The thread on the editorial practices of philosophy journals has produced voluminous and very informative comments. Jason Stanley (Philosophy, Rutgers) suggested that it might be worth calling special attention to some comments by Keith DeRose (Philosophy, Yale) that raised important issues (that we have touched on before) and also broadened the topic of discussion in ways that might warrant their own thread. Professor DeRose wrote:
For some important purposes, there really is no substitute for actually reading a whole lot of a philosopher's writing. For instance, at least in the final stages of a hiring decision this should be done, and as well in making a tenure decision.... To the extent that publication record -- which I'm here taking to mean one's list of publications; how many & which journals: what one can tell by looking at the CV -- at all crowds out such a careful look, that's a very bad thing.... By the time you take a look at a tenure candidate's material that's as close as that situation deserves, the issue of what journals the candidate was able to get that work into should usually drop out as irrelevant. (In extreme cases, if the candidate consistently fails to publish at all or consistently publishes in very bad venues, even though the work is excellent, there's probably a problem there in publication strategy that should be addressed.)
But for other purposes, I think publication record should be given a larger role than it is presently given. For instance, in the hiring process, you simply can't (or at the very least, very few departments actually will) read a whole lot of writing by every applicant. There has to be some narrowing down process. And in this narrowing down process, publication record too often (in my view) gets trumped by other factors that are much worse guides than publication record, like, for an important example, institutional affiliation.
So, here comes my complaint about our profession. It really isn't sour grapes: I am very happy with how I personally have done as far as the jobs I've had. But I've known many (& have known of even very many more) very talented philosophers who have been put in a situation that's very tough to dig themselves out of. We as a profession aren't very good at discerning which 22-year-olds graduating from college are likely to be the best philosophers, and not that much better at discerning this when it comes to 28-or-so-year-olds coming out of graduate school. But which graduate school one gets into and what job one initially lands tragically does very much to determine how well one is likely to do, long-term. It often happens for instance, that extremely talented philosophers who deserve to do as well as those landing the great jobs instead end up at some low-prestige job with a heavy teaching load. Every now and then, one of them quite heroically overcomes the odds of having to write while teaching so much and puts out a bunch of excellent papers in really good journals (which at least often they're able to do largely b/c the journals use blind review!). But, too often, they can't get the people with the power in the profession (& who know that the candidate works at a low-prestige place) to take their work seriously. They loose out to candidates (the "chosen ones") who, despite their very cushy teaching loads, publish little in good journals but who have something that all too often proves more valuable on a CV: a high-prestige institutional affiliation. In my view, this is a very bad thing.
We have lots of extremely talented, but highly underemployed members of our profession. It's important to provide some way by which they might possibly dig their way out of that hole. One important way is to have lots of good journals with blind review, and for all of us to resolve to take publication records very seriously. This doesn't mean to hire someone based only on the quality of the journals that have published their work. But I am thinking it does mean something like this: If someone develops a good publication record, as you can tell simply by looking at their CV in a hiring situation, or as you should notice if they're publishing in your particular field, take that as strong prima facie evidence that they are doing excellent work, and then take a good look at their work. I'd also suggest, in a comparative vein, to take a strong publication record as a stronger reason to take a close look than that some other philosopher in a high-prestige job, and therefore well-connected with high-prestige friends, gets a lot of good word-of-mouth.
Despite the very real weaknesses in the process by which journals choose which papers to publish, reading around in the best journals (at least those papers in your area(s)) is a good way to read a lot of very good stuff, and if we all did this & became aware of such good work, that might also result in the goodies of our profession being distributed a bit more fairly.
That so many of our best journals use blind review, and that so many do as good a job as they do in the selecting process is one of the best things about our profession.
On the same thread, Jason Stanley remarked in response:
Keith's "complaint about the profession" post above about the over-valuing of high-prestige institutional-affiliation is one of the wisest, most incisive, and most important comments about the profession I've ever seen. Brian should post it independently. It gets so bad that people with pedigree but lazy work habits perpetuate the self-serving myth that regular publication is a sign of philosophical shallowness. That's how bad the problem is.
I think I can guess which "top 10" department Jason has in mind in particular, but the issue isn't, of course, specific to just one department. There are really two general questions here: (1) how widespread is the problem Keith identified? (2) what can be done about it?
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