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09/26/2019

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Nicolas

The social norm is not gonna change until people step up and break with it. SCs should take a stance in favor of coauthoring. If you’re a member of a SC don’t just point to the descriptive norm, try to change it! And if you’re an applicant, speak of coauthored work, promote it, submit it along your application, make it your job talk. Otherwise we’re just gonna keep hearing ‘over and over’ the same thing.

Graphomaniac

If both pieces are of high quality, I suggest submitting both, with the single-authored piece submitted first (assuming that most SCs will only skim one. Call the co-authored piece "Sample #2" or something in the upload portal.) Explicitly mention that you have attached both pieces in your cover letter, as one or both samples could pique a SC member's interest. It seems to me that the worst that could happen here is that the SC doesn't read the second one.

I also claim two AOS, went on the market last year, and submitted two writing samples (both single-authored) to about 80% of my jobs. (So it actually is possible to submit more than one writing sample on most application sites.) I got about a dozen interviews, and SCs that were interested in research expectations actually grilled me on BOTH my writing samples. In some cases it was clear that both had been read with a good deal of care. Submitting two samples certainly didn't disadvantage me, and it might even be possible that having two high-quality samples made me look like a MORE interesting candidate.

Untenured Ethicist

There are good reasons to change norms about how coauthored works are regarded in hiring and tenure. But the norm that a writing sample should be sole author is a good norm. Search committees have a legitimate interest in finding out what a candidate can produce on their own.

Graphomaniac's suggestion of submitting two writing samples is a good approach. It will probably be clear to most readers why you included two samples, even if you don't spell it out. Designate one of them as your primary writing sample. That way, if the search committee has a policy of only looking at one piece per candidate, they know which one to read.

Marcus Arvan

Untenured Ethicist: I disagree that the norm that a writing sample should be solo-authored is a good norm. This presupposes that someone needs to be a good solo-author in order to be a good *philosopher*. I disagree with that, and think the sciences are a perfect model for why. In the sciences, papers are standardly co-authored for several reasons. First, division of labor enables them to produce better work more quickly. Second, not everyone is good at the same things. Some are better at particular forms of data analysis than others, and so on.

So here's how I see it: if a person consistently produces top-notch philosophical work, why should it matter whether they do it with others? Sure, they had help: but that is their very *model* for doing philosophy. To say that they should "have to" do good solo-work to deserve a job (or tenure for that matter) simply begs the normative question at hand, which is whether we should favor solo-authored work at all.

Marcus Arvan

Nicolas: I agree in principle. But I don't think the burden for changing norms should fall on job-candidates. Job candidates need *jobs*, and I would hate to advise a candidate to do something that may (for all intents and purposes) harm their job-prospects.

So here's what I would suggest: *search committees* should take it upon themselves to change these norms, e.g. by including a statement in job ads that co-authored work will not be discriminated against.

A Non-Mouse

Marcus Arvan: You ask why it should matter to a search committee that a person's work is co-authored if the work is consistently top notch. One answer to your question is that, other things being equal, being capable of producing top notch work on one's own is better than not being so capable. A search committee's interest in hiring someone so capable is as legitimate as its interest in hiring someone capable of effectively communicating ideas, because other things being equal, being so capable is better than not.

No one will question a committee's interest in and preference for philosophers who can effectively communicate, and for good reasons. For similar reasons, no one should question a committee's interest in and preference for philosophers who can produce top notch single-authored work.

Marcus Arvan

A Non Mouse: I guess I simply disagree with the all-things-equal claim you assert. I think what matters is whether someone produces good work simpliciter. Nobody questions this in science, where it is generally assumed that people produce better work with others than they do alone.

Also, I don't think producing work alone has any essential relationship with the ability to communicate ideas. Someone may be perfectly capable of communicating ideas on their own, but nevertheless do their best work with others - in part because we don't all have the same strengths.

This is, again, more or less taken for granted in science. So, I think the assumptions you are working with are (unjustified) biases that many (though not all) philosophers have. No one in science thinks that just because people co-author, they aren't capable of communicating ideas. My spouse works in science, co-authors everything, and is able to communicate ideas just fine. People in science recognize the obvious: that more often than not, more heads are better than one.

Finally, there's an obvious way to test whether someone who co-authors can communicate ideas: if their co-authored work is excellent, interview them and find out!

A Non-Mouse

Marcus Arvan: I'm not claiming that, for researchers, producing good single-authored work is necessary for effective communication. I'm simply drawing attention to important similarities between preference for someone with a capacity for producing good single-authored work and preference for someone with a capacity for effectively communicating.

For defending the claim that the differences between single- and co-authored work should be irrelevant to SCs, the similarities between philosophy and science won't help much. There are at least two reasons for this. First, SCs at R1s will be primarily interested in the best available researcher in the relevant subfield at the relevant rank. The best will be someone with a capacity for producing good single-authored work, especially at times like these when jobs are in short supply. So if a SC wants the best, it should pay attention to a differences between single- and co-authored work: the former is better evidence than the latter that the candidate is the best. Second, even for the best scientist working on a project in a particular subfield, a team of researchers is often needed to produce good scientific research because of the nature of the research. The same cannot be said of philosophical research. Because of the nature of philosophical research, producing good research rarely requires multiple researchers. Generally, the better the philosopher, the greater his or her independence from others. Again, if a SC wants the best available researcher, it should pay attention to the difference between single- and co-authored work mentioned.

Marcus Arvan

A Non-Mouse: I certainly understand that rationale. I just think it presupposes a certain normative outlook ("the best" philosopher is one who produces amazing work all alone) that I'm not sure the discipline should perpetuate. I know some *very* good philosophers who do almost all of their work with co-authors.

I also think the following passage from your comment is telling: "even for the best scientist working on a project in a particular subfield, a team of researchers is often needed to produce good scientific research because of the nature of the research. The same cannot be said of philosophical research. Because of the nature of philosophical research, producing good research rarely requires multiple researchers. Generally, the better the philosopher, the greater his or her independence from others."

I think quite a lot of philosophers who defend traditional (i.e. armchair) methods think something like this. However, I am not convinced that any of the above is correct. There are those of us who think traditional armchair methods are problematic, and that philosophy done better should draw on the sciences (including X-phi experiments) far more than often thought. It is some of these people who I have in mind in my defense of co-authorship above: people who are very good philosophers, but who publish mostly co-authored work because their work involves empirical experiments and understanding of scientific results across a variety of fields (which makes it advantageous to them to work with others rather than all alone).

I'm not against solo-authorship. I'm just not convinced there are good reasons to believe that "the best" researchers work alone. I think *some* of the best work alone, but some of the best tend to publish with others. And I guess my hope is that more search committees (particularly at R1's, but not just there) would begin thinking this way more.

Chris Stephens

1. On the main question in the OP, I agree with Graphomanic: submit both.

2. On the issue of co-authorship in philosophy, I side with Marcus. I'm not in an epistemic position to do more than guess at what most hiring committees are looking for (hence my answer in (1).

But: philosophers who regularly co-author can do just fine on the job market and in their career. My colleague, Eric Margolis, co-authors nearly all his work with someone who was a fellow graduate student (Stephen Laurence at U Sheffield). Both found jobs (Eric has held tenured jobs at Rice, Wisconsin and now UBC).

A Non-Mouse mentions "preference for those who effectively communicate" but surely many hiring committees think (a) co-authorship can be evidence of effective communication and/or (b) co-authorship can be evidence for other philosophical/research virtues that people care about, ones that aren't illustrated by colleagues who only single author papers.

Many distinguished philosophers co-author papers, and many do so on papers that have no empirical component. Scientists also often collaborate on their more purely theoretical work.

So I don't think it is true (what A Non-Mouse says) "if a SC wants the best available researcher, it should pay attention to the difference between single- and co-authored work mentioned"

Maybe. But maybe not. It depends on what kind of researcher and research skills one is looking for.

A Non-Mouse

Marcus Arvan: I'm glad we're getting to the bottom of our disagreement. If I've understood things correctly, we disagree over whether no SC should pay attention to the differences between single- and co-authored work. I've offered my reasons for thinking that SCs at R1s should (roughly, because it will help get them what they want, the best available researcher in a particular subfield at a particular rank). For reasons based on your views about philosophical methodology, you disagree with me, and think they shouldn't. The view you express is that philosophy "should draw on the sciences [...] far more often than thought," and therefore the best available philosophers in a subfield at a particular rank are not to be understood as those who will produce good research on their own.

A charitable interpretation of the view you've expressed is that SCs at R1s should maintain an understanding of "best available researcher" that allows for philosophers whose research methods increase the likelihood that good work requires multiple authors. And if they were to do this, you think, then they should not take so seriously the idea that single-authored work is better evidence than co-authored work of a philosopher's being the best available in the relevant subfield at the relevant rank.

All this sounds reasonable enough. But it does not support the claim that no SCs at R1s should pay attention to the differences between single- and co-authored work. This is because not all work is made better by appeal to scientific research or through the use of empirical methods. Much of the work in the foundations of maths, philosophy of action, philosophy of psychology, and metaethics (among others) cannot make progress by appeal to scientific research or through empirical methods. More generally, any philosophical project that inquires into things that cannot clearly be accessed by empirical means may fail to be made better by appeal to scientific research or through empirical methods. SCs at R1s looking to hire someone in subfields like those mentioned should pay attention to the differences between single- and co-authored work.

I think that, by now, it should be clear that there can be no adequate defense of the claim that no SCs should pay attention to the differences between single- and co-authored work.

Chris Stephens

Marcus' defense of multiple authorship may depend on the comparison with "empirical" sciences, but mine does not. Mathematicians, after all, often collaborate - again, much more than philosophers - and their work is not (usually) answered or assessed by empirical means. So clearly there can be benefits to co-authorship that go beyond cases where the research has an empirical component.

Maybe you don't disagree with this. But if so, then SC's at R1s looking to hire someone in subfields like those you mention, might even still prefer someone who writes co-authored papers to single-authored.

Of course, if you're merely targeting the stronger claim that one should always prefer multiple authored papers over single authored, then of course I agree with you - I didn't think Marcus was saying anything that strong, but maybe I misunderstood him.

A Non-Mouse

Chris Stephens: In the context of denying that the norm of SCs preferring single- over co-authored work is good, Marcus wrote, "if a person consistently produces top-notch philosophical work, why should it matter whether they do it with others?" This suggests that he is claiming no SC should pay attention to the differences between the relevant sorts of work. So, I then claimed that one answer to the question (why should it matter?) is that SCs want the best, i.e., people who are capable of producing good single-authored work, and that single-authored work is better evidence than co-authored work of a person's being so capable. For reasons of hiring the best, I claimed, SCs at R1s should pay attention to the difference between single- and co-authored work. Marcus then disagreed. This is why I understood the disagreement as I did.

Marcus Arvan

A Non-Mouse: I have never once claimed here that "no SC should pay attention to the differences between single- and co-authored work." I merely claimed we should try to change the *norm* favoring solo-authored work over co-authored work. Although I used naturalistic philosophy to make the point, I didn't mean to hang everything on that. Russell and Whitehead co-authored the Principia, after all: an a priori work on the logical foundations of mathematics! My general point was simply that what should matter to SCs is whether someone's *work* is good, whether it be solo-authored or co-authored. I stand by that--and for the same reasons as Chris. I completely disagree with you when you write, "Because of the nature of philosophical research, producing good research rarely requires multiple researchers. Generally, the better the philosopher, the greater his or her independence from others." This, it seems to me, is the real point of disagreement between you and I. You think solo-authors are better, all things equal. I do not.

A Non-Mouse

Marcus Arvan: Your question *in context* suggested that you were not merely asking a question, but making the claim that the difference doesn't matter. If you deny that you were making that claim, that's fine. But at least acknowledge that it was a reasonable interpretation. I came into the discussion because it seemed that you were making the stronger claim.

I've never claimed that solo authors are better, other thing equal. I have claimed that someone with a capacity for producing solo work is better than one without it, other things equal. Solo work is better evidence of having the capacity, so the norm shouldn't change. You and others have continued to misunderstand or misinterpret my claims. But no worries, I forgive you.

Marcus Arvan

Hey A Non-Mouse: I think we both felt misinterpreted here as making stronger claims than we meant. So maybe we should just chalk it up to that. You didn’t just claim that solo work is better evidence for the capacity to produce good work. You claimed that generally speaking, “the better the philosopher, the greater his or her independence from others.” I have issues with both claims. As I’ve said repeatedly, what I think matters—or should matter to SCs—is simply someone’s ability to produce good work, whether it be solo or co-authored. That’s the claim Chris took me to be defending, and I think the most reasonable interpretation of what I meant. To clarify, this is not to say there are *no* differences between solo and co-authored work that SC’s should be sensitive to. Even in the scientific context, SCs can, should, and do aim to suss out whether a co-author is a full and equal contributor to their co-authored work, or whether they are just “riding on the coattails” of more talented co-authors. That is a difference worth being sensitive to, and it is one that hiring committees in the sciences care about: which they seek to suss out in the hiring process. That is a difference to be sure, but I do not think it supports a norm for privileging solo-authored work, for reasons that both Chris and I have given. Anyway, thanks for being forgiving. The forgiveness is mutual (I mean that sincerely!). I don’t think your interpretation of my earlier comments was accurate, but I do see how it was possible to interpret me as making the stronger claim.

Amanda

I have long thought the bias against co-authored work in philosophy is unfair, and I am glad to see it change. However, if I was on a search committee, I would be a bit hesitant if someone only had a few publications and all or most were co-authored. If they had a lot of co-authored pieces that were excellent (say, at least four) then I wouldn't worry.

I would be hesitant if there was only a few, because I simply could not know if someone else (the co-author) wrote the whole, or most of, the paper. These things happen with co-authored work. I guess somebody might point out that a solo -authored piece, in -theory, could have been written by someone besides than the author. I just find that very unlikely, where the co-authoring situation makes it much more likely. In a buyer's market, I don't see why search committees would need to take these risks. Also, it might matter how plausible it will be to continue the co-authored work. If the co-author was someone at the grad institution, it might be much, much, more difficult to continue that work in a new place. And because philosophy is currently not like the sciences, it is not like they can just count on picking up new research partners. So I would feel better if the co-author was someone outside of the grad institution, or if the person was several years out of grad school and published worked demonstrated that they are still working with this person.

Marcus Arvan

Hey Amanda: You make a number of good points. However, I want to push back on a central one. You write, “I guess somebody might point out that a solo -authored piece, in -theory, could have been written by someone besides than the author. I just find that very unlikely, where the co-authoring situation makes it much more likely.”

I guess I am just as concerned about the solo-authored case. Many grad students coming out of great programs publish stuff while working under really famous supervisors. How can a search committee know whether the candidate will be able to publish on their own, without the guidance of their supervisor? I’ve seen a number of cases over the years of candidates hired into R1 programs who then went on to publish very little. Given that this is a very real issue (candidates “riding the coattails” of very famous and helpful supervisors), why not think that similar issues arise for solo and co-authored work, at least for candidates coming out of grad school?

A Non-Mouse

Amanda: I agree with the thrust of your main point, that SCs should worry about someone without many single-authored pubs. But I don't understand why someone who has very little single-authored work is cause for concern when he has 3 or less good co-authored pubs, but not when he has four. What is the difference between 3 and 4? Why not draw the line at 2 instead of 3? But then, why not 1 instead of 2? And then, why not 0?

In other words, how might it be true that 4 co-authored pubs makes it sufficiently likely that a candidate is not riding on coattails, but only 3 does not?

A Non-Mouse

Marcus Arvan: I agree with you that it cannot be assumed that a candidate straight out of grad school will be able to produce good single-authored work on his own (when out from under the wing of a supervisor). But this is not enough to be *equally* concerned with single-authored work as with co-authored work. The difference-maker can be explained as follows. With co-authored work, it usually not clear what parts of the paper are supposed to be properly understood as the candidate's work--as opposed to the co-author's work or some combination of the work of both. With single-authored work, it is clear that all of it is supposed to be properly understood as the candidate's work. Given this difference, while there may be cause for concern about a candidate's ability to produce work independently of his supervisor (or co-author), there should be *less* concern that arises from single-authored pubs than from co-authored pubs.

Further, the difference I mention can explain and justify a SCs preference for single-authored work.

Amanda

Marcus I guess I just see things differently on this. I too worry about people riding on the coat tails of their supervisors. But all the cases I've seen of this involved grad students who had no publications or published with the supervisor, or only published in an invited anthology. I have not seen the student of a famous supervisor who also had several high quality solo-authored publications go on to publish nothing. (Maybe this happens and I've just missed it.) I also find it incredibly implausible that famous supervisors are literally writing papers for their grad students. If anything, I the opposite is happening.

I am a pretty jaded person, but if I missed the fact that famous philosophers write papers for their grad students, well, I guess I need to figure out how to somehow increase my cynicism up a few notches.

Lastly, even if we were to take your interpretation, then I would take that to mean I should hire someone well published without a famous supervisor, not that I should just shrug and say, "Well, anything could have been plagiarized so no sense in distinguishing between such and such and such and such." If the person with 2 solo authored pieces really is that great then they will continue to produce, and a search committee will notice this a few years down the line.

Amanda

A NOn-Mouse I didn't mean for that number to be magical or anything. My point is only that an established record of successful co-authoring is different than a not so established record. And established record is not merely the number of publications, but things like who the co-authors happened to be, whether the candidate wrote with more than one person, whether the publications took place over a number of years, etc.

The things above don't really matter with single author because:

1. There are no co-authors
2.There is special reason to believe it might be harder to do co-authored work in certain new positions (ones where you no longer are in proximity with potential co-authors). I do not see a comparable worry with single-authored pieces.

A Non-Mouse

Thanks, Amanda. I guess the idea could be put this way: When the candidate has a greater number of good co-authored pubs, there is more information to use in evaluating his promise, and so it's more likely that your overall impression accurately reflects his promise. This makes sense, but it's a consideration that favors SCs having a preference for single-authored work since SCs won't have time to look carefully at all or most of a candidate's co-authored work. So it favors maintaining the current norm against co-authored work.

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