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09/18/2019

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John

I confess that as a referee I had an author cite my paper on the same topic but I was the only other scholar who had ever written on the topic. However then I got greedy and asked the author to cite another paper of mine that was only tangentially related to the paper topic. Why? While I was looking out for my own interests, I wasn’t doing it to boost my own ego. I was doing it to try to boost my H-index score. I was going up for tenure soon and as we all know most scholars just cite the big names. I was desperate for citations. So keep that in mind: Not all referees are big names. Not all are looking out for their big name friends. Some are just desperate to get citations in a system where they are always at a disadvantage because they’re not big names and they don’t publish in the highest ranked journals. Welcome to the Hobbesian world of academic publishing!

Anon

Marcus, to answer your "how common" question - without taking the time to go back and actually examine all my referee reports again, I'd say that about half the additional papers I get asked to cite are papers that I believe to be irrelevant.

Typically I bring the literature into my paper with a footnote with a structure like this: "Here I am discussing thesis X. For criticisms of the somewhat-related thesis Y, which again, is not thesis X, see [paper] [paper] [paper]."

(As I noted in my response to postdoc that I already posted, I think it makes sense for early career folks to just go along with these requests and get the publication.)

Grad student

Referees tend to be more receptive to my papers when I include one or two long footnotes that say: "X has argued that A. Y has argued that B..." and so forth. Such sentences give a rough idea of what the arguments in the literature are. Of course you can't do this for every concept/thesis discussed in the paper, but you can do it for the 3-2 main concepts/theses.

I started doing it for referees. I kept doing it because (a) it forces me to find all the relevant literature on the main topic and not just focus on papers by star philosophers (If you dislike the elite culture in philosophy, this seems like a good idea) and (b) some readers like my papers because it gives them a good "map" of the literature.

Marcus Arvan

anon: I don’t know if this describes your situation, but my sense is that some authors dramatically overestimate whether other papers are “irrelevant.” Here’s something that I have seen as referee on a number of occasions. An author writes that they are the first to defend thesis X. Yet there are people who have defended pretty similar (though non-identical) theses Y and Z in the literature already, arguing that these are good solutions to the very problem that the new paper’s author argues X is a good solution to. By my lights, if the author does not even mention these facts—that theses very much like their own have already been defended—and moreover they do not give any reason to think that X is actually a better thesis than Y or Z, then this is a failure of scholarship (as well as a failure of argumentation). In framing a paper, a scholar should distinguish their view from relevantly similar views. Not doing so not only paints a misleading picture for the reader (viz. “no one has ever defended anything like X before”). It also fails to actually make a case that X really is better than relevantly similar theses.

William Peden

Having recommended an article of mine in one out of my many refereeing assignments, I think that these are the main conditions for reasonably recommending one's own work:

(1) It should be firmly relevant to the author's article.

(2) It should not be the only recommended reading.

There are exceptions to (2), as John notes above, but I think they are extremely rare. In my field at least (formal epistemology) there is always at least half a dozen useful papers that any given author hasn't read (myself included) because the field is massive and so many good & relevant papers are published well after an author does their initial reading on the subject.

I have actually had experiences with a referee who repeatedly violates (2) - they recommend their own paper on a topic, provide no other recommended reading, and also promote the alleged achievements of their paper in a very brassy way. It does not help that their paper is not very good, nor influential, but that's actually not the main problem.

The analogy with science is not misplaced, I think. As a reviewer, alerting people to relevant work that one has done is a service to the discipline, but a great indicator of being scientific crankery is only being interested in your own work. The same is true in philosophy.

James

I have lost patience with coerced citation and the still worse demands that certain authors or papers be used to frame an entire discussion. Peer review has enough ways of ruining papers without allowing referees to demand kickbacks.

If you are the other referee for a paper where a referee is making inappropriate demands like this (many journals reveal all reports to referees, especially on R&Rs), I think it is your responsibility to say something to the editor. Most authors are in no position to rock the boat, and you will probably know the relevant literature better than the editor. That includes knowing whether a paper is so important that it must be cited or discussed. Editors are also usually not anonymous, and so are probably less willing to call out unprofessional behavior. Thus you are probably the only person in the process who can realistically cry foul when this goes on, and you should do so. If you are sheepish (despite anonymity), at least comment to the editor that the other referee is making inappropriate citation demands. But I think it is better still to say in your author report that the referee's demands are inappropriate and even making the paper worse.

To be clear I am suggesting this is warranted only in egregious cases. If you think those cases do not exist, then we are seeing very different referee reports. Referee enough papers in enough literatures and you will encounter people with a degree of shamelessness you cannot anticipate until you've seen it for yourself.

Anon

Marcus, those are some good thoughts, but aren’t in the neighbourhood of any of the cases I have in mind.

tenured but shy

I have suggested my own work in referee reports before, but I revealed my identity and said explicitly that the author should use their own judgment in deciding whether to cite my work.

Michel

I have only received two such suggestions that I think were irrelevant--and one of those was embedded in an otherwise pretty helpful report. Like Marcus, I suspect we tend to overestimate a suggestion's irrelevance (because our own egos get in the way!).

I have no qualms noting in my report on the changes in my R&R that I did not deem some particular source to be relevant, for reasons x, y, and z. I always make a good-faith effort to address all aspects of a report, but if the suggestion just seems out to lunch, then I don't.

postdoc

Thank you very much for your feedback.
John: I have not previously thought about the possibility you mentioned. It's an interesting perspective to try to understand some reviews and reviewers.
James: I have another question concerning your comment: do you think referees should ask for other referees' reports and/or author's replies to those reports when the editor did not spontaneously share them?

Untenured Ethicist

I have received many unhelpful referee reports, but the suggestions I've received for further reading and citation have almost all been helpful.

The one time I can remember offhand when a request for citation was unhelpful, the paper I was asked to cite was by a deceased author. Definitely not self-promotion!

Anon prof

I just got a referee report which was terrible in this way. The referee quoted extensively from his own book, without citation. So I assume the referee was this author, although I could be wrong -- the referee could be a devotee of this author or a friend of his.Then the referee complained that I did not engage with the book in question and rejected the paper. The referee made some basic translation errors (or perhaps conflations) as well, in his report– these were endemic in his book, which is why I did not engage with it. If you can't say anything nice, &etc. What can you do? On to the next journal, I suppose, and hope that this person is not picked again.

This is annoying when it happens, especially as a pre-tenure junior scholar. But it is also, in my experience, rare. With this one exception, all reports I've received have been useful (even if rude, uncharitable, etc.).

Steve

I have very mixed feelings on this topic.

As an author, I have often received referee comments which seemed obsessed that I engage with Jones's work, despite its irrelevance, leading me to suspect Jones wrote the review.

As a reviewer, by contrast, I often think "huh, this author hasn't really thought about some issues here: what's a useful place to send her?" Then, naturally, my own work comes to mind, because I'm more familiar with it. So, I suggest she go and read me. I sometimes feel bad doing that, but it can be hard to think of alternatives (and doing so sometimes feels in bad faith: I mean, I wrote a paper discussing Smith and Jones precisely because I think neither Smith nor Jones were right - why would I recommend reading Smith and Jones rather than me, then?)

So, it's tricky.

One thing I do find worrying, though, is the model of progress assumed in some of the comments above, where it is very important to cite the "most recent" literature. I'd be a lot happier with this if I didn't have a suspicion that philosophers have a bad habit of chasing fashionable topics. I've certainly had reports along the lines of "this paper discusses topic X, but now no-one discusses X, because we all do Y", which didn't really provide any further justification as to why Y is necessarily more interesting or important than X.

grymes

As Steve suggests, I think it is very natural--and I'm not sure why it is supposed to be bad, much less "shameful"--for referees to recommend that authors check out the referee's own work. The ref has been picked because they have published in the subfield, and ideally because they have published on the precise topic of the paper. Most of us think our own work is pretty good. So why wouldn't we recommend that somebody check out our work (alongside other good work--including, yes, good work from people we know--that the author may have overlooked)? Whether or not our work is influential or well-placed or whatever is irrelevant--if we think it's good, then it makes sense to recommend it!

I think egocentrism is a red herring in postdoc's query. Refs--egocentric or not--can sometimes be misguided and demand that authors engage with work in a way that doesn't improve the paper. But when that happens, that's a problem with refs trying to compel an extraneous discussion, not a problem with said discussion being a discussion of the ref's work.

(I also think it's important to try to read reports charitably. Fear of the bogeyman of Reviewer 2, combined with natural aversive responses to criticism, can lead people to read ref reports as hostile when they're trying to be helpful. Oftentimes, suggestions really are just suggestions, for the author's own edification, and not attempts to compel discussion.)

Amanda

If an argument is compelling, the issue at least modestly interesting, and if the argument make a contribution to the literature then I don't care if I am cited or anyone else.Actually, if it a good enough argument and interesting, I don't even care if it makes a contribution to the literature.Either way, at that point citation superfluous. I don't care if it a citation that is relevant is missing. The question I want to know is this: does this paper make a good argument that has not been made in this way before? If there are similar arguments out there, but this article does it differently, and in a way that is valuable, then I think it should be published, whether it missed citations or not. Yes, you should cite if doing so makes the paper better. However, there are lots of things authors *should* do , things that would make the paper better, but yet they should not be *required* to do them to get published. Like, for instance, writing in easy to read prose. I get seriously, seriously, depressed when I think about how the field I went into is not about arguments, but about giving people credit so they can show a citation list to the dean or whatever. Yes, this is simplistic. But it bothers me this is a facet of things. Guess some of you guys can cross your fingers and hope that I'm your referee.

Relatedly, I don't really like the trend of people reaching a certain level in the discipline and only publishing books or invited articles. But it is easy to understand why so many people do it. The journal review process is awful, and this cite, cite, cite, thing is just one part of it. This is one reason why I might do only books one day. There are only so many hours in a day, and I am not into scanning search indexes to write a note at the bottom of a paper that does nothing for my argument. But I do it now, of course. To answer the original question: just cite them for goodness sake. Is it really worth losing a publication? An irrelevant citation is....irrelevant, it rarely *hurts* the argument or the point of the paper. And the publishing world is all about doing things that do not serve a purpose for the purpose of getting your argument in print. This is how the game is played. You can decide it is worth it despite the flaws, or you can decide to do something else with your life. Both are fine choices. But don't stay in the game and then give yourself necessary handicaps.

Lastly, I don't know if begging for citations is shameful. I think it is less than virtuous. But shameful is a bit much. The philosophy world is unfair, and as the first poster suggested, it is understandable why some would take advantage of an opportunity that might allow them to keep their job. The problem isn't the referee, it's the system. Of course, if the referee was a tenured established person, I do think citation fishing would be worse, but probably more common.

Anon

In one of my first publishing experiences, I got an R&R. One of the referees suggested that I re-frame the paper so that it was about an alleged debate between two figures. One figure I talked about in the paper. The other figure I never mentioned. I was also instructed to add a long bibliography including a bunch of papers by the other author at the center of the alleged debate.

None of the papers by the author I actually mentioned even cited, let alone ever discussed, the paper by the author I had allegedly left out. It was clear that there was no such debate between the two authors. And it was clear from some weird stylistic quirks in common between the person I was supposed to discuss and cite and the reviewer that it was the same person.

I declined to reframe the paper around the referee. But I ended up doing every other self serving thing the referee wanted, including adding a bunch of gratuitous citations of that referees work.

The paper was accepted. But the editor didn't send it back out to referees before doing so.

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