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Neil Levy

Very useful set of guidelines, Helen. I keep records of my reviewing, so I know I am not wrong in thinking that my review time is much quicker than others seem to be (I have never taken more than 10 days to referee a paper and the mean is under 7 days). I do wonder whether there isn't some confirmation bias plus some kind of saliency bias in the idea that the turn around times afflict the top journals especially. My worst experiences have come with specialist journals, not the top general journals (again, I keep records). Two specialist journals have taken more than four *years* to return an initial verdict on submissions. Of course submissions to the top journals will be especially memorable to us, and that might partially explain why bad experiences with them are especially salient.


I tend only to write confidential comments to the editor if I want to be either more harsh or more glowing in my recommendation.

E.g., if a paper is just *terrible* and I think that under no circumstances should the journal publish it (even as an R+R), I'll say that in my comments to the editor. To the author, I'll say something more kind like, "In my opinion, this paper is not publishable in its current format, and I think it would take such significant restructuring as to essentially constitute a new paper."

E.g., if I think that a paper really ought to be published, to an editor I may write: "The journal would be extremely well served to publish this paper. I can't recommend it highly enough. It's fantastic."

Helen De Cruz

Rachel, that seems very sensible. It's important to let the editor know you really like a paper, given that the default response is rejection (given space considerations), and sometimes it's important to convey that a paper will likely not reach the standards of the journal even with a revision. One reason I tend to try to avoid comments to editor is that I came off as too nice - giving helpful suggestions and pointing out the strong points of an article, when I thought overall it was weak.


I do not think that reviewers should ever send separate comments to the editor. We are being more transparent, despite the anonymity of peer review, if we give the author exactly what we give the editor. Also, there is something slightly perverse in sending a harsher comment to the editor. The author then does not know how bad their paper is.
I also do not understand the long times for refereeing. I referee about 12 to 16 manuscripts a year, in addition to other editorial work, and many of the journals use on-line systems. The systems tells me I get my reports in on average in 1-3 days. I take 10 days for long paper, and almost always regret that I agreed to referee it (by long I mean 50+ pages).
Helen's rule of never accepted a request while one has another paper on one's desk is an excellent rule.

Helen De Cruz

HGI: these are also my reasons for avoiding comments to the editor. Perhaps one can make a strong recommendation that the author can see (as in Rachel's example). It must be frustrating if the paper then still gets rejected, but it's good to know that at least someone who is your peer really liked it. Conversely, it's important that the author of a really subpar paper realizes that it would require a lot more work (as a new submission), so that's why I am now somewhat more direct about the shortcomings of a paper than I used to be - one can do that without being nasty, I think, e.g., saying the paper doesn't show sufficient familiarity with the literature, where the argument went wrong.

Marcus Arvan

Sorry if this is a tangent, but I have a question that hasn't been discussed yet. Suppose you've agreed to referee a paper, but then, while reviewing the paper, you become quite certain you know the author of the paper (e.g. they refer anonymously to other stuff they've published, but you *know* who wrote those papers). Should you let the editor know and/or back out of the review? Or, especially if you've had the paper for a bit, should you still do the review? Thanks!

Helen De Cruz

Hi Marcus: I haven't been in that situation yet, but my thoughts are that you should let the editor know that upon reviewing the paper, you came to know who the author is, and ask them whether they'd still like to complete the review. It isn't ideal, but my guess is that many editors would go ahead and ask you to do the review anyway (based on my experiences where I knew right away who the author was, because the field is so small and I know their work or saw them present). However, if there's a potential conflict of interest, for instance, if the person is a good friend, I'd say to the editor that I know who the person is (through things they reference), and since I know the author personally, I would be unable to provide a fair review.

Christopher Gibilisco

I've made a quick list of precautions I used on my website to keep referees from searching my paper titles. I hope other junior philosophers find it helpful.


Tom Mulherin

Christopher (if I may), that link seems to only go to your home page. When I click through to research and click on the link in the note to your papers, it kicks me back to the homepage again.

Christopher Gibilisco

Tom: thank you, and sorry for the slow reply. I've fixed the link. My host likes to kick people to the homepage instead of a 404 page.


Thanks for the post! The guidelines for helping one decide whether/when to accept a refereeing duty are helpful.

However, there is rarely good reason to not recommend that an editor accept for publication the paper that one has agreed to referee.

The most pressing question before the referee is: Are my concerns about (a) the argument/view/etc. presented in the paper or (b) the way the paper is written or (c) etc. important enough to make it more difficult for the person who authored it to find employment where having a publication is highly important? For most, it would be surprising if the answer weren't, 'No'. Furthermore, typically it would require an entire paper or two for a referee to substantiate the conclusion that the paper should not be published on the basis of their concerns.

Hence, it is upsetting to hear that someone mostly recommends against publication. It is especially upsetting to hear that that someone mostly recommends against publication on the basis of whether they think the author's central idea and/or argument for it is novel as opposed to whether author's argument/arguments for the central idea are very good/plausible/etc. fml.

In any case, whatever.

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