Bypassing The Journals

In the lively and still ongoing discussion of “The Publication Emergency,” a few commenters suggest the use of an online archive for posting papers. See this comment from Jc Beall. In a related comment written at about the same time as Beall’s, jdkbrown says:

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—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.

By coincidence, Dan Dennett (Tufts) wrote in yesterday to let me know that he and biologist David Haig (Harvard) recently posted a pair of papers, Haig’s “Making Sense: Information Interpreted as Meaning” and Dennett’s prefatory essay for it, “Haig’s Strange Inversion of Reasoning” on the PhilSci Archive.

Haig’s paper, Dennett writes,

propounds and illustrates the unity of a radically revised set of definitions of the family of terms at the heart of philosophy of cognitive science and mind: information, meaning, interpretation, text, choice, possibility, cause. This biological re-grounding of much-debated concepts yields a bounty of insights into the nature of meaning and life.

Dennett writes that they decided to post the papers to the archive

after they were both rejected by Mind & Language. Haig’s paper was first rejected by Biology & Philosophy, and then I wrote my companion piece, or introduction, better to explain to philosophers what Haig’s revolutionary ideas were, and we sent the pair to M&L. Both were rejected. So Haig and I decided to put them on line and see if we could get a more receptive reaction. In two days we’ve had over 1600 hits and 330 downloads. We are looking forward to a lively discussion…

The pair of papers are posted as a single document here.

Whether we can draw any general lessons from this is unclear, as the kind of attention that work by particularly well-known academics like Dennett and Haig gets when posted without a journal’s imprimatur is unlikely to be representative of the reception of work by the typical academic. But perhaps for such a model to get off the ground, it helps if its used early on by more established researchers.

Discussion is welcome—of the use of online archives in lieu of or in conjunction with publication, and also, if you’d like, the substance of Haig and Dennett’s papers.

Yoaz – Owl


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