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09/06/2012

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Brad Cokelet

Hi Marcus,

Well that sounds frustrating as can be.

If you don't need the publication for tenure, I suggest that you ask whether publication has to mean so much. We might be conditioned to value publication but that does not mean it should be valued. Perhaps you could focus on taking pride in getting the idea right and in presenting it to friends and the community of scholars. This can be done in conferences or by circulation. Just a thought.

If you remain committed to publishing I guess one idea to think about is whether the framing of the idea could be better. Do you think reviewers are balking because of their doubts about the argument or thesis, or because of the way you situate the idea in a larger debate? If the later I suggest getting advice from people outside the topic area.

It is hard to say much more in the abstract, but I for one would be happy to take a peak if you would want to email the paper to me.

Brad C (bradcokelet at gmail dot com)

Marcus Arvan

Hi Brad,

Thanks for the kind advice and offer. I'll send you the paper momentarily. Anyway, my attitude most of the time has been more or less what you suggest: namely, try to get the idea right, and let the cards fall where they may. I guess the frustrating thing is that a lot of the papers (and books) that *have* been published on the topic have been terribly confused -- in ways that have been pointed out by others, and which I think my paper clearly improves upon. So I can't help but get frustrated: if confused papers can get by reviewers and into press, why can't this one? My recent experience with reviewer comments suggests the following to me: I am very much going against the current grain of the debate on the topic, and so perhaps reviewers are setting a very high bar for my argument to pass to satisfy them. A second possibility -- which I think was absolutely correct until recently -- was that the paper was simply too long and too ambitious. Thanks to some wonderful advice from a few people, I've shortened the thing, made it a bit less ambitious, etc. I'm hoping these fixes will do the trick. Anyway, thanks again for offering to take a look at it. I'll send it to you straightaway.

Matthew Duncombe

Hello Marcus,

Thanks for your post. I feel your pain, and I sympathize.

You mention that the paper had 'a couple of R&Rs'. What happened in those cases? Did they not give you suggested revisions? Did you make the mandated revisions and, upon resubmission, have the paper rejected? If that happened, I think you were very badly treated. Did you not make the mandated revisions, thinking you would prefer to submit in the existing form somewhere else?

If it is still an option, it might be worth going back to the suggested revisions, making them, and resubmitting to those journals, pointing out that you have made the revisions they asked for.

Good luck!

Matt

Kyle Whyte

Marcus: I feel your pain. I wish I could offer some advice that could somehow make sense of what you've gone through, but I've seen the oddest things in the peer review process. Sometimes it makes sense; sometimes it's the most messed up thing about our profession. I will say that I know 1 person who had exactly the same experience you had, like literally, identical (i.e. dissertation chapter, lots of revisions, rejections, conference comments, etc.). The article had been through top 20 and mid-range journals. After some years, he finally sent a version in to a top 20 journal that wasn't revised that much from the last few rejections from mid-range journals, and the reviewers were like, "this is amazing, minor revision." So given I've seen stuff like this happen, I don't know what to tell you, other than to stick with it. I'd also be happy to look at the paper. But, to be honest, I think you've gotten so much great feedback from true experts in your area that, really, this is just an unlucky matter of being in a peer review system funk.

Moti Mizrahi

I feel your pain, too, Marcus.

I agree with Kyle. It sounds like you are the victim of an arbitrary process. My advice is to keep submitting the paper until your luck changes for the better.

The only thing I can think of is that you might want to give some more thought to fit (i.e., which journal is the best home for your paper). We've discussed this before: http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2012/07/good-but-not-good-enough.html.

Kyle Whyte

I think the good-but-not-good-enough discussion is a great one. I am also recalling another person I know who has an extremely novel idea on a major topic in philosophy - it's also a topic that resonates with a lot of public issues. She presents her views at conferences and gets initial push back in the Q/A, but is able to convince people of the importance of her work. So people walk away from the conference presentation thinking this is amazing work. But the peer review process does not play out that way for her. It's like the anonymity, coupled with the lack of opportunity for exchange, and whatever other ingredients make some reviewers review they way they do, makes them shoot down her work, despite the success she has at conferences. In some ways, it seems like there are changes that reviewers demand that will make the paper have less impact after publication, but more likely to be published. If that makes any sense. That's a tough position to negotiate.

Clayton

Hi Marcus,

Sorry to hear about the difficulties you've had with this paper. The review process does often seem arbitrary. One thought about improving this. I don't know what runs through referees' heads when they review papers. Even if all the referees were conscientious, if you have referees with wildly different standards for what's acceptable, what's worthy of rejection, and what's deserving of an R&R, the process will be arbitrary. Maybe the APA should set up some general guidelines about how to be a good referee. Some general guidelines about acceptable behavior and some rubrics that we can consciously remind ourselves of when reviewing a paper. Surely that couldn't make things worse than they are.

Richard Brown

This is something that I struggle with as well, especially since I have been on both sides of the issue. As was pointed out, I think, at Leiter's blog, some journals are now instructing reviewers to use extraordinary high standards (due to backlogs at the journal). If this is taking place at a few of the top journals (I have received one such instruction from a journal) then it may be that the paper is fine but they feel they have to come up with some reason, any reason, to reject it.

I would also like to second Clayton's remark about some spa involvement in setting up some guidelines.

Andreas Wolkenstein

Hi Marcus, I sympathize a lot, and I wish I could give some good advice. But I cannot, I simply have no experience with those things (as I have not submitted a paper to a journal yet). The only thing I would say is that you just should go on with trying to get it published. Maybe this is something you know yourself, but maybe it is also something that is good to hear from others.
What is more, your story is also helpful (at least for me) because, among other things, it shows that thinking of publishing as too easy - "Next year I sit down and publish one paper after the other" - is dangerous.
There is also a discussion over at Practical Ethics which is about the virtues and vices (actually the dangers) of peer reviewing (http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2012/09/the-deadly-dangers-of-peer-review/). Maybe your story, Marcus, fits in here.
In any case, we are wondering here what reviewers think when they accept or reject a paper. My question would be whether you, Cocooner's, also have served as reviewers and what you were thinking as you accepted or rejected a paper.
But maybe this leads too far away from the original post, sorry. So let's first find some solutions and then discuss...

Kristina Meshelski (Asst Prof-CSU Northridge)

Hi Marcus! If the paper is the one I am thinking of, then please feel free to send along the revised version if you think my comments might be helpful. In general I think, as I said before, that it is worthwhile paper. I hope it finds a home in print. Even though I disagree with much of it, it gives those of us interested in that topic many useful things to discuss.

Though I have relatively limited experience with publishing so far, my sense is that reviewers have something like a saturation point they reach when a paper makes too many claims they disagree with. We all think we can distinguish between an important paper and one we just happen to agree with, but I think this gets hard when you are trained to be as critical as we are. Since this paper is ambitious, it makes a lot of claims and that I think makes a paper especially vulnerable to rejection. My sense is that it isn't a matter of your view agreeing or disagreeing with the majority (I'm just not sure on that point) but rather that your claims don't necessarily stand or fall together, so it is possible for a sympathetic reader to find many points of disagreement, and these points will not be the same as another sympathetic reader, and your revisions go round and round. Of course much of this might be simply luck in the reviewers you've drawn, but if I were you my strategy would be one of picking which battles to fight - or get started on a book proposal!

Marcus Arvan

Thank you all for the kind, helpful comments. I've been at a conference in Manchester, so I've only had sporadic internet access. I'll try to respond to some of your comments as soon as I can. Kristina: I think you're probably right. The paper is, as you say, very ambitious, and in my experience different reviewers find very different things to take issue with. Some reviewers find claims A, B, and C persuasive but not D, whereas others find B, C, and D persuasive but not A. I've tried to make the newest draft less ambitious, so we'll see how that goes (and thanks so much for the offer to send it to you -- I will!). The problem I've run into in the past, however, is that when I try to be less ambitious, reviewers ask me to show that the project is likely to illuminate the field...in which case I find myself having to get ambitious again.

Christopher Stephens

Hi Marcus,

I'm just coming across this, possibly now dead thread. Knowing nothing about the details here, I would suggest either (1) narrowing the scope of the paper so that it is less ambitious, or (2) if you can't do that, consider a book project. The advantage of (2) is that you will have space to develop your ambitious alternative. Also, my sense is that book refereeing is a bit less rigorous - it is easier to publish a book with a top press than an article with a top journal (of course its more work to write the book itself. But the acceptance rates are much better in the book scenario.).

That said: if you do go the book route, it should still be possible that you can publish some version of a chapter or chapters as articles. So I'd continue to try (1) while beginning to think about (2) - one shouldn't put all ones eggs in one basket before having a tenured job somewhere, as they say.

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