Sunday, March 29, 2009

Philosophy and Refereeing

An interesting post on philosophy and refereeing for journals. I'm afraid I agree with Larry Laudan's comment:

That said, I dispute that any one of us has a moral or professional obligation to referee. As a former journal editor, I know firsthand that many philosophers --including some very productive ones—make deplorable referees, just as many authors of good books make terrible book reviewers. If one knows or suspects that about oneself, surely the best thing to do is to refuse requests to referee. I also believe that, in the case of highly productive and original philosophers, it is far better for the profession if they spend their time doing their own work rather than carrying the broom to sweep up behind the rest of us. Finally, making a good argument of one’s own and detecting bad arguments in the work of others are not skills that always go together. Being a good writer doesn’t entail one is a good editor of others’ writings and vice versa; being a good pitcher doesn’t automatically qualify one to be a plate umpire. The idea that each of us owes it to the profession to referee frequently fails to reckon with the fact that the field is full of poor referees, whose highest moral calling would be to refuse ever to take on a task that they are unlikely to discharge quickly and competently.


I also agree with his further point that, whatever may be the case with other fields, in academic philosophy, a field which consists almost entirely of people commenting on other people's work, this sort of reviewing system is not as crucial for the field as one might at first think; it's primarily a convenience for journal quality-control, not (as one would think it is for some other fields) a major gate-keeping system. There are plenty of other sorts of roles in current academic philosophy -- commenting on papers, reading and asking questions about drafts, and the like -- that are vastly more important for the field. Certainly we have no obligation to journals to help them secure quality referees; and if one is speaking of obligations to the professional community in general, as a professional, there are many, many things of much greater importance against which the time and effort and likely quality of one's refereeing has to be weighed in each particular case.

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