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09/25/2020

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Tim O'Keefe

One thing you can do is to include a short note at the beginning of the paper explicitly talking about responsibility for the paper, e.g., to note that each co-author is equally responsible, that X is the lead author, that the paper is a collaboration but that Y is primarily responsible for the discussion of [topic1] while Z is primarily responsible for the discussion of [topic2], etc.

That way you don't have to rely on people's guesses, and since it's in the published version of the article, it's going to be regarded as more reliable than if you just tell people (or have your co-author(s) supply a note for you at promotion time).

John

I assume the norm for experimental philosophy papers is quite different, most of them are co-authored nowadays.

Assistant Professor

One formulation not addressed in Marcus's post is to think about situations in which peer philosophers co-author papers, rather than only the situation of a junior scholar writing with an established scholar (likely one of their main mentors, for example). I publish both solo and with peers, and I find the results of collaborative writing projects to often be the most fun and fruitful. It helps to have compatible writing styles and open discussions about expectations (for who does which and how much writing and on what timeline and in what format). When it works well it can be great. I would also suggest junior (grad school/post doc) level folks who are considering collaborations consider their future career goals. If you want to be in a traditional philosophy department then you have to think about how much you want to follow vs. challenge traditional philosophy norms. If you are interested in non-traditional or interdisciplinary tracks, then collaboration can in some cases be seen as a necessary skill that hiring committees would want to see you are capable of doing, not a detriment.

M

What about co-authored papers between *grad peers* (as Assistant Professor above mentions)—how are those valued?

Evan

Single-authorship is interesting because sometimes, an anonymous reviewer or basic feedback can change the trajectory of the whole paper. In such a case, we’re left to wonder whether that author truly came up with the idea or just ”riding on the coat-tails” of commenters and anonymous reviewers.

For example, suppose a person went to a conference and has his or her paper critiqued, questioned, and offered suggestions. This person decided to include those comments in the published work. This raises the questions: How much of that person’s work was really his or her own? Are many or most single-authored papers really the epitome of quality as we truly think they are? After all, one does not necessarily have to credit an anonymous reviewer or commenters in the final work. It seems possible that one can get away with adding the suggestions or corrections without giving people credit thereby giving the illusion that one’s paper is true of one’s own talents and skills. I raised this concern because ungrateful people and frauds exist in philosophy.

I understand that co-authorship has its own concerns. But if we’re ever to rid ourselves of prestige biases, we should also shed light on the myth and concerns of single-authorship as well.

With this in mind here are some concerns with single-authorship:

1. It’s difficult to assess quality because commenters have written previously that many or most hiring committees don’t even read the applicant’s paper anyway.
2. The applicant may have been influenced or got ideas from others but did not give them credit.
3. It’s difficult to assess whether the ideas of the applicant are his or her own. Questions to ask: How much of the ideas of the paper are original? How many of them were suggested or corrected by various commenters or reviewers? We don’t usually know.
4. Epistemic risks such as ignorance or ”blind spots” can occur because no individual person knows everything.
5. The single-authored work may not be as fruitful as some coauthored papers.

Reading the ’acknowledgments’ section of a book or article led me to conclude that many single-authored papers aren’t so single after all. At least, in the strictest sense of the term. Perhaps those ones are very rare. If so, then we should be cautious not to automatically assume that a single-authored work is part of that rare minority. The probability would be very low.

m

I think that collaborative papers do raise problems or questions in assessments for tenure, etc. in philosophy departments. It is still not the norm. But anyone who works seriously in philosophy of science will probably do such work. That is the way we work in philosophy of science. So there is tension of sorts. But that is the reality of it.

Assistant Professor

The points by Evan and m raise the issue of whether we are quantitatively assessing papers (how many an individual has independently authored) for tenure/promotion/candidacy, or qualitatively (the value, insight, contributions) of works. I take it Evan's point 5 suggests that some collaborative works might be richer, more fruitful contributions to the literature, than the work's authors would have produced solo.

I take it m's concerns about evaluation are less a reason to dismiss co-authored papers as much as rethink the norms of evaluation, with greater imagination and creativity (and I take it as uncontroversial that the profession could use some challenges to its norms, and better imagination and creativity about its hiring and retention and promotion practices).

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