Project to Develop Code of Publishing Ethics for Philosophy Awarded $75k
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a $75,000 grant to a a team undertaking the development of a code of publishing ethics for philosophy.
The project is led by Fairfield University associate professor of philosophy Kris Sealey (Fairfield), and includes the Executive Director of the American Philosophical Association (APA) Amy Ferrer, academic consultant Rebecca Kennison (K|N Consultants), and philosophers Yannik Thiem (Villanova), Adriel M. Trott (Wabash), and Kyle Powys Whyte (Michigan State).
This group, according to a press release from the APA, “will work with philosophers and publishers on publication policies, best practices, and recommendations for a code of publication ethics. The goal is to create a resource that journal editors, publishers, and professional societies both in philosophy and in the humanities more broadly can use and adapt.”
Issues on the table include:
- scholarly misconduct
- diversity in citation and engagement practice
- varieties of plagiarism
- bias in research, peer review, and editorial practices
- correcting the scholarly record
The press release adds: “in order to address widespread disagreement about these issues, the grant will bring editors, scholars, and publishers together to develop a set of explicit and clear guidelines.”
Further details here.
Sounds like a great project.
However, I hope the full list of issues to tackle includes communication with authors (i also didn’t see it in the link, but the list there was partial as well). Regulations on timely responses and respectful language, for example, would be helpful.Report
Justin’s bullet points cut out some of the most concerning language in the original press release:
“evolving forms of scholarly misconduct, diversity in citation and engagement practice, varieties of plagiarism, and implicit bias in research, peer review, and editorial practices, as well as correcting the scholarly record when missteps occur.”
If, as has been speculated elsewhere, this task-force sees itself as pivoting on the issues raised by the Tuvel case (it frames itself in relation to “recent publishing controversies” and foregrounds “diversity in citation and engagement practice” as a concern, while half the task force members signed anti-Tuvel letters), then is it mere paranoia to think that the task force’s language suggests goals like…
– “EVOLVING FORMS OF scholarly misconduct” – a way to retroactively redefine Tuvel’s actions (presumably her “failure” to cite people of various demographics) as misconduct.
– “plagiarism, and implicit bias” – the sentence’s early “and” (the final conjunction of the list is an “as well as”) here places implicit bias and plagiarism on the same level of “ethics,” making a paper deemed to reflect its author’s implicit bias commensurable with one demonstrated to contain plagiarism.
– “correcting the scholarly record WHEN MISSTEPS OCCUR” – a way, having retroactively designated Tuvel’s article misconduct, to justify the retraction the task force members originally called for.
Paranoia perhaps. But given the track record of the task force membership, and given the fact that Hypatia’s new board of directors and editorial search team are overwhelmingly populated by anti-Tuvel letter signers, don’t be surprised to see “explicit and clear guidelines” that failure to cite according to demographic criteria will henceforth count as misconduct worthy of retraction.Report
I don’t think this is paranoia. This seems an attempt at creating a tool to de-legitimize work which fails to accord with a specific (the “correct”) point of view; to obscure an agenda behind the mask of objectivity. I can wish that they’ll prove me wrong, but I wouldn’t hope for it.Report
I’m getting pretty tired of people uncritically talking about the need to address implicit bias without, first, addressing the issues around that effect and its meaning.Report
Especially considering that the science presented thus far on its behalf has been pretty thoroughly discredited, not to mention the ethically dubious ways in which it is being deployed.Report
In case anyone isn’t familiar with the conceptual and empirical problems surrounding “implicit bias”:
I did something on it myself last year.
This project’s focus on misconduct confronts philosophy’s version of the SEC’s problem: it’s impossible to specify ex ante all modes of misconduct. Whatever gets prohibited, someone will find a loophole.
A more productive strategy is to identify and illustrate best practices. Those who choose practices other than the best then bear the burden of proof for the adequacy of their research methods and work products.Report
And who determines what counts as a “best practice”? That probably varies widely between different traditions, due to differing (often assumed, unexamined) principles about the purpose and means of philosophical inquiry. You can determine “best practices” in *practical* fields because of their easily quantifiable, measurable results; but in what is essentially theoretical (and practical only by extension)…? I’m skeptical.Report
‘And who determines what counts as a “best practice”?’
The grant getters who propose to determine what counts as a violation, of course.
Publishing isn’t that woolly: what counts as good editorial practice isn’t that difficult (as any editor—and any editorial intern—will tell you). If you want data, take a survey.
This is not really a question about the purpose of philosophical inquiry, but about how to review a manuscript. Naturally, philosophers can take a simple question and make it impossible to answer.Report
Yeah, philosophers have an annoying habit of pointing out that value-laden group decisions are value-laden. We should just step out of the way and let majority rule, no doubt.Report
Thats not at all what Michael was saying. Editorial staff are experts on the (evaluative) question. So go ask them.Report
What a joke. Brian Leiter’s post today on this issue is spot-on.Report
A number of the investigators were Tuvel-letter signatories. This means we have contemptible bullies guilty of egregious professional misconduct now taking money to write a code of ethics in publication, which, as Leiter argues, they will no doubt use to rationalize their bad behavior.
The upshot of this is that these authors are anti-reliable, so we can discover the truth about citation and publication ethics by putting the word “not” in front of whatever they produce.Report
Once again, our professional organization echoes and manifests some of the worst pathologies affecting our discipline. If one was not already convinced of the APA’s utter lack of credibility, I cannot imagine that this absurd development would fail to do so.Report
Consider the citation principle Mere Demography. It holds that an article may be found deficient in one way merely because it fails to cite any work by people fitting certain demographic categories (especially any such categories or related ones under discussion in the article).
I don’t think Mere Demography has many supporters in academic philosophy. I’d be surprised if it had any. (If you subscribe to Mere Demography, let’s hear from you.)
Rather, I think, some people subscribe to a citation principle we can call Due Diligence. It holds that a paper may be found deficient in one way if it fails to cite worthwhile and relevant work.
People interpret the demands of Due Diligence differently.
Some of those who subscribe to it understand that some others do not take it seriously, and so understand that they cannot generally rely on what others cite as a reliable guide to the relevant literature. They have to do more research. This involves searching for possibly (typically?) overlooked relevant materials, including but not limited to: (a) publications in less prestigious or well-known journals, or by less prestigious presses, (b) chapters in edited collections, especially those published by less prestigious presses, (c) relevant work outside one’s area of specialization or one’s discipline, and (d) work by members of groups that have been in the past or are today to varying degrees marginalized in the profession—especially, for various reasons, if such people are the subject of the work in question.
This sounds reasonable, no?
Now I have no idea what form the recommendations of this team will take, or what exact subjects they’ll tackle, but here’s something we do know. Mere Demographics doesn’t stand a chance of being included. So can we stop acting as if something like that is on the table? Maybe some version of something like Due Diligence will be, but again, I don’t know.
But but but the Tuvel affair! Weren’t people, including philosophers, complaining about a lack of citations in a way that’s best explained by them subscribing to Mere Demography? Maybe some of them were, caught up in the rush. Yet just as possible is that they instead subscribe to something like Due Diligence, and assumed that there was relevant material by people with relevantly similar demographic qualities that had been overlooked.
None of this is to excuse how Professor Tuvel was treated. But it is to express a cautionary note about which lessons can be inferred from that episode.
I do think there is (at least) one lesson to draw from it. Most of the people who signed on to early condemnations of Tuvel’s article clearly did not read it first. They probably trusted the judgment of others who had already signed on. Remarkably, the person who is often credited with starting and encouraging the condemnation of Tuvel’s article on Twitter, who is neither a philosopher nor a professor, also did not read the article before she condemned it.
We all understand that sometimes we cannot rely on members of a large and highly motivated group as reliable guides. The lesson is that people should read the work they are being asked to condemn before joining in condemning it. This, too, is a version of due diligence. Perhaps the set of recommendations that come out of this project could include means by which it is encouraged not just in authors but in editors and readers, too.Report
Consider also a citation principle called *My Friends and Me*. According to this position, proper citation practices require A) that authors cite my friends and me, B) that my friends and me have our status elevated, and C) that authors defer as much as possible to my friends and me.
*My Friends and Me* explains a great number of the criticisms Tuvel received.Report
Let’s not forget: the open letter didn’t just complain about Tuvel’s article; it didn’t simply condemn it; it was quite explicitly a request to the editors of Hypatia that the article be *retracted*. (“To Hypatia Editor, Sally Scholz, and the broader Hypatia community: As scholars who have long viewed Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy as a valuable resource for our communities, we write to request the retraction of a recent article, entitled, “In Defense of Transracialism.” Its continued availability causes further harm… Our concerns reach beyond mere scholarly disagreement”)
I’m sympathetic to the general principle Justin states, that “people should read the work they are being asked to condemn before joining in condemning it”. But it was not necessary to read Tuvel’s article to know that the Open Letter was outrageous; it sufficed to read the Open Letter itself. And this project, a majority of whose academic participants were enthusiastic supporters of the Open Letter, includes as a goal working out rules for “correcting the scholarly record when missteps occur” – which, given the context, reads less innocently than it might otherwise have.Report
I honestly do not believe that the principle of due diligence is a sustainable one.
Consider a topic on which I am currently working: the debate about knowing how. Every month, two or three new papers appear on this topic. There are easily several hundred relevant papers on the topic published since 2010. And the number just keeps growing. And this is only papers in philosophy journals; I am not counting papers in linguistics, cognitive science, etc. And the number just keeps growing…
Moreover, it is not clear that Due Diligence should be restricted to recent papers. Many dead philosophers have written on the topic of practical knowledge. Why should they not be cited?
If I were to follow Due Diligence for a paper on this topic, the bibliography alone might exceed the word limits of most journals.Report
Maybe a tighter conception of relevance would make it more workable?Report
Honestly, the more reasonable thing is a tighter connection of ‘worthwhile-ness’, but good luck with that. ‘Due Diligence’ is a reasonable expectation on someone when they are researching the essay. They should look at relevant stuff! It is a silly principle to guide citation practices, especially if it means referees will try policing articles along these lines, because it encourages the kind of lazy refereeing with which everyone is justifiably annoyed. No one objects to a referee report that makes the case for citing something by showing how it is important and relevant to the essay. Here, though, is what from what I can tell from conversations with other people a much more familiar experience: you write an essay, citing work by others that has influenced your own view in some way and also work that, by comparison, might help others understand what you are saying. You include in those citations an explanation of the relevance of the work to your essay. These are not the only works on the topic you have read. They are simply the ones you have judged worthwhile by the following standard: they matter for you to get across your point in this essay.
And here comes a referee report, whether positive or negative overall, that includes a chiding demand to ‘cite relevant literature’ or to cite specific other people. No direction is given about why it matters for your essay. So you try to guess what exactly they want you to cite (which is often a version of what Jason Brennan says above: ‘my dissertation advisor and his former students, including and especially me’ with the last part sometimes implicit and sometimes not). You then do one of two things: (1) you explain why citing that stuff is either unproductive or counterproductive in your guide to revisions (if you didn’t get a rejection on this basis) or (2) you add random footnotes that just list a bunch of ‘relevant works’ without any substantial engagement with them whatsoever, in part because a lot of it is stuff you earlier decided was unimportant for the purposes of your essay but you can’t say that without pissing off the referee. The first option usually hits a brick wall. The second option sometimes works. And so every essay ends up citing a whole lot of things while not engaging with most of them because you need to cite the right people to avoid this lazy referee trap.Report
If three of the four philosophers on the team signed the anti-Tuvel letter, then the team isn’t diverse with respect to opinions on its subject and also isn’t, I venture, representative of opinion across the discipline. Could we have an APA-endorsed project on the ethics of constructing APA-endorsed projects, with special focus on diversity and inclusion in membership?Report
As you note, people interpret the demands of Due Diligence differently. There seem to be a fair number of people who explicitly endorse something like Due Diligence, but interpret it in such a way that it implies something like Mere Demographics. They think that one of the factors that makes another work “worthwhile and relevant” to your own (and, therefore, that should be cited) are the demographic categories into which the author falls (maybe becomes of the author’s unique “standpoint”). These people seem to think that that factor has sufficient weight so that a paper deserves significant criticism (maybe even retraction) because it does not cite work that would otherwise not be worthwhile or relevant to cite but that is written by an author that falls into one or more relevant demographic categories.Report
I am very confused by the official status of this project. The APA press release says that it is meant to “develop a code of ethics for publishing in the field of philosophy.” They aim to produce a resource that authors and publishers etc. can use. Is this just a practical ethics research project like many others . . . similar, say, to a funded project investigating the uses of artificial intelligence? If so, why is the APA making an announcement about it? (It doesn’t announce every little grant any philosopher gets, does it?) And why would the team include Amy Ferrer, who has no qualifications in philosophy? Or is this some kind of official body that has the authority to establish, or at least propose, a code of conduct that would have some binding or exemplary official force? If so, why is it so unrepresentative of the profession? — including people who are individually not eminently well-qualified or experienced in academic publishing, and collectively not representative of the range of philosophy publishing. It’s very strange.Report
It’s not obvious to me why a principle like Due Diligence would count as an ethical principle rather than a principle (or criterion?) governing. the quality of a philosophical article, although maybe this distinction isn’t as sharp as i’m inclined to think it is.Report
There are six people in the project team: four academics with university appointments (Sealey, Thiem, Trott, Powys Whyte), the Executive Director of the APA (Amy Ferrer), and one private consultant with a background in publishing (Rebecca Kennison).
On the basis of some quick research:
1) as noted by Brian Leiter and others, three of the six (Thiem, Trott, Kennison) signed the Tuvel open letter. But that somewhat understates things. After all, over eight hundred people signed the Tuvel letter; perhaps many of them were just caught up in the bandwagon. But Thiem and Trott were the 32nd and 35th signatories, well before any bandwagon can have got started. Kennison signed much later, but I recall her from the discussions at the time as being an active advocate (on Daily Nous and I think elsewhere online) for Tuvel’s paper being retracted (something that even some signatories of the letter quickly disavowed). So I think we have to regard three of the six investigators as active, committed supporters of the Tuvel open letter (at least at the time).
2) Depending slightly on how you categorise things, either most or all of the academics are primarily or substantially working in the same academic field broadly construed: philosophy of race and gender. Kennison has a PhD in colonialist/post-colonialist literature. So fairly clearly the project team wasn’t selected with any view to a range of disciplines within philosophy. (Ferrer’s post-undergraduate background is in nonprofit management, not academia.)
3) This is slightly hard to tell from an online search, so I apologise if I’ve missed anything, but I don’t think any of the team members is currently acting as a journal editor. (Kennison has extensive experience in academic publishing, but on the production side, not as an academic.)
So I think it’s very clear that this is not a team that was assembled with any real view to getting a range of views across the profession or drawing from appropriate expertise. I don’t see any way to understand it other than as an attempt to work through these issues *from a particular perspective* – and, in particular, a perspective aligned to, or at least sympathetic to, the Tuvel open letter.
… which is entirely fine, in of itself. I disagreed very strongly with the Tuvel letter, and still do, but if we’re going to have these disputes let’s at least get the participants to work out a properly argued case for what they actually think is sensible and appropriate on their conception of academia, outside the intensity of a particular cause celebre. So I don’t have any problem at all with the grant, in of itself. (And if I did, that’s my problem: people I disagree with also get academic freedom.) Sealey’s statement about the grant is entirely consonant with this understanding of it.
However, the APA mostly doesn’t present it that way.
– The grant is announced on their website, which they don’t normally do for grants.
– The APA executive director is part of the project, I assume ex officio.
– The tone of the press release definitely implies (arguably, outright states) that the goal of the project is not just academic work advocating a given approach to publishing ethics, but something that’s supposed to define best practice in the profession and to carry the imprimatur of the APA.
This may all simply be a matter of over-enthusiasm in a press release. But it is extremely unfortunate. I am not a member of the APA (for reasons not entirely disconnected to this sort of thing); those who are, might want to seek clarification. They might also want to clarify whether the APA (or at least its executive directory) is intentionally signalling support for the Tuvel open letter position – it was so obvious that it would be seen that way, given the makeup of the project team, that it’s hard to interpret it as anything else, but sometimes things that look obvious from outside can be missed from inside a busy organisation.Report
Some further (entirely public) information about the participants:
 Dr. Whyte wrote on peer review and discrimination on this site, apparently partly prompted by the Tuvel affair. His views appear at
 Dr. Sealey was a commentator at the APA presentation of Tuvel’s paper
 Kennison, as Wallace notes, not only signed the letter, but went on to spend weeks on twitter defending the call for retraction.