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How to write a good public philosophy book

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 04/07/2022 - 5:35pm in

As I might have mentioned here before, I am currently working on a book (provisionally) entitled Limitarianism. The Case Against Extreme Wealth. It will be what publishers call a trade book – that is, written for any reader of nonfiction. I’ve been doing this kind of writing (and talks) in Dutch for much longer; this book I write in English. It will be published by Astra House for North-America, and by Allen Lane/Penguin for the UK and the rest of the world (with translations also in Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish, Korean, Japanese and Russian).

As I am also engaged in academic-philosophical debates on limitarianism, it is striking to see what is considered relevant and important in each of those strands of writing. Some pre-occupations by academic philosophers are of little or no importance to the public, such as whether argument A for limitarianism is truly distinct from argument B, or whether limitarianism can be reduced to (a combination of) other distributive principles. For the public the most important question is whether this is an idea that makes sense, and some philosophical preoccupations are about other (more technical) issues. On the other hand, in my experience the public cares a lot about some things that many philosophers find irrelevant, such as what we can learn from the empirical facts (e.g. about the urgency of a problem, or whether a proposed intervention has ever worked in the past), and what a general (or abstract) discussion implies in a concrete context. Academic discussions can be at a level of abstractness that will make you lose most of your readers of nonfiction, even of serious nonfiction.

What else would make a public [political] philosophy book good? Here are my thoughts on this.

  1. Readability. This can be achieved by illustrating general arguments with examples, but also with style, e.g. the choice of words that are used, and the use of an active voice and of short(er) sentences. For example, I have a tendency to use a lot of subclauses in my academic writing, and should take care not to use them too often when writing nonfiction.
  2. Enjoyability. In academic philosophy, writing can be very dense and boring, but if it still entails some novel insights, that won’t be seen as a liability. In trade writing, it’s very important that the writing is enjoyable – after all, reading a book shouldn’t be hard work for the reader; it seems totally fine that it requires some effort, but it is much better if the same insights and arguments can be conveyed in an enjoyable style. Perhaps some jokes can help?

  3. Accessibility. The writing should not assume any specialist background knowledge; you shouldn’t have done an undergraduate degree – not even a minor – in philosophy or related discipline to understand the text. A former publisher of a Dutch publishing house once told me that this was in his experience the biggest problem with academic philosophers writing for a broader audience. I get this, but also think that accessibility comes in degrees, and that a scholar writing a trade book can herself choose for which audience to pitch. Just think about newspapers – they also come in different styles, and some newspapers are clearly more accessible to a much broader group of readers than other newspapers.

  4. Interdisciplinarity. In general, the public doesn’t care about disciplinary boundaries. In academic debates, philosophers will sometimes say that something is an interesting philosophical question, or that another aspect is an economic/sociological/legal etc. question, and hence not relevant for their discussions, or nothing they can or have to say something about. Non-fiction readers are interested in the topic of the book they are reading, and don’t care about disciplinary boundaries. Philosophers (and other academics) need to be willing to develop themselves into interdisciplinary writers if they want to write nonfiction for a broader audience.

I see a couple of challenges for academic philosophers/other scholars from the social sciences and humanities who are writing a trade book.

First, the desiderata of accessibility and enjoyability create a worry that it might force scholars to cut corners, and that rhetoric might take over from truth-seeking. I’ve read a number of nonfiction books, written by academics and non-academics alike, (and on topics on which I know something), which in my judgement crossed the line into dogmatism, rather than just trying to make the best possible argument for a certain proposal/view in a sufficiently nuanced way. If there are objections to what one is arguing for, one should consider and discuss them. Of course, not necessarily all, since some objections are silly or only represent an extreme fringe view.

Second, in academia there is a very strict code that we should not present ideas as if they are ours, if they are in fact someone else’s. (Again, I’ve seen non-academic trade writers to my mind not care enough about this, and I think they should care about it as much as we do). But non-fiction publishers generally prefer that the author of the book can be portraited as someone who has all these really great novel ideas. I think the solution to this challenge is to flag the intellectual shoulders on which one is standing regularly enough in the main text (and hope it doesn’t get edited out), as well as make sure you have the space to write as many footnotes as you want, which will allow you to do all the proper crediting. When I talked to various publishers before signing a contract with Allen Lane and Astra House, I asked all of them about their “footnote policy”, and told them that it is really important for me to have the freedom to write as many footnotes as needed (I should say that almost all of them were totally easy going with this; I should not have had to worry about this).

Third, there is one challenge specific to philosophers who develop arguments for a certain claim. Sometimes, at the level of the structure of the argument, argument A is not different from argument B. But when written in an empirically grounded context, it can be illuminating for the reader to see both argument A and argument B spelled out, for examples because reading them both gives a better sense of the pervasiveness of the phenomenon, or helps to better grasp what argument A/B implies for actions that need to be taken. What is relevant for philosophers, is not always what is seen as relevant by a lay audience. Another variant of this challenge is that many philosophers are pretty obsessed by to what extent the different reasons we have for A are distinct, and which reason is to be preferred in we need to choose for one reason over another. For nonfiction readers, it is often much more important to know that there is/are very strong reasons for A – and whether the listed reasons are distinct is often of no importance at all. Put differently, it is important to ask what the reader cares about when reading the book.

Are there any other desiderata/challenges for non-fiction writing by philosophers and other academics from the social sciences and humanities?

Ergo To Stop Requesting Submission Fee from Authors

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 11/05/2022 - 10:06pm in

The philosophy journal Ergo will no longer be asking authors for a $20 fee or “donation” to consider a manuscript for publication.

The journal had implemented the optional fee in 2020 in order to defray the costs of operating the journal. It had also launched an institutional sponsorship plan to get philosophy departments and libraries to support the journal. The plan has been successful. Ben Bradley (Syracuse), one of the journal’s editors, writes:

We are very pleased to announce that we have secured enough institutional commitments to cover the journal’s expenses. We have received sponsorships from over 30 departments and libraries for $100-$600 each. We’d like to single out Cornell, Gothenburg and Toronto as giving especially significant support. Most crucially, we have recently received a substantial long-term commitment from the Syracuse University philosophy department that will cover the majority of our costs for the next three years, and likely longer. As a result, we will be discontinuing the practice of requesting $20 donations from authors, at least for now, and hopefully forever. (Of course, we still welcome any such donations, but they are no longer necessary for us to continue operating.) We expect to make this change on the journal website in a few weeks. We are very excited about this development, and grateful to the SU department as well as the many others who are making this change possible! We also thank the hundreds of authors who have donated to the journal over the last couple of years; your assistance helped us reach this point.  

You can view the list of institutional sponsors here.

OUP Responds to Letter Regarding Gender-Critical Feminism Book

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/04/2022 - 3:59am in

Oxford University Press (OUP) has responded to an open letter circulated earlier this month (the first letter covered in this post) that voiced concerns about its decision to publish next month a book about gender-critical feminism by philosophy professor Holly Lawford-Smith (Melbourne).

The letter, signed by David Clark, Managing Director of Academic Publications for OUP, replied to questions raised in the letter about the review process Lawford-Smith’s book underwent:

Every academic title published by OUP is assessed by the Delegates of the Press, and undergoes a rigorous review process to ensure the quality of the scholarship we publish. This book is no exception. It was thoroughly reviewed, including a round of supplementary reviews with experts in particular areas. Due to the confidential nature of the process, we cannot share details of who those reviewers were, but we trust them to have reached balanced judgements based on their expertise.

Clark notes the contentiousness of the topic, and frames OUP’s role as one of facilitating academic discussion of it:

We recognize that there is considerable and passionate debate about some of the positions held by gender critical feminists and their perspectives on a variety of issues. We are confident that Gender Critical Feminism offers a serious and rigorous academic representation of this school of feminist thought. As you rightly state, we have also published other titles on topics such as transgender rights and tackling prejudice, to further contribute to academic debate. We will continue to represent a wide range of feminist philosophy in our publishing and a wide range of books on philosophy and gender, featuring authors who are trans and gender non-conforming.

He adds that OUP’s decision to publish any particular work is not thereby an endorsement of the views defended therein:

I would also like to clarify that the Press does not advocate through its publications for any particular views, political positions, or ideologies. Equally, what we publish is not reflective of—nor influenced by—the personal views of our employees.

I appreciate that what I have said may not address all of your concerns, but I hope you can see that our mission—and our commitment to publishing a breadth of views and perspectives to inspire academic debate—continue to guide our work, as they have since we were first founded.

The whole letter is below:

UPDATE – My two cents: This letter seems mostly like the right kind of response. Not all publishers aim for a kind of neutral facilitation of quality-controlled inquiry but OUP and most other academic presses do, and I think that’s a valuable role that Clark is right to call attention to and rely on in his explanation of the decision. I imagine that Clark’s assurances about the review process the manuscript underwent will be doubted by OUP’s critics. Such doubt will be encouraged, I suspect, by Clark’s use of “balanced” to describe the desired judgments of the reviewers. Why not “sound” judgments or “informed” judgments or “reasonable” judgments? “Balanced” evokes worries that bothsidesism or other political considerations played too prominent a role in the decision. Or perhaps this was just an infelicitous word choice by Clark. One might have a better sense of what to think about that, and about the critics’ doubts, once the book is published.

Pay Referees Per Mistake Caught?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/04/2022 - 9:57pm in

James Stacey Taylor, a professor of philosophy at The College of New Jersey, is concerned about the problem that “scholars are not verifying the accuracy of their sources,” and offers up a solution.

Writing at Times Higher Education, Professor Taylor sees this problem as a rational upshot of the incentive structure of academia:

[C]hecking sources is time-consuming, and if a claim is entrenched then it might be reasonably assumed that others have verified its accuracy. Moreover, checking sources is unlikely to yield much professional benefit. If you discover that the sources cited do support the claim that was made, then you haven’t advanced your research by checking them. If they don’t – well, academic journals have little interest in publishing corrections of exegetical falsehoods. And even if you are able to publish your discovery – perhaps in a publication that merely documents the errors of others – you may earn yourself a reputation as a pedant, rather than as someone who advances the field. So neither authors nor referees will receive external benefit from the time-consuming task of fact-checking.

The solution, then, is to introduce new incentives. Here’s his version of that: “pay referees bounties when they detect errors.” Where’s the money coming from? He says:

these bounties should be paid by the authors in whose manuscripts they were detected – and they should be paid whether or not the manuscripts are accepted for publication. This would provide authors with an incentive to avoid error in the first place.

There would be different payouts for different kinds of errors:

Referees should thus be paid different amounts for detecting different types of error: small bounties for detecting an erroneous bibliographic entry, larger ones for identifying misquotations, with the largest of all being reserved for identifying misrepresentations of primary sources.

He doesn’t go into the details of how this arrangement would operate (perhaps escrow accounts that hold the functional equivalent of security deposits?) but presumably there is some way to work that out. Still, there are other questions such a proposal raises, especially for DN’s readership:

  • Are problems with citations and the accurate representation of source material a problem in philosophy?
  • One problem noted often in philosophy is that relevant sources are overlooked (for example, here, here, and here). Should identifying such overlooked sources also earn a referee a “bounty”?
  • There’s a sense in which a good chunk of philosophy, especially the history of philosophy, is already involved in a kind of identification of “misrepresentations of primary sources.” Presumably that work is not what Taylor aims to incentivize with his proposal, but then what would be a workable conception of “misrepresentation” for philosophy?
  • To what extent do proposals like this represent a shift in the general assumptions we make about scholars and their work? One response to recent academic “hoaxes” involving fake data was that they don’t show much beyond the fact that the academic peer review system operates on assumptions of good faith, and so can be tricked by malicious actors; and since such malicious actors are rare, we don’t need to try to restructure the system with even more burdensome forms of review. Have we become more cynical?

Discussion welcome.

OUP’s Decision to Publish “Gender-Critical” Book Raises Concerns of Scholars and OUP Employees

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/04/2022 - 4:45pm in

Two open letters are circulating regarding the decision of Oxford University Press to publish Gender-Critical Feminism, a forthcoming book by Holly Lawford-Smith, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Melbourne.One letter, posted by Eugenia Zuroski of McMaster University (who notes that it was “very much a collaborative effort”), is from “members of the international scholarly community with a relationship of some kind, or several kinds, to Oxford University Press,” including authors, reviewers, series and journal editors, translators, instructors who teach OUP’s books, and readers. In the letter they express their “profound disappointment” with OUP’s decision to publish the book. They note that they are not aiming to “censor ideas” and do not call for the decision to publish the book to be reversed.

Rather, they raise questions about the processes involved in the publication of the book, and call for OUP to answer those questions and take other measures (more on that below).

The authors are troubled by the book because, they write, “‘gender critical’ discourse attempts to deny transgender rights under the guise of scholarly inquiry,” and that it is

not a scholarly field, but a coordinated polemical intervention, unsubstantiated by peer-reviewed research in the fields of gender, sexuality, queer, and trans studies, that promotes itself by the deliberate sowing of public “controversy” without being held accountable for very real and dangerous consequences of these discourses for entire demographics of human beings.

They also note some of the things Lawford-Smith has said that make her, in their eyes, an “anti-trans-rights activist” involved in the “public mobilization of transphobic rhetoric and bigotry”:

In her public interviews and on her website, Lawford-Smith repeatedly describes trangender women as “men,” states that only transgender people have “gender identities” and that gender identities are not real, dismisses the transgender population as “fashionable,” and expresses support for conversion therapy, as well as other scientifically and ethically unconscionable views. Meanwhile, Lawford-Smith, through her YouTube channel and other outlets, has publicly dismissed gender-inclusive rhetoric as “propaganda” and maintained that the defense of biological sex is, in fact, a key rallying point of “gender-critical feminism.” Just last week, her home institution announced that it had to “counsel” her in response to a transphobic post on her social media account that ran “counter to the views and values of the University of Melbourne.”

They also refer to this episode.

They then turn to the editorial and publishing processes:

We are deeply concerned, based on our familiarity with the widely debunked tropes of “gender critical” discourse, that Lawford-Smith’s book promotes such distorted and unsubstantiated claims. Our previous experience with Oxford University Press leads us to wonder by what possible processes of in-house review, peer review, Editorial Board review, and even copyediting an entire book under the title “Gender-Critical Feminism” could have made its way to print. As it is being marketed under both Social Sciences and Arts & Humanities on the OUP website, in the fields of Philosophy, Politics, and Sociology and specifically in the interdisciplinary fields of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, we would expect a press of OUP’s reputation to incorporate the expertise of a wide range of specialists in feminist theory and gender and sexuality studies. Is this book positioned in productive conversation with, for example, OUP’s own recent Gender: What Everyone Needs to Know, and were its authors Laura Erickson-Schroth and Benjamin Davis, invited to participate as peer reviewers? Erickson-Schroth is also the editor of Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource by and for Transgender Communities, a second edition of which is scheduled for publication in April. OUP has published the work of transgender authors in the past, and has connections to academic experts in this community should they choose to reach out. Especially given the direct invocation of trans studies in the title of Chapter 5, “Trans/Gender,” we would expect the due diligence of consultation with experts in that field, as well as rigorous copyediting by someone familiar with the editorial style guides developed by trans communities to ensure that published language does not reproduce forms of rhetorical violence directly connected to forms of systemic and material harm. Barring that, we might even simply ask, how is this text in alignment with OUP’s style guidelines for acceptable language, which asks authors to ensure that: “No form of language or expression has been used that could be interpreted by a reader as racist, sexist, derogatory of a particular religion or creed, or otherwise offensive?”

At the end of the letter, they turn to what they hope OUP will do:

We therefore request, as people whose names and intellectual labours are associated with Oxford University Press and its reputation, a clear and detailed account of what measures have been taken to ensure the scholarly quality of this forthcoming publication (while being mindful of the need to maintain reviewers’ anonymity), and what further steps the Press is taking to make itself accountable for the consequences of its publication should the book go forward to print. Measures the press could undertake to offset the harm done by the publication of this work might include soliciting and publishing trans-affirming scholarship by transgender authors, updating the house style guidelines to include specific guidance on language around transgender rights, donating a portion of the book’s profits to supporting transgender rights organizations, and/or developing editorial guidelines for the submission of works that challenge the human rights of any marginalized group. We recommend that these steps for accountability be undertaken in consultation with transgender rights activists and transgender scholars. We hope that this process can help guide OUP in editorial directions that affirm trangender peoples’ humanity and rights.

You can read the whole letter here.

The other letter is from people who are “Oxford University Press employees and authors.” In it, the letter writers say they are “asking management to reconsider their decision to publish this title.”

They write that

at a time when transgender rights are under attack, we believe that the publication of this book will embolden and legitimize the views of transphobes and contribute to the harm that is perpetrated against the trans community globally… We are asking OUP to prioritize the wellbeing of its trans employees, trans authors, and the trans community as a whole over the potential profit that this book may generate.

That letter is here.

(Comments are closed, at least for now, as much of today is full of teaching and meetings, and I have no time to moderate.)

UPDATE (4/12/22): Some have asked why this post does not include my opinion about these letters, and the boring answer is that I didn’t have time to write that part yet. Perhaps I will over the next few days. But briefly, regarding the first letter: it’s good that they’re not calling for the book not to be published, but still, it strikes me as the wrong kind of response to what we should acknowledge are real problems with current discourse surrounding the rights and treatment of trans persons (some of which are touched on in the letter). An important reason it’s the wrong kind of response is that the letter writers have not read the book they’re objecting to (even if they think they know what will be in the book, and even if they believe they have good evidence for that based on what I am sure is excruciating familiarity with a lot of public discourse on this topic and specific things Lawford-Smith has said). “But would people have to wait to read a book defending race-based slavery by someone who seems to be a racist before objecting to plans to publish it?” Good question. “But doesn’t that analogy ignore relevant differences between ‘defending race-based slavery’ and ‘defending ‘gender-critical’ views’?” Another good question. “Aren’t the letter writers just making sure proper procedures and review have been followed, which is something everyone wants?” Fair question. “But would such requests be prompted by plans to publish a book critical of ‘gender-critical’ views?” Not wholly unreasonable to ask… And so you can see why I haven’t had time to write the opinion part yet.

Redistributing attention and authority in political philosophy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/04/2022 - 4:46am in

On Tuesday, I discovered that the Oxford Handbook of Political Philosophy has 23 chapters (the introduction included), of which 20 have been written by political philosophers based in the USA, 2 by political philosophers then based in the UK who have in the meantime moved to the USA, and 1 chapter by a duo of political philosophers based in Oxford. And while this is a pretty striking case, in many if not most handbooks authors from the USA and the UK are numerically dominating.

I’m not going to argue why this is undesirable. If you think this is not a problem, then you don’t have to read on. I have very little time right now, so I’m going to focus on solutions, rather than trying to convince those who haven’t been part of this conversation before on why this is a problem.

But for those of us who think this is a problem, the question then is what to do.

Most of the time, editors of such overview books are based in the USA or the UK; most of the time, they get asked for those roles. They face many barriers in knowing what political philosophers do who are from/based in countries outside the Anglophone academic centre – the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The philosophers that are not based in that academic centre are less often published in the journals that those editors read. They are less likely to (be able to) attend the conferences that those editors attend. They are less likely to be among the seminar speakers. And, as we can infer from the above pretty striking example, they are less likely to be invited to contribute to standard works in their field.

Edited volumes, conferences, seminar series with only speakers from the academic centre of philosophy transport an image: that ‘good’ philosophy is done in the USA and other Anglophone countries, and that if one wants to be successful, that’s where you have to be. This image, however, narrows and impoverishes philosophy, as it excludes valuable knowledge produced elsewhere – see, for example, Bryan Van Norden or Katrin Flikschuh’s work if you want to read the arguments.

I have my own ideas about what may explain these forms of underrepresentation of scholars who are not based in the Anglophone academic centre. But I’ll follow the strategy of the feminist philosophers who, years ago, launched the Gendered Conference Campaign. I will not try to come up with explanations, but rather focus on the effects of these forms of underrepresentation and ask what we can do.

It’s clear that we’re witnessing a vicious circle here. If editing roles (being instances of academic power) are given to political philosophers based in the academic centre, and if the (writings of) philosophers from outside the academic centre are not known to editors (or more generally to those who have an influence in the distribution of attention and opportunities to gain authority), they are less likely to be invited to contribute to books and conferences, do not have an opportunity to gain that experience and grow in academic status — and off goes the vicious cycle of ignorance and exclusion.

A few months ago, Filippo Contesi pointed out and argued for something very close to what I’m arguing here – but his focus was on those not being native speakers of English. But I think the problem is not primarily with the language, but with the fact that there are, in terms of authority and status, geo-academic inequalities; they overlap to a large extent, but not entirely, with those who speak English. If your mother tongue is, say, German or Hindi, but you moved to a UK or US elite institute, you become part of the academic centre; if you were raised in India in English, but stay in India and do not make frequent visits to the US/UK, having English as a native language won’t help you much; the chances are very big that American political philosophers will not know your work.

What are then solutions to break this cycle of ignorance and exclusion?

We need something like the Gendered Conference Campaign, but then not for women but for scholars who are not based in the Anglophone academic centre, and modified to take into account that inviting people long-distance for physical meetings is expensive and bad for climate reasons. And it seems to me that there are degrees of being at the centre or at the margins, with our colleagues in the global South, who publish often in languages other than English, and who often have the least access to material resources, being most overlooked.

The first thing to do is to read (more often) the works of those who are not working at universities in Anglophone countries. Read their papers and books. Make sure your library has a subscription, e.g. to the South African Journal of Philosophy. Invite political philosophers from outside the academic global centre to give talks at your department. Invite them to be visitors. Attend their conferences (which is now often even possible without travelling). If you’re involved in running a journal, try to free up fonds to help papers originally published in languages other than English to be translated.

I also think we should not be afraid to admit to ourselves and acknowledge that there is much work by political philosophers outside Anglophone countries that we do not know because there are barriers to knowing them, as long as we make steps (whether small or larger) to do something about this. I have friends and colleagues who have strong networks among political philosophers in Asia, Africa and among Indigenous thinkers and they have several times advised me on what to read and whom to invite.

For those of you who do not have such friends, I hereby open the comments sections in which you can give recommendations for the names/writings of political philosophers from outside the Anglophone centre, whose work you think of highly and should be read more widely. I’m writing this post with a nasty deadline staring at me, but will join that conversation over the next days in the comments section.

NB – Thanks to Dorothea Gädeke and Serene Khader for comments on a draft of this post.

A Little Rough Data About Journal Refereeing in Philosophy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 01/04/2022 - 8:32pm in

Is there a refereeing crisis in philosophy? There has been a fair amount of discussion about this over the past couple of months. What was missing from much of this discussion, though, was data. So I asked for some.

I heard from around 40 philosophy journals, but only about half of them were able to provide the kind of information I was after in order to figure out how difficult it is for journal editors to find enough qualified and willing referees: the percentage of those they invite to referee a paper who accept the invitation and write the review.

20 or so journals is not as large a pool of useful data as I was hoping to dive into, but it’s not nothing. What did they say?

The journals that provided helpful data were a varied group in terms of prestige, breadth of subject matter (general/specialist), and popularity of subject matter in the profession. They also varied in the time periods from which they drew their answers, but most of the information was from within the past year (with just a couple stretching further back in time than that). I told the editors that I would not reveal journal-specific information, so in what follows, no particular journals are named.

Across the whole sample I found that, on average, about 40% of the invitations journals send to prospective referees are accepted. About half the journals in this group were within ±7 points of that average. Among the other half, a few were down between 20% and 29% referee acceptance rate, and a few were up between 55 and 60%.

Were there any patterns to which journals had which rates of referees’ acceptance of invitations to review? Given the relatively small sample, it is hard to come to any definitive conclusions. I will say that one thing that’s true of all the journals with rather low referee invitation acceptance rates is that they are not the the best known versions of the type of journal they are. (And by type I mean general or specialist, and if specialist, the specific area.) That said, the generalist journals in this subgroup are definitely known to most philosophers, and the specialist journals in this subgroup are definitely known to the philosophers working in those areas of specialization. So journal obscurity is not doing any explanatory work here. What is? Perhaps it’s higher competition (i.e., more journals) in that space relative to the number of potential reviewers.

One reason to think this explanation has merit is that it’s consistent with the following data, which struck me as odd at first. Since I’m not naming particular journals, I’ll use nicknames for three of them: the Very Good Journal in an Unpopular Area, the Possibly Best Journal in a Popular Area, and the Great Generalist Philosophy Journal. Of these three, the Very Good Journal in an Unpopular Area has the highest referee invitation acceptance rate (in the high 50s): 4 points above the Possibly Best Journal in a Popular Area and 18 points above the Great Generalist Philosophy Journal. The first journal is one of very few journals of its type, and faces little competition for reviewers, while the other two, despite having better reputations in the profession at large, are each one of many of their respective types, and so each face a lot of competition for reviewers.

That said, the supply of potential reviewers is lower for the Very Good Journal in an Unpopular Area than for the other two, owing to differences in the popularity of the areas they cover, so that may count somewhat against the competition explanation. There’s also the possibility that there is a bit of an “underdog” mentality among those working in the unpopular area that motivates them to be more inclined to accept referee requests; or perhaps, knowing that they work in a relatively small area, they feel a relatively less diffuse sense of responsibility for helping with credibility-enhancing institutions in that area, like the journal.

A different possibility is that the Very Good Journal in an Unpopular Area is seen by its specialist community as “their journal”—the one that matters to them and is somewhat definitive for the area it covers, and so members of that community are more motivated to referee for it. Such a possibility was suggested by a journal editor (not associated with any of the above three journals) in reflections they shared with me about their experiences at two different journals: a top generalist journal and a top specialist journal: “Whereas people just about never refused [to referee] for [the specialist journal], the very same people did perhaps a third of the time for [the generalist journal]. It could… be that [the specialists in this area] saw [the specialist journal] as ‘their’ journal in a way that they did not so regard a [top] generalist journal.”

The “competition” and “their journal” explanations, plus some observations about the kinds of journals that had a 30% or smaller referee invitation acceptance rate, suggest (but hardly prove, given the small amount of data) something like the following generalization: if the journal you edit is not among the very first places authors might send their manuscripts, you are going to have more trouble finding referees.

This explanation is compatible with there being multiple reasons for why a journal might be among the very first places an author sends their manuscript: the journal might be especially prestigious or high quality, or be focused on distinctive content, or be the center of professional gravity in a particular subfield (owing to its content, or perhaps to the editor’s influential role in the subfield, apart from the their work for the journal). Correlatively, it suggests possible routes for how journals might improve their referee invitation acceptance rate: excellence, distinctiveness, and influence.

Another possible explanation for disparate rates is offered by the aforemention editor: “the personal touch made all the difference.” At the specialist journal, the editor would personally email potential referees, and though they used a form letter template for such messages, he thinks they still were more likely to garner positive responses than the auto-generated messages from editorial management programs: “I’m inclined to blame publishers’ insisting on seeking referees through the editorial management software as a major (if not the only) reason editors are having so much more trouble procuring referees.”

Some further information:

  • the journal that reported the highest referee invitation acceptance rate is also a journal that has a reputation for a high rate of desk rejections
  • very few referees agree to referee a paper and then never submit a report (except at one of the responding journals, about which the editor said their rate of referee ghosting was between 10% and 20%)
  • almost no papers at the 20 journals that sent in information were rejected simply because of difficulties in securing referees and reports (again, except at the same journal referenced in the previous bullet point, at which this happens “occasionally”)

Lastly, it’s worth noting that very few journals maintain this kind of data. For almost all of the journals that contributed data for this post, the data had to first be produced. In many cases, editors judged it impossible or too time-consuming to do so, or believed the information was inaccessible owing to publishers’ practices or editorial management software. As with questions about submission topics, demographic data about prospective authors, and related matters, it seems it would be useful for our understanding of our profession (what is happening in it, its challenges, its history, its progress, and so on) were journals in the habit of maintaining and occasionally publishing data relevant to their editorial operations.

Which Journals Still Impose Style Requirements on Initial Submissions?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/03/2022 - 12:27am in

I didn’t think this happened anymore, but apparently some philosophy journals still reject or decline to consider manuscripts because they don’t conform to the journal’s or publisher’s style requirements.

We’re not talking about length limits or spacing, but things like the use of contractions, citation methods, spelling, formatting of sections, and so on, as discussed in this post from several years ago. There’s no reason not to hold off imposing conformity with these requirements on a piece until after it is accepted, and plenty of reason not to insist that authors, given the situation with philosophy publishing, repeatedly make these superficial-yet-time-consuming alterations each time they submit their manuscript to a new journal. Further, if a journal’s policy is that initial submissions need not conform to their house style, that should be explicit in the journal’s instructions for authors. As I wrote in the earlier post:

Many of us, we’ll admit, already engage in the practice of ignoring style guidelines on initial submissions. But that is a luxury afforded largely to those for whom the timeliness of an article’s acceptance may not be that important, e.g., those with secure, tenured employment. Those who need a publication soon—for the job market or for tenure, say—are less likely to take this risk. It would be good for them to know whether they are wasting their time.

As I said, I thought the practice of rejecting or declining to consider manuscripts based on lack of conformity to house style had bit the dust, but a philosophy professor informs me that some journals still insist on it. She asked that such journals be named here as a way to encourage them to alter their policies, and mentioned the following as journals that had recently returned manuscripts of people she knows for not meeting formatting and style requirements: Philosophia, Journal of Ethics, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, and The Pluralist. The editors of these journals are welcome to let us know if that is indeed their policy, to explain why it is still in place, or to inform us that it has changed. Readers are asked to share which journals have rejected or declined to consider their submissions because of lack of conformity to house style. (Also, please note that this joke has already been made.)

Does Cambridge University Press Ban Chapters Authored Solely by Grad Students? (Updated with reply from CUP: “No”)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/03/2022 - 12:08am in

A graduate student in philosophy wrote to share that he and another student had been recently booted from an edited collection under contract with Cambridge University Press (CUP) because, he says, the press does not allow chapters to be authored solely by graduate students.

The policy was apparently unknown to the volume’s editor, who had included the students among the contributing authors in the book’s proposal. According to the student who wrote me, the editor conveyed the news to him after hearing from CUP about the rule, which was justified on commercial grounds—that including chapters authored solely by graduate students may deter some potential buyers. [Note: CUP denies it has this policy. See Update 1, below.]

I reached out to an editor at CUP to determine whether in fact this was a policy at the press, but have yet to hear back. If it is a policy, it would have to be relatively new, as some looking into the matter revealed that the publisher has in the past released collections which contain some chapters authored solely by graduate students.

A blanket ban on graduate students seems like a mistake on editorial grounds, as sometimes graduate students may be the best prepared to write on specific topics. And while I’m no marketing expert, the commercial justification for it seems to be a stretch; I’d be shocked if anyone responsible for this policy presented data that suggested that, say, an edited collection with a chapter or two written by graduate students will sell less than one without any graduate students.

Do any other presses have such a policy?

Discussion welcome.

UPDATE (3/23/2022): Alex Wright, Senior Executive Publisher & Head of Humanities at Cambridge University Press, denies there is a blanket policy prohibiting contributions by graduate students. He writes:

I wanted to indicate to you unambiguously and unequivocally that there is no ‘blanket policy’ to exclude graduate students from publishing book chapters with CUP, either in Philosophy or elsewhere. We look at all projects and circumstances on a case-by-case basis. Every essay or chapter is considered on its own merits, and is assessed by peer review. There is no generic policy of the exclusion of graduate students from our edited projects. We evaluate our contributors and their proposed contributions on the basis of excellence, compatibility and list fit. It might be (and has been) argued, and it is sometimes our experience, that people who have already secured a PhD are better placed to write with considered authority on any given subject—since they usually have more years of experience (teaching, lecturing, reading) under their belts—than those who do not. But there are brilliant people at all stages of academe, which we readily acknowledge, and we absolutely would not wish to exclude them from consideration. We approach every essay or chapter from the same starting point. Is it good enough to be included in a CUP book? Is it the best contribution we can find? And does it ‘work’ for us in the wider context of the volume in question?


New Data on Women in Philosophy Journals

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 19/03/2022 - 2:27am in

How much writing by women do philosophy journals publish? How does this vary by quality and type of journal? How does it vary by the type of reviewing manuscripts undergo? How have women’s rates of publication changed over time?

These are among the questions answered by a new study of women’s publication in philosophy journals, just published in Ethics. The study, by Nicole Hassoun (Binghamton), Sherri Conklin (AviAI Inc.), Michael Nekrasov (Santa Barbara), and Jevin West (Washington).

In conducting their study, the researchers divided up philosophy journals into three categories: “top” (based on an informal survey at Leiter Reports), “non-top”, and “interdisciplinary” philosophy journals. They find:

  • “an overall increase in the proportions of women authorships in philosophy journals between 1900 and 2009”
  • “stagnant growth in the proportions of women authorships for recent decades, especially in Nontop Philosophy journals”
  • “the proportion of women authorships has been lowest in Top Philosophy journals over time but that these journals show the greatest increase in the proportion of women authorships between the 1990s and the 2000s”
  • “women authors are underrepresented in Top Philosophy journals even compared to the low proportion of women philosophy faculty in the United States overall”
  •  “the proportions of women authorships in lower-ranked philosophy journals and women philosophy faculty in the United States do not differ”
  • “previously reported disparities in Value Theory [between the comparatively low proportion of women authorships and compartatively high proportion of women faculty] are sustained across all philosophy journal categories, including lower-ranked journals where women authors publish in greater proportions”
  • “Top Philosophy journals practicing Nonanonymous review publish higher proportions of women authors… than Top Philosophy journals practicing Double or Triple Anonymous review… Nontop philosophy journals publish the greatest proportion of women authorships when practicing Double Anonymous review, the most stringent anonymization level within this journal tier… while Interdisciplinary journals publish the greatest proportion of women authorships when practicing Triple Anonymous review”

Below you can see the change in number and proportion of women authors in each type of journal from the 1900s to the 2000s:

(Fig. 4 from Hassoun et al.) Total proportion of women authorships by decade and journal category (1900s–2000s). The top graph shows the total number of authorships by decade and journal category; the bottom graph shows the proportion of women authorships by decade and journal category.

In the following figure, you can see which 10 journals have the highest proportion of articles by women and which have the least, for the periods of 1900-2009 and 2000-2009, color-coded by category:

(Fig. 2 from Hassoun et al.) Journals with the ten lowest and those with the ten highest proportion of women authorships for all three journal categories ranked by proportion of women authorships. The top two graphs represent the total proportion of women authorships across all years (1900–2009), and the bottom two graphs represent the proportion of authorships from 2000 to 2009. The total number of authorships per journal “n =” is shown on the right of the graph.

The authors also used a generalized linear model (GLM) to provide estimates of how women’s authorship in philosophy journals varies by area of specialization, and how this compares to the proportion of women working in these areas:

(Fig. 9 from Hassoun et al). Generalized linear model (GLM) estimates of the proportion of women authorships (2000–2009) by journal AOS compared to faculty AOS (2014). The mean estimated proportion of women authorships across all journals separated by journal category and AOS for the years 2000–2009. Error bars represent the CI based on the output of the GLM. The number of observations (articles for each journal AOS and category in the 2000s) is displayed at the top of the graph with the “n =” label. Note that this figure displays the mean proportion estimated by the model on all articles in a journal category.

They also used the GLM to provide estimates of how the proportion of women authorships varies by type of manuscript review (non-anonymous, double-anonymous, triple-anonymous):

(Fig. 11 from Hassoun et al) GLM estimates of the total proportion of women authorships across all journals separated by journal category and review process for the years 2000–2009. Error bars represent the CI based on the output of the GLM (the CIs are very wide owing to the limited data for Nonanonymous review). The number of observations (articles for each journal category and review type in the 2000s) is displayed at the top of the graph with the “n =” label. Again, note that this is the mean proportion estimated by the model on all articles in a journal category.

The authors discuss their findings and possible explanations for them. For example, regarding the finding that “top” philosophy journals that use triple anonymous review publish a lower proportion of women authors than journals that employ other review types, they say:

our new analysis revealed the surprising result that Interdisciplinary journals utilizing Triple Anonymous review and Nontop Philosophy journals utilizing Double Anonymous review publish the greatest proportion of women authors overall. The low proportion of women authorships in journals using Triple Anonymous review in philosophy may have something to do with their being Top Philosophy journals rather than their review process.

What, then, explains the low proportion of women authors in top journals? Among the possible explanations offered as hypotheses for further investigation, the authors mention:

  • “women are particularly hesitant to submit to those journals”
  • “even with full anonymity, markers of gender, including the chosen topic of research, might still be available to referees and editors,” leaving opportunities for gender bias to operate
  • “some suggest that men and women may have different views about what counts as valuable contributions to philosophy. So, if the editors and editorial boards for most philosophy journals are primarily men (at around 73 percent in 2010 according to historical data collected from the websites of journals included in this study), they may be more likely to reject work by women philosophers based on the topic, style of the writing, or citation practices”
  • “there exists some evidence that academic writing produced by women academics is held to higher standards than that produced by men during the peer review process, even, it seems, when reviewed anonymously”
  • “women are… less likely to coauthor than men, and perhaps coauthored articles are more likely to be accepted than single-authored articles”

The study is entitled “The Past 110 Years: Historical Data on the Underrepresentation of Women in Philosophy Journals” (it may be behind a paywall). Readers may also be interested in exploring interactive versions of some of the above data at the Data on Women in Philosophy website.