philosophy meta-forum
From DailyNous:

A Desk Rejection Scorecard (guest post by Antti Kauppinen)

The following is a guest post* by Antti Kauppinen, currently an Academy of Finland Research Fellow at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Tampere, and soon to be (as of 2018) Professor of Social and Moral Philosophy at the University of Helsinki. It’s about improving desk...

Comments

Comments in green on the left are from DailyNous, comments on the right are from the philosophymetaforum.

Fritz Warfield

41 day(s) ago

Fails to satisfactorily address objections. Not original enough. Topic not important enough. Fails to advance the debate. 14 Report

Ben

41 day(s) ago

Doesn’t sufficiently engage with the literature. see, e.g.: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_vault/2016/10/27/form_rejection_letter_for_silent_film_screenwriters_from_the_company_essanay.html 3 Report

Rebecca

41 day(s) ago

I’m a journal editor and I tentatively like this proposal. My hesitation is not about increased workload – I agree with you that it would be very little extra work and that it would provide a real service. But as it is, I am inundated with a**holes who want to argue with and insult and threaten me when I reject their paper. It’s exhausting and awful and very gendered. I suspect that giving someone this kind of checklist would often just be taken as an opening to argue the checklist with me point by point. I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to reject your proposal, but I do get sort of exhausted just imagining the fallout from doing this, even though the initial work seems trivial. 38 Report

Dale Miller

41 day(s) ago

I’m not sure that I’ve ever given feedback on a desk rejection without coming to regret it. That’s not entirely true; quite a few of my desk rejections are on the grounds of lack of fit with the journal, and when I say that I usually don’t get any response. But I’ve stopped giving substantive feedback on papers, since it seems to be read as an invitation to discuss. 8 Report

Douglas W. Portmore

41 day(s) ago

Exactly. That’s my experience as well. 5 Report

Fritz Allhoff

41 day(s) ago

Agreed with Dale. If I try to help, authors use it as a launching point for email arguments. Also “not original enough” people take personally. I’d rather say less than more, like “due to the high number of quality submissions, we are unable to extend an offer of publication at this time.” Also, while I do read everything I’ve desk rejected, I think it’s overly optimistic to assume that’s standard. Some editors probably look at name/institution, title, abstract, and stop there–for better or worse. 9 Report

David Velleman

39 day(s) ago

Respectable institutions don’t look at “name/institution” because their editorial process is blind from the start. 7 Report

Julia

39 day(s) ago

I guess several of the top philosophy journals are not respectable institutions then – http://dailynous.com/2015/02/02/guarding-the-guardians-or-editors/ 4 Report

Sergio Tenenbaum

41 day(s) ago

Same here. 2 Report

Michael Kremer

41 day(s) ago

Why not just send out the form along with a letter stating that you will not discuss the decision with the author(s)? And then just stick to it — if they write, send back a one-sentence reminder: we do not discuss desk rejections with authors. 26 Report

Rebecca

40 day(s) ago

Michael, that is how I reply when they challenge me, almost always. But I am reluctant to send it out with the original rejection because (a) every once in a while there is something legitimate to discuss – only 95% of the time are they just being an a**hole, and (b) it feels so hostile up front. Maybe I am just a softie. 9 Report

Dale Dorsey

41 day(s) ago

That goddamn Antti Kauppinen has another good idea. 35 Report

Douglas W. Portmore

41 day(s) ago

I’m with Rebecca in suspecting that this would significantly increase the amount of fallout that editors have to deal with. And it’s not clear to me that the putative benefits to authors would adequately compensate for this. For I suspect that the benefits to authors would be quite minimal. Consider how often authors reject criticisms of their papers even when those criticisms come with detailed explanations. And it seems likely that a far greater number will reject criticisms that come with no explanation at all. So, even if some authors like yourself would do their best to highlight what they think is new and important about their papers when they get back a rejection with only the “Not original enough” box ticked, I suspect that most will just conclude that the editor is an idiot for not seeing what is obviously original and important about their papers. And I doubt that any will conclude, although some should, that there is nothing original or important about their papers. Lastly, I think that editors are already grossly overburdened with a thankless job. Indeed, it’s hard to recruit good people to be editors these days. So, I think that it’s a bad idea to add to their duties. And, as I see it, editors’ duties primarily lie with only readers and potential reviewers. They have a duty to readers to ensure that only the good gets published and a duty to reviewers to ensure that they not be asked to waste their time reviewing papers that have very little chance of getting through the review process. They don’t, it seems to me, have a duty to help authors improve their papers. Their only duty to authors is to ensure that their submissions are treated fairly and professionally. 8 Report

Antti

41 day(s) ago

Doug, I can certainly see the dangers you mention. One thing that occurred to me after writing the post was emphasizing even more in the form letter that there’s a policy of having no discussion, and heck, having a form letter saying “We said no discussion about the decision!” to send in response to those who insist on arguing back. But I don’t know – as I confess, I haven’t been an editor, and it wouldn’t occur to me to start arguing with one myself. However, I think you’re underestimating the benefits to the author. I wasn’t assuming that most people would think “Gee, I guess it’s not an original idea after all”. I would probably not think so myself (although I have given up or significantly modified projects when I’ve gotten verbal feedback to that effect). But I thought the benefit would be in terms of knowing what to focus on in rewriting the paper. If I concluded, after reflection, that I was still convinced of the originality of my paper, I’d do more work to emphasize how it’s different from other views already out there. (In fact, I’ve just revised a paper along those lines, and I think spelling out more carefully how it differs from similar proposals made it much better.) But I will of course grant that how useful any negative feedback is to an author depends on their attitude, and the tick might be entirely wasted on some. 19 Report

Douglas W. Portmore

41 day(s) ago

How do you propose to prevent authors from emailing the editor to express their objections to his or her expressed reasons for desk rejecting their papers? You can have a no-discussion policy. But that itself doesn’t prevent authors from emailing the editor. And I’ll just report that my experience is the same as Dale Miller’s. Most of the time, I’ve ended up regretting providing feedback on desk rejections. So, I rarely do it any more. On the other point, I agree that some authors would benefit somewhat from this proposed policy, but I just don’t think that it would be that beneficial to tick a few boxes without giving any explanation for why those boxes were ticked — especially, given the subjective nature of these judgments. Suppose, for instance, I tick the box saying that your paper doesn’t adequately engage with some of the relevant literature. Won’t it be infuriating not to be told what I think is the relevant literature that you needed to engage with. After all, you presumably didn’t think that there was some relevant literature that you needed to engage with or you would have engaged with it. And won’t many authors be tempted to email the editor to ask. And if I’m the editor and you’re Antti (or someone else I know and respect), won’t I be tempted to respond. But, most importantly, I don’t see why we should see it as the editor’s duty to help authors improve their papers. Don’t they have enough to do already? 7 Report

Antti

40 day(s) ago

Doug, let me first say I’m surprised and sorry to hear that you (and other editors) have been the target of authors’ ire for providing feedback for a rejection. I genuinely didn’t realize it is as common as it seems to be. Good editors like yourself provide a hugely valuable service to the profession, and we should bear that in mind in spite of personal disappointment. How would you feel about a compromise: having an optional scorecard for when some reason for rejection stands out? You wouldn’t use it if you thought the paper was just too meh to bother referees with, but only if it was clear to you that the paper suffered from some standard shortcoming. There’s a bit of a collective action problem here, but being perhaps too optimistic about human nature, I can imagine that if enough journals did something like this and stuck with the policy of not responding to queries, people would start to think of ‘form rejection’ in the same way as they now think of comment-free desk rejection, as something for which there is no court of appeal. I’m sure I would myself be curious to know more in the kind of case you mention, but even a few bits of information would beat the fish slap from my perspective. (Maybe I should also say this post was occasioned by someone else’s commentless rejection after several months, not my own experience. I’ve been pretty lucky.) 2 Report

Douglas W. Portmore

40 day(s) ago

I see no problem with having an optional scorecard for when some reason for rejection stands out. 2 Report

Michael Kremer

41 day(s) ago

I just made this suggestion (of Antti’s) in response to Rebecca, before reading Antti’s reply to Douglas. It seems the right way to go. 2 Report

Antti

41 day(s) ago

Oh, and don’t the haters hate you even if you desk reject without comment? After all, a desk rejection without comment feels just like being smacked in the face with a mid-sized fish, and is about as educational. 16 Report

Douglas W. Portmore

41 day(s) ago

I think that people will hate editors more for rejecting their papers for reasons that they take to be unwarranted than for rejecting their papers for unknown reasons. But, perhaps, I’m just projecting my own responses on others. I get really pissed when a reviewer recommends rejecting my paper for a bad reason than when an editor rejects my paper for some unknown reason. Besides, I think that you forgot to include on your list one of the most prominent reasons for rejecting a paper: Just not as interesting, important, or good as other submissions. And I doubt that many authors will find this all that helpful unless they are told in detail why their paper isn’t as interesting, important, or good. 10 Report

Rebecca

40 day(s) ago

Yeah, my experience leads me to totally agree with Doug here. The more reasons I give, the more they hate and argue. 7 Report

Antti

40 day(s) ago

Very sorry to hear that, Rebecca! This discussion has revealed to me an aspect of editorial work I didn’t appreciate before. I guess I’d still like some brave journal to give this thing a try (at least in the more moderate form I propose above in response to Doug), and see whether it results in even more assholery. 6 Report

Bruce

41 day(s) ago

[ ] Your supervisor/someone reading your university email in the administration/colleague sent the editor an email saying no one likes you and so we’re not pulbishing anything you send us. [ ] We don’t like your politics/religion/jokes/face/skin colour/atheism in your Twitter/Facebook/Google/Blog and so we’re doing a little Hitler on you. [ ] You are the subject of a smear campaign, so, not gonna happen. [ ] You aren’t a member of our in club/group/lodge/church/business assoication or related to anyone we know on any of these, so tough luck 18 Report

Kris

41 day(s) ago

I like the proposal. I am surprised (and disappointed) that so many editors feel under siege from emails from authors of papers. It would never occur to me to contact an editor to argue against a verdict he or she delivered, since it would almost certainly not achieve the desired goal and would probably generate ill- will from the editor. I am curious what percentage of the “argue with the editor letters” are written by junior scholars/graduate students vs. senior members of the profession. 32 Report

Rebecca Kukla

40 day(s) ago

In my experience they are almost 100% written by men at any stage of career, with a slight skewing towards more senior people doing more arguing. But the gender effect swamps the stage of career effect. To be clear, by ‘under siege’ I don’t just mean frustrated emails – I mean I’ve been personally insulted and threatened and slurred countless times. I just realized that the site has only been including my first name on my posts – I wasn’t trying to be anonymous. I am the same Rebecca who posted a few times above. 11 Report

Kris McDaniel

40 day(s) ago

And I am very sorry to hear about your being insulted or slurred. 3 Report

Lizard

40 day(s) ago

I can entirely believe that the worst comments would be mostly from men, and of those slightly more from more senior men. But I also wish there were a better answer to the problem! It seems like not implementing scorecards or giving reasons for desk rejections would be harming the prospects for e.g. younger female scholars trying to get published all because of the behaviour of some men. As a member of the former group, and one who is likely to get her first desk rejection soon, it’s frustrating. And I don’t know what the right thing to do would be. 3 Report

Steve

41 day(s) ago

Every paper I’ve ever had desk rejected was a startling work of utter brilliance, so maybe there should be an extra box along the lines of () I am an idiot who would reject the B deduction, were I alive in the Eighteenth Century PS oddly, many of these papers have been made even more startlingly brilliant by feedback from anonymous referees, even when this feedback was part of a rejection letter. Hard to know what to make of that… 10 Report

R · September 11, 2017 at 10:28 pm

41 day(s) ago

Potentially a good suggestion, that can benefit authors, but only in the presence of triple-blind review (where the editor is unaware of the author’s identity). Otherwise, if there is general journal policy that rejections must come with a checklist explanation, editors will sometimes rationalize why they are rejecting a piece, and sometimes indicate the wrong (motivating) reasons for rejection. This will sometimes serve as bad advice to the author. Otherwise said, editors will occasionally use heuristics (consciously or unconsciously) that they won’t end up articulating. Instead, they will indicate something else, which will either be useless or worse for the author. (Since we are all caretakers of inference here, this point will not be taken as an attack on editors [who largely deserve our appreciation], but as a point about human nature in the midst of institutional structures like our own.) Most of the points here have concerned the partiality of the authors, but we shouldn’t forget the biases of those charged with gatekeeping. Also, triple-blind review would add to the authority of the desk rejection. An author receiving a checklist from an editor who doesn’t know who they are, or what they’re about, is more likely to treat the indications as authoritative. 7 Report

John Schwenkler

41 day(s) ago

You want a desk rejection? HERE’s a desk rejection: http://subpop.tumblr.com/post/66387736897/back-in-the-dark-ages-the-pre-tumbr-world-we 5 Report


Allowed tags: 'p', 'b', 'em', 'blockquote'. URLs are automatically linkified.