Thomas Baldwin, the editor of Mind, has kindly sent the following reply in response to the petition organized by Jonathan Weisberg:
I thank Professor Baldwin for this judicious and detailed reply to the concerns raised by Professor Weisberg. I have opened comments for further discussion: full name and valid e-mail address required for ALL comments.
Let me begin my response to Professor Weisberg’s petition by acknowledging that in November he contacted me to complain that messages he had sent to firstname.lastname@example.org had not been answered. I immediately replied, apologising for what was certainly a bad mistake on our part. As I explained to Weisberg, we had recognised earlier in the year that we did not have adequate staff resources for dealing with the ever-increasing volume of Mind correspondence, and had brought in and trained an extra person for this task. I thought that this change had dealt with the problem, but Weisberg’s message indicated that there was more to be done. I hope that we have now addressed that issue, although illness, holidays and other work (such as attention to producing the journal) are liable to give rise to occasional delays.
I hope that this response deals with Weisberg’s first demand. His third one concerns the use to be made of the reports which referees provide. This issue came up earlier this year on Brian Leiter’s blog and in response to it I committed us to a policy of forwarding referees’ reports as they stand, which has already been implemented. This policy was endorsed at the meeting of the Mind Association Executive committee on November 5, the only proviso being that we should not forward comments from referees which are identified as being only for the editor. So I believe that Weisberg’s third demand has already been addressed.
Weisberg’s second demand, that ‘decisions are issued within 3 months (4 in exceptional cases)’, is, however, not one that I would be happy to implement. Before explaining why I should acknowledge that Mind has had a poor reputation for taking too long to come to decisions. To judge by reports from my colleagues I do not think that Mind is in fact any worse in this respect than many other journals, but that is no reason for not trying to speed things up, and I will explain below how we intend to achieve this. But first I should explain the current practice.
Although the average decision-time at present is less than three months, in some cases decisions take six months or occasionally longer. The main explanation for the delays which do occur is the time it has taken us to find suitable referees who are willing to report and then to receive reports from them. What especially causes extensive delays are situations in which people agree to provide a report, but then fail to do so (sometimes for understandable reasons, such as illness); so that we have to start again. A further reason is that unlike most philosophy journals Mind does not impose a length limit; as a result we receive a good number of long submissions (over 15000 words), and there is no question but that long papers take longer to evaluate and report on than short ones.
Finally, in many cases in which we are strongly recommended by a referee to accept a paper we are also being recommended by another referee to reject the paper. I gather that in situations of this kind it is standard practice at some journals to treat the recommendation to reject as ‘dominant’ and reject the paper. That is certainly not my practice: instead I read the paper, at least twice, and make up my own mind, though always drawing on the opinions of the referees. That takes time, especially if the paper is a long one; but I cannot conceive of a proper way of coming to a decision about a paper where the recommendations conflict (as they often do) without some procedure of this kind.
In order to implement a three or four month limit the changes required would, I think, be the following: (i) we would have to limit the length of papers to 12000 words; (ii) we would have to simply reject papers for which no reports from referees were received in time; (iii) where time was running out before a conflict in advice could be resolved (e.g. where the reports come in late), we would have to apply the rule that a reject recommendation is dominant. I do not think that these changes would be improvements; indeed I can think of several excellent papers that we have published recently which would have been rejected had these changes been made. We might also need to introduce a moratorium on submissions if the volume of submissions received appeared likely to lead to a breach of the four month limit. I am of course aware that some other journals do have this practice and I am not opposed to it in principle. But we have never implemented it both because it potentially deprives the journal of some excellent papers and because it limits the opportunity of authors to have papers published in Mind.
For all these reasons, therefore, I am opposed to implementing Weisberg’s second demand. Nonetheless I am prepared to commit us to trying to implement the following policy: (i) that the average decision time be (as a present) less than three months; (ii) that the maximum time be six months, unless there are exceptional circumstances which we would communicate to authors. I hope that this policy will satisfy those who have signed Weisberg’s petition even though it falls short of his proposal. Implementing it will be helped by an important change which we have already agreed to make, namely that next year we will introduce the ScholarOne system for web-based submission and review. This should enable us to keep an eye on the time taken since submission, and in particular to expedite the process of gathering reports from referees. Once we are familiar with the system I will publish data on the current decision-times. If the result of all this is a procedure that really enables us in all cases to reach well-considered decisions within four months, then I would be delighted. But at present I cannot in good conscience commit myself to working within that deadline.