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02/06/2024

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Douglas W. Portmore

As far as my experience goes as Editor of Ethics, there is no single answer to this question. Some submissions are rejected because they're just not appropriate for the journal. For instance, I sometimes get submissions that are just clearly not sufficiently scholarly such that there is no engagement with the academic literature and just a few citations to op-ed pieces or popular magazine articles. Sometimes, a submission is poorly written or too technical to be accessible to the typical reader. Perhaps, most often, the submission is quite good, but, given how selective the journal is, it just doesn't seem to be good enough, important enough, or original enough to have a sufficiently good chance of making it through all of the next steps: a vetting by an Associate Editor, reports by two external reviewers, and a vote by all the editors. There's also no single answer to whether the submission is "actually read." Sometimes, all I need to do is read the abstract, introduction, conclusion, and bibliography to know that it's not a sufficiently promising submission. Other times, I have to read the entire paper carefully. Most often, it's somewhere in between, where the speed at which I need to skim the submission varies depending on my familiarity with the topic and the difficulty of the paper.

anon

Not an editor, but I've twice been desk rejected for the explicit reason of roughly : "sorry, this is a journal in the analytic tradition".

(I'm an analytically-trained person and would describe my own writing as analytic philosophy, but I write on non-canonical figures.)

area editor

Hi, I am an area editor for Ergo and since Ergo's model includes desk rejecting a lot of papers (some with brief comments, some without), I thought I'd respond:

I definitely read every paper--I do not skim--and usually read them fairly carefully. (Sometimes it is so obvious that I am not going to send a paper out for review that I don't need to do a super careful reading.)

Here are some common reasons I don't send papers out for review: not original enough/overlap with literature/fails to cite people who have made similar arguments; confusing/unclear/poorly written (here I try to look past issues with e.g. people's mastery over English--I mean things like contradicting oneself in the paper, which happens surprisingly often, no clear thesis or set of ideas, extremely unclear dialectic (e.g. no clear indication of whether the author is talking about their own view or characterizing a view they are responding to); glaringly obvious objections or conceptual problems with the argument (here again: if I think the argument is good/interesting but there are some clear ways to object to it, that won't prevent me from sending it out for review, what I mean is if there are really obvious serious problems); paper makes too small/uninteresting/trivial of a point for a highly regarded journal; paper is inaccessible to those outside of a narrow literature.

All of these are super common. I hope this helps. (But keep in mind that Ergo desk rejects way, way more than most journals, and so I am liberal about what I desk reject--so I can't speak for journals that desk reject very small percentages of papers, and maybe my fellow area editors reject for different reasons than I do.)

Shen-yi Liao

Speaking only for myself, ideally journals would make their criteria explicit, even when such criteria are inherently imprecise and require judgments calls.

For example, Ergo says "If the area editor believes the submission has less than a 50% chance of being accepted, s/he rejects the submission without sending it out to external referees. [...] Approximately two thirds of all submissions will be rejected without external review." ( https://journals.publishing.umich.edu/ergo/site/peer-review/ ). Now, of course there are so many different ways that a submission might have less than a 50% chance of being accepted, and area editor has articulated some important ones, but I do find the heuristic somewhat action-guiding.

For example, Imprint says "The Imprint does not publish interventions in contemporary debates, or commentaries on contemporary figures. That is, it does not publish articles that are primarily about the existing literature, as opposed to being about a philosophical issue or historical figure." ( https://journals.publishing.umich.edu/phimp/submissions/ ) Now, of course whether something is a "mere" intervention is a judgment call, but I also think this heuristic is somewhat action-guiding.

Depending on the criteria, sometimes a skim is sufficient, but often a read is necessary.

ABD

I had an editor at a top generalist journal desk reject with a comment last year where they said they had stopped reading halfway through my abstract because by that point I’d said too many bizarre things for it to be worth sending out to reviewers. So, it is heartening to hear that other editors are at the very least doing some skimming. For the record, that paper has now been accepted at another top generalist journal, so I guess others found my claims less bizarre.

Grad student

Please can someone explain what would count as an intervention paper.

Shen-yi Liao

RE: Grad student

To me, "A Reply to X" is clearly intervention and "A Grand Theory of Everything" is clearly not intervention. Obviously there is much vagueness in between. I take it to track the scope and ambition of the paper.

To be clear, there are many excellent intervention papers that ought to be published! I think it's just a choice of a journal what qualities they want to emphasize, and the best they can do is make that as explicit as possible.

Editor-in-chief at a generalist journal

I am editor at a general philosophy journal (middling reputation). We do triple-blind, so I always receive submissions blind. I only know who wrote the paper when I decide and write a decision "accept" in our collaborative system. You need a good editorial coordinator to be able to do this, which we have.
How it works: I read the paper. If after 2-3 pages it looks clearly incompetent or not fitting for the journal, I decision desk reject. Fitting means the paper should e.g., not be theology. It should be philosophical. If the paper after 2-3 pages looks competent from what I can tell, it goes to either my associate editor, who reads the paper completely, or to a faculty member in our department who is specialized in the area, who then does a desk review, reading the paper completely. They, like me, also are in the dark of who wrote it. They then send me advice to either send out or desk reject. They give a brief motivation which is blunt and forthright and just for my eyes only. I don't want to saddle my colleagues with loads and loads of work, and I don't want to get into fights with authors who might object to the assessments of their work as e.g., incoherent or poorly written. So this is why we have a no comment policy for desk rejections. We always (or almost always) desk reject within two weeks. The author receives an external review notice when we do send it on. We always have two reviewers for each piece we send out.
It is very hard to get reviewers. We are often not the first choice (I guess people go to Nous, PPR etc first), so often reviewers have to pass on the paper because they've already (negatively) reviewed it elsewhere. In order to lessen our load, we've become more selective. We desk reject 50, 60% of submissions. Since I don't know the authors I think this is fair. There is always inevitably a subjective aspect to reviewing. What one desk reviewer might find puzzling might be clear to the next.

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