An anonymous postdoc posted the following comment on my earlier post, "Stanley on Peer-Review", and I thought it might be worth drawing attention to:
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 [sic] 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[...]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.
Any thoughts? I guess mine are these:
Although I'd like to be clear that I've received some wonderful reviewer comments over the years (including some very well-reasoned devastating criticisms that were tough to receive!), I've also received a very large number of reviews that struck me as plainly irresponsible (up to and including the case where a referee left their name in the "properties" section of their review, and advocated rejecting my paper because it contradicted their very well-know thesis). I also have the benefit of comparing how our journal/referee system works to another discipline. My wife is an academic in an unrelated field whose journals nearly always reach decisions within 2 months, and where, as far as I can tell, no journal ever rejects papers without forwarding reviewer comments. Even desk-rejections are accompanied by editors' justifications for desk rejection. So, I think it's plain that something "something should be done"--that journal practices in our profession need reform. But who, or what, could/should incentivize reform?
Second, in lieu of reform, what can authors do to best grapple with these problems? Allow me to make a couple of suggestions that I hope readers in the above commenter's situation will find helpful. Basically, I grappled with these issues in three ways:
- By overproducing. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received (from people who were successful publishing) is that you have to "play the odds" by having a lot of pieces under review at one time. Basically, I was told that since acceptance rates are ~5-10%, if you want to publish anything, you basically should aim to have 10 papers under review at any given time. So, that's what I did, and voila, I finally started getting published. Although some might argue that submitting a ton of work "clogs up" the entire review process, if you're in a bind--i.e. someone without permanent academic work--you have to do what you have to do. Don't send out terrible stuff to journals that will waste reviewers' time.
- By sending stuff to lower-ranked journals. Yes, there's always the worry that stuff published at lower-ranked journals will look bad, but as far as getting an academic job is concerned, my experience has been that these concerns may be overblown. Although I've never published a full-length journal article in a "top-20" journal, the more publications I racked up, the more interviews I got. There's nothing wrong with shooting for highly-ranked journals--but, if you're having trouble getting publications, shooting for some lower-ranked journals as well might be a good idea, as your chances will be much better.
- By submitting work to journals that have consistently good (~2 month) turnaround times on the Cullison wiki.
What are your thoughts/suggestions?