According to this study (see especially the charts on p. 4),
- More than 90% of published humanities papers have received no citations two years after publication.
- About 82% have never been cited five years after publication.
- Citation rates in the humanities have been consistently this low across the past several decades.
- Over 50% of natural science and social science papers receive at least one citation within two years.
- About 70% receive at least one citation after five years.
- Citation-rates in both areas have climbed dramatically and steadily over the past several decades.
To me, these comparisons are very depressing. If you work in the natural sciences or social sciences, chances are your work will be cited and/or discussed in the literature. However, if you work in the humanities, chances are it won't. This means that, currently, the vast majority of us spend months, even years, of our lives working tirelessly on papers and books that we think matter (or should matter) that no one ever cites, let alone engages with. Which is rather disheartening, to say the least. Of course, one possibility is that 80-90% of humanities papers are terrible, and not worth citing/discussing. Yet, while I have actually heard people say things like this, I have a hard time believing it. Philosophers are a rather smart bunch of people--and it seems to me that I read good papers all the time that are never discussed.
What could be done to improve this situation--done, that is, to incentivize broader, more inclusive philosophical engagement? I'm not sure, but let me brainstorm out loud a bit:
A. Increase journal space for replies to articles in other journals?: One thing I find a bit curious is that while philosophy journals often seem to accept full-length articles that are critical of the work of well-known names (there are, for instance, countless articles replying to/criticizing the work of people like Rawls, Parfit, etc.!), journals don't generally tend to accept "replies"/discussion notes to papers that appear in other journals. Typically, journals only accept direct replies to articles in their own pages. But this, it seems to me, dramatically disincentivizes engagement with others' ideas.
As Thom Brooks points out on pp. 19-20 of his Publishing Guide for Graduate Students, "The big shortcoming of being in the reply business is that if your reply is rejected, then you may well be snookered: all reputable journals have policies against publishing replies to articles in rival journals." Why engage with another person's paper at all if the only place you can submit a critical reply is one journal (the journal in which it appeared)?
Consequently, it seems to me, if we want to increase engagement with others' philosophical ideas (and I believe we should), this seems to me one place to start: journals should change their editorial policies to encourage replies to articles in other journals. I know, I know: there's a reason why journals don't allow replies--it increases the citation rates of rival journals, making one's rival journal "more competitive" (something which, for obvious reasons, a self-interested journal might not want to do!). But this seems to me a really cynical ploy, one predicated on a false "zero-sum game" assumption. It seems to me that all journals would benefit from increasing cross-journal citations--for it would plausibly get most journals read, and engaged with, more than now.
B. Incentivize replies to articles within journals with new online presentation formats?: Another thing I find a bit curious is how little the internet has led academic publishers to rethink the entire manner of presenting peer-reviewed work (actually, I'm not that surprised. Old habits die slowly!). Allow me to briefly explain what I mean. As of now, most journals still have "issues" (i.e. January 2016, Fall 2016, etc.). Each issue contains some number of articles, book reviews, discussion notes, etc. And, once an issue is issued, there it is: you have to wait for the next issue! But why? Here's an alternative model that might increase philosophical engagement:
1. Publish traditional journal issues: with traditional articles, discussion notes, etc., but then
2. Keep each journal issue "live"--publishing peer-reviewed replies/discussion notes inside the already-published issue on an ongoing basis. So for instance, if you were to visit, say, the Fall 2014 issue of some journal, that issue might list articles A, B, and C, but also include, on an continually updated basis, a subheading with "replies" to articles A, B, and C (so that anyone who views those original articles can also view, and potentially add to, an ongoing critical response to those articles).
It seems to me that a new format like this might dramatically enliven philosophical discussion and debate. It might encourage people to reply to articles within a given journal, and, by publishing all of those replies in the same place, lead to a kind of evolving "critical consensus" in the journal's pages on the very articles that journal publishes (as one could read through a series of critical responses to a given article, but also add to that list of responses oneself, by writing a reply of one's own!). Of course, this new model might dramatically increase the workload on editors and reviewers (as replies might begin to flood into journals!)...but I think there are probably creative ways this could be handled (e.g. limit on submissions, a requirement for submitters to be willing to serve as reviewers, different editorial practices for replies--such as "thumbs up, thumbs down" verdicts, etc.).
C. Book-symposium journals, perhaps associated with the APA, with an ongoing peer-reviewed "reply" feature?: I couldn't help but notice how many book symposia are scheduled at the upcoming Pacific APA. This seems really cool to me, and I think it would be awesome if some number of symposia were set aside at each APA for both (A) well-known, senior authors, but also (B) lesser-known, junior authors. Additionally, however, I'm curious why there isn't anything like a journal dedicated to book symposia (is there one I'm unaware of?).
Currently, there are two ways for a newly published book to get discussed: book reviews, and traditional journal articles. Yet, journals being what they are, it is plausibly more difficult for junior authors to get articles on their book published in journals. Indeed, aside from official "book reviews", journal articles on books by junior authors are far less common than journal articles on books by well-known authors. Why? The most obvious answer is that well-known authors are well-known, so of course their books tend to get discussed more. A second obvious possibility is that books by well-known authors tend to be better, and hence more deserving of discussion (viz. well-known authors are well-known for a reason!). Yet there are other possible explanations for why articles on books by well-known people might get more discussion in journals than books by junior authors. One is the biases/predilections of journal reviewers and editors (How so? Well, not too long ago, I actually had a paper at a journal rejected, at least in part, because the reviewer had never heard of the author I was replying to, and who didn't think readers of the journal had probably read their work either!).
It seems to me that right here might be a perfect place for a new type of journal--a book symposium journal--to step into the fold. What if there were a journal devoted entirely to book symposia (author summaries of their books, along with 3-5 critical commentaries)? What if, in addition to that, readers could submit follow-up commentaries for peer-review, along the lines of the proposal I mentioned earlier (i.e. where the new commentaries might be appended to the original commentaries in the original "journal issue").
Anyway, I'm just brainstorming here. Perhaps none of these are good ideas. But I'd like to suggest that this kind of brainstorming might be worthwhile. I can't help but think it is a shame that so many good papers, and books, currently go undiscussed or underdiscussed. Perhaps some creative thinking might enable us change this for the better, improving the depth, breadth, and inclusiveness of philosophical engagement. What do you all think? Do you have any ideas?