerned about the less privileged, and that Velleman has done a tremendous service to the profession in co-founding and editing Philosophers’ Imprint. Report

Recent PhD who published in grad school
Recent PhD who published in grad school
Reply to  Douglas W. Portmore
3 years ago

I hope Velleman is more concerned about the less privileged now that he has gotten an overwhelmingly critical, negative response to his proposal. I didn’t detect any such concern in the proposal itself. And it’s precisely his role as the editor of Phil Imprint that makes this whole thing disturbing. If he had simply implemented parts of his proposal in his own journal, and encouraged his journal editor peers to do the same, it could have been a disaster for all the reasons that previous commenters have given. I am at least grateful that he at least floated the proposal on the blog, so that the broader philosophical community could immediately point out how terrible it is. Report

David Velleman
David Velleman

I’m afraid to you don’t understand how the “less privileged” will be affected by the changes currently underway among the “more privileged”. In the past, the latter were discouraged by their advisors from publishing , and so publication could give the former some compensating advantage. But now the “more privileged” are rushing to publish, and so publication will no longer give the “less privileged” a leg up. Expectations are now rising across the board, and so publication will no longer gain anyone more visibility than his/her competition. The compensating advantage that publication previously offered to the “less privileged” is gone. Report

Recent PhD who published in grad school
Recent PhD who published in grad school
Reply to  David Velleman
3 years ago

I’m afraid that it is you who does not understand: the argument for grad student publication isn’t merely that it compensates for low prestige, as long as those with high prestige withhold from publishing – it’s that the anonymous peer-review process provides all aspiring philosophers with an equal opportunity to demonstrate their future philosophical potential to search committees (except the ones at Daniel Kaufman’s institution). It makes things more fair. You are advocating for a less fair system, for less opportunity to go around, and for the further entrenchment of a power structure that you benefit from, for the sake of other people who also benefit from that system. You defend this blatantly unfair position by arguing that those who benefit from this power structure are philosophically superior, and so ensuring equality of opportunity for anyone else is a waste of resources. But this claim is unsubstantiated and transparently self-serving, and most people on this thread do not believe it. Report

Boaz Miller
Reply to  David Velleman
3 years ago

I am sure your intentions are good, but as many have noted, your suggestion clearly benefits grad students from prestigious universities. Allowing grad students to publish at least gives students from less prestigious universities an opportunity to demonstrate their merit before they graduate, whereas if they can’t publish, they will just assumed to be less talented. It’s true that “privileged” grad students can also publish, but then they at least compete on a (more) plain playfield.
In addition, this isn’t a philosophy paper, where you need to entrench yourself and fight every possible objection. You can admit that you didn’t think everything through, and that after reading the comments, your solution is less attractive than you thought it was. Real-world problems rarely have neat one-line solutions like philosophical problems. Report

Recent PhD who published in grad school
Recent PhD who published in grad school
Reply to  Boaz Miller
3 years ago

Godwin’s law, anybody?Report

reluctant but interested
reluctant but interested
3 years ago

I wasn’t going to wade into this, but I have a genuine question (that I don’t mean to sound snarky–let me make clear that I don’t think I support the proposal and I’m just curious what people think about this). Do we have good reasons to think that the purported “blind” review publishing process is *more* fair and/or meritocratic (I don’t think those are the same thing–and I’m wondering about both of them) than the philosophy job market is? Certainly I’ve read some recent papers published in really fancy journals by really fancy philosophers which are genuinely bad papers (poorly written, don’t advance a debate, or enter into a debate new to the author without doing the requisite research for doing so); I’ve also recommended rejection of a paper to a journal that then decided to publish it I suspect (but do not know this!) because a fancy person wrote it; I think there’s a fair amount of evidence that at least some journals are biased towards famous senior people; are they also biased towards junior people with fancy pedigrees or backing from those famous senior people? I don’t really know. If they are, is this bias smaller than the bias that hiring departments might have towards people with fancy pedigrees? I realize that in a lot of cases, perhaps, blind review is really genuinely blind. But given what I know about the journal process, I’d be surprised if those cases outnumbered the cases where either (a) the journal doesn’t practice triple blind review; or (b) the editor knew some other way whose paper it was, or at least had a strong suspicion; or (c) the referee(s) either knew or had a strong suspicion.

tl;dr: do we have a strong reason to trust that the publishing process is less biased in ways that are unfair or un-meritocratic than the job market is? Or less networky? I think this is going to sound really regressive or awful or something, and I don’t mean it to be a challenge. Just a question that seems relevant to at least one of the major objections to the proposal.

(Related: Certainly it seems like Velleman’s identifying a real problem with respect to publishing; I’m therefore not sure how to take the idea that we need to let grad students publish so that grad students from less elite programs can get jobs. Is the idea that while that still makes things a crapshoot (because publishing in a very short window of time is a crapshoot), it is a crapshoot that helps level the playing field because it’s a lottery that people from all departments can enter into before they enter into the next lottery, which disfavors those from less elite programs? Do people think that the journal/publishing process is more accurate at recognizing good philosophical work than a given hiring committee is? Or is the idea that neither is very good at it, but the journal/publishing process is more fair because of blind review?)Report

Colin Klein
Colin Klein