How To Alleviate the Referee Crisis: A Proposal (guest post)


“There are just too many papers for which editors are seeking reviews.” What can be done about that?

In the following guest post, Max Hayward (Sheffield) proposes some changes that may help address the problem.


How To Alleviate the Referee Crisis: A Proposal
by Max Hayward

Every editor in philosophy—and, by this stage, almost every author—is aware that there is a referee crisis in philosophy. There are just too many papers for which editors are seeking reviews, and the demands on philosophers to referee papers are getting unmanageable.

But as Neil Sinhababu (NUS) has pointed out, part of this is because of the low acceptance rates at philosophy journals. There are simply more very good papers than there are spots in top journals. This means that many excellent, publishable papers will be sent out for review but then rejected many times, as they bounce around different journals and referees, until they find a home.

Here’s a common dynamic. A really good paper will get sent to Top Journal A. It’s read by the Editor, who thinks “yeah this is pretty good”. The Editor then sends it to an Associate Editor, who thinks “yeah this is pretty good”. The Associate Editor and then sends it out to referees, one of whom says “great, publish!” and the other says “this is pretty good, but I have XYZ reservations”. Because the journal has a tiny acceptance rate, they reject in such cases. So the journal writes to the author saying “your paper was good, but we don’t have space for it, sorry”. Since it’s true that lots of great papers get rejected like this and go on to be published in similarly good journals, the author just thinks “better luck next time” and sends it out to Top Journal B. And then Top Journal C. And then Top Journal D—who decide to publish it.

And it can get far worse than this! A good paper that’s submitted, refereed, and rejected by nine journals before it gets accepted at the tenth may have taken up the time of ten editors, ten associate editors, and twenty referees! And most of the work of the editors and referees involved will have done little, if anything, to improve the paper. The collective upshot of low acceptance rates is massive inefficiency.

So one thing top journals could do is increase their acceptance rates. But how can they do this within their page constraints? (To an extent, the move to open access may result in publishers putting pressure on journals to print more pages anyway. And online journals also don’t have the same constraints. But there are also limits when it comes to the labor involved in production and typesetting, etc. So let’s just assume for the moment that most journals have fairly fixed page limits.)

Another trend in philosophy of the past few decades is that journal articles have gotten much longer (despite some pleas for shorter articles). To a great extent, this is a response to the referee process—the prospect of low acceptance rates (which encourage referees to be uncharitable) and the knowledge that you’re going to have to please a lot of different people, encourages authors to write in a self-defensive, teflony style, with exhaustive clarifications that could only interest the “clinically-literal minded”, and lengthy responses to the most uncharitable potential objections. As Bernard Williams pointed out, we end up publishing papers that are like houses with the scaffolding left on. Yes, scholarly rigor demands that all these issues have been thought through. But they don’t have to be in the published paper. This is often material that is not of interest to the vast majority of readers.

But here’s another trend from the past few decades—the rise of the internet. All journals have an online presence. And yet most journals do basically nothing with their websites! They just provide links to the published papers.

So here’s the proposal. Journals should systematically reduce word limits,* and accept and publish more pieces. BUT they also create an online file for each paper, where the author can publish an appendix detailing clarifications and responses to objections. These would have no word limit (or a very high word limit). These would be a part of the publication—read by editors and referees, published online in a finalized form, and maintained by the journal. But they wouldn’t go into the print edition, and they would be demarcated in the online edition so that readers could clearly see what was the main paper and what was an appendix.

Indeed, journals could even allow referees to publish their critiques online, too. This would give referees an incentive to be constructive and fair-minded. Furthermore, I know a lot of referees put a great deal of effort into their reports, and in many cases it is a great shame that these never see the light of day. While most readers won’t want to read a lengthy back-and-forth on every paper, there will be some who do—and they will be able to find it easily and immediately on the journal website.

This will require a bit more hands-on input from editors, to help authors identify which bits of their work belong in the paper and which belong in the appendix. But the overall effect will be to massively reduce the amount of work editors and referees have to do, since each excellent paper will pass through far fewer journals, and thus require much less review time.

It will also make philosophy papers much easier to read, and allow readers to keep abreast of developments in a much wider range of areas without having to wade through details that are probably only relevant to a handful of specialists who are actively writing on the topic (while still preserving those details for those who want to wade through them!). This should help guard against the move towards hyper-specialisation in philosophy, without sacrificing scholarly rigour.

And it will also provide meaningful rewards, in the form of publication of their comments, for referees, who currently get nothing for their extensive service, and make clear their scholarly contribution to the development of papers.

For these latter reasons, I want to say that even if page constraints weren’t a problem, it would still be a good idea to do this—to use journal websites to create appendices, while making the main body of most papers shorter and more focussed on the main contributions of the paper.


*An even better option would be to follow the Australasian Journal of Philosophy’s approach to word limits; AJP has a soft word limit of 8,000 words, and above that the standards for acceptance rise proportionate to length. My proposal would allow journals to run some very long pieces, while realizing that most papers don’t need to be extremely long in order to convey their core arguments and insights. Shortening most papers could also free up more space for the papers which really need to be long.


Related:

A Little Rough Data About Journal Refereeing in Philosophy
How to Fix the Referee Crisis in Professional Philosophy
Why a Crowd-Sourced Peer-Review System Would Be Good for Philosophy
Should You Referee the Same Paper Twice, for Different Journals?
How to Write a Referee Report
Peer Review or Perish: The Problem of Free Riders in Philosophy

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Page limits schmage limits
8 months ago

Having more journals with a short length restriction would definitely help. But the idea that journals have a fixed page limit based on print publishing standards laid down decades ago—especially when no one but libraries gets their articles in print anymore—is ridiculous. Make volumes larger and bring the acceptance rate closer to every other academic discipline. Single-digit acceptance rates are an embarrassment, not a mark of prestige or quality.

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Page limits schmage limits
8 months ago

While paper-based reasons for length restrictions aren’t so important any more, reader attention based reasons for length restrictions are, if anything, getting more important.

Helen De Cruz
8 months ago

I agree that referee-proofing is part of the problem. I’ve just taken over the editor position at Res Philosophica, and I am creating a new category of very short papers (not necessarily analytic philosophy, any genre/format is welcome) to see if we can move in a bit of a different direction. This still needs to come on the website and I’m traveling at the moment, but you can already have a look at the proposal (it’s also explicitly meant to reduce the burden on referees). We will probably go live and open for submissions in a few months.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BGKb2-FaKNQRV1VriWZX-T8kTgR7UrQNBHMOQxTC0VA/edit?usp=sharing

Andy
8 months ago

I think this is a great suggestion. I’d be interested to know what the costs associated with such appendixes would be. I get the impression that at online only venues such as Phil Imprint and Ergo typesetting and proof reading are a major part of the cost associated with publishing an article. So, in order to meet these challenges I’d imagine the additional documents would have to not undergo typesetting and proof reading (i.e. they would have to be published as the author submits them – perhaps within certain limits such as using a particular LaTeX macro). This in and of itself raises some issues – one of the things that recently came up at the Leeds conference on the ‘social epistemology of journals’ is that submissions often vary greatly with respect to the prevalence of e.g., spelling and grammar errors, or stylistic weirdness (which can be an especially big problem for e.g. non-native English speakers, dyslexics etc.). And, although such issues shouldn’t have an impact on the author’s evaluation of a paper, they very often do. This means that without typesetting & proofreading a range of authors (especially non-native English speakers, dyslexics etc.) will often be at risk of having their papers read in less charitable ways. Perhaps this isn’t such an issue here since the main document would undergo proof-reading & only very interested readers would bother reading the additional documents.

Brian Weatherson
Brian Weatherson
8 months ago

The appendix model doesn’t work for an obvious reason. Either you copyedit/typeset the appendix or you don’t. If you do, the costs are basically the same. If you don’t, well you may as well not copyedit/typeset anything if you’re prepared to let stuff go out unchecked under your banner. And then you can have the material in the paper itself.

Printing costs next to nothing these days and libraries pay for printed journals, so the online vs printed distinction is largely irrelevant to costs. I wish people would stop thinking printing is more than a rounding error in the costs of a journal.

Andy
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
8 months ago

I have similar concerns (noted above). But I’m not convinced that if you don’t copy-edit/typeset the appendix you might as well not copy-edit or typeset anything. The item that comes with the journal’s stamp of approval is the article itself – this is copyedited/typeset. The additional material can ultimately be seen as the author’s responsibility. Presumably, it will have got through some filters content-wise (i.e. it was sufficient to convince the referees and editors that the article itself is worthy of publication). But otherwise, as long as the journal is explicit that appendix materials are the author’s responsibility then having ugly texts riddled with spelling and grammatical errors in an appendix doesn’t really reflect badly on the journal. It’s not their responsibility – not really ‘under their banner’. The only role they are playing is hosting a useful record of one aspect of the process that led to the eventual publication of the article (which does come with the journal’s stamp of approval, and all the accompanying typesetting & proofing etc.).

Brian Weatherson
Brian Weatherson
Reply to  Andy
8 months ago

It’s really the citations that are the problem. Having mistaken citations just leads to other people copying them and all sorts of confusion.

Max Khan Hayward
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
8 months ago

I don’t agree! Maybe your have a different experience, but as the Editor of an OUP journal, which outsources production, dealing with production takes up an INSANE amount of my time. Other editors I know have experienced the same. I envisage appendices as fully refereed, so they are owned by the journal. But they don’t need to be properly typeset, or put in journal style (references probably should be checked, but outsourced production companies don’t do this consistently anyway).

As to printing costs – I’m just working with the assumption that journals don’t want to massively increase their page counts. I don’t really know why this reluctance is so widespread (except for the bother of having to do even more work with production). But it just seems to be the case.

Of course, I think the main article / appendix model is independently valuable in making papers more readable!

Brian Weatherson
Brian Weatherson
Reply to  Max Khan Hayward
8 months ago

But you still have to do production for an appendix. Are you just planning to post a word doc, or whatever the author sends you, to the website?

Max Khan Hayward
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
8 months ago

Probably do some basic formatting and post it as a simple PDF – but without having to mess around with external typesetters. Does that make sense?

Brian Weatherson
Brian Weatherson
Reply to  Max Khan Hayward
8 months ago

I’m looking at the submissions I’ve got in recently, and there is no way I’d be happy to post most of the word files I get in without a lot of cleaning up. Maybe you’re different, but we get files with random font variations, 1000+ words per page, massive variation from entry-to-entry on what bibliographic information is included, occasionally still the track changes information left in, etc. And to be clear, these are all things I’ve seen in stuff I’ve looked at in the last 24 hours; the typographical and editorial standards of raw submissions are really all over the place.

Unless philosophers get much better at really basic formatting – ideally by using something like Quarto or some other markdown based format that forces a level of standardisation – there is going to be a lot of production work at every page.

Andy
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
8 months ago

This could be solved by just having stricter formatting requirements on initial submissions – i.e. we won’t look at your article unless it meets basic formatting requirements.

Jonathan Weisberg
Jonathan Weisberg
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
8 months ago

Fwiw, I think some science journals like Nature may do something like this already. For example, this paper is practically a poster, but it comes with a 17 page PDF not typeset by the journal where you find all the theorems, proofs, and experimental protocols:

https://www.nature.com/articles/nature21054

(That said, I don’t think this has any chance of solving the referee crisis, because the problem is definitely not that there are too many great papers kicking around.)

Matt L
Reply to  Jonathan Weisberg
8 months ago

…because the problem is definitely not that there are too many great papers kicking around.

I’d agree w/ this. Maybe it’s different in other areas of philosophy than mine, or for people who _mostly_ referee for the very top journals (I sometimes do for my field, but for lots of other journals, too) but it’s not my exerpience at all. I do an above-average (I think) amount of refereeing – at least 15 and as many as 35 papers in a year in recent years – and I would certainly not say that “too many good” (let alone “great”) papers is a problem I’ve seen, even with some modification for venue and not having super high standards. Lots of what I read simply needs more work or isn’t publishable even with more work.

Luke Gelinas
Luke Gelinas
Reply to  Jonathan Weisberg
8 months ago

Many prominent medical journals do this too, including New England Journal, JAMA, and the Cell journals. Often times the online-only Supplementary Materials (as they’re usually called) include data or in-the-weeds descriptions of methods (e.g., sample size calculations), but I have also seen them used to elaborate on key concepts in the main article. Per the above discussion, in my experience the online-only files are vetted by medical journal editors just as closely as the main manuscript.

Mark van Roojen
Mark van Roojen
8 months ago

Is there evidence that papers are longer these days? I realize that there are fewer places to publish short response papers than there used to be, but there are also very few places one could publish papers of the length that many philosophical classics came in at. I had a longish paper I liked a few decades ago and I had six options for publishing it. And that was before many journals of which I am aware shortened limits. None of those options took it, so it did not get published.

I realize that given the current prudential reasons for people to get their ideas in print quickly, people don’t hang onto papers so that they combine more than one or two main ideas, like they used to. But I quite miss that older style of paper partly because one gets more out of the reading effort.

FWIW, I don’t think editors should automatically reject something that gets an R&R (or even a reject from one of two referees) as Max’s example scenario suggests they would. At least I didn’t generally do that without thinking about the reasons for those recommendations and how they added up.

But yeah, we definitely have a problem finding enough referees. My preferred solution would be that people write somewhat less, but I realize that the way the profession works that is not a real possibility.

Brian Weatherson
Brian Weatherson
Reply to  Mark van Roojen
8 months ago

They were getting longer through 2013. Someone could update this study to see if the trend has continued, but I suspect it has.

http://www-personal.umich.edu/~weath/lda/article-length-section.html

Mark van Roojen
Mark van Roojen
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
8 months ago

Thanks Brian!

Max Khan Hayward
Reply to  Mark van Roojen
8 months ago

I don’t think they should do that either…but at lots of the top journals they do, because they are so short on space!

Kevin Richardson
8 months ago

If referees prefer defensively-written, hyperspecialized papers, then I would expect a lower word limit to simply result in more short, defensively-written, hyperspecialized papers. These papers would crowd out the papers with the clarifications and responses to objections in the appendix, because referees would prefer having clarifications and responses to objections in the main text.

I think the fundamental issue is that referees don’t want to accept the kinds of papers that aren’t bogged down with pre-emptive objections, clarifications, and defensiveness.

Ian
Ian
Reply to  Kevin Richardson
8 months ago

I find that my referees tend to result in my papers being much longer than they were before, not shorter. Sometimes by a good several thousand words. Maybe that’s a “me” problem, but I doubt it’s exclusive to me.

Kevin Richardson
Reply to  Ian
8 months ago

You’re probably right, but I don’t think this would change my suggestion. Suppose the word limit becomes 5,000 words. This would just mean that referees would select for 4,000 word papers that they can later get authors to add 1,000 more words to, in response to them. The papers would be shorter in the end, because of the word limit, but they would contain an equal proportion of the stuff people don’t like, in the main text.

grad student
8 months ago

This might sound strange but do editors send papers out to grad students for review? There are many smart, well-informed-on-the-literature grad students who could review a paper well. If this is already happening, then ignore the suggestion. If it’s not, couldn’t that help quite a bit to expand the referee pool?

Max Khan Hayward
Reply to  grad student
8 months ago

They sometimes do (it’s controversial whether they should), but of course an editor is only likely to be aware of a handful of qualified grad students, so it can’t do that much to help the crisis.

grad student #2
Reply to  grad student
8 months ago

They definitely do. I myself have reviewed papers in multiple subfields multiple times.

Michal Masny
Reply to  grad student
8 months ago

They do. In case that’s a helpful data point, as a graduate student, I refereed 18 papers for 10 different journals. I probably rejected at least 10 more invitations to referee, but I don’t keep a record of those. Several of my colleagues have done a similar amount of refereeing as graduate students.

EJRE
8 months ago

Would it be nice if there were some journals that did something like this? Probably, yeah. I’d love to be able to write a shorter version of the paper then deal with minor clarifications and boring objections in an appendix.

Would it be a good thing if every journal did this? Probably not; some papers just wouldn’t be well suited for the format. Would it have any significant effect on the current referee crisis if they did? Probably not. I doubt that length of papers makes a significant difference. (It’s not like the editors at Analysis are swimming in referees, for example.) I’d imagine that much bigger factors are, for example, uneven distributions of referee requests, with some few visible individuals getting hundreds of requests per year while many others get fewer than one a month on average if any; an increasing backlog of papers going through the submission cycle as journals decrease acceptance rates in response to higher submission rates; increasing admin loads and precarious employment leaving less time for voluntary work…

Max Khan Hayward
Reply to  EJRE
8 months ago

The length of papers makes barely any difference to the difficulty of finding referees. I never suggested it did. The problem is that many papers get refereed over and over again because journals accept far too few papers. This is a proposal to allow them to accept more papers without changing their page limits (since they seem reluctant to do that).

Matt L
Reply to  Max Khan Hayward
8 months ago

The length of papers makes barely any difference to the difficulty of finding referees.

At least some of the editorial programs make it hard or impossible to see the paper itself until you’ve accepted (or declined) the request, but I can say that the length of the paper does play some part in how fast I finish a report. (It’s obviously not the only thing, but at least how I usually do reports, I don’t see how it could fail to do so.)

Eric Steinhart
8 months ago

It would be a fascinating project to apply Darwinian theory to look at how intense competitive pressures have shaped recent academic philosophy into a kind of fitness-signaling game (and very little besides).   

The Darwinian parallels are pretty obvious: There are many more competitors than opportunities (slots in prestigious grad schools, slots in “top journals”, TT lines, etc.).  So the competition becomes extremely intense, generating multiple types of arms races.  These produce extremely finely-tuned phenotypes (scholarly products).  So papers become hyper-specialized, referee-proofed, etc.  And pathologies naturally follow: “quality” just becomes a proxy for victory in the evolutionary war of all against all; philosophy becomes trivial and boring; papers in “top journals” get cited less;  philosophers talk only to each other in codes that become finely-tuned into incomprehensibility; philosophers don’t do public outreach; philosophy departments close; etc.  The species goes extinct.

An obvious solution, which everybody usually hates, is just to build something like ArXiv.org for philosophers.  We already have PhilPapers.  Don’t complain that such a system won’t satisfy demands for fitness-signaling in an evolutionary arms race.  Of course it won’t.  That’s the whole point.  As for technical objections (standardized formatting, etc.), straightforward technical solutions are already available (use LaTeX, etc.).

Given a rich database of philosophical texts, we could use all kinds of text-mining and data-analysis software to do research.  We could build conceptual networks (e.g. a much richer version of WordNet), thick semantic networks, etc. We could train LLMs.

And if you’re really seriously worried about “quality”, then follow the mathematicians.  Start using Lean or Isabella to code up your arguments and theories.  We could build libraries that can be shared and cooperatively extended.  Philosophy wouldn’t be an arms race, it would turn into a progressive cooperative project.  Rigor is built right into such systems from the ground up.  Contributions are measurable.  And philosophy students would learn economically useful skills. 

Or, we can continue with the current system, in which we’re all exploited by commercial publishers, in which “open access” increasingly skews towards privileged pay-to-play, in which publishers and funding institutions systematically exclude philosophers, in which the profession just goes extinct. 

Julian Friedland
8 months ago

Interesting. You’ll certainly find support from publishers who’ve been pressuring editors for more articles (see chronicle piece below). It’s true that reviewer unanimity is probably not a good standard even for top journals. In the top business/management journals for example, if you get one reviewer on board but the other one(s) are lukewarm, this almost always gets you an R&R. This is a much better standard than when I was publishing only in philosophy journals, and remember getting split reviewer decisions that became editorial rejections. Could this be self-serving on the part of editors who’d rather not help develop promising pieces?

https://www.chronicle.com/article/a-catastrophic-mistake-upheaval-at-philosophy-journal-points-to-publishings-conflicting-interests

Last edited 8 months ago by Julian Friedland
Ian
Ian
8 months ago

As a newish scholar just getting into publishing more and more, I think one of the most frustrating things is not having a line of communication with my reviewers during revise and resubmits. You can keep the process blind, but have some kind of internal communication system with a pseudonym between you and the reviewers.

But I often feel the need to ask my reviewers questions, but instead I’m left guessing or even doing way too much work to try and accommodate them.

I don’t know if this would alleviate the burden on reviewers, but it might get articles through and published more quickly than before.

Mark van Roojen
Mark van Roojen
Reply to  Ian
8 months ago

Hi Ian, You can generally send questions to/through the editor. Sometimes that can take the form of asking the editor what they think but it can also be in the form of letting the editor know that you don’t understand a given comment and want to ask for some clarification. Probably not every editor will do that and you don’t want to do that for small issues, but you can do it on occasion.

Also most journals allow a response to referees to explain what you have done to respond to comments. In it you can explain how you understand their comment and let them know that you’d be happy to revise if you misunderstood them.

Chris
Chris
8 months ago

I think the suggestion in the OP is worth considering. However, I do wonder to what extent it will help with the referee crisis in philosophy. I might be wrong, but I was under the impression that one reason philosophy journals have lower acceptance rates than many science journals is in part due to the fact that philosophers have less agreement than (some?) scientists about one what counts as the good stuff. If this is true – or to whatever extent it is true – This affects paper submissions and refereeing in two basic ways: (1) philosophers aren’t as good as scientists at judging whether their own work is worthy of submission to a certain kind of journal and (2) the referees/editors in philosophy aren’t as good as scientists as judging whether a paper should be published.

Is there a way to get better agreed upon standards, and communicate them clearly? I dunno. This may be a problem we have to live with in philosophy.

Other proposals – such as “slow philosophy” might be more effective at dealing with the referee crisis.

Shorter Papers Please!
8 months ago

I love shorter papers. But if philosophy is going to start placing emphasis on shorter papers there is going to need to be some consciousness raising among philosophers and reviewers

First, I feel that reviewers are far harder on short papers than long papers. I’ve submitted many shorter papers only to have responses that take issue with the shortness of the paper itself, and not the arguments, or ideas. What I mean is that, while most reviewers agree that the paper is “great” or “good” they make requests for the paper that simply cannot be accommodated by a shorter paper, thus requiring a full scale revision of the paper. The most egregious of these (IMO) is the desire to have philosophy papers include responses to hypothetical critics.

In general, we seem to have a very limited imagination regarding what a philosophy paper can be. Instead of having multiple potential designs for academic philosophy papers, we heavily prefer papers to adhere to a the standard Introduction, Literature Review, Argumentation, Responses to hypothetical citics/opposing viewpoints. This paper structure is far too rigid. There is little chance to create a worthwhile short paper that adheres to that structure.

Eli Whitney Houstman
8 months ago

I like a lot of things about Max’s idea – I want to start by saying that — the online appendix idea (along with the shorter paper approach in journals) is potentially a really promising innovation.

BUT … and what I am about to say might run against the grain here — but here goes. I think low acceptance rates are good, and the exclusive journals should stay roughly as is (e.g., rejecting at least 95% of submissions, with the cream of the crop rejecting around 97-98%).

Here’s why. Getting a paper in a top journal has a certain kind of currency because it’s common knowledge that it’s hard as hell to do – because we all know the acceptance rate is so low. (Of course, there is some luck involved here, that’s a separate issue I’ll come back to). Now I’m emphasizing: getting in the top tier is worth its weight in gold on the job market because of the low acceptance rate. (This is all defeasible, e.g, if the paper was a bad paper that got in JPhil, then that will count against it. But the point is, it still got in JPhil, which means it has defeasible job market currency because it did the thing that’s hard to do – beat a 98% rejection rate!

Now, let’s imagine top journals started making it easier to publish in them. For instance, it’s way easier to publish in a top 15 journal than a top 5 journal. If that were the case, then we’ll have eliminated the possibility to prove oneself through something everyone knows is super hard to do. A philosopher from a non-elite university will have that harder a time making it on the job market because they’ll not have an opportunity to put Nous on their CV (with the meaning it currently has)- they’ll only have the opportunity to put on their CV something that would be less impressive. This is not a great result because folks from non prestigious universities have a shot at advancing their career over, say, Oxford PhDs precisely because they can put Mind, Nous, JPhil on there with the current meaning those journals have – as journals everyone knows are super hard to get in to.

Now, back to luck. You might point out that whether one gets in to Nous or JPhil is a matter of luck to some degree. Yep! We all know that. But that is compatible with us all knowing that it’s still super super hard to get in those journals.

In sum: keeping low acceptance rates allows for cream of the crop journals to play a critical kind of function in the job market ecosystem – a function of enabling ANYONE who publishes there to have a serious shot of making it in the profession. This is possible only because of the low acceptance rates — get rid of them, and these journals can’t play that function, and it is harder for anyone to make it in the profession.

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Eli Whitney Houstman
8 months ago

I find this argument relatively compelling and would be interested if anyone has serious objections.

Michel
Reply to  JDRox
8 months ago

Who has time to send stuff to JPhil (and the others)? That’s a pretty big hurdle with those journals.

As for signalling… the T5 generalist journals almost never publish work in my subfield (one has a couple of articles in as many decades!). (Curiously, 6-10 publish plenty.) When one does publish one, it’s not like it’s the best thing since sliced bread or anything. It’ll be a fine article, but I’ll have seen dozens of equally fine or finer articles elsewhere in the intervening decade(s). They’re just not where the conversations are happening.

Andy
Reply to  Eli Whitney Houstman
8 months ago

The primary function of publications isn’t to be job market currency though – that is a derivative function. The primary function of publication is to advance our collective understanding of philosophical issues. The current situation with low acceptance rates stifles this primary aim. In fact, a major source of the current crisis is publications being treated primarily as job market currency (combined with the shortage of jobs). If we move toward higher acceptance rates and shorter papers publications will still have an important role as job market currency. This role will be slightly diminished, but the trend toward shorter papers will allow committees to actually read more writing samples and thus make their own mind up about quality without having to use journal prestige as a proxy (at least at earlier stages).

Shorter Papers Please!
Reply to  Eli Whitney Houstman
8 months ago

I agree with you to an extent.

But you likely know as well as I that not every paper published in a top journal is good. Many good papers are rejected for reasons other than the quality of their argument and ideas. And many lack luster papers (even some really bad papers) are accepted to good journals for the simple reason that nothing can be found wrong with them.

Papers sometimes check all of the boxes needed for publication in a top journal without being all that good.

Shortening papers, and increasing acceptance rates means more papers will be accepted, and hopefully without the specter of top journal low acceptance rates, those papers can be judged on their merit, and not on the journal they were published in.

Kevin Richardson
Reply to  Eli Whitney Houstman
8 months ago

What is your response to the blog that was posted here last month? In short: you can’t really make acceptance rates too low because then people would stop submitting. Editors are forced to give authors a fighting chance by tolerating unreliable peer review practices.

Publish and Perish
Publish and Perish
Reply to  Eli Whitney Houstman
8 months ago

Is it true that publishing in top journals is a good strategy for philosophers from non-elite universities?

I have heard that it tends to make them regarded as a flight risk/not teaching orientated by community colleges and teaching-focused schools, but doesn’t actually help much (if at all) with R1 hiring committees, who will still hire someone from Rutgers/Harvard/etc. even if they have a 10th of the prestigious publications of someone from a non-elite university. After all, the former candidate has the “more exciting research agenda” and “They are a better fit for our department”.

I don’t know the relevant stats, but I certainly know plenty of stories of philosophers from non-elite universities who publish in good or top journals for years, but never get a TT job anywhere.

grad student #2
Reply to  Publish and Perish
8 months ago

My understanding is that this is because publishing is only half the story. Being from a top university gives you access to a network of philosophers not available to people from lower-ranked universities. This makes someone from a lower-ranked department a much less desirable ‘colleague’ at other top departments.

In addition, top departments also have much better placement workshops and established placing practices than lower-ranked depts.

So the takeaway from your message is not to recommend people from lower-ranked depts not to publish—but to reach out and make themselves visible. This just is much easier for someone from a higher-ranked department.

Publish and Perish
Publish and Perish
Reply to  grad student #2
8 months ago

Yes, but your analysis neglects to address the issue of flight risk at non-R1 schools.

Curtis Franks
Curtis Franks
8 months ago

Comic poets in America have been looking for more rhymes for “Giuliani.” Is “teflony” an amphibrach or an antibacchius?

Miroslav Imbrisevic
8 months ago

The primary function of philosophy journals is not to make recruitment decisions easier for departments, by looking at the published quantity and ‘quality’ (in so-called top journals) of job candidates. This is a recent development. The primary function of journals is to publish good philosophy by people who actually have something to say, rather than people who are subject to the ‘publish or perish’ principle. Philosophy needs to press the ‘reset button’.

Grad student
Reply to  Miroslav Imbrisevic
8 months ago

Yes, this. Creating greater opportunity to publish short sound byte style papers is not the answer.

Bill Vanderburgh
8 months ago

Has anyone done the math on what it would take to have a healthy number of journals/papers/pages for the discipline? My gut-level impression is that over the last 50 years, the growth in the number of journals has not kept pace with the increase in the size of the profession, let alone with the vastly increased pressure to publish, or with the big increase in the rate of graduate students who (try to) publish just to be able to get a first job.

The data I’m finding with a quick web search is incomplete and difficult to parse. But take these rough numbers as an approximate baseline for the USA: ~450 new PhDs annually, ~7k philosophy faculty (full and part time).

How many publications should a freshly-minted PhD in Philosophy have in order to be competitive on the job market? Two? Some will have more, some less. Leaving out the fact that some folks who get a grad school publication do not ever graduate, that’s already something in the range of 900 papers per year published by grad students (or which we would desire to be published).

The 7k philosophy faculty are, I assume, in all kinds of different positions and universities. Some have research expectations and some don’t: I don’t know where to find info on that breakdown. Let’s pretend 50% of them on average publish 20 papers over a 30 year post-PhD career, and that the other 50% average 5 papers over a 30 year career. That feels like an underestimate, but even that would be about 2900 papers per year; about 3800 per year with the PhD students.

This so far completely ignores the thousands of other members of our profession in English-speaking and English-researching countries around the world.

How many papers do philosophy journals publish in a year?

Mich Ciurria
1 month ago

I just posted on this:
https://biopoliticalphilosophy.com/2024/02/21/the-referee-crisis-neoliberalism-sad-beige-philosophy/?fbclid=IwAR10HMMgh3hWGKPfEBW_YTE8wJElfDL8loUtzbp18AvPe0cehMupMH0rmvE
‘So, what can be done about the referee crisis? Philosophers have submitted various proposals, ranging from increasing acceptance rates (which Wiley is doing, for profit), to reducing word limits, to soliciting fewer referee reports, to (worst of all) banning grad students from publishing, and more. But none of these proposals addresses the systemic issues, including the neoliberalization of academia and the hyper-exploitation of the academic underclass. Remember, the referee crisis isn’t just about not having enough willing referees. It’s also about not having enough referees in underrepresented areas due to prestige bias and hiring discrimination; taxing minorities with intense professional-service workloads; refusing to translate ‘niche’ publications into jobs and academic capital; and allowing predatory publishers to exploit and/or exclude the most marginalized scholars… To overcome the referee crisis, we need revolutionary strategies and collective action…’