A Short Post About the Tact of Reviewing, A History Boy, 23/01/2014

Today's is a post mostly to keep my promise of updating every day that I physically can. Especially after my gaps over the Xmas break, I feel like I've let that initial premise of the blog down. However, I can't really write anything substantial today.

Just about all of the writing work that I did yesterday involved trying to sort through the reviewer reports of an article I'm preparing for publication. While it involved a lot of complex thinking on my part about revision, I can't actually discuss it because the reviewing process is confidential. I can say, however, that my general interactions with article reviewers are not always kind.

People are used to the anonymity of the internet giving one licence to be especially hostile and aggressive to others. The confidentiality of article review can sometimes allow the same. The very first article that I sent to a journal was an edited section of my MA thesis, discussing a new reading of the work of the Churchlands. This was in 2007. This reading had been good enough to pass my thesis, so I thought at least it would be worth considering for wider publication. And it was a new take on a more established philosophical perspective, the kind of writing that I thought would be well-received. After all, the ability to find new perspectives on older work is a key element of philosophical creativity. That's how philosophers carve out niches for themselves in scholarly communities, after all.

I still think, after all these years, that my interpretation of
the Churchlands' work is valid and interesting. But this
post isn't the place to talk about it. Maybe another time.
So I was rather surprised when that Churchlands article was rejected with such vitriol, informing me that I had no business writing about the subject and clearly knew nothing about their work. Journals have a high rejection rate, and I was rather naive at the time of writing my Master's degree. But I didn't expect such literal abuse in the rejection letter. Looking back, this was the first step in my moving away from writing in philosophy of mind. If this was the attitude with which people treated applicants, even when they found the applicant's work problematic, I didn't want to be part of this community. Of course, I later learned that this was simply standard practice. I've sometimes felt over the last few years as though blind peer reviewers are less interested in objectively evaluating new pieces of scholarship, and more interested in insulting those who disagree with them. I don't think this kind of practice is sustainable for a university sector under such pressure as today.

However, this hostility isn't a universal attitude, despite its occasional prominence. In fact, the relative hostility of their reviewers is often a reason why I avoid sending an article to a particular journal in future. Journals whose reviewers and editors are tactful and kind in their criticism burnish the professionalism of their reputations, and so will get more submissions from me in future. This even includes journals who have rejected my work before, providing they do so respectfully. Journals whose editors and reviewers treat applicants with respect should be rewarded for their actions with more submissions, more support from departments and libraries, and even (if we can manage it) more references in our future publications. After all, this is how a democratic crowd encourages changes in behaviour.

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