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07/02/2015

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shane wilkins

I'm not sure I agree that folks who work in history of philosophy don't have much to gain from publishing in top-5ish journals. I work in medieval philosophy and I can think of a number of really good medievalists who have published work in top-5 journals: Marilyn McCord Adams, Bob Pasnau, Cal Normore, Eleonore Stump, Norman Kretzmann. These are all folks whom I could imagine someone who wasn't already committed to medieval philosophy reading, enjoying and finding valuable.

That kind of thing helps put smaller sub disciplines, like medieval on the map. And I'd guess that if one is trying to demonstrate to a search committee that one is not only a solid citizen in a sub-discipline, but also some kind of leader, then publication in big generalist journals would suggest that kind of potential.

That's why I still adopt something like a waterfall strategy, even though a large part of my work is in history of philosophy.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Axel: Great post, and I'm largely in agreement.

Another reason I think the 'waterfall strategy' can backfire is that, a lot of times, other people in the discipline are working on similar ideas--so, if your paper is stuck at some top-ranked journal(s) for a couple of years, someone else may publish something similar first, making it *more* difficult to publish your piece (since reviewers may then take the point you are trying to defend as already having been defended). This is particularly problematic, I think, given reasonable doubts about how 'anonymized' review processes truly are. (I, for one, have heard many people say it is easier to publish once one is better known and other people who matter know what you're working on).

I've also had some truly awful experiences with reviewers at a few journals lately, in one case receiving a single-sentence brush-off by a reviewer without any detailed rationale for rejection. I see little reason to continue sending papers to journals that allow such kind of stuff to occur. When I do reviews, I do my utmost to give a conscientious, several-page review--and if a journal does not hold reviewers of my own paper to reasonable standards, then I see little reason to waste my time with them again.

I also think one can get one's papers read, even if one doesn't publish them in top-ranked places, though doing so can take some "self-promotion" that not everyone is comfortable with (personally, I have no problem with it. If I spend years on a paper, I sure as heck *am* going to promote it. I don't want years of work to go to waste!).

All that being said, there is of course a reason why people pursue the waterfall strategy. As commenters here and elsewhere have said before, there seems to be an unfortunate tendency among some to only read and discuss papers that appear in "top journals." For better or (more likely) worse, this seems to be a part of the game. Unless one publishes in top places, there appear to some (many?) people out there who won't take your work seriously.

Axel Gelfert

Thanks, Shane, for your comment. I guess what I should have said is that, in my opinion, those of us working in areas with established, well-regarded and widely distributed specialist journals have not as much to gain as one might think from publishing in top-5ish journals. I like your point about putting subdisciplines 'on the map' by publishing in top general journals; this is a point I hadn't considered before and provides a good rationale for occasionally trying one's luck with one of the big general journals. In my comments on Helen's earlier post, I also noted that, as a postdoc, I made it a point to get a couple of papers out in decent (though not 'top-5') general journals such as Synthese and Ratio, partly for the reason you mention: trying to demonstrate that one isn't overly specialized. I think this makes a lot of sense. (Ironically, the LEMM bias of several of the top journals means that some people get away with being extremely specialized while at the same time publishing in supposedly 'general' journals...).

Marcus: I fully agree with you. It does take some effort to draw attention to articles in more specialized (and less highly ranked) journals. I have found it very useful to send pdfs of the papers to a small number of people who might be interested. In one case, a paper I wrote for a journal that doubles as a yearbook (and which isn't, as far as I can tell, widely read) led to a couple of conference invitations, a reprint in another book, an invitation to a summer school, and to a small workshop with a PhD student whom my Department later decided to hire. All because I made the effort to send the paper to a dozen people or so!

Shane Wilkins

I actually agree with a lot of what Axel has written here, so I don't want to give the opposite impression by chiming in a second time with a negative comment. But, I see a lot of talk at the Cocoon, NewAPPS, and the smoker about how irresponsible top journals are, and I think that paints with a little too broad of a brush. Not all top journals are badly run, and not all smaller, specialist journals are well-run.

For instance, Philosophical Quarterly has always been really fast (<2 months). Australasian has been fast (3mos) and has given me really great comments. JAPA was amazingly fast (6 weeks) and gave me great comments. On the other hand, I've also submitted to a couple of specialist journals that either desk rejected me after 4 months with no comments or took nearly a year to get me a set of comments back.

I don't disagree with the generic claim that philosophy's publication model is really a pain in the butt. What I disagree with is the claim that this is more likely to be true of generalist journals rather than specialist ones. There are well and poorly run journals of both types, and I don't see anecdotally that the proportions are different.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Shane: Thanks for chiming in! I agree. It's important to recognize journals with good editorial and reviewing practices. I too have had good experiences with Phil Quarterly, AJP, and JAPA. I've found that all three of them tend to have good turnaround times, and at least sometimes forward detailed reviewer comments. I've also had relatively good experiences with the Philosophical Review.

Axel Gelfert

It seems to me that editorial practices for a number of top journals have improved significantly since the time I wrote the passage I quote in my post, most dramatically so in the case of 'Mind', which had a reputation for sometimes taking a year to get back to authors; now their OUP website states that they take on average 44 days (which seems very fast and may be the result of more desk rejections) and aim to provide final decisions within four months. Other top journals, like Phil Quarterly, have long been well-run, with timely decisions and fairly detailed referee's reports. And let's not forget that there are also some badly run second/third-tier journals! But on the whole, I think we are seeing some improvements as a discipline.

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