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04/10/2020

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anon

Thanks for this! I agree that many philosophers should shift how they think about self-promotion.

Is there a good list of Facebook groups like this one somewhere? I'm in a group for mind but it gets posts extremely infrequently.

Amanda

I think one way people would feel more comfortable , on facebook anyway, was if there was an ongoing thread, or maybe a once a week thread, titled, "New Publications." On this thread people could simply write the title and venue of publication, and maybe an abstract. I think this would feel much less promotion like, and more like a data base of information. This way those of us uncomfortable with self-promotion would feel much more comfortable.

Also, maybe it would be helpful to not even call/consider this self-promotion, but simply information sharing. You share information about your publications because philosophers want to know about research in their field, and your publication information is just that. The person who wrote the paper has special access to relevant professional information that others have a harder time accessing. It is then up to others to choose to read the paper, or to decide if they think it is any good.

I have noticed it is becoming more and more common for philosophers to mention works in progress on facebook. To say the title, the theme, and ask for feedback. This, of course, makes it much more likely that blind review will be violated. But I think this shows why we shouldn't have blind review. It allows those who care about the integrity of blind review to suffer (because these people make efforts to keep their paper blind) but those who don't care about integrity to profit (because they don't only not make efforts to keep the paper blind, but they might actually try to make sure others know. I've had friends who admit to doing this on purpose.)

Marcus Arvan

“I have noticed it is becoming more and more common for philosophers to mention works in progress on facebook. To say the title, the theme, and ask for feedback. This, of course, makes it much more likely that blind review will be violated. But I think this shows why we shouldn't have blind review.“

I have seen this happen a lot too. And while I’m on board with shifting away from anonymized review in favor of an ArXiv approach, as long as we have anonymized review it seems to me really wrong for people to do what you mention. In fact, I’ve given some thought to writing a post on it for a while. It seems to me especially pernicious when the person sharing their paper for feedback, broadcasting its title, is a person at a “fancy” institution. It just comes across to me as a pretty transparent attempt to circumvent anonymized review, using one’s name or institutional prestige to your (illicit) advantage. I wish people would say something when people try it, but no one ever does—probably because they don’t want to come across like a more busybody. Still, it bugs the heck of out me.

RJ Leland

On the anonymous review and self-promotion issue raised by Amanda: I agree this kind of broadcasting-to-breach-anonymity is a very bad, especially since title-switching (or title-ditching) can get around the problem, while still allowing people to solicit feedback on their work in progress. And maybe the vulnerability of anonymous review to this kind of bad behavior speaks in favor of ditching it. But, for those of us who aren't so-well-networked in the profession, anonymous review can be pretty valuable. It can let our papers get read with serious attention that they mightn't otherwise get. And that benefit exists even when some cheaters win themselves a modest comparative advantage over those of us who are taking anonymous review seriously. My own current take is that this gives us a reason to prefer disincentivizing the cheaters, or living with them, without bailing on anonymous review.

Malcolm

What is the relevant difference between mentioning works in progress on social media and presenting works in progress at conferences (where titles are also shared on social media)?

In both cases, let's suppose the individual is aiming for feedback, not aiming to violate peer review, though I'm not sure intention is the key thing. Is there a reason that the former is a problem (morally, pragmatically, etc.) and the second isn't? It seems like for people who aren't able to travel to attend conferences, getting feedback through social media can be helpful. Often that kind of feedback is more helpful than at conferences, too. I'm genuinely curious as to why the one is cheating and the other isn't.

(Also given the recent spate of COVID-cancelled conferences, I can see a lot of people hoping for comments on papers they were going to present at a conference. Using social media for that purpose doesn't seem like it means someone is intending to circumvent peer review.)

Marcus Arvan

Malcolm: Just speaking for myself, I think the problem is that broadcasting work in progress on Facebook or Twitter makes it likely that will be approximately 0 potential reviewers who don’t know who wrote the paper. If you present a paper at a conference, sure maybe 20 people will know who wrote it—but the rest of the reviewer pool won’t. But when people are fb friends with just about everyone in their speciality, posting about it means they will all know who wrote the paper. That, at least, seems like a relevant difference to me.

Marcus Arvan

Here’s another relevant difference: conferences are more or less equal opportunity. We can all submit papers, get feedback, etc. But when it comes to broadcasting on social media, things are very different. A person at a fancy department can expect broadcasting work-in-progress to work in their favor (since people generally seem to assume that people at fancy places do good work). In contrast, a person *not* at a fancy place can expect it to work against them (due to bias that if you’re not at a fancy place, people may think you’re not that great).

I will say that in my experience, it nearly always seems to be people from fancy places that broadcast work in progress on social media. This is in part what makes it seem so sketchy to me. It comes across (to me, at any rate) like the person is trying to leverage their stature into a “peer review breaking” power move, whereas people from less prestigious programs have strong incentives to avoid it (because, again, anonymity in peer review only helps them). These differences just seem unfair, and the practice in question tilting an already unlevel playing field further.

Amanda

Marcus, not only do people not say anything, but these posts almost always get lots of likes, and lots of people to volunteer to read it. It is also, although this is a much smaller ethical issue, a way for fancy people to get lots of feedback, and so their paper benefit from the wisdom of the profession, but they get all the credit. I have seen some people who are not at fancy places do this, but fancy is more common. When they aren't fancy though, they are usually "popular." Some philosophers from not fancy places have a very strong social media presence, and seem to have a type of "high school cool kid" reputation.

As for conferences, I agree with Marcus that it is far, far, more widespread when done on social media. There might be a webpage with paper titles, but that isn't looked at as much as social media. Still,I do think that conferences also speaks in favor of moving away from peer review, because for that reason, almost all prestigious people have their papers reviewed by someone they know, if not a friend. The defense given, all the time, is "there are only so many experts." It is obvious people who say this consider the only "experts" to be members of the same small elite circle who have published many papers. Because if they were just to think about persons well versed in the area, there would be many more experts.

RJ - I guess that is just a question of how common the violation happens to be. I agree that no name people commonly benefit from blind review in the way you describe. But it seems to be if we had a non-blind review system they would still benefit, at least some, because people simply wouldn't know who they are, and there would be no judgement one way or the other. I guess some people would assume if you haven't heard of them, it is a bad paper. Not sure. But what I am much more sure on is many people in elite circles consistently have their papers reviewed by people who know them, often friends in the same circle. I don't think this is rare. I think with elite persons, it is far more common than not.

Nicolas Delon

I disagree with the premise of the OP. If there is a norm against self-promotion, it’s very weak, or very unevenly enforced. Self-promotion is very unevenly distributed but it certainly happens. We all know rather famous self-promoters and humble braggers in the profession. No need to name them; they’re recognizable. If there is a norm it’s against the influence and lack of shame of these people, but there’s hardly a general norm against self-promotion. Even among less influential or popular folks it’s pretty usual to find self-promoters.

Amanda

Yeah I think the "norm agains self-promotion" isn't really a philosophy norm. I think it is a norm in regular, every day, culture. And generally I think it is a good norm we have for good reason. Those who don't promote themselves in philosophy are probably more motivated out of their personal values than professionals ones. I know I am. I've never seen a self-promoter in philosophy get criticized or shamed for their promoting (at least never directly, in some discussions I've heard non-specific general criticism of the practice. But also lots of praise for it.)

Malcolm

Amanda and Marcus, thanks for the replies. I'm not on Facebook, just Twitter, so I don't know what sharing is like on that platform. I can see the disparity in what you call "fancy" schools working the way you suggest. I also think the author of this blog post is someone who has not been, until now, at "fancy" school but has done a lot of connecting on social media to useful effect, from what I've seen. So I also imagine that there are contexts where making connections online can have a counterbalancing effect, combined with doing good work. I would hope that works in progress and finished works would have different titles to somewhat mitigate that effect (though referees shouldn't be Googling).

My own field is one where there truly is a small community. (Consider how many people can read Sanskrit texts. Then consider how many people are well-versed in any particular thinker from that thousand + years of history. Sometimes we are talking about a real handful of experts.) This makes collaboration very important, but it also makes anonymized peer review a challenge. Of course, it's easy to think you know who you are reviewing (or who your reviewer is) and be wrong--new graduate students could come up unbeknownst to you, for instance.

As for the main topic of the post, I think framing things in terms of norms for or against "self" promotion muddies things. Academics tend to conflate their selves and their work, but they aren't the same. And as Thi has put the proposed norm, it's an "expected publicity" norm, not an "expected self-promotion norm." I think it's tricky to do, and I'm not sure that I personally succeed at it, but if we are all genuinely interested in doing good work, then sharing about new work (and work in progress to get feedback) can be good for the philosophical community. It may feel like self-promotion in a morally blameworthy sense (being prideful or the like) but I think the distinction is where the focus is: on the work you are doing or your having achieved something.

For myself, I do want to hear when others have written a new book or article. But I find that sharing less to be like self-promotion if the individual in question is also using their platform to share other new books & articles regularly, since then it seems like their focus is on information dissemination, not fishing for likes or clicks.

Amanda

Thanks for the reply Malcom. While I suppose different titles are better than nothing, I don't think that it mitigates the effect much. Papers are recognized by the subject matter, thesis, etc.

For small fields like that, (and I think everywhere, really) the simple solution is just calling papers "peer review" rather than blind review. Everything becomes a lot less problematic if we just acknowledge that in today's world it is simply very hard to keep the blind review process blind. Sometimes it will still be anonymous, of course, just by chance. And sometimes we are wrong about who we think we are reviewing. But calling it blind review (and often with very strong language in journal guidelines) is often incredibly misleading. It allows some in elite circles to claim that obviously their success is by merit (look at all my publications in top journals) when the real story is not that simple. It allows people to claim a journal paper is obviously much better than a paper in an edited volume, when often that is just not the case. Given that so many admit that blind review is often violated, I don't understand the strong resistance by some to changing the system to "peer review". Journals can even have a statement that says they aim to blind as much as possible.

Philosophers do often identify strongly with their work. But I think most self promotion, even outside of academia, is about a person's work, hobbies, talents, skills, etc., and not about the self. People promote themselves typically by talking about various accomplishments, not by just saying something like, "I'm Amanda and I'm Awesome." So I don't think philosophy self promotion is different in that regard.

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