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 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.
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.
There’s a website created by people in the MIT Media Lab that is trying to make space for articles to be peer-reviewed publicly, which might be of interest. pubpub.org
You create an account, publish your article, and people can review it with public comments. You can even invite people to review it. It seems like people are moving in this direction.Report
The JC Beall who made this interesting suggestion is not the Jeffrey Beall who won some plaudits for maintaining a list of Predatory Journals trying to climb on the Open Access bandwagon. Jeffrey Beall subsequently got some brickbats and has mothballed his list http://beallslist.weebly.com/ . One of the problems was that he was threatened with legal action by publishers who were outraged to be included on the list. The bigger problem that still hasnt been solved by Open Access journal publishers is that refereeing standards are very hard to maintain in an OA commercial model. If the OA journal makes its way by charging authors or their institutions small amounts to cover overheads, the OA publisher is under pressure to publish as much as possible. So soon a lot of rubbish. I think JC Beall’s suggestion will run into this problem. Papers by Dennett and Haig will receive recognition wherever they are published. Papers by John or Jessica NoName will mostly get no attention when published in a forum like https://arxiv.org/Report
“The bigger problem that still hasnt been solved by Open Access journal publishers is that refereeing standards are very hard to maintain in an OA commercial model.” Could you explain what you mean by this? The OA journal I co-edit is not ‘commercial,’ so perhaps I just don’t understand what it is that lowers standards in the OA journals you have in mind?Report
Maintaining an editorial and delivery system for 1000’s of article submissions per quarter costs a reasonable amount of money. So supporting OA journals at scale is a significant investment. PLOS (the Public Library of Science) has been a powerful trailblazer, and it is a commercial but not-for-profit, foundation supported, enterprise. PLOS made a big breakthrough when it launched PLOS ONE – a broad scope journal for the life sciences, with rapid publication and much lower article processing charges (a few hundred dollars per paper, not $1-2,000). But in the last two years PLOS ONE has been challenged and overtaken by a purely commercial rival Scientific Reports (owned by Springer/Nature). There is a useful summary with links to further reading https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2017/04/06/scientific-reports-overtakes-plos-one-as-largest-megajournal/
Any crisis in philosophy publishing is part of a broader crisis in arts and humanity publishing. So promising solutions are likely to be federated with solutions developed in other disciplines. That said, philosophy does have a unique challenge: perhaps for no other discipline can one say with modest confidence that quality would be improved if less is published?Report
What Kate Norlock said. I also co-edit an open-access philosophy journal (Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology), and our refeering standards are the same as the other journals in our field, especially since we draw on the same pool of referees.Report
Indeed there are some of our colleagues — I can’t say how many, but my sense is that it’s growing — who are willing to volunteer their time for reviewing more generously to non-commercial journals than to commercial ones. So it may be becoming the case that non-commercial journals actually draw on a slightly improved pool of referees relative to commercial journals.Report
Adam Hodgkin makes the all-too-common mistake of conflating “open access” with what is usually called “gold open access” and includes many for-profit and predatory journals, which often doesn’t even include properly open licenses, and which has the problematic incentive structure mentioned. But all of the reputable Open Access journals in philosophy (including FPQ and PTPBio) are “platinum” or “diamond” open access, which are nonprofit, have no publication fee, and have none of the incentive structure problems mentioned.
Unfortunately, the predatory journals are sullying the name “open access” when they are usually anything but.Report
Hi Matthew, was I conflating the many varieties of Open Access? There was a qualification: “The bigger problem that still hasnt been solved by Open Access journal publishers is that refereeing standards are very hard to maintain in an OA commercial model. If the OA journal makes its way by charging authors or their institutions small amounts to cover overheads..” The problem comes with scale when a large volume of refereeing, revisions and editing is needed. It may be that philosophy has some unique challenges and opportunities in making Open Access effective. In mathematics and linguistics scholars have been active in constraining and ‘flipping’ journals into an open access mode, and we have not seen this in philosophy (when a journal is flipped, the editors and editorial board wholesale depart the established journal and start a doppelganger open rival). On the positive side, I do not know of any example from another discipline of a publication as effective, comprehensive and useful as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. While the SEP is not a journal in the normal acceptance of the word, it is a multi-authored, refereed and periodical publication, and a remarkable collective achievement.Report
there’s already an archive attached to philpapers — the philpapers archive, which is the biggest archive in philosophy with 10,000 papers. people sometimes don’t know about it because it is integrated fairly seamlessly with the rest of the philpapers index, but we’ll shortly be relaunching it in a somewhat more autonomous form.Report
Dave — is this on the model of arxiv.org? My suggestion (highlighted by Justin in the OP above) was to have a widely recognized and accepted venue of preprints, one with which there’s a professional responsibility to stay informed, just as there’s a professional responsibility to stay informed with journal/monograph activity in one’s area. I’m not sure how one elevates something to such a status (I don’t know the history of arxiv.org) but I think that such an item would be a healthy addition to academic philosophy (and ‘the publishing emergency’). JcReport
JC — what do you mean by “on the model of arxiv.org”, exactly? are there specific features you’re after? the rest of what you say is a matter of professional norms which of course we can’t dictate, but which we’ll try to encourage. already very many philosophers upload their new papers to the archive, but probably a minority, and until now we haven’t had a front end dedicated as a gateway to the archive specifically. in the upcoming relaunch (as philarchive) there will be a lot more along those lines and we’ll very much encourage people to use the archive as a matter of course.Report
Dave, one model is merely a repository for the record, and that’s that. But I think of arxiv as a central player in the peer-reviewed-publication process. I think of arxiv as a ‘non-peer-reviewed’ venue for feedback before publication (if any) in ‘officially peer-reviewed journals’. (The first scare/shutter quotes flag the fact that, as I say below, the chief role of arxiv really is to serve as a major form of peer review.) Accurate or not, I think of arxiv’s principal role as the best sort of peer review: 1) a polished paper on X is submitted/uploaded; 2) researchers on X are professionally obligated to consult the given preprints on X (as a matter of responsible research on X); 3) preprints that get feedback/engagement wind up moving towards ‘official journal/etc venues’ xor they sit there on public record without seeing the light of ‘official journal/etc’ publicaiton. That’s the model of arxiv.org as I think of it, but I might be (probably am?) wrong. Either way, if philarchive is already trying to play this role I’m sold on the goal. The hard work, of course, is as you say: mustering a movement towards professional norms that let philarchive play the role in my (2). I do think that the ‘referee crisis’ would be helped a great deal were this practice to take hold. But this is armchair speculation (of course). JcReport
Having a centralized philosophy archive will also favor the creation of overlay journals, thus party bypassing the commercial pressures of some publishing houses. Looking forward to it!Report
JC Beall is right. The crucial things about the ArXiv are the professional norms that go along with it, and how it functions as a peer-review process prior to journal submission. David Velleman complains that journals are overwhelmed with 500-600 submissions per year. I myself have at least 10 papers over many years that, in retrospect, I probably never should have submitted to journals, as I learned they were unpublishable only as a result of submitting them for review (unfortunately, like many people working at small schools, I have very few opportunities for peer-feedback prior to submission). If philosophy had an ArXiv system where uploaded papers were publicly discussed prior to submission, I likely would have learned that the papers were flawed prior to submission and never would have submitted them to journals. If that were the case, and if there are just 50 other people like me (and there are probably far more), then that would be 500 papers right there that wouldn’t waste journal editors’ and reviewers’ time, thus solving Velleman’s worry about journals being overrun by too many papers.
The ArXiv system could also plausibly incentivize ambitious work (over the “AM Radio” work Velleman also complains about), as strong ambitious work might be more likely to stoke more discussion/engagement on an ArXiv-like system than safer work. In other words, provided philosophers adopted the right professional norms — expecting each other to be aware of, cite, and discuss philosophy-ArXiv work prior to appearing in journals — such a system would plausible solve most, if not all, of the problems Velleman raises in his “publication emergency” piece. Finally, I think the worry is misplaced that only work of famous people like Dennett will be discussed. This certainly isn’t the case in physics, where good and provocative papers get discussed regardless of who writes them.Report
At least in the corners of physics I know well, this isn’t how arxiv works. The vast majority of papers posted are in due course formally published. As I discuss in more detail below, the point of arxiv within physics is speed of circulation of research, not initial peer review.Report
Thanks for this information. There might be a misunderstanding. You say, referencing the foregoing discussion, that “this isn’t how arxiv works”, but then say (presumably as the counterexample) that 1) “[t]he vast majority of papers posted are in due course formally published”, and 2) that “the point of arxiv…is speed of circulation of research, not initial peer review.” I do not question the accuracy of your information, but the proposal is neutral with the eventual fate wrt (1). The proposal wrt (2) is that (e.g.,) the would-be goal of a philarchive serves first as you say (a public record of preprints) but second as a de facto peer-review service. (If your arxived paper were shown to be faulty, you wouldn’t publish as it is; you’d re-post with revisions, etc..) The information you provide is still very helpful, but I just wanted to clarify the (philosophy) proposal. Cheers.Report
As Kris McDaniel said on the other thread, the point is to publish the best work and have it accessible so that there is more good philosophy. The problem is putting all the work out there makes it nearly impossible to navigate it. The idea of an archive is great, really great, but it can’t circumvent this problem unless there is refereeing.
As an editor of a journal I am over and over again amazed by the generosity, thoughtfulness, and neutrality of referees. I’ve learned a lot from referees. I’m skeptical about the crisis, but if there is one maybe the answer is to try as hard as we can to broaden who we call on to referees. My feeling is that some people get called on to referee all the time, and some people never do. Some of the best referees I know are rarely called on to referee.Report
I agree with Kris on the ultimate aim. The proposal for a recognized preprint archive — one to which there is a recognized professional obligation to consult — is compatible with that. (No?) That aside, the proposal of a recognized preprint archive — carrying a recognized professional obligation to consult — actually helps the (let me say) ‘referee crisis’ too. In particular, if I am working on a problem, I consult the proposed archive; and, depending on topic, I might get the deep pool of papers, many of which might be not-so-useful. But the ones that *are* useful get picked up in other work, cited, and so on. In the end, those papers that get a lot of preprint-archive citation/talk would have increasingly open doors at journals/etc. (This isn’t the aim, but it mightn’t be an unlikely outcome.) So, the navigation problem together with the very real ‘referee crisis’ might be helped with the preprint-archive idea.Report
Fair enough. Some areas are more navigable and some far far less. My guess is the areas you work in are more navigable and the areas I work in less. That’s not an objection, obviously, just a worry that it will only have limited utility. But limited utility is better than disutility!Report
PhilSci does look like a neat way of providing an arxiv style solution for the Philosophy of Science. It has over 5,000 items and 3 million downloads, which suggests that it is doing a good job (for the philosophy of science). I find it hard to envisage how an arxiv function could be retro-fitted to philpapers (my understanding of that service has been that it works for papers that have passed peer review and been published in reputable journals — mostly toll-access). But clearly we should look forward to the new version of the service. PhilSci has a well thought-through policy on how it can accept (and sometimes reject) papers, preprints, that have not been published or peer-reviewed http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/policy.html Its approach to moderation is rough and ready and is similar to that of arxiv PhilSci expects to accept/reject a monograph within a week — so the mesh is obviously coarse. Not refereeing by any stretch of the imagination.Report
That’s right, PhilSci-Archive is a preprint server modeled on arxiv.org (see David Wallace’s comments) so does no refereeing. As such we don’t aim to provide a replacement for peer-reviewed publication. However, we do what we can to promote peer-reviewed publication in genuine open access journals (see Matthew J Brown’s comment above) by hosting what we call an “echo” of several such journals, including Philosophy & Theory in Biology, Theoria and Lato Sensu (http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/journals.html). We call this an echo not a mirror because rather than mirroring the journal’s website we place original pdfs of published articles in our archive so that they are searchable in the usual way while replicating (or echoing) the journal contents on a dedicated page (for, e.g., P&TB see: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/view/publication/Philosophy_and_Theory_in_Biology/).Report
I’m now avoiding traditional journals completely (or nearly completely) with my single-authored work. My last two papers I wrote, got feedback from people who I know are informed on the topic, got a grad student to help proof-read, got a DOI, and put them up on philpapers and academia.edu. Can’t tell you how great it feels to have my work up exactly the way I want it. No trimming out things for word count issues, or adding or subtracting sections/arguments because some ref or editor’s whim, or wrestling with proof-readers who aren’t philosophically trained. (In short: no more spending an additional 20% more time on the paper to make it 20% worse.) I imagine it’s how recording artists feel when they ditch their labels and regain creative control over their work. I’m not saying it will work for everyone, or that everyone needs it. But for me it’s been liberating.Report
The best thing I ever wrote — and may ever write — was universally rejected. So I put it up on the PhilSci Archive and the downloads have slowly been creeping up: from about one download every other day, to two out of every three days, and now closer to one download per day. Yesterday it passed 500 total downloads. As an academic philosophy outsider, this makes me very happy.Report
A few comments on arxiv.org from a longterm user (most of which are fairly deflationary as to its transformative potential in philosophy):
1) If I recall correctly, arxiv originated (in theoretical physics) as a successor to earlier, more informal online distributions of preprints, which in turn succeeded a fairly systematic arrangement in particle physics for the distribution of paper preprints. In other words, theoretical physics had a need for rapid distribution of research work that predated the internet era, and arxiv is an internet solution to that need.
2) Back in the late 1990s when arxiv was becoming the norm in physics (and when I was a physics grad student) there was lots of talk that it would systematically replace the journals as a credentialing source, possibly through some kind of online peer-rating system. That hasn’t happened. No-one in physics reads a journal anymore, but getting papers accepted by journals is still central to physics credentialing ecosystem. (I’ve just finished an article that has 50-60 references to physics papers of the last 30 years; I think only one has a pure arxiv.org reference without an associated journal/collection publication record, and that was a pedagogical article and not original research.)
3) In your own area (and areas are more narrowly construed in physics than in philosophy) you’ll probably use arxiv without paying much attention to an article’s publication record, because you can judge an article’s quality, relevance and accuracy yourself (and because you know the people and so know whose work is trustworthy). Outside your own area, you’ll pay lots of attention to publication details to know what’s worth reading. So journals still play a role in drawing attention to important work and in quality control, even if it’s more attenuated than it used to be.
4) Arxiv uses an “endorsement” system to try to keep unserious submissions under control. You can’t publish in a section of arxiv unless you’re an endorsed user for that section; you get endorsed by getting someone who’s published lots of articles in that section to endorse you.
5) philsci-archive works very much like arxiv,org, but of course the institutional culture of philosophy of science (and particularly philosophy of physics, which I think makes disproportionate use of it) is much closer to physics than is philosophy as a whole.Report
Should we be concerned about the possibility that something like arxiv.org will undermine the anonymity (or, at least, the pretense of anonymity) of peer-review?
I’ve seen no comment on this kind of worry, so perhaps it is baseless. But this is my main objection to anything like arxiv.org.Report
Anonymous peer review is nonexistent in physics, certainly. It’s incompatible with any system that has as a primary goal disseminating people’s research faster than publication.Report