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« Why change the system if you can exploit people and tell them it’s their fault? | Main | On the philpapers survey and intuition mongering »

04/06/2014

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Elisa Freschi

10 articles per year? even if one had nothing else to do, this would mean one aricle each month... I can hardly imagine that one has nonetheless the time to do extensive research, value possible counter arguments... I doubt that the discipline can benefit of it...

Marcus Arvan

On further reflection, 10 is really uncommon (I'm going to revise the post...though I've seen people do it). But 4-7 a year seems pretty common, and is still a lot.

Anthony Carreras

Given the amount of time it takes for papers to be reviewed, the amount of time it takes for a paper to be published once it is actually accepted, and given the reality of very high rejection rates, to actually get 4-7 articles per year published strikes me as a super-human feat.

Marcus Arvan

Anthony: and yet it does happen, quite often in fact!

Although I haven't published in any top-10 journals, I will say this: my experience is that at a certain point, one "learns how to publish" (viz. it doesn't take as long to write publishable papers) -- and I think grad students and early career scholars are pressured/taught to learn these skills earlier, so that publishing 4-7 papers a year no longer seems like such a herculean feat.

Anthony Carreras

Marcus: What you say (about how one "learns how to publish") leads me to believe that publishing success is less about coming up with incisive philosophical ideas, and more about learning how to present ideas in a certain way. Would you agree?

Pierre

Marcus, I have never learned that, but to me it seems that nowadays what matters is “being publishable”: to that extent such a high pace is wrong (and severely so). What about the patient process of crafting a clever, robust argument? You say this very well.

What’s worse is that the whole process creates more anxiety for those (like me) who are not “fast” writers. Writing 4-7 papers a year is not a problem (like presumably anyone else, I have dozens of more or less full-length drafts on my laptop); writing 4-7 good/outstanding papers is one. And with such a pressure to publish, the anxiety (and fear of not having anything published by the end of my PhD) is even worsened.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Anthony: thanks for your comment!

On your question: I'm not sure. I do think a lot of it is learning how to present ideas in a particular kind of way (i.e. a "publishable" way). It's very hard to describe, but with greater experience -- and some successes -- one gets a better sense of how to write a "publishable" paper that will hit the right notes with referees, editors, etc.

But I'm not so sure it's not also a matter of getting better developing philosophical ideas, too. Although I've read a lot of articles lately (in good journals) that I don't think are too incisive, I *do* think developing a better sense of incisiveness is part of becoming better at publishing.

For instance, I struggled publishing for a *long* time (I never published anything in 7+ years in grad school and only two 2-3 page replies my first two years out). In retrospect, I think a big part of this is that I was struggling to come up with incisive ideas. Now that I've begun to publish more, I feel like I'm becoming a more incisive philosopher.

In short, I think a big part of "learning how to publish" is learning how to present things. But I also do think it is partly a matter of developing incisiveness, too.

Marcus Arvan

Pierre: thanks for your comment!

I agree. I think the new pace of things puts people who work more slowly at a *huge* disadvantage, both professionally and psychologically. This is something I worry about. Some *really* great philosophers work slowly -- and it really should be more about quality than quantity.

Suppose someone publishes 4 articles a year in Phil Studies or whatnot, but their articles are never cited/discussed in the literature. On paper -- that is, on their CV -- they "look great."

Contrast them against a person who publishes one paper every 3 years but whose articles ultimately receive quite a bit of discussion. On paper -- that is, on their CV -- this person looks like an underperformer. But, are they really? Even though they may have published 1 article for every 12 published by person #1, their 1 article may be *way* better than anything person #1 has published.

Anyway, I think this is yet another reason to rethink how we judge productivity.

Pierre

Marcus, isn’t it difficult to assess quality? Number of citations may be a tricky indicator, especially in philosophy where we are usually not expected to master *all* the relevant literature. It seems to me that getting cited is, to a large extent, a matter of luck.

Consider this: paper 1 and paper 2 are of roughly equal quality as judged by an independent, fair-minded committee. Both are published in equally good journals, so it cannot be said that either was more likely to be read. Paper 1 is cited by a widely read author, and many of this author’s readers read paper 1 because it appeared in a footnote and sounded interesting. Meanwhile, paper 2 is not cited by a widely read author, and subsequently does not meet paper 1’s success. My *intuition* is that, in this case, number of citations is not a good indicator of quality, or lack thereof.

Now to be sure, I do not deny that some papers rightly don’t meet success. Neither do I deny that widely read and cited papers are quite likely to be good papers: my point is essentially negative, i.e. I doubt that a *lack* of citations is in itself the sign of, or suffices to assert a lack of quality.

Anthony Carreras

Hi Marcus,

I did not mean to imply that your comment led me to believe that developing incisive philosophical ideas plays no part in publishing success. Rather, your comment led me to believe that publishing success is *more* about crafting and presenting your ideas *than* it is about the incisiveness of those ideas themselves (no doubt the goodness of one's ideas must play some role). I think what you said in your reply is largely consistent with that.

Marcus Arvan

Pierre: Oh yes! It's absolutely difficult to assess quality. And your point about citations is very well-taken. I think it matters *why* a piece fails to be cited. (In retrospect, it is often quite obvious. The piece in question is just "nit-picky", making a small point that barely moves a debate forward. Other times, the piece may be *unfairly* ignored. It all depends!).

Personally, I think we should adopt a holistic view of evaluating work. I oftentimes hear people say things like, "Oh, so-and-so is really good. They have like 4 papers in top-10 journals", and I think to myself: that's all fine and well, but are the papers any good? Is anyone discussing them?

It seems to me, we should evaluate work along a number of different dimensions:
(1) Venue
(2) Citations
(3) Influence
(4) Judgments of quality
By my lights, the overwhelming focus in professional philosophy today is (1). Again, I hear it all the time, "Oh, so-and-so has five top-10 publications." That's all fine and well, but the other issues matter too. When I hear people say someone's work is good, "because they've published in such-and-such journals", I think to myself: that's just not enough evidence to go by. We shouldn't be looking only -- or even primarily -- at venue, but at the whole picture!

Marcus Arvan

Anthony: Ah, yes, I see. In that case, I think I agree with you. I think learning how to publish involves both, but that it probably *is* a bit more of learning how to present things "the right way." I've seen great philosophers languish (and even languished myself many times) not for want of good ideas, but by writing in a way that does not satisfy reviewers.

Side note: one thing that I think I've noticed -- and which I think I've written on here before -- is that there is a decidedly "grad student-ish" writing style that I think reviewers look very poorly upon. One of the keys to publishing is learning "not to write like a grad student." Though is very hard to pin down what this is, I think the best way to put it is: a certain amount of *assuredness* in how one writes/presents one's argument. My sense is that reviewers pick up on insecurity in one's writing -- insecurity that can show up either as (1) writing "overly defensively" or (2) overly arrogantly. Both, I think, are hallmarks of grad student writing (and something that I struggled with a great deal as a grad student and beyond!).

A.P. Taylor

I am still a graduate student, technically. I defend my Phd thesis in July. And I have one paper of my own in Phil Studies, and another coauthored paper that was just published by Religious Studies, and a third paper that I am re-writing at the moment and hoping to get into a top 10 Journal before I go on the market in the fall. And also I have a non-peer review pop culture and philosophy chapter. And I certainly feel that I have not done enough to even come close to meriting serious attention on the Job Market. This last cycle, though I was admittedly still and ABD, I applied to 40 schools and did not get a single interview. In the fall I will likely apply to 100+ jobs, and I don't (honestly) expect to hear from any of them, even with a PhD in hand.

Marcus Arvan

A.P.: Your story indicates to me what is so problematic about the way things have gone. First, what you have done *should* be enough to get interviews. You've accomplished a lot! But second, it also indicates to me what is so problematic with how we are inclined to measure ourselves and others. Shouldn't we be aiming to make *contributions* to philosophy, rather than simply comparing how many publications we have in which journals?

In any case, keep your head up. Having been on the job market many times now, I can tell you that things can change immensely from year to year (one year I had no interviews, the next I had a lot -- and with not a whole lot different on my CV). Also, I think that having your PhD in hand will help a lot!

Pierre

Marcus, I completely agree with your “holistic” view. Putting the scope on the venue sounds like “I didn’t read it, but hey, it must be good since it’s been published in a top-10 journal.” That might be okay for a hiring committee (we can suppose they cannot read all the applicants’ publications), but when assessing the work itself, this is more dubious. And even a hiring committee could (and perhaps) have a broader understanding of one’s work’s quality, even if they rely on bibliometry/statistical data.

To me, 4-7 papers a year in top-10 journals sounds like “It’s magic, and I found the trick (thank you Penn and Teller)” :-)

Anonymish

Looks like this thread is slowing down, but just to say to Marcus...

I don't disagree with much here, but your 4-7 articles per year strikes me as too high. The pace of publishing is increasing, yes, but I know very few philosophers who have 20 publications over any 5 year period in their careers, and less who do this repeatedly. Those who do are, with maybe 3-4 exceptions I can think of, senior folk who now publish largely baed on invitation (and with much retread of already published ideas).

I know of maybe 3 junior people who are meeting that pace. I think most everyone thinks 2 articles per year in good journals, with he occasional piece in a 'top' journal - define that how you will - gets you tenure most anywhere (getting a job in the first place is of course a mess). That's a manageable pace, though it probably requires overworking yourself for awhile.

I'm against the increasing pace in some ways, in that one often reads half-baked ideas that could have been much better given some time (guilty here as well). But I'm also a bit corporate in that I like to see productivity. I have known and know tons of philosophers who are fairly lazy - not publishing is not a reliable indicator of sitting on and developing ideas Rawls-style. You might agree, given what you've said about getting ideas out there.

Marcus Arvan

Anonymish: The 4-7 per year may be a *bit* high, especially if we are talking consistently over a 5 year period. But I was mostly thinking that 4-7 as a "pretty common" year these days, not that people achieve it every year -- and I think this figure is still pretty common.

Consider just the following two people from my program (Arizona) who graduated either in my cohort or within one year of it:

Matt Bedke: 20 publications from 2008-2014. (5 years, 4 months)
Nicole Hassoun: 28 publications from 2008-14.

Now consider our own Moti Mizrahi: 28 publications from 2009-2014 (5+ per year)

These are just three relatively junior people who popped into my mind off the top of my head -- but they all averaged between 4-5 a year, and had something like 7 a couple of times. There were also a couple of junior people who got tenure-track jobs this year with 18 and 22 publications (over, say, the past 3-4 years). This, then, is 6 or so junior people I cobbled together in a few minutes who conform pretty closely to the 4-7 per year figure.

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