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« What does your grad program do well? What could it do better? | Main | Outsourcing desk rejections to referees? »

07/19/2015

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Sebastian Lutz

Isn't PhilPapers already an analogue to the arXiv and the PhilSci Archive? I haven't used the PhilPapers upload feature so far, because I use the PhilSci Archive, but it seems to me to work in the same way.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Sebastian: Yes, but philpapers isn't used like the arxiv or PhilSci Archive. That's the difference. In physics, everyone posts their papers to the arxiv, and there is a disciplinary-wide convention/expectation to treat papers posted there as "published"--at least in the sense that people are expected to read and cite papers that appear there, even if they haven't been published in a journal yet. That's what makes it anti-elitist: namely, the social/professional conventions surrounding it. In contrast, (A) philosophers are not expected to post unpublished papers to philpapers (indeed, many people actively avoid posting unpublished papers there to "preserve anonymized review"), and (B) even if they do, if they aren't published yet no one cites them. That's why, although philpapers is nominally similar to the arxiv, it doesn't play the anti-enlitist role the arxiv plays. My suggestion is that, just as physicists treat journal publications as pro forms--citing arxiv papers *as* publications before they are accepted in journals--philosophers should do the same, and for the same reasons: because treating "anonymized" peer review is problematic.

Elisa Freschi

Marcus, I apologise for the naïve question, but how does it work in physics? I surmise that one does not just cite *whatever* is uploaded, even if it is just a delirous article by someone explaining physics on the basis of, say, Nostradamus. Is the access to arxiv restricted?

Unnatural scientist

Some clarification: PhilPapers does not posted unpublished work. So it is not like the arxiv in Physics.
There is another noteworthy difference. In many of the "hard sciences" it is quite clear when someone is making a contribution. Indeed, I referee for a science journal, and determining publish-ability is a rather straightforward matter, generally.
Philosophy is not at all like this. I have refereed 100+ papers for many journals, and some pretty unfinished and weak papers are sent in (OFTEN, TOO OFTEN). Would-be authors in philosophy seem less well situated to know when their papers are ready for public consumption.

Elisa Freschi

Academia.edu works also for unpublished articles (I myself frequently use for this purpose), but due to the reasons you mention, I cannot really imagine that one could have the epistemic duty to cite everything which is uploaded there.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Elisa: Thanks for your comment! A couple of thoughts.

The arxiv's editors do not allow authors to post articles that plainly fall short of any plausible level of "professional quality." They would presumably reject a delirious article on Nostradomus. So, there is some basic level of peer-review involved even there--though the standard is quite low.

Still, since the threshold is low, a ton of stuff does get published on the arxiv--and so your question (of what to cite) is a good one. As we have discussed on this blog before, one cannot cite everything. Still, physicists appear to err on the side of over-citing rather than underciting--and the fact that the arxiv sort of counts as "publishing" actually encourages people to write reply pieces to articles.

Marcus Arvan

Unnatural scientist: Since when does philpapers not post unpublished work?

I've posted unpublished work there before, and the FAQ portion of the site states that it "accepts works of all types...so long as they are of professional quality."

Also, the main difference you point to, "There is another noteworthy difference. In many of the "hard sciences" it is quite clear when someone is making a contribution", is simply not true for many areas of physics--particularly theoretical physics. There are tons of alternative systems of theoretical physics (string theory, twistor theory, etc.), and immense amount of disagreement over which approaches are promising or not. Further, people in physics actually engage with--rather than ignore--flawed approaches. For instance, a 2007 arxiv article by an unaffiliated Hawaiian surfer Garret Lisi, "An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything", has already received 100 citations, even though the article's main claims have been disproven. This, I believe, is a much bigger difference between philosophy and the hard sciences than the one you suggest: physicists engage with far more work--even flawed work--rather than ignoring it.

David Wallace

Two specific comments on arxiv:

1) Arxiv actually has a sponsoring system for publications. If you haven't published there before and you try to submit a paper, you won't be allowed; you have to have your paper vouched for by someone with several papers already on arxiv. ("Vouch for" doesn't mean "do the equivalent of peer review"; it means "check it's not silly").

2) I gather from colleagues in physics that it's not actually the case that people read things just because they're on arxiv: the volume has become too great. You read in your own narrowish area, but outside that, you tend to use things like journal acceptance and author name recognition as a filter. (It's still, though, correct that good scholarship requires citing arxiv papers if they're salient, whether or not those papers are published.)

And a general comment on arxiv: what often gets lost in these discussions (because they're mostly about the career effects of publishing) is that arxiv came about, and continues to exist, because it greatly helps research communication. The more that people can be encouraged to put work online (not at the "rough draft" level, but at the "ready for submission" level), the more quickly ideas can circulate and be engaged with.

anon

doesn't address the particular suggestion of emulating the physicists, and only part of the problem. But. Googling is preventable. Referees should have to sign something to the effect that they won't google the author. This simple reminder might be enough to get them to take the obligation seriously.

Also, those tempted to google might wish to note: many (most?) people who have a website also have google analytics or some other analytics program. If you google them and are a sort of obvious choice for refereeing their paper, they might surmise that you (unethically) googled their paper whilst 'anonymously' reviewing it. This has happened to me--I submitted a paper on topic X. Then someone from a university Y where there is a prominent expert on X googles my website... I don't *know* that they googled before making a decision on the paper. But that is sort of how I read it.

So, tempted googlers -- those you google *might well be able to guess that you unethically googled them.*

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