Saturday, July 31, 2010

Referees citing Unpublished Work

A reader writes:
I just received a rejection from an A-list journal. The referee reports were on the whole helpful. I accept the result. But one thing got my goat. In one of the reports, my paper is criticized for not taking account of the "most recent" arguments of, say, McX, someone who is admittedly a top player in the topic I'm writing about. But then the referee directs me to the arguments in two as yet unpublished papers by McX. And these papers are not available online in draft-form, either. Am I to conclude that in order to write top-notch stuff on this topic, I must be in McX's draft-circulation circle? Could it be that in order to do work that's publishable in the A-list journals, I have to keep abreast of the unpublished work of the high fliers? As McX's most recent papers are unpublished, they haven't passed blind review, so how could considering them be a proper requirement for my paper to pass blind review? This seems incredible. It has the air of gate-keeping by an elite inner-circle. I thought I'd write to get your reaction.
It seems that in this case the failure to cite McX's unpublished papers was not the main or sole reason for rejection, so I don't see any wrong in suggesting that McX has some new work that's not out yet, but would have to be considered in the next version of the paper, and so on. But, I agree that presenting the failure to cite McX's unpublished papers as a sufficient reason for rejection is out of bounds.

I have never received a report that claims a need to discuss unpublished work. But maybe I've just been lucky. Is this common these days?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Napster for Books

It has just been called to my attention that the text of a book I wrote recently is available for free online. Someone apparently bought the electronic edition from the publisher and then posted the pdfs to one of those sites that makes such files available. I'm not talking about an excerpt being available in Googlebooks of on the publisher's site-- it's the entire book.

Any suggestions about what to do? I take it that the publisher could have the file removed from the site, and would do so if told. I also suppose that having a free electronic copy available is likely to result in more people reading the book, and in my view that's a good thing. I of course get no royalties from those who download the free electronic copy, but I really don't care about royalties. Yet there's also the matter of principle. Views?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Sorry for the long posts. Two in a row, no less.

How about you jerks getting adult-sized attention spans?

As you were....

Naming an Error

A colleague of mine just called my attention to a new case of a kind of error I've been noticing with increasing regularity of late. I'm looking for someone clever to name the error. It goes like this:

Some famous philosopher offers an account, A, of some phenomenon, P. A has certain features, of course, and among them is the second-order judgment that a proper account of P need not (or should not) include mention of some seemingly closely-related matter, M. That is, it is part of A that P should be discussed (explained, accounted for, what have you) independently of M. (Sometimes the claim is that M is in fact unrelated, other times the move is to go eliminativist with regard to M)

Then other philosophers propose criticisms-- C1, C2, C3....-- of A on the grounds that it leaves out M or fails to account for M or cannot accommodate considered judgments about M (or what have you). And the various instantiations of C often include reasons why M indeed must be discussed in an account of P.

Then someone comes to the defense of the original famous philosopher and simply declares that since A explicitly includes the (meta) judgment that P can be explained without reference to M, the criticisms C are dismissible or question-begging.

This is clearly some kind of error. Most often, it seems as if the philosopher coming to the defense of the famous philosopher is simply misunderstanding the target of the criticisms-- mistaking a criticism of A for a critical interpretation of the famous philosopher. Or something like that.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Open Letter to Journal Reviewers

Dear Reviewer,

Thank you for taking the time to serve as a reviewer for the journal to which I have submitted my paper. Thanks, too, for agreeing to serve as the reviewer of my submission in particular. When we serve as reviewers, we do the profession a great service. The integrity of our profession in large measure depends on competent and conscientious blind review. So, once again, I thank you very much.

However, I have noticed in recent years a marked decline in the quality of the referee reports I have received in response to my journal submissions. Now, of course, maybe the way to explain this is that the quality of my work has declined in recent years. I suppose that's possible, but I don't think this could explain the phenomenon-- I've seen and received high-quality reviews of poor submissions. These are reviews that, despite the ultimate negative judgment regarding the submission, nonetheless do a good job of explaining the weaknesses of the paper, point to definite defects, raise well-targeted objections to actual claims made in the paper, and give a detailed assessment of where the paper's argument stands vis-a-vis the state of the art in the literature. In short, a high-quality review is a review of the submitted paper, not an opportunity for the reviewer to react to or muse over the paper's topic.

So I offer a few simple steps that I urge you to consider taking in preparing your review:

1. Give a definite judgment. If the paper is hopeless, say so. If the paper needs significant revision before it could be even in the ballpark of publishibility, say that. If the paper is out of touch with the current literature, say (roughly) what that literature is. If the paper is sound, but not that interesting, say it. And be clear about whether you recommend R&R rather than conditional acceptance. And so on.

2. Before launching into your critical analysis of my paper, provide a paragraph summary of what you take to be its main thesis and argument. This is easy to do, and it’s a great help to the author (I suspect it helps the editor as well). It helps the author to see whether your ultimate judgment regarding the paper is based on a sound reading of it. It helps the author to gauge whether he or she has been clear enough in writing it. Sometimes reviewers reject papers that they misunderstand, and sometimes this misunderstanding is due to the author’s carelessness in framing the paper. Sometimes reviewers misunderstand the paper in such a way that their critical comments are entirely beside the point. Sometimes a R&R decision is based on reviewers who misunderstood the paper; in this case, their suggestions for revision are really suggestions for writing a different paper. And it takes authors a lot of time to figure out how to interpret a reviewer’s comments. A lot of time could be saved if you just state up front what you understand the paper to be about. It’s easy.

3. In giving your critical analysis, you should of course be as forceful as possible, no matter what ultimate decision you recommend. But please be as specific as possible. When you attribute to the author a claim that you think is objectionable, identify the place in the paper where the author makes the claim. And whenever possible, quote what the author actually says. Do not relay on your impressions or your rough sense of what the author claims.

4. Review the paper that the author has written. Whether you believe that some other approach than the one the author has taken is superior is irrelevant. In fact, it’s not clear what one means by terms like “approach,” “methodology,” “discourse,” or “tradition.” It is not clearly a criticism of a paper to say that the author “should consider joining a different conversation.” Nor is it yet a criticism of a paper to say that the author “is dealing with a narrow range of interlocutors.” These remarks are little more than cryptic snobbery unless you say something about how the range of interlocutors is unduly narrow or that the “conversation” that the author is engaging in has been exhausted or proven fruitless. In other words, resist the compulsion to go "meta." A review for a journal submission is not the place to take out your aggressions concerning the state of the profession. If you can’t do this, you should decline invitations to review.

It seems to me that these steps don’t demand too much. They can be easily satisfied in the usual a three to five paragraph review.



George Steinbrenner

George Steinbrenner has a posse.

More here.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Maybe I'm Being Sexist, But...

Maybe I'm being sexist, but I think there's something odd and creepy about a middle-aged man working as a sales clerk at Victoria's Secret.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Best Punk Lyric Ever?

The radio's blasting. Turn that shit off!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

DOOM, 4th of July Edition

From a new Marist Poll:
There’s good news for American education. About three-quarters of residents — 74% — know the U.S. declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776. The bad news for the academic system — 26% do not. This 26% includes one-fifth who are unsure and 6% who thought the U.S. separated from another nation. That begs the question, “From where do the latter think the U.S. achieved its independence?” Among the countries mentioned are France, China, Japan, Mexico, and Spain.
In other DOOM, I overheard the following at a restaurant yesterday,

"You know, sometimes I think that it would be really fun to be an assassin."