How to Write a Referee Report (guest post by John Greco)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 16/07/2019 - 8:38pm in

The following is a guest post* by John Greco, who is currently Leonard and Elizabeth Eslick Chair in Philosophy at Saint Louis University, but will soon be taking up the McDevitt Chair in Philosophy at Georgetown University. It first appeared at The Philosopher’s Cocoon.

Stefan Zsaitsits, “Workshop”

How to Write a Referee Report 
by John Greco

I am sure that there will be varying opinions about how to write a referee report. In keeping with the spirit of this series, I here offer my own opinion, based on my own experience as someone who has written and read quite a few such reports. I have written them as a referee, of course. I have read some as an author, but many more as the editor of a major philosophy journal. It is this last perspective, I believe, that is most useful for present purposes. For referee reports, remember, are written primarily for journal editors.[1] That is, the defining purpose of a referee report—its raison d’etre—is to help a journal editor to make a decision about a submission. And that is what gives us insight into the criteria for a good referee report.

Already I have said something (at least one thing) that is substantive and controversial. That is, I don’t think that everyone would agree that this is indeed the primary purpose of a referee report. Many writers of such reports seem to think (or at least this is what I gather from reading their reports) that referee reports are primarily directed at authors, and for the purpose of improving the paper that is being evaluated. In my opinion, this is a mistake, and it leads to many of the problems that are typical of referee reports. In any case, below I will describe what I think are the essential elements of a good referee report, guided by my understanding that referee reports are supposed to help editors make a decision on a submission. Following that, I will go over what I take to be some common mistakes and unhelpful practices.

The elements of a good report.

In my opinion, the best referee reports have a few essential elements.

First, a good report contains a very short précis of the paper being evaluated, including

a) the thesis of the paper
b) the author’s strategy for establishing the thesis, and
c) some commentary on why the paper is important, interesting, timely, etc.
This may or may not include
d) a very broad outline of the paper.

Again, all this should be done in very short order—one or two sentences on each point. This is useful because it directs the editor to these essential elements and characteristics of the paper. But it also signals to the editor that the referee has understood and appreciated these essentials. It also demonstrates that the referee has the expertise needed to communicate them in clear and efficient fashion. In sum, a clear and efficient summary of the paper and its importance both informs the editor and builds confidence in the referee. Moreover, this kind of summary signals to the authorthat her paper has been understood and appreciated. And if there are some mistakes or misunderstandings in the report here, the author will now be in a position to refer back to them specifically in communications with the editor.

Second, a good referee report will give a clear summary of the reasons for the referee’s recommendation. That might seem too obvious to mention, but many reports fail to do this. For example, many reports will list a series of criticisms and/or virtues of the paper, but make no mention of the weight or importance of these various considerations. So, all the editor gets is a series of pros and cons, but no explanation regarding why these add up to “reject,” “accept,” “revise and resubmit,” etc. The better alternative would be to summarize what are the deciding factors among the various considerations being offered—what are the deal breakers (or deal makers) that are driving the referee’s recommendation. Put differently, a good referee report justifies the recommendation being offered, and does so in clear and efficient fashion.

Third, and in keeping with the previous theme, a good referee report will in some way flag more important vs. less important considerations as they occur. For example, a good report might be divided into the following sections: Summary; recommendation; major considerations; minor considerations; further comments for the author. This last “comments for the author” section can be used for comments that the referee thinks might be helpful to the author, but that should not factor into a recommendation for or against publication. This last point is related to my introductory remarks above, where I suggested that the primary purpose of a referee report is to help the editor make a decision. That is consistent with helpful comments directed at the author. But such comments are appropriately relegated to a section of the report, and clearly flagged as intended for such purpose.

Finally, the summary and recommendation parts of a report should be short and focused. That is, the editor should be able to understand the paper and the reasons for the recommendation fairly quickly. After that, a referee might go into detailed commentary on various virtues and vices of the paper, and might provide additional detailed comments aimed at helping the author. But all this is secondary to the guiding purpose at hand, which is to help the editor with his or her decision.

Some common mistakes and unhelpful practices.

Clearly enough, some referee reports are unhelpful because they fail to include one or another of the essential elements discussed above. I will leave it to the reader to consider the variations on how this might happen. In the remainder of the post, I will discuss two other common mistakes that referees make and that result in their reports being unhelpful. Both involve the recommendation of “revise and resubmit.”

First, referees often recommend “revise and resubmit” when they should recommend “reject.”

I won’t speculate why, but some people have a very hard time rejecting a paper outright. For example, as editor of APQ, it was not uncommon for me to receive reports that listed more than one reason sufficient for rejection, but then recommended revise and resubmit. Consider the costs of this. First, the author is now encouraged to revise a paper with the implication that the requested revisions will make the paper publishable. Second, that revised paper will now have to be refereed again, and by more people than just the referee recommending revisions. This makes more work for an already overloaded system. If there is no practical possibility that the resubmitted paper will now be publishable, the referee has done a disservice to everyone involved, author included.

Second, referees often recommend “revise and resubmit” when they should recommend “accept.”

Here I will speculate on the referee’s frame of mind. I believe that, at least in many cases, the referee has lost sight of his or her primary responsibility, which is to help the editor to decide whether the paper is worthy of publication, and not whether it could be improved in some way. What is more, in my experience as editor, recommended revisions would often have detracted from the quality of the paper, by insisting that some implausible objection be considered, for example, or by insisting that some further, tangential issue be explored. If you wonder why philosophy papers nowadays are often tedious, here is one major factor in my opinion.

Notice that in both cases (where the paper should have been rejected or should have been accepted) the referee could have included his or her comments in a “for the author” section. That is, even in a case of rejection, the referee could still suggest revisions for a possible descendant of the paper. And even in a case of acceptance, the referee could suggest revisions that she thinks would further improve an already publishable paper. But in either case the verdict of “revise and resubmit” is inappropriate, and oversteps the responsibilities of the referee.

Of course, it is ultimately the editor’s responsibility to decide whether a referee’s recommendation should be accepted, or whether a proposed revision is reasonable in that context. But the referees for a paper are usually more expert than the editor on any given paper topic, and so editors will rightfully defer to their recommendations in most cases. For that reason, referees should keep their primary responsibility clearly in mind, and write their reports accordingly. If you do, your reports will be appreciated by everyone involved.

[1] Actually, referee reports can be directed at other kinds of editor as well, such as a book series editor, or at some other person who has the role of accepting or rejecting a submission, such as members of a grant application committee. In this post, I will talk in terms of referee reports for journal submissions, but much of what I say would carry over to other kinds of referee report as well.

Related: Advice on Refereeing PapersReasons You Rejected a Paper; Deciding which Papers to Referee; An Objection Does not a Rejection Make; Should You Referee the Same Paper Twice, for Different Journals?Not Refereeing the Resubmitted Paper You Recommended for Revision; Reforming Refereeing; Should Journals Publicly Grade Submissions?

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Publishing Philosophy One Doesn’t Believe

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 12/07/2019 - 11:01pm in

“Is there anything wrong with publishing philosophical work which one does not believe?”

That is the central question of “Publishing Without Belief,” a recent article in Analysis by Alexandra Plakias, assistant professor of philosophy at Hamilton College.

Salvador Dalí, detail of “The Madonna of Port Lligat” (1950)

Professor Plakias argues that publishing without belief is not wrong: “the practice isn’t intrinsically wrong, nor is there a compelling consequentialist argument against it.”

Here are some of the reasons she offers for her answer:

  1. “requiring philosophers to publish only what is true, or what they know, advantages philosophers with more permissive standards for knowledge or truth, while disadvantaging those with higher standards.”
  2. “biographical information about the author—including his or her personal convictions—should be… irrelevant to assessments of the merits of their argument… we don’t necessarily base our acceptance of an argument on the speaker’s (or author’s) attitude towards it.”
  3. Publishing without belief doesn’t necessarily involve hypocrisy, lack of thoroughness, or insouciance (bullshitting). “The speaker (or writer) who doesn’t believe her argument isn’t telling her audience that she believes what she’s saying—she’s asking the audience to believe it.”
  4. We don’t have sufficient reasons to think that “a philosopher won’t whole-heartedly defend a view she’s put into print, even if she isn’t convinced of its truth.”
  5. “Securing academic employment depends on publishing, usually in a peer-reviewed journal… Suppose, as seems plausible, the position defended in a paper has a bearing on how likely that paper is to be accepted for publication. And suppose the views we end up believing are, in part, beyond our control. I submit that we should do our best to minimize the extent to which the ability to have a philosophical career depends on factors outside an individual’s control. The process of publishing philosophy is subject to so many contingencies that we ought to eliminate them wherever we can, especially where these affect the prospects of early career philosophers whose beliefs are not yet calcified.”

You can read the whole paper here (ungated draft here*)—and don’t miss its last line. Discussion welcome.

*Two notes. First, Professor Plakias asks people to cite the published version in their written work. Second, if you have trouble viewing the draft, try doing so in a browser in which you are not logged into Google.

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PhilPapers Publishes Its First Book

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 27/06/2019 - 2:14am in

In a move that may signal disruptive changes to academic philosophy publishing, PhilPapers, the free, massive, online philosophy database, has published its first book—an open-access edited collection.

It’s The Open Handbook of Formal Epistemology, edited by Richard Pettigrew (Bristol) and Jonathan Weisberg (Toronto), and it features the following contributions:

Weisberg, who was one of the creators of the open-access philosophy journal, Ergo, and who suggested the idea of the book to the PhilPapers, says that a second edition of the book may include more articles.

In a post about the book at his site, Weisberg writes: “For me personally, a central aim of this project was to demonstrate a point about open access publishing and shared standards. The budget for this book was exactly $0.00, and this was only possible because we didn’t need a human typesetter.” This was possible because “Pretty much everyone in formal epistemology uses the same, standardized format to do their writing. And that format plugs in to a high-quality, freely available typesetting program.”

He thinks there’s a lesson here: “The moral is that philosophers in general should settle on a similar standard (all academics, really). If we did, we’d have a lot more freedom from commercial publishers. We could publish open access books like this on the regular. The books would be freely and easily available to all, and authors would retain copyright.”

At the moment, according to David Chalmers (NYU), one of the founders of PhilPapers, there are no other books in the organization’s pipeline, but, he says, “we’re definitely open to doing more.”

The book is available for download here.

(via Jonathan Weisberg)

Related: “The Open Logic Text

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A White Paper on Publication Ethics in Philosophy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/05/2019 - 1:08am in

A project that “seeks to foster greater awareness among humanities scholars and editors about ethical issues in publishing, with a focus on the discipline of philosophy” (previously) last week published a white paper with its initial findings and recommendations.

Ramon Todo, glass book sculpture

The paper, “Just Ideas? The Status and Future of Publication Ethics in Philosophy,” is part of a process of addressing the fact that:

in the humanities in particular there is a dearth of the kinds of policies commonly found in the sciences and social sciences, which have established paths for determining the unreliability of research findings and rectifying unethical research, such as correcting and retracting articles. What such unreliable or unethical research means in humanities fields requires further elaboration to ensure that the highest ethical standards are understood and achieved in research in these disciplines. The issues raised about the ethics of publication in philosophy in particular prompted the question of what guidelines for publication ethics and best practices might be established for philosophy and the humanities.

It is based on a substantial amount of information gathering and feedback, including:

(1) a survey of existing explicit policies and statements on publication ethics of 265 journals in philosophy, (2) a set of in-person and virtual focus groups with journal editors and members of American Philosophical Association (APA) leadership committees, and (3) a set of focus groups with representatives from publishers of philosophy journals and representatives from COPE. Additionally, we (4) convened scholar conversations at the 2018 APA divisional meetings open to any attendee and invited feedback via the project website and (5) collected and examined the existing literature on publication ethics, especially with respect to the humanities and philosophy, which resulted in an extensive bibliography.

The questions that were discussed in the project’s focus groups with editors included:

  • Do editors’ and referees’ assumptions and decisions about what counts as real philosophy affect diversity (of topics, authors, styles, etc.) in the journals you work most closely with? If so, how?
  • In the sciences, there are explicit guidelines and shared understandings about when and how a piece of scholarship should be corrected or retracted. Are there similar understandings and guidelines in philosophy/the humanities? If not, should there be?
  • What constitutes plagiarism? Is there anything other than plagiarism that constitutes misconduct in philosophy that means an article should be corrected or retracted?
  • Who is responsible for discovering, preventing, and addressing misconduct? What (if any) mechanisms do we need to address allegations of misconduct that occur afterpublication?
  • How would you describe ethical research and citation practices, especially in scholarship pertaining to and affecting marginalized groups? Should journals offer guidance to encourage inclusive engagement with marginalized bodies of scholarship? If yes, how could they accomplish this?
  • What do you think are the main obstacles that make it difficult to accomplish diversity of authorship in journals? Are there practices that you know of or that journals have experimented with to address this situation?

The focus groups with publishers were centered around the following questions:

  • In what ways are humanities different from STEM in terms of ethical challenges and practices?
  • What humanities-specific policies/guidelines do you have in place? If you are “discipline-agnostic” in your approach, why? Have you run into any problems with the “discipline-agnostic” approach?
  • What would be considered conflicts of interest in the humanities context?
  • What policies (if any) do you recommend to your journal editors for handling post-publication discussions? How are the policies about who responds developed and how are they communicated to relevant parties?
  • Do you have plans in place for what to do should discussions escalate on social media post-publication? At what point do you determine that a response is required? Who is responsible for a response?
  • What advice or training do you give editors concerning how to handle social media criticisms and controversies?
  • What data/technologies do you have in place or can be put into place to better help journals understand publication patterns, including diversity of all kinds (e.g., demographics, professional rank, topics)?
  • What training do you provide to editors, especially in terms of publication ethics? When does such training take place? What about “refresher courses” for those who have been editors for several years?
  • What modes of communication do you use to let editors know about new guidelines they may need to take into account to develop their own journal policies (e.g., the use of preprint servers)?
  • What training (if any) do you offer in publication ethics for authors, reviewers, editorial boards?
  • What guidelines (if any) do you provide for pertaining to marginalized or vulnerable populations? What does accountability to marginalized and vulnerable populations look like for humanities research?
  • How can publishers help ameliorate the marginalization of underrepresented groups and bodies of knowledge in the humanities?
  • What training (if any) do you provide to help editors understand when corrections or retractions might be appropriate actions to take?

You can read summaries of the discussions of these questions in the white paper.

The authors do a good job of summing up a crucial aspect of the situation: “nearly everyone in the publishing ecosystem is looking to someone else for guidance.” They elaborate:

Editors expect referees to identify misconduct, but they do not always clearly communicate this expectation—or many other expectations—to referees. Referees seldom receive training (from a journal, from their graduate program, or from their professional societies) about how to prepare a review report. Editors generally assume that their publishers have policies in place to address misconduct, while publishers often look to the editors and scholarly societies to determine what is expected of scholars in their respective disciplines. While a number of editors are aware of COPE, they either believe that COPE’s guidelines do not apply to the humanities, or believe that COPE has explicitly defined policies and procedures that can be directly applied should a problem arise. Such misunderstandings persist despite the fact that COPE explicitly states its expectation that journals define these policies and procedures for themselves. Moreover, while it is widely agreed among editors that more diversity of authorship and scholarship is needed, and that current structures in publishing (and academia, more broadly) inhibit this goal, nearly everyone is stymied as to how to achieve this diversity and how to revise the structures that stand in the way.

So what can be done? The authors make some modest suggestions:

  1. Discuss and disclose. Based on our focus group discussions, our first and most important recommendation is that every journal undertake a series of discussions—with editorial team members, publisher representatives, and other key stakeholders—to articulate its values, standards, policies, and procedures as related to publication ethics (including diversity of methodology and of authorship), and to make those values, standards, policies, and procedures publicly available and easily accessible, to the extent feasible.
  2. Take steps to diversify journal leadership. In pursuit of methodological as well as demographic diversity, we encourage journals to pursue diverse representation in editorships, editorial boards, and reviewer pools and seek to involve these groups and individuals actively in the journal’s relationship to diverse communities.
  3. Encourage collaboration among scholarly societies. We recommend that scholarly societies—both within philosophy and more broadly in the humanities and humanistic social sciences—work together to identify common values and expectations for scholars across the humanities. 
  4. Continue to improve peer review. Though we did not make peer review a focus of our conversations, concerns with the peer-review system were an undercurrent through every focus group and discussion. We encourage journal leaders to consider how their current peer-review practices and policies serve their values and goals, and whether experimenting with new models and strategies for peer review might be worthwhile.

Each of the these is discussed in greater detail in the paper.

The paper was authored by Kris Sealey (Fairfield University), Yannik Thiem (Villanova University), Adriel M. Trott (Wabash College), Amy E. Ferrer (American Philosophical Association) and Rebecca Kennison (K|N Consultants), with input from an advisory board consisting of Linda Martín Alcoff (CUNY), Luvell Anderson (Syracuse University), Lisa Guenther (Queen’s University), Sally Haslanger (MIT), Nicole Hassoun (Binghamton University), Serene Khader (CUNY), Eva Feder Kittay (Stony Brook University), Rebecca Kukla (Georgetown University), Carole Lee (University of Washington), Christopher Long (Michigan State University), Mariana Ortega (Penn State University), Henry Richardson (Georgetown University), Eric Schwitzgebel (UC Riverside), and Kyle Powys Whyte (Michigan State University).

The authors are seeking feedback. Substantive comments welcome here and also via a comment form linked to at the site hosting the paper.

(via Michael V. Dougherty)

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Stanford University To Stop Funding Its University Press (Updated)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 30/04/2019 - 1:33am in

Stanford University Provost Persis Drell has announced that the university will no longer be providing financial support to its university press, according to Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Many believe that without this support, Stanford University Press will have to cease operation. The press publishes around 130 books a year in various areas, including philosophy.

Some of the philosophy books published by Stanford University Press.

According to IHE,

The Stanford press actually brings in about $5 million a year in book sales, a sum that is impressive compared to sales of many scholarly publishers. But it has also depended on support from the university, which in recent years has provided $1.7 million annually. Provost Persis Drell told the Faculty Senate Thursday that the university was ending that funding. She cited a tight budget ahead, due to a smaller than anticipated payout coming from the endowment. (The endowment is worth more than $26 billion and is the fourth largest in American higher education.)

Faculty at Stanford and elsewhere have raised objections about the cuts, and a petition has been launched to encourage the Stanford administration to reconsider the funding decision. Among other things, the petition’s text compares the financial situation of the press to that of the university’s athletics program:

We note that, according to Stanford Daily, the “net annual cost [of the athletic department at Stanford] is … around $67 million.” The Stanford Athletic Department thus appears not to be “self-sustaining.” Why have you chosen to single out the University Press for this application of supposed “business models” when other units on campus similarly do not turn a profit?

Those who aren’t particularly concerned with Stanford University Press may nonetheless be worried about the precedent it sets for other schools. IHE quotes David Palumbo-Liu, a professor of comparative literature at Stanford, on this point:

If these cuts go through, it will be a terrible day for not only Stanford, but for higher education as a whole—it sends a signal that other institutions may well exploit. It is irresponsible and shameful. University presses perform both an institutional and a public good.

(Thanks to Zoltan Somhegyi for prompting a post on this.)

UPDATE (5/1/19): Stanford University Provost Persis Drell, acknowledging objections to her plan, has agreed to extend funding to Stanford University Press of up to $1.7 million for the next year as it figures out a “a financial model for the press that is sustainable.” Details at Inside Higher Ed.

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Murdoch Demands Curtailment of Parliamentary Democracy over Brexit

Earlier today I put up a piece about an article in the I newspaper about the claim by a charity, the Hansard Society, that British people were increasingly demanding a more authoritarian leader, who could override parliament. This is obviously dangerous, as at the end of such anti-parliamentary sentiments lies authoritarian political strongmen like Vladimir Putin outright dictatorships, like those of Hitler and Mussolini. I speculated that, if the findings are correct, they’re probably due to Tweezer’s supporters getting impatient with parliament blocking her wretched, worthless Brexit deals.

It turns out I may well have been right. Brexit is involved. And so, unfortunately, is that curse of the modern press, Rupert Murdoch.

No sooner had I put my piece up then I found that the good fellow behind Zelo Street had put up a similar article based on articles about the Hansard Society and its wretched poll in the Times and the Guardian. The Thunderer’s article had the headline, ‘Brexit-weary Britons long for political strongman’, contained the following ominous statements

In findings that suggest large parts of the country are ready to entertain radical political change, nearly three quarters of people felt that the British system of governing needed ‘quite a lot’ or ‘a great deal’ of improvement.

More than four in ten thought that the country’s problems could be more easily solved if ministers ‘didn’t have to worry so much about votes in Parliament. The findings come two days before Theresa May returns to Brussels to ask the EU for another Brexit extension.

The Street says that it is no accident that the mythical desire for a political strongman is here linked to Brexit, and that the only surprise is that the Scum hasn’t received its orders to put the same demand in cruder terms. The article then goes on to discuss the Groan’s treatment of these findings, which is hostile, and quotes Rose Carter of the anti-racism, anti-religious extremism organisation, Hope Not Hate. She says

We are facing a crisis of political mistrust. And when people do not trust traditional political systems, they look elsewhere. That’s when support for political extremes grows.

The Street then goes on to describe how political strongmen look good, until they’re actually put to the test, and goes on to give examples. These aren’t just the obvious cases of Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, but also the Greek Colonels, who left Cyprus partitioned, Salazar in Portugal, who left his country poor and illiterate, General Franco in Spain, who brought some people prosperity in the 1960s, but from a very low base; General Pinochet and his legacy of death and division in Chile; and finally Vladimir Putin in Russia. His gangster regime has brought some people prosperity, but only recently has the Russian economy started growing.

But, as the Street’s article notes, the Dirty Digger likes Donald Trump and his authoritarian style of government, as he mistakenly thinks that the Orange Generalissimo gets things done. The Street therefore concludes that, once again, Murdoch is debasing politics for his own ends.

Murdoch’s selfish demand for the curtailment of parliament’s powers and the establishment of the Prime Minister as some kind of quasi-dictator isn’t quite as extreme as Lord Rothermere’s support of Adolf Hitler and Oswald Mosley in the 1930s and the Daily Mail’s infamous headline ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’. Nor is it quite like Mussolini, who was the editor of a radical newspaper, the Popolo d’Italia, which he used to promote Fascism and his personal dictatorship. It’s far more like Berlusconi, who used his vast media empire to promote his political ambitions. It wasn’t a military dictatorship, like Mussolini’s with paramilitary thugs running berserk and the banning of other political parties. But then, as the author of the book, The Dark Heart of Italy stated on a radio interview about his book on Berlusconi’s Italy, this new form of Fascism didn’t need them. Unlike Berlusconi, Murdoch hasn’t put himself forward for political office. But he has been instrumental in framing policy in several governments, most notoriously in Blair’s, where one minister described the Digger as almost being like a hidden member of the cabinet, so concerned with Blair to have his approval.

This makes Murdoch a real threat to British democracy. There are reasons why the monopolies and mergers commission sought to prevent newspaper proprietors owning too large a portion of British media, and why many people, including many Tories, were not in favour of the Digger getting hold of the Times. But they were overruled by Thatcher, and have been overruled by other Prime Ministers ever since, eager to grant Murdoch an ever-increasing share of press and television broadcasting in order to gain the support of his squalid empire. And Murdoch’s own political views are directly opposed the welfare of Britain’s working people. They’re pro-privatisation, including that of the NHS and education, because he’s moving into educational publishing. He wants low taxes, less government regulation, and, surprise, surprise, a minimal welfare state. And now he’s shown himself to be an outright enemy of parliament and the British democratic tradition it represents.

Murdoch has no right to demand this. He isn’t British, but a foreigner. He’s actually an American citizens, as the Americans have the good sense to pass regulations stopping foreigners possessing a controlling interest in the newspapers and utilities. Which is something we should have done long ago. John Major back in the 1990s finally came round to realising that Murdoch’s squalid empire should be broken up, but by that time Murdoch had ditched him and was putting his weight behind Tony Blair, who more than willingly returned the favour.

Murdoch and his wretched papers have been bad for Britain, bad for British politics, bad for its working people, and now have begun an attack on the democracy. This can’t be allowed to continue, but I fear that with his newspapers now so powerful, too many people have been brainwashed by him to make this possible.


Are Spam Filters Blocking Referee Requests?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/03/2019 - 11:23pm in

A philosopher wrote in to share a lesson she learned recently.

Elizabeth Radcliffe (William & Mary) writes:

I wonder if others have had the experience of finding one or more referee invitations from journals in their spam or junk e-mail folders. This has happened recently to me and to someone else. In that person’s case, the journal had written months back and had contacted the person with two follow-up e-mails, all of which, he discovered,  landed in the spam mail folder. In my case, the request, from a different journal, was only about a week old. I rarely check my junk mail, but decided to do so when I heard about this case—and was surprised to find the same thing had happened to me. I’m mortified to think how many times this might have happened in the past, since any junk mail older than 3 weeks is deleted automatically by my system.

What the e-mails seem to have in common is that they contain an active URL  (http://www…  etc.) for the site where the journal instructions and submission are located. Perhaps this triggers an anti-spam program to discard the e-mail, in order to thwart clicking on links that download viruses?

It would be good for journal editors to be aware of this problem, especially if they frequently don’t get replies to their requests. But it also behooves all of us to be checking our spam and junk mail folders.

Depending on your university’s email system, you may be able to whitelist certain email addresses so that they’re less likely to get blocked. “Unjunking” the messages probably helps train the system’s spam filter, but I don’t know to what extent. If others have suggestions on how to avoid this problem, feel free to share. In the meanwhile, check your junk mail.

Uttaporn Nimmalaikaew, “Nostalgic”

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Publishing Your Philosophy Book with Open Access

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 21/02/2019 - 10:26pm in

Some academic publishers offer authors of monographs an “open access” option. For a fee, the publisher will make a version of the text available online, free to anyone.

Nicholas Shea (University of London) recently published his book, Representation in Cognitive Science, with Oxford University Press, and chose open access (you can view it here).

He writes:

I recently published an open access book with OUP, using grant money to pay for the substantial open access fee. This isn’t something OUP has done much in philosophy, and it’s certainly an experiment for me, so I want to make up my mind about whether it’s a good use of funds.

Given that the book would be on Oxford Scholarship Online (OSO) anyway, the biggest advantage is for people whose universities don’t subscribe to OSO, e.g. in resource-poor settings. There’s also an advantage to having a portable pdf that you can read when you’re offline.

The cost approximates to four open access journal articles, so getting an eight-chapter monograph sounds like a reasonable value. On the other hand the money could instead pay for a conference or a couple of workshops. And it’s a route that’s only open if the author can find some research funds to pay the fee—which of course is more expensive if taking advantage of the reputational and editorial benefits of a major publisher like OUP.

So there are arguments either way and I’m trying to see what people in the profession think. 

Readers, what do you think about the value of choosing and paying for open access publishing? And if you have ideas for/experience with obtaining funds for the express purpose of paying open access fees, please share them. Thanks.

Daniel Lai, “Thinker Under Tree”

Related: “What Is the Best Type of Open Access for Philosophy and Other Humanities Disciplines?“, “Open Access Philosophy Textbooks

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The Best Reviewer/Editor Comments You’ve Received

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/02/2019 - 10:50pm in

Last week people shared their horror stories on “The Worst Reviewer/Editor Comments You’ve Received“. But refereeing papers and editing journals is crucial and often underappreciated work, and, as some noted, sometimes the comments can be extremely helpful or encouraging or otherwise appreciated.

So we shouldn’t just focus on the negative. As one commenter suggested, “How about a post with ‘best’ comments from reviewers/editors received?” Good idea. Let’s hear ’em.

The post The Best Reviewer/Editor Comments You’ve Received appeared first on Daily Nous.

Who’s Down With QPPs? (Questionable Publication Practices) (guest post by Mark Alfano)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/02/2019 - 1:57am in

The following is a guest post* by Mark Alfano (Australian Catholic University & Delft University of Technology).

Who’s down with QPPs?
Mark Alfano

Questionable research practices (QRPs) appear to be troublingly common in contemporary scientific practice. To call something a QRP is not in itself an indictment. Rather, QRPs are just that: questionable—meaning that a reasonable person would have some questions (and potentially some follow-up questions) when they encounter any particular case.

Whereas QRPs mostly have to do with data collection and analysis, we might also have some questions about instances and patterns in a researcher’s approach to publication. To this end, I’ve developed a list of “questionable publication practices” (QPPs) meant to mirror the list of QRPs. QPPs are meant to be questionable in just the same way that QRPs are. While there has been some discussion of QPPs in other disciplines (here, here, here, and here), it’s worthwhile to address them specifically in the context of philosophy.

Here’s the list[1]:

  1. self-dealing
    a. individual self-dealing (e.g., publishing in one’s own edited volumes)
    b. collective self-dealing (e.g., publishing in one’s department-mates’ edited volumes, or those of a similar cabal)
  2. publication in predatory journals
    a. publication in clearly predatory journals (e.g., those on Beall’s list or some other, better-curated list)
    b. publication in economically predatory but academically respectable journals (e.g., those held by Elsevier, Springer, Wiley-Blackwell, and Taylor & Francis)
    c. publication that is not open access
  3. unoriginal publication
    a. plagiarism and borderline-plagiarism of others
    b. self-plagiarism
    c. highly repetitious but not quite self-plagiarizing publication
  4. misuse of textual evidence
    a. quote fabrication or fudging
    b. citation fabrication or fudging
  5. problematic citation patterns
    a. stingy citation patterns
    b. clique-ish citation patterns
    c. brown-nosing citation patterns
    d. excessive self-citation
    e. giving in to citation-extortion by referees
  6. financial conflicts of interest
    a. industry funding (especially undisclosed)
    b. ideological foundation funding (especially undisclosed)
    c. potential to reap financial gain from publication (e.g., IP or spin-off companies)

While the items on this list obviously differ in severity, all are cause for questioning. A few are constitutively bad practice, such as 3a, 4a, and 4b. Others, like 1a and 1b, are signals that might be thrown off when someone is engaged in bad practice but are not in themselves objectionable. It’s also helpful to distinguish between one-off and occasional instances of these QPPs, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, robust patterns of them—especially when someone’s profile includes little else. Additionally, it’s important to recognize that perverse incentives embedded in our publishing culture put pressure on people to engage in various QPPs, especially people with precarious employment.

I’ll briefly go through the rationale for each item on the list, and include an asterisk next to ones that I’ve committed myself and a dagger next to those I’ve witnessed.

1a*†. Imagine glancing at a CV and seeing that the researcher has eight original publications.[2] Two are in peer-reviewed journals and the other six are in volumes they themselves edited. This would give me pause. By contrast, if I saw six peer-reviewed articles and two chapters in the author’s own edited volumes, I’d shrug. Self-dealing of this sort seems to be a problem only when it constitutes the bulk of someone’s publication record. Where exactly to draw the line is tricky, of course, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t clear cases on either side of the line.

1b*†. Likewise, imagine glancing at a CV and seeing that the researcher has eight publications. Two are in peer-reviewed journals. Two are in volumes they themselves edited. And four are in volumes edited by their department-mates. This would also give me pause. It indicates the establishment of an academic ghetto or perhaps a chummy in-group. Of course, it might be the case that the best work on a given topic is done within a single department, but then again it might not. This is why further questions are called for.

2a†. I’m sure most of us have spam folders full of invitations to publish in predatory journals. Don’t do it. (This one isn’t merely questionable, though researchers who are just getting started and don’t have a strong support network may understandably fall for these spam invitations.)

2b*†. Given the sorry state of our publishing ecosystem, avoiding this QPP is probably supererogatory—especially for scholars in junior and precarious positions. Many of the most prestigious journals in philosophy have been captured by rapacious publishing houses. If one wants to make a name for oneself or just accrue enough of a reputation to enjoy stable employment, one may have to publish in such journals. But for those who already enjoy stable employment (especially those with tenure at prestigious universities), there is at least a defeasible reason to avoid such journals. European universities (and others) are starting to put economic pressure on these publishing houses, as is the popularity of sci-hub. If the publishing ecosystem is adequately reformed, this QPP would disappear.

2c*†. This QPP is essentially the same as 2b: avoiding it is desirable and supererogatory, especially for those in senior, stable, prestigious positions. For those in more junior and less stable positions, it’s just part of the game.

3a†. Outright plagiarism is obviously just wrong. Cases of borderline plagiarism are harder to assess. I’m thinking, for instance, of cases where someone hears a work-in-progress presentation at a colloquium or conference, then goes on to scoop the author of the work-in-progress. This might even be done innocently, with the expectation that the original author’s work must already be in press. One way to handle this problem would be to develop a more robust culture of sharing pre-prints on, for example, Doing so would lay down a mile-marker that could both be used to establish precedent and be cited by others who want to avoid engaging in borderline plagiarism.

3b†. What exactly constitutes self-plagiarism is often hard to say. Obviously, if someone publishes verbatim the same paper in two places, that’s self-plagiarism. But it seems to be pretty rare in philosophy. More common is the practice of publishing 70% (near-)verbatim content with a little twist thrown in at the end. This sort of thing really bothers me, but I’ve spoken with quite a few philosophers about it and many of them just shrug their shoulders. Your mileage may vary.

3c†. This QPP is meant to capture cases that don’t quite rise to the level of self-plagiarism but are still worrisome or annoying. Such publications clog up the pipeline, gobble up limited space in journals (there already isn’t enough!), and artificially inflate the author’s publication count, citation count, h-index, and i10-index.

4a†. Whereas outright citation fabrication may be rare, citation fudging seems to be fairly common. What I have in mind by this is citing a paper or book as an exemplar of a view, argument, objection, or fallacy when it probably isn’t.

4b†. Again, outright quote fabrication may be rare (though I’ve caught a case of it!), but quote fudging is more prevalent. Similar to citation fudging, quote fudging takes a quotation out of context or slightly misuses it in some other way. Other types of sloppy quotation and fabrication also fall under 4a and 4b.

5a*†. There seems to be an emerging consensus that philosophers don’t cite enough. We can (and should) do better. Of course, exactly how much is enough is itself contentious.

5b*†. This QPP is related to 1b. The clique might be a department (e.g., one that conceives itself better than the rest of us), a small consortium (my own dear 4TU is often like this), or an academic ghetto (e.g., an isolated ideological or religious network of hold-outs and last-standers). It can be hard to distinguish a small but robust community of discourse that tends to have inward-facing citation patterns from a problematic, self-congratulatory in-group. Since there’s no such thing as instant rationality, we may have to wait for decades to decide which was which.

5c*†. People who have already published on a topic are most likely to be referees, so citing and praising them is tactically smart, even if it does make me throw up in my mouth a little bit.

5d*†. We probably all think our work is unfairly neglected, so this QPP is easy to fall into. For those operating in academic environments where citation counts, h-index, and i10-index matter, there’s also a perverse incentive to self-cite.

5e*†. Referees often demand that they themselves be cited before a paper can be released from R&R purgatory and enter the blessed realm of the forthcoming. As with many of the other QPPs, there are perverse incentives for authors in this context. To some extent, they should be expected to push back against such demands, but it’s also on editors to weed out and curate citations that don’t belong.

6a†. This QPP and the others in category 6 are probably rarer in philosophy than, for instance, the hard sciences, but they’re not entirely absent. Industry funding sometimes (perhaps often) comes with gag rules, non-disclosure agreements, and corporate oversight of findings. That can be problematic for obvious reasons.

6b*†. The elephant in the room when it comes to this QPP is of course the John Templeton Foundation. In my experience (I’ve received three sub-awards on JTF projects), JTF does not dictate analyses or results. What they do do is fund research on some topics/questions and not on others. That sort of agenda-setting has a slow but steady influence on the discipline. Thus far, I’d say that JTF has done considerably more good than harm, but I certainly understand why others might disagree.

6c. This QPP seems to be vanishingly rare in philosophy, but I’m happy (well, unhappy) to learn otherwise.

[1] Thanks for suggestions and feedback are due to Jack Woods, Richard Pettigrew, Kate Norlock, Kevin Timpe, Jade Schiff, Roman Altshuler, David Rosenthal, Kareem Khalifa, Neil van Leeuwen and Elizabeth Harman.

[2] Reprints are a separate issue, since they presumably passed through peer review before being chosen for reprinting.

The post Who’s Down With QPPs? (Questionable Publication Practices) (guest post by Mark Alfano) appeared first on Daily Nous.