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09/22/2015

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Wesley Buckwalter

Well said, this also reflects some of my experiences, insofar as reports are often unactionable, unhelpful, or end up failing to track publishable quality. To register one small point of disagreement though, I'd be pretty surprised to learn prestige publications were incidental to influencing tenure promotion deliberations, though I have no experience serving on those committees so don't really know.

Derek Bowman

This is small comfort for those of us on the academic job market trying to find a way to stand out among dozens upon dozens of other qualified applicants.

The advice Stanley got from Nozick (I've heard similar advice that others have attributed to Derek Parfit) may represent a good strategy for many individual philosophers. But think of all the professional editorial and review efforts that go into each of those submissions, as well as the stress that process provides for those who are dependent upon publications for employment or promotion. Is this really a worthwhile use of everyone's time and intellectual energy?

Ambrose

"what does this say about reviewing standards?"

I think if we were less biased by our investment in this whole 'profession' with its traditions and norms, etc. it would be plain as day what this kind of story says about the 'profession' as a whole. Peer review is garbage. (To forestall the sneers: this is not (only) sour grapes. I've had positive reviews and papers accepted at 'first-tier' journals.) The profession is morally and intellectually bankrupt. The peer-review process is objective or rational or meritocratic or philosophical only at times, and then only by accident. There is nothing about the system or procedure or norms of the profession that plays any role whatsoever in making this occasional reasonableness or fairness happen. Same goes for admissions to programs, hiring and promotion and tenure decisions, and pretty everything else in the 'profession' (e.g., consensus about which thinkers or problems or paradigms or methods are significant or deserve to be studied and taught).

Those we call 'philosophers' do not actually know anything of any importance that others don't know in virtue of their 'professional' training. They are not, as a group or by training, any more intelligent or insightful or rational or ethical or virtuous than anyone else. There are no real standards that 'philosophers' use to evaluate the work of their 'peers' or for deciding who is a 'peer'). There is just a lot of 'sociology' as Stanley euphemistically says: nepotism and fashion and peer pressure, group think, mindless acceptance of bad ideas mindlessly accepted in the broader culture, cult of personality, etc. Still, philosophy does exist (somewhere else) and we can always try to improve ourselves by studying philosophy. But this activity has no systematic relationship of any kind to what goes on in our 'profession'.

Marcus you're a cautious and thoughtful writer. You want to just raise the question of what Stanley's story says. But at some point, when we take into account the billionth story of this kind, shouldn't we accept what seems so obvious? Especially when, as you have often pointed out, there are so many other, independent reasons for _extreme_ skepticism about the norms and approaches and assumptions that make up academic philosophy? We should reject it (though not the good and true things that have ended up within it, by accident) and consider seriously all of the alternatives to it.

Postdoc

I am a recent PhD graduate. I am effectively employed 1/3 time at the moment. My wife works 3/4s time. So, together we have a median income. But it is unknown whether her contract will continue. Thus, rejections don't just hurt my ego. The very quality of my family's life is on the line. This is my situation, and it's a situation many are in. In fact, our situation is much better than some people's.

I understand that journal's aren't charities. But when so much is on the line, it is unacceptable for the peer review process to be as poor as it is. The process should more or less work. It should more or less fulfil the moral obligations to authors and to the discipline. Reviewers should not take 6-12 months to review an article. Editors should not use incompetent or overly hostile reviews as an excuse to keep the journal's rejection rate at 95%. Reviewers should not backtrack on their own opinions. Journals and referees may not be charities, but they do have some moral responsibilities to the author and to the discipline. Unfortunately, the peer review process does not work to fulfil its obligations. At best, as Ambrose says, it works by accident. It does not consistently work or even 51% of the time.

Although I have had good experiences and successes publishing in top philosophy journals, the horror stories I have would blow your mind if they weren't just normal. As philosophers, we've come to accept some of the most atrocious referee and editorial behaviors. I've had totally incompetent referees who were obviously, repeat obviously, completely ignorant of the field in which I was writing. I've had referees change their minds 3 times from minor revisions, to R&R, to reject, with the final reasons given for rejection just being incoherent nonsense like 'he was too eager to make the changes I asked for.' Seriously, a referee told me that once. I've waited half a year for a 1 page report where the referee only read the first section of the paper. I've had the same incompetent referee reject my paper from multiple different journals, and none of the editors ask why he is rejecting the paper (to see whether he even has sensible reasons). I could go on and on.

As authors we've habituated to this horrible treatment and find various ways to cope. From an outside perspective, or if you step back and reflect, it should be obvious that philosophy is basically a dead profession. There are no jobs but for the Ivy league or the well connected. Everyone else spends huge amounts of unpaid time trying to contribute to the profession by fighting a peer review process that is just horrifically bad. In the end, many will drop out of philosophy in their 30s and struggle to pull themselves together and find a new career. If they manage to be good caring people after years of struggling with the peer review process and the philosophy job market it'll only be by an amazing act of will.

Derek Bowman

Don't worry, Postdoc. Plenty of Ivy graduates are struggling for jobs too.

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