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I agree completely with most of this -- thanks for taking the time to write it up.

But there was one thing that I was not so sure about...

"yet other disciplines do not have the same pathologies": for some disciplines, yes, this is 100% true. For other disciplines, however, it's not -- e.g. economics and classics. Here is a research article covering some of the differences: "The publishing delay in scholarly peer‐reviewed journals". Take a look at p.23 in particular.


Sorry, here's the link to that article comparing turn-around times in different fields:

Wesley Buckwalter

It would be good to hear from leading journals who utilize these techniques, such as Nous which limits all new submissions during large parts of the year, or AJP by particular author per year.

I have a question about the logic of this post. The process boils down to ratio of submissions to resources. You say the real problem is not burdon but "culture". I agree to some extend but it's not like the considerations you raise for this are at odds with the burdon idea. Culture is part of what creates the overburden by limiting resources, in part, in the form of limiting good reviewers. In effect you're saying the ratio can be improved by adding resources rather than subtracting submissions, all part of the idea that there is an overburdened system.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Wesley: Thanks for your comment. I don't quite see where I suggested adding resources--for, as I noted, some other fields are at least as as burdened as ours is, yet their reviewers tend to be prompt and largely conscientious.

Rather, following Neil, my suggestion was that good reviewing process is less a matter of resources and more a matter of culture--a culture of reviewing responsibility.

Wesley Buckwalter

Yeah the basic point is that your consideration about culture being the problem is ultimately a consideration of resources. Journals in other fields are getting lots of submissions of course, but in fact are not as burdened because they have better resources (among many other things, more and better reviewers, as you claim because of their "culture").

I definitely agree we need deep and systematic changes to anonymous review in philosophy. But it should also be pointed out plenty of non-philosophy journals in science place all kinds of restrictions on submissions (overly demanding formats, high monetary costs, submission policies after rejection, rigidity in scope, etc) that effectively limit submissions. Some of the journals you list in philosophy, such as AJP as being ideal, have practices limiting submissions.

Axel Gelfert

I agree that the current state of affairs is largely the result of a specific disciplinary culture. But I think there are several such 'cultural' factors at play. Irresponsibly slow reviewers are one such factor, though I suspect that this is in part due to the (probably erroneous) perception that reviewing a submitted paper in philosophy is more laborious than in other disciplines -- even if this perception is wrong, it might explain why people procrastinate so much over writing a referee report. But that's not my main point. I think another factor that is specific to the disciplinary culture of academic philosophy is a lack of self-regulation when it comes to the question of where to submit. Pressure (whether real or perceived) to publish in 'top' journals is so great that it seems too many people submit anything they want to publish to a top journal first, and then work their way down the list. As previously discussed on this blog, at the individual level this may be a rational strategy: if getting a decent paper accepted is largely a lottery, why not first submit to a 'top' journal with a 95% rejection rate rather than to a second-tier journal with a 91% rejection rate? But this means that, as a result, the same paper is being resubmitted numerous times before it gets published. My sense is that, in the sciences, no one would submit a run-of-the-mill paper that uses standard methodology and arrives at an expected result first to the journal 'Nature', then to 'Science', and only after 4-5 rejections to the venue where, unsurprisingly, it should have been published in the first place (say, a decent specialist journal, or a second-tier general science journal). I'm perfectly willing to stand corrected on this point, given that my publishing experience in the natural sciences (a couple of physics papers 15 years ago) may not reflect current practices. But the general point is this: in a well-functioning academic discipline, people would exercise some self-control in not flooding top generalist journals with average papers that have been artificially 'tuned' to have the 'look and feel' of groundbreaking work (and sometimes not even that).


I think you are absolutely right about the submission practices in our discipline, compared to the natural sciences. I also publish in another field, and people in that field show much better judgment about the relevance and quality of their work with respect to the journals they submit to. Part of the reason Nous and the other leading journals with very high rejection rates have such high rejection rates is that people just keep sending stuff that does not fit or stand a chance of getting in the journal. If half the people stopped sending their papers in to one of these journals, the acceptance rate would double! (assuming those whose papers do get in do not stop sending them in) There is less randomness in the refereeing process than many people imply.

Scott Forschler

I am an independent scholar; between my various research projects I do occasional short book reviews and also review article submissions for one philosophy journal. I almost always submit the former within a week of receiving the book, and the latter the same day I receive the manuscript. So my question is: can anyone else use me? I would love to do more reviews of books or articles, and can promise a quick turn-around time. Given all the complaints (and I have my own) about long delays after submission, I would hope that someone could use more hands. Is there any central place that journals needing reviewers post requests for help?

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