Thursday, April 18, 2019

Ethics in Publishing Philosophy

Tomorrow (Friday) afternoon from 1-4, I'll be a panelist in a session on "Publishing Ethics in Philosophy" at the Pacific Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association in Vancouver. Come by if you're in town!

I'll have ten minutes to say a few things, before the session moves on to other panelists and then (hopefully) lots of discussion. I figure ten minutes is time enough to express three ideas. So... what three points should I make? What issues deserve special emphasis in a forum of this sort? Here are my thoughts:

Journal and Monograph Response Times

If the following three conditions all hold at a journal or academic press, there's cause for concern that that publisher's policies are impeding authors' timely publication of their work and progress in their careers:

(1.) The journal or press does not accept simultaneous submissions (that is, there's an expectation that while the author's work is being considered there it is not also being considered elsewhere).

(2.) The journal accepts 20% or fewer of submissions.

(3.) The median response time for a decision is six months or more.

As we all know, publishable-quality material stands a substantial chance of being rejected for a variety of reasons, including fit with the journal's vision or the vision of the monograph series, the very high selectivity of some venues that leads them to reject much material that they believe is of publishable quality, and chance in the refereeing process. For these reasons, it often takes five or more rejections before publishable-quality work finds a home. If venues are taking six months or more to respond, that can mean three or more years between first submission and final acceptance. That's too long for authors to wait -- especially graduate student authors and untenured faculty.

Ideally, response times could be ten weeks or less. I don't think that's unattainable with good organization. But if a press or journal can't attain that, they ought to consider either allowing simultaneous submissions or increasing their acceptance rates.

Journal Pricing

It's not news to people in academia that some journals charge libraries very hefty subscription fees. The University of California system (UC Berkeley, UCLA, and eight other campuses including my own campus, UC Riverside, plus medical centers and national laboratories) recently cancelled its subscription to Elsevier journals, which was costing the system eleven million dollars a year, about 25% of the university's total journal budget. There's a huge difference in journal pricing, with some high quality journals charging a few hundred dollars a year while other journals, not appreciably better in any way, charge ten times as much for similar services -- with Elsevier and Springer maybe being the worst offenders.

I looked up the institutional subscription price in US dollars for print and online access to the top twenty "best 'general' journals of philosophy" in a recent poll by Brian Leiter:

  • 1. Philosophical Review (Duke University Press), $264/year (4 issues, 561 pages).
  • 2. Mind (Oxford Academic), $430 (4 issues, 1270 pages).
  • 3. Nous (Wiley), $1532 (4 issues, 981 pages).
  • 4. Journal of Philosophy, $250 (12 issues, 684 pages).
  • 5. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (Wiley), $385 (6 issues, 1594 pages).
  • 6. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, (Taylor & Francis) $509 (4 issues, 838 pages) [Updated: thanks, Neil!].
  • 7. Philosophers' Imprint (hosted by University of Michigan), free open access ($20 recommended fee to submit an article for review; 25 individual articles).
  • 8. Philosophical Studies (Springer), $3171 (17 issues, 4627 pages).
  • 9. Philosophical Quarterly (Oxford), $799 (4 issues, 874 pages).
  • 10. Analysis (Oxford). $288 (4 issues, 784 pages).
  • 11. Synthese (Springer), $4830 (12 issues, 5594 pages).
  • 12. Canadian Journal of Philosophy (Taylor & Francis), $446 (6 issues, 899 pages).
  • 13. Erkenntnis (Springer), $1802 (6 issues, 1320 pages).
  • 14. American Philosophical Quarterly (University of Illinois), $397 (4 issues, approx 420 pages).
  • 15. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly (Wiley), $764 (4 issues, 909 pages).
  • 16. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (Oxford), $343 (3 issues, 428 pages).
  • 17. Ergo (hosted by University of Toronto): free open access (41 individual articles).
  • 18. European Journal of Philosophy (Wiley): $1446 (4 issues, 1457 pages).
  • 19. Journal of the American Philosophical Association (Cambridge University): Only available to institutions as part of a large subscription package.
  • 20. Thought (Wiley), $400-$741 (online only; 4 issues, 295 pages).
  • I am not aware of any good reason that Synthese should be almost $5000 a year, while other journals of similar quality are a few hundred dollars. The best explanation, I suspect, is that Springer, as a for-profit company, is taking advantage of inelastic institutional demand for the journal by institutions that want to ensure that they have access to the best-known philosophy journals. It is, I think, contrary to the general interests of academics and the public for Springer and other such companies to charge so much, so some collective resistance might be desirable.

    I recommend that editors, referees, and authors consider journal pricing as one factor in their decisions about serving in editorial roles, refereeing roles, and in choosing where to submit, giving default preference to open-access journals and reasonably priced journals over expensive journals when other factors are approximately equal.

    Responsible Citation Practice

    Increasingly, citation is the currency of academic prestige. People decide what to read based, partly, in what is being cited by others. High citation rates can figure prominently in hiring and tenure decisions. Highly cited authors are generally considered to be experts in their subfields.

    Thus, I think it is important that authors thoroughly review the recent literature on their topic to ensure that they are citing a good selection of recent sources, especially sources by junior authors and lesser-known authors. It is easy -- especially if you are a well-known author, and especially in invited contributions -- to cite the famous people in your subfield and the people whose work you happen to know through existing academic connections. This is not entirely academically responsible, and it can have the effect of illegitimately excluding from the conversation good work by people who are not as academically well connected.

    Citation practice is primarily the responsibility of authors -- but referees and editors might also want to consider this issue in evaluating submitted work.

    Comments/suggestions/reactions welcome -- especially before 1:00 pm tomorrow!

    [image source]


    Unknown said...

    Synth├Ęse and Phil Studies both print 12 issues a year, whereas most of the others on your list print 4 (EJP may print 6)

    Unknown said...

    Do institutions pay separate subscriptions to journals? I thought they could buy some package from Springer that would give them access to Phil Studies, Synthese, etc.

    Other than that, these all seem like very reasonable comments. Minor quibble about citations: the literature is growing way too fast for authors to catch up, and citing comprehensively adds words that count against your word count.

    Neil said...

    When I brought up cost with Springer (when I edited a journal for them) I was told that no institution actually pays the headline price, because they buy packages of journals and not individual subscriptions. I think this matters though it's hardly sufficient: the package costs are commercial in confidence, ensuring that institutions can't compare the cost with each other. This lack of transparency puts us in the position of having to take the word of a corporation with an interest in keeping us ill informed. I would make the relevant condition disjunctive: take cost or Iack of transparency about cost into consideration.

    Neil said...

    Here's the institutional subscription costs of the AJP. Online only: $431; print and online: $507.

    Eric Schwitzgebel said...

    Thanks for the comments, folks!

    Unknown: Yes, good point! I've added issue and page count info!

    Unknown and Neil: Well, maybe they don't -- but then the pricing is obscure, which is also a problem, as Neil points out; and if it works like insurance in the U.S., it's the powerful entities that get the discount off the headline price, not the less powerful institutions.

    Neil: Thanks for the info on AJP!

    Unknown said...

    Thanks for this. Good and interesting points--especially about citation ethics.
    Marianne Janack