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06/13/2013

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Marcus Arvan

Moti: I have no idea whether it's common. What I do think is that far too much is made in our discipline of where people publish, as opposed to the actual content of what they've published.

Moti Mizrahi

Hi Marcus,

I, too, have a dream that philosophers will one day judge papers not by the venue in which they were published, but by their content. Since that is a dream and the reality is that philosophers, for the most part, are obsessed with brand names (be it of journals, academic presses or institutions), what I am trying to figure out, I guess, is this. Is it reasonable for a young philosopher to think that s/he has a decent shot at success even if s/he is not publishing in top 20 journals?

Lisa

If you take a somewhat more historical perspective, you find so many examples of people who are considered "great" philosophers today and who were completely unsuccessful according to the academic standards of their time, for all or part of their life. Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche spring immediately to mind. Wittgenstein did completely different things during long periods of his life. J.S. Mill wrote a textbook on economics and worked for the colonial administration…
This doesn't answer the question about today's situation, but it puts things into perspective. I think Eric's case is not soo untypical if by "prominent and successful" you mean people who hold a permanent position, have a voice in the public discourse of their country, and are well-known and respected in their respective communities. What's special about Eric is that he is so prominent in the Anglophone blogosphere and hence more visible than others.

Daniel

This is a followup to Lisa's point. If by "prominent and successful," you mean what Lisa suggested (a description that does apply to Schliesser), then I agree with Lisa that it's not so unusual for prominent and successful people to rarely if ever publish in top-20 journals.

But there are other definitions one might use (e.g., tenure at a leiter-ranked department), such that I do think it would be unusual for such a person to rarely if ever publish in top-20 journals.

Of course, I am not suggesting that either definition is "better" or "right." Just that the apparent atypicality of Schliesser's case may turn on an equivocation--the sense in which he is prominent and successful may not be the sense in which it is unusual that prominent and successful philosophers have his sort of publishing profile.

Also, I think it's a bit naive to think that people ought to disregard journal venue and judge papers by their content. Most of us are going to hear about far more papers than we'll ever have time to read. When we lack the time or expertise to judge a paper by its content, it's natural that we'll use heuristics to form a guess of how good it is. And a very natural such heuristic is: "where was the paper published?" Why is that natural? Because some journals are much harder to publish in than others. Knowing that a paper has gotten through the multiple, arduous rounds of review at, say, Ethics, tells me something important about the paper. It's not a guarantee that there's nothing wrong with the paper (of course), but it's stronger evidence of the paper's quality than knowing it got published somewhere less selective.

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

Lisa, by "prominent and successful" I did mean, as you said, one who holds a permanent position and is well-known and respected in his/her field. I was trying to get a sense of how typical Schliesser's case is in academic philosophy today. So, I truly appreciate the historical perspective, but it doesn't help answer this question, as you said.

Daniel, I grant that one needs a heuristic, given limited time and resources, but I wonder if there are better heuristics than publication venue. After all, the reason why it is much harder to publish in one journal than another is not always quality of work (as we know: http://www.newappsblog.com/2012/12/the-journal-reviewing-process-isnt-anonymous-did-you-really-think-it-was-think-again.html ).

Eric Schliesser

It is an odd, albeit amusing, experience to be the subject of sociological analysis. I hope the moderator allows me to chime in. First, As Lisa says above, blogging has made me prominent outside my specialized academic niches. However, it is worth nothing that my fortunes in the discipline changed after Syracuse -- a Leiterific department known to do thorough searches and hiring young people that often 'go on' -- hired me on tenure track. (This change manifested itself in countless ways.) Finally, in addition to a lot of luck, I have a lot of publications in very good and highly regarded specialist journals.

Marcus Arvan

Moti: I think the short answer is that young philosophers *can* get TT jobs without top 20 pubs, and then, if the job they get us at a teaching oriented SLAC, get tenure without them. Be that as it may, I think you are right that our discipline has an unhealthy obsession with venue placement over content. I've read too many garbage articles in top20 (not to mention top 5) journals lately, and heard of way too many cases of people getting papers *rejected* from lower ranked journals and later accepted at top 5 journals, to think that venue alone is a good heuristic. For this reason, whenever I see a paper published in a top journal these days I don't automatically assume that it likely to be good. I actually read the paper to make up my own mind.

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks very much for chiming in, Eric. I hope you don't mind being the subject of a sociological analysis.

Would you say, then, that in order to be a prominent and successful philosopher (in the sense under discussion), there must be some brand-name factor involved? It's just that, in your case, the brand-name was that of an institution rather than a journal.

Eric Schliesser

Well, in different professional environments there are different -- constantly changing, unevenly operating -- rules. (I have worked in the US, the Netherlands, and now Flanders--professional advancement works differently in each place.) Also, I have had people (unconnected to my dissertation) that were willing to go to bat to me in all kinds of subtle ways.
I'll have to think about the 'brand' question.

GFA

Regarding the original question: I think it depends a lot on what sub-field(s) the philosopher works in. Note that the linked list of "Top 20" is the top 20 GENERALIST journals. If you work in M&E, then I think it is very rare/ difficult to gain a position of prominence in the field without publishing in this particular "Top 20."

However, if you are a philosopher of science -- and even more so if you are a philosopher of a special science like physics or biology -- then you can be a world-leading figure without publishing in any of those 20. Hans Halvorson and Laura Ruetsche are the first examples that spring to my mind. But both of them (like other leaders in their field) have a lot of publications in the two leading philosophy of science journals (Philosophy of Science and BJPS).

I don't know this, but I imagine the situation is similar for any sub-field that has reputable journals for that field (ethics, historical periods).

And getting back to the case of Eric Schliesser: his work is mostly not analytic M&E or mind, so it's unsurprising that his work has not appeared much in the Top 20 generalist journals.

Moti Mizrahi

Eric, thanks very much for your reply.

Marcus, thanks. Following up on the publication venue as a heuristic point, what would be a better heuristic? Clearly, venue is not a good heuristic as far as new journals are concerned.

Eric Schliesser

Greg nails it, I think. But it is worth noting that I am unusual in also having publications in very obscure places on very quirky topics--writing about Babylonian economics certainly is outlier.

Marcus Arvan

Moti: I think heuristics are fine when it comes to choosing how to spend one's time (reading this journal or that journal). When it comes to individual articles, however -- when it comes to judging whether *this* article before your eyes is any good -- I think heuristics are useless. Heuristics are rules of thumb. Rules of thumb can, and all too often do, go astray. Sometimes great journals publish crap. Sometimes great *philosophers* publish crap. It's a mistake to think that *this* paper is "likely good" because it appeared in Phil Review. That's to make a poor inference from probabilities applied to large numbers to probability in the individual case. When it comes to *this* article or *this* book, I say: you're a philosopher -- make up your own darn mind. :)

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks Greg and Eric. That's very helpful.

Helen

I know several people who got tenure track positions without having published in top-20 journals and without coming from a high pedigree department. Indeed, I know the reverse too: people with several papers in places like Mind who struggle to get first-round interviews. I fear the perception that pedigree is very important is only partially true. Surely, if you are from a Leiter top 5 dept and have published in Phil Review, your chances of landing a TT position are very good. But it's not a sine qua non.
A coherent research program is more important, especially for non-R1 schools than getting something in a top 20 generalist journal.

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks for your comment, Helen. Could you please elaborate a bit on why a coherent research program is important for *non-R1* schools? Is it taken to be an indicator that one will be a productive scholar, and hence gain tenure eventually? If so, isn't that important for R1s, too?

Daniel

Marcus,

I'm not sure I follow your last comment. You say that heuristics like journal selectiveness are (1) fine for choosing which journal to read, but (2) useless for judging whether individual articles are any good. I don't think this combination makes sense. If you grant that I have some reason to think it's more worth my time to read X journal rather than Y journal, this must be because I have some reason to think that papers in X tend to be better than papers in Y (right?). And so if I'm faced with two papers, neither of which I've read, but such that I know that one was published in X and the other was published in Y, don't I have some (weak, defeasible) reason to think that the paper published in X is better than the paper published in Y?

Your position strikes me as analogous to the following. (1) Grant that men tend, on average, to the taller than women. (2) Deny that in a particular case, where all you know about two people are that one is male and the other is female, that this provides any evidence about which is taller.

Of course, you can say: "make up your own darn mind," and in the case of height that's reasonable (just look--it's easy to tell). But in philosophy, we don't have the time or the expertise to evaluate every paper we ever hear about. You might say that we ought to remain completely agnostic about the quality of papers we haven't read, not even forming defeasible, probabilistic judgments. That strikes me as no more reasonable than the analogous position in the case of height (e.g., if I find out that I have two new co-workers, and all I know about them is that one is male and the other is female, then if the question of their height arises, I will form a defeasible probabilistic judgment than the male is taller--it would be silly to be completely agnostic on the matter.

All this is compatible with there being lots of cases of papers getting rejected from less selective journals and then accepted at more selective journals (this has happened to me and to people I know). There are lots of tall women too.

Marcus Arvan

Daniel: well, there's a famous problem in epistemology of making just the kind of extrapolation from large numbers to single cases. I just don't think that if we select one paper from Phil Review and one paper from Crap Journal, I have any reason whatsoever for thinking the Phil Review paper is the better one. This is because, in single cases, all bets are off. The mere fact that Phil Review tends to have stronger reviewers is no reason to think that in *this* case, the paper that appeared in Phil Review didn't end up there for all kinds of bad reasons: e.g. reviewers and editors knowing the person whose work it is (from conferences or whatever), or simply two easy reviewers, etc. Maybe this is wrong epistemically, but I'm not convinced. If you asked me which *journal* I want to read, I'd say Phil Review. If you offered me two papers at random -- one from Phil Review and one from crap journal -- I'd seriously say flip a coin. Again, maybe this approach to single case probabilities is wrong, but as I understand it is a serious issue that probability theorists have grappled with for a long time...

Daniel

Marcus,

It's true that some philosophers have thought that single-case probability judgments somehow don't make sense. Did you mean to be endorsing a general view to the effect that single-case probabilities (e.g., that the Spurs will win this year's NBA finals) are somehow misguided? If so, fair enough, there's a debate. (Though, I think, a pretty one-sided one. Everybody needs some way to explain why if you're offered a bet that pays $999 if the Spurs win, and costs $1 if they lose, then you should take that bet. It's extremely natural to do so by saying that the probability that they'll win is greater than 1/1000, so it's natural to think there's some interesting sense of probability in which single-case probabilities make sense.)

But unless you meant to be endorsing sympathy towards a general philosophical view about single-case probabilities (whether arrived at via inference from long-run frequencies or in some other way), I don't see that there's anything distinctively fishy about single-case probability judgments concerning how good papers are likely to be.

Here's another way of bringing out the awkwardness of drawing a sharp line between the single case judgments that you're not OK with, and the multiple case judgments that you are. Where do we draw the line? If I pick 2 papers at random from phil review, and 2 papers from "Crap Journal," is it OK for me to form some (perhaps weak) judgment that the 2 papers from phil review will be on average better than the 2 from crap journal? What about 3? You're committed to saying there's some point at which it will be OK for me to think the phil review papers are on average better, given that phil review has published only finitely many papers. It seems to me the extremely natural view to take, rather than regarding this as yet another instance of a sorites paradox (does this feel like a sorites?) is to think that right from the start, you have some reason (though of course not a conclusive one) to think that 1 randomly selected phil review paper is better than 1 randomly selected "Crap Journal" paper, and you have slightly stronger reason to think that 2 randomly selected phil review papers are on average better than 2 randomly selected crap journal papers, and still slightly stronger reason when you get to 3...etc.

Helen De Cruz

Hi Moti, I do think that a coherent research program is very important, also for R1s, but that non-R1s, unlike R1s do not really care whether you publish in top journals. Publishing in these journals will not hurt your chances, I think, but it does not particularly further your chances at getting a position in a non-R1 school. My observations are based on very limited data, basically some friends and colleagues landing jobs at SLACs, and on my own experience, so N=4 or 5.
You need to be able to convey, concisely and comprehensibly, what your overall research goals and assumptions are, and how your published work fits within it. That will help prospective SCs at non-R1 schools decide whether you'd be a good fit (an important consideration). You need to have publications and teaching experience, but in my personal experience, fit with the desired AOS based on your research statement, dissertation topic and publications. Just having a bunch of pubs, even in excellent places, without such a clear and overarching narrative, isn't going to help you. (I realize of course that most people do have such an overarching research project, but it needs to be pointed out clearly and concisely in the cover letter, and the writing sample needs to fit it).
My sense is that Eric has accomplished conveying a coherent and interesting research program, in his combination of early modern and philosophy of economics. His department, I know for a fact, doesn't care whether or not you publish in Phil Studies, as long as the journal is international and peer-reviewed, and indexed in some decent abstracting data bases (such as ESF and Web of Science), they are happy.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Daniel: I do mean to endorse the general view that single-case probabilities are different. If you take one random man and one random woman and ask me to bet on which is likely to be taller, the correct answer seems to me to be: flip a coin. In the single case at issue, the probability is simply 50/50. It doesn't matter how tall men and women generally are. In *this* case, there's just one man and one woman, so the chances are 50/50. Or so it seems to me. As soon as we move beyond the one-off case, it seems to me that probabilities apply. If I had to bet on who's likely to be taller a *series* of cases, I would choose man every time, precisely because men tend to be taller. But that's very different, and corresponds precisely to the distinction I made in my earlier comment. If I want to maximize the number of good articles I read in the long run, and I have time only read one journal, I'll pick Phil Review over a Bad Journal with the same # of articles. However, in one-off case, I'd flip a coin.

Anyway, I think this debate about probability, while interesting, is also beside the point. My point wasn't that there aren't any good heuristics for deciding what to read. I wholly accept that. My real point -- and I recognize I probably didn't make this clear enough above -- is that, given the sheer number of bad articles that appear everywhere, one shouldn't assume that an article is likely good because it appeared in Phil Review or any top 20/top 5 journal.

There is an auxiliary assumption at work here which, indeed, I did not mention (and which I assume many would reject). My recent experience reading top journals is that the vast majority of articles that appear in them aren't very good. This is, of course, my judgment, but I'm willing to make it. This, then, is the real reason I don't think people in our discipline should attach such cache to publishing venue. I just don't think many articles -- even those in top journals -- are all that good. To be sure, the few I come across that are *amazing* tend to be in places like Phil Review, but even there, the bad ones seem to me to vastly outnumber the amazing ones. Which is why I say: before you assume that a paper that appears in a top journal is any good, try giving it a read.

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks, Helen. That's very helpful.

Dan Dennis

Marcus - I am not the Daniel with whom you have been discussing - but I just could not help commenting on the example you give of betting who is taller of a randomly chosen man or woman. I would love to take that bet with you. I'd take it knowing that I have a better than even chance of winning, because there is a better than even chance of the man being taller. Number of cases is irrelevant. What do you think is the chance of throwing a 6 on a standard die? Does that change if you keep rolling it?

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