In the comments section of, "One Reader's Frustrations with Journal Practices", an anonymous postdoc writes:
I propose 8 relatively simple changes to drastically improve the refereeing process.
1. Authors and editors rank referees. These rankings are shared between journals. Referees who consistently get poor rankings are no longer used.
2. After an article is accepted, referee's can choose to reveal their name and be formally thanked and acknowledged in the article. This should be done in a way that's noticeable. This means that referees will get more credit for their work. It's also more honest. Almost all published articles are really the result of collaboration with the referees.
3. As a profession, we should take refereeing more seriously as a part of our jobs. We should place more weight on it with regard to hiring and promotion. (Change 2 would help with this.)
4. Journals should have clear scopes or remits. Desk rejections need to be based on reasons. Journals like Phil Imprint have a very obscure scope and desk reject so much. You never really know why and so can't make improvements.
5. Editors need to stop intentionally trying to have super high rejection rates. Philosophy has the highest rejection rates of any field I know of. There is no need for it. Instead, editors need to have the mind set of trying to actually discover whether an article is worth being published. This will decrease the number of article circulating in the system.
6. No article should be accepted or rejected based on 1 review. That's not peer review. That's one person's opinion. There is a difference. (If the other suggestions were implemented, referees should be quicker. So, this could be done.)
7. PhD programs need to only admit as many students as they think they can find permanent jobs. So, we're talking about cutting admissions in half or more. Less desperate PhD graduates, less articles submitted clogging up the system.
8. You should be able to share referee reports with another journal. So, if high ranked journal x gets two reports that say R&R but rejects you anyway (which happens), you should be able to share those reports with another journal which might be interested in R&Ring you. This will cut down on referee use. It also cuts down on the lottery element.
It's rare that I basically agree with everything someone says...but I think I agree with everything written here. As I've said before, my wife works in another academic field, and in her field desk-rejections are routinely accompanied by editors' comments justifying the desk-rejection--and not just a form letter of the type one often receives in philosophy. Not only that: papers that pass the desk-rejection stage are never evaluated on the basis of one review. I'm also intrigued by the suggestion that one should be able to share referee reports with other journals. Although different journals have different aims and editorial standards, at least giving authors and editors the option of using referee reports from another journal might indeed lead to a less-clogged system, faster turnaround times, and less of a lottery element [i.e. luck associated with getting assigned bad reviewers].
Finally, I think I agree with the reader's suggestion that grad programs admit far fewer applicants--in particular, roughly as many applicants as they place in full-time, tenure-track jobs. At the very least, I think there should be a disciplinary-wide expectation--perhaps enforced by the APA in some way, at least for US grad programs--that programs state clearly [A] their tenure-track placement rates, and [B] attrition rates clearly and honestly on their departmental websites.
What do you all think?