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Recent grad

It depends on how much I believe in a given paper. I currently have a paper, my second or first best ever, which has been rejected 13 times over five years. But it keeps improving and it's had near misses at very prestigious places. So I keep trying. I think I'll settle if it doesn't get accepted at the current place though.

Jake Wright

This isn't going to be particularly revelatory or controversial, but these stories reveal just how fundamentally broken the philosophical peer-review system is. As publication increasingly becomes a prerequisite for employment (not tenure, mind you, but just FINDING A JOB) and publication in "more prestigious" journals increasingly becomes a prerequisite (as it seems to be), then this just adds to the contingent, Kafkaesque nature of the whole enterprise.

What should a junior scholar do? Shoot for a "lower" journal in the hopes of having *something* out there, even though it will be looked at askance? (This candidate doesn't have the chops to publish in the "good" journals, evaluators might think.) Shoot for a "good" journal and risk having nothing to show for it, not because the paper isn't of sufficient quality, but because reviewers are taking their sweet time? (This candidate doesn't have the chops to publish *anything*, evaluators might think.) This is all nonsense and it morally wrongs philosophers, especially junior/contingent philosophers. We as a discipline have a moral obligation to get this fixed.

Anyway, climbing down from my soapbox...

1) I have basically no patience in the peer-review process. I think it is better to have material out there in the wild, so to speak, than languishing on some editor's desk, subjected to a Kafkaesque nightmare. I know people who have papers submitted to special issues where abstracts are accepted and the paper languishes because after the submission of the full paper, Reviewer #2 has vanished off the face of the Earth. This is, by comparison to the stories shared above, calm seas and fair winds! I think that the less time a paper can spend in this very special hell and out in the world interacting with other philosophers, the better.

2) Aside from the reasons listed in (1), I'm in a position where I don't particularly care about publishing in "prestigious" journals. I'm not at an R1, don't want to be at an R1, and am not especially interested in moving from my current position. Perhaps my view would change somewhat if my circumstances were different, but they are what they are.

3) We should not be patient. The current system is intolerable, especially to junior/contingent philosophers. If we aren't going to fix this peer review system, we have to move towards a system of open pre-prints, like ArXiv, so that none of us (but especially the most vulnerable members of our profession) face this ridiculous Sophie's Choice of either a roll of the dice with a slow-moving "prestige" journal or a less prestigious outlet with a reputation for quicker turnarounds and more reasonable comments.

Marcus Arvan

Jake: Thanks for weighing in. I am very sympathetic with all of that! That’s pretty much been my rationale for my lack of patience as well as my longtime push for moving toward the ArXiv system. :)


If you look at people hired at R1s, a lot of them do not have top publications. Well, they usually have at least one, but I can think of many professors, many recent hires, who made their name in almost entirely good but not "top" speciality journals. (and no, I will not name names, so if someone is interested they can look themselves) And for teaching schools, top journals doesn't matter at all. (usually) So it is a complete myth that you need to publish in top 10 journals or whatever to get a job. I will say that top publications seem most important if you work in classic metaphysics, epistemology, or language.

As for me, I am a very impatient person in general. So, yeah, I have problems with this too. And it is super frustrating to pay 20 bucks to turn in what you think is one of your best pieces at phil imprint and then get it desk rejected. I kind of feel like desk rejects should get at least half their money back. Anyway, given all these stories of great philosophers rejected over and over, we have all the reason in the world to distrust the peer review process. SHOULD someone be patient? No, not really...is my answer. You should be patient if publishing in a top journal is an important goal for you. I guess a second reason would be that I do think papers in top journals are generally read more and taken more seriously. Even this, though, isn't always the case There are certainly a lot of papers published in top places that are ignored, and some papers that were rejected and then published in an anthology that gets a lot of attention.

Overseas TT

I follow something very close to what Marcus calls the "waterfall strategy", and so far it worked out great for me. I get a lot of rejections, but so far everything I wrote ended up in a top-20 (and usually top-10, or equivalent specialist) journal. To be sure, sometimes this took several years from initial submission to final acceptance, but I'm consoled by the knowledge that nothing I've written could have ended up in a significantly more prestigious journal than where it actually did.

My persistence has nothing to do with how much I believe in my papers. It's driven solely by pragmatic considerations: i) my institution very much cares about journal prestige, not just quantity, but also, ii) it's not that I think all my papers are that brilliant, but rather, I think that a lot (most?) of what I see even in the very top journals just aren't that great (they are usually good and competent, just nothing earth-shattering). So, it's more like "if they published all this not so amazing stuff, they might as well accept my papers". Indeed, my own assessment of which of my papers are the best shows little correlation with which ones I manage to place in the best journals. So, I always start near the very top to give luck a chance.


It is odd, how mediocre is the work being published now in some top journals--I am thinking particularly of PR, Nous, and (especially) PPR. Increasingly, it seems that the best stuff is coming out of top specialty journals, plus places like Phil Studies and PQ. Not sure why this is the case.


I agree with people about the bad work in top journals. And like Overseas, it is not that I think my work is great but that I think it is as good as some of the stuff that is published. I tend to think that blind review is violated more at the top top generalist journals, but maybe I'm wrong. I also think the top journals are more picky about never publishing work that cites papers not in their own journal. This really limits what papers they can publish.

At the very beginning of my career, I settled for a few lower tier places. Now I will try for top generalist, which are usually rejected, and then I go to top specialist. If it isn't accepted at a top specialist place I usually give up on the paper. If it is really a paper I believe in I will save it until I get an invite at for an anthology at a good press.

Angry Anon

I send only to generalist journals that I know are quick (1-2 months), and after that only to specialist journals that I know are quick (and are usually quicker).

Here's the real question though - and maybe we could start a separate post for answering this question - why are you, as a referee, taking longer than 3 weeks to review a paper? It is unreasonable and immoral to take longer than that. (Yes, you are a bad person if you take longer than 3-4 weeks to review a paper.) I have never taken longer than a week to review a paper. That it takes anyone longer is ridiculous (save for extremely long papers that might take 3 weeks or so). What ever happened to treating others how we would like to be treated? Does anyone like having their paper getting hung up for 3 months minimum? If you aren't going to review it in 3 weeks, don't accept the invitation to review.

And what about those grossly immoral referees who take longer than 3 months? I've had a paper take over a year only to get an R and R. (And no, I didn't revise and resubmit it. I'm not going to send it back to some jerk who is going to take that long to review it.) What was this jerk doing that whole time? Did it take less time to review after waiting 12 months?


Angry Anon,

Most people aren't like you. They need more motivation than the golden rule, and there is absolutely no external motivation to do a review quickly, or to do it well. Hence most people put reviewing a paper on the absolute bottom of their priority list, if it even makes the list. Basically, you can always be working on your own research instead of reviewing a paper, and most people choose self-interest before altruism. I agree with you that in like 90% or so of cases, there really is no reason for someone not to review a paper within 2-3 weeks. Whatever someone is busy with now they will be busy with other stuff down the line. But this isn't enough to motivate, hence one of the major problems with the current peer review system.


Following Amanda's comment - is there anything journals can do to motivate referees? I've never refereed, so I'd be interested to hear what others think.
I wonder if there are things we can learn from other disciplines on that, and also from other voluntary systems. For examples, some countries give the following motivation for organ donation: if you put yourself down as an organ donor (in the event that you die), then you'll have priority over people who didn't. That is, if both you and I need a kidney transplant but only you are on the organ donor list, you'll have priority (other things being equal). In refereeing, an analogous motivation could be giving some dis-preference to papers submitted by people who took a long time to referee for that journal. I can see lots of disadvantages for this suggestios, but maybe it will inspire ideas in others.

Marcus Arvan

A: I think something like that could be a good idea. I wrote on incentives for referees (i.e. "carrots and sticks") a while back, but it didn't get much uptake (http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2015/08/reforming-refereeing-carrots-and-sticks.html ).

I do think something needs to be done. I routinely have papers under review for 4+ months. That's 1/3 of a year just at a single journal. Further, often enough (though not always), after all that time, the reviewer comments are like a single short paragraph.

As I've said before, I've had some very good reviewers--but on the whole I think our discipline needs to do better. I've sent a few things to psychology journals (a field my spouse works in), and the review times there are standardly 6-8 weeks. That's reasonable. 3+ months (not to mention 4+ or 6+) is not. But these kinds of waits happen all the time in our discipline.

Frustrated reviewer

What takes more time, finding reviewers or waiting for them to hand in their report? Two months ago I reviewed a paper which is, as of today, "awaiting reviewer assignment" according to their manuscript management website. Apparently, they can't find a second reviewer. It's frustrating not just for the author. Although I recommended some revisions, I find the paper thought-provoking and would love to see it succeed, but it seems that there is nothing I can do to help get this paper out into the open. Maybe I should inquire with the editors why they let this promising paper linger in review hell or are so lazy? Has anyone of you ever done this?


I don't send my work anywhere that claims or is known to take more than 3 months. Happily, that leaves with me with quite a few generalist journals, plus the top few in my specialty. A few times my work has sat somewhere for 4-5 months, but I guess that could happen anywhere. My average time-to-review so far has been just over two months. That's fine with me, and I'm happy with three. Four or five leaves me pretty unhappy, though. I guess that's how far my patience extends.

When I first started publishing, my strategy was mostly dictated by time to review. I'd start with the top specialty journals, and then target whatever generalist journals had the fastest review times and waterfall down from there. Now that I have a few under my belt and I'm not in such a rush, I'm aiming a little higher and starting with top (but still quick) generalist journals, moving to top specialty after a few rounds of rejection, and then going back to the remaining generalists.

Frustrated reviewer: I suspect that the biggest contributor to delays is finding a reviewer. If the journal gives reviewers a couple of months to submit their reviews, but it takes couple of months to find someone willing to review the piece, then the time to review has doubled. And since it's reported that people often take several weeks to confirm whether they'll act as a referee in the first place...

Angry Anon

Amanda et al: then, by my prior comment, this means that most reviewers are bad people. There's no way around this. I would love to hear reviewers try to explain how it is that they are not bad people and they take such long times to review.

Some potential remedies:

Perhaps the editor could send out a reminder of "review others as you'd want to be reviewed", or "remember, there is a person waiting for this review to be finished," or perhaps more succinctly "don't be a dick."


Step 1: Journals should say that they expect a review within 3-4 weeks. I get the feeling that when given 3 months to review, the reviewer (who is a bad person) waits until the week before the due date to review it. So take that option away (again, it doesn't require longer than 3-4 weeks to complete a long review. For average papers, no more than 1-2 weeks).

Step 2: Journals include an ambiguous "and if the reviewer does not complete her review within the scheduled time frame (outstanding circumstances aside), we will remember this when considering her work in the future."

Finally, I think it should be motivation enough to know that it's the right thing to do. That it (apparently) isn't enough testifies to the character of philosophers.

(It is worth mentioning that Philosophy Compass does request reviews within 2 weeks (I think), and they give you a free subscription to the journal for 6 months. So that's something of a motivation.)


Oh Angry, you seem an idealist. I highly doubt that an ambiguous threat without teeth will have much of an effect. And given what I've heard from many, I am doubtful reminders will do much good either. Consider recently someone posted here about publishing an anthology, and noted how it was nearly impossible to get some authors to submit a paper they agreed to submit, even after reminders, polite requests, and threats. Now I would agree that someone like this is probably a bad person, but I guess I have a higher bar when it comes to regular reviewing. If the journal says they have 3 months to review, and they take 3 months, then that might be some mark against their character, but I would need more to label them a bad person overall. And in the conversations I've had about this, I am usually considered the strict one. I have been pretty surprised when I've seen most people insist that doing reviews in a timely fashion is supererogatory, but that seems to be what many philosophers think. It doesn't make sense to me, since if you submit papers, it seems you have a moral and professional duty to review papers.


Some of my papers were accepted after just one submission. But quite a few, including all my favorites, took years. It seems the more I like a paper the harder it is to publish. I have a paper right now under review for the 6th time. It’s been under review at the current journal since Jan. Got my fingers crossed 6 is my lucky number and that I hear before the end of the year. I’m going to need more fingers!

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