The Ethics of Naming and Shaming

We've all had our own horrible experiences with journals — long delays, sloppy or uncharitable referee reports, apparently hasty or otherwise defective decisions, etc. You can share yours here and achieve catharsis! Or if you're well adjusted, you could just share for sharing's sake.

Anyway, I'm wondering what people think are some necessary/sufficient/relevant conditions for each of the following:

  1. It is morally wrong to publicly disclose your negative experience with the journal.
  2. It is morally permissible to publicly disclose your negative experience with the journal.
  3. It is morally obligatory to publicly disclose your negative experience with the journal.

Different conditions will presumably apply for positive experiences, but set those aside for now (or don't, if you really don't want to).

And how does the journal wiki's existence (v1.0 and perhaps one day v2.0) affect any of this? All the information shared there is/would be anonymous and averaged, which is presumably much more reliable than anecdotes.

7 Replies to “The Ethics of Naming and Shaming

  1. I think disclosing negative experiences is a good thing to do (somewhere between 2 and 3 in your trimodal system, I suppose).
    There are significant benefits of people talking about their negative experiences. I’m happy for the guidance that I’ve gotten from various people and the journal wiki has given me about where to submit my papers. Also, if editors and referees expect that people will share their negative experiences, it’ll give them an incentive to do a better job. The costs of having people disclose their negative experiences do not seem as substantial.

  2. Hi John,
    I’m very happy to see another shout-out to the Philosophy Journal Wiki, especially to version 2.0. In addition to already providing some very useful information for those submitting articles, I certainly hope it is helping to put some pressure on certain journals. And, yes, if version 2.0 gets off the ground, it will serve both of these purposes even better.
    (I’d like to answer your specific question more directly, but I don’t see how to answer the question in the abstract. If I’m forced, I guess I’d say it is morally permissible, but only because I don’t see any good reason for a blanket “morally wrong” or “morally obligatory.”)

  3. Neil,
    I mostly agree with you. But there might be costs if only relatively few people do it.
    Suppose you wait three years for an initial decision. Are you close to the point where it’s not just good for you to share, but approaching the point where you ought to share (provided it’s easy enough to do so in an appropriate medium, such as a disciplinary blog like this one)?
    And don’t you think that some sharing might just look like petty complaining? Suppose a decision takes seven months. That’s too long — surely the process could have taken half that time, or even less. But seven months+ is unfortunately not uncommon. It’s probably permissible for you to share in this case, but is it wise? I’ve heard people accuse others of being “silly” for complaining about a seven month wait.
    So one thought that occurs to me is that public disclosure of negative experiences is permissible in most cases, but unless it’s noticeably more negative than what you might have expected going in (“the (statistical) norm”), it’s unwise to publicly disclose.
    And I don’t think anonymous contributions to data aggregation count as public disclosure (in the relevant sense of ‘public’). In any realistic scenario, contributing that way would be neither unwise nor wrong.

  4. Dan,
    I responded to you earlier, but it apparently didn’t show up. And now I can’t remember what I wrote!
    Anyway, you’re right that the question’s abstractness makes it difficult.

  5. If I have a concern with the ‘naming and shaming’, then it is this: I worry that it might offer a misleading and overly negative view of journals. This concern stems from the following. First, not all authors know of the wiki. Secondly, authors that get accepted (I suspect) might be less likely to record their experiences than those who are not accepted. Thus, those with negative experiences may be more like than those with positive experiences to ‘name and shame’.
    I’ve always been a fan of the Philosophy Documentation Center’s two volume list of all philosophers, all philosophical societies, all philosophy publishers, and all philosophy journals in the world. The information is self-reported by editors, but gives a great snap shot at all journals on submission procedures, number of papers accepted, numbers submitted, review waiting times, and time to publication post-acceptance.
    Of course, the main things journals should do is make public submissions information. I’ve done this in my own journal, the Journal of Moral Philosophy (http://www.brill.nl/jmp), since it began. However, I will begin publicizing each year all submission data (# submitted, % accepted, % accepted with revision, waiting times, etc.) on the Brooks Blog (http://the-brooks-blog.blogspot.com) starting this summer.
    In addition, readers may be interested to know that Carol Gould (ed, Journal of Social Philosophy) and I are re-launching the Association of Philosophy Journal Editors at the APA-Eastern meeting this year in New York. We will be discussing issues concerning submissions, journal rankings, etc. in a special two hour session. I hope the session will be lively and informative, and I’ve begun approaching editors for the roundtable panel. More information will follow.

  6. Hi Thom,
    I share your concern. The sort of data that you provide is indeed far superior to what you can get from what authors report on the wiki. And so I encourage you, as the editor, to post a link to the Journal of Moral Philosophy‘s submission data on the wiki. You could even post the data (or a summary of it) there if you would like — indeed, that would be terrific. I’ve posted a link to Ethics‘s submission data already. It’s important to note that the wiki is a place for editors as well as authors to share information about journals. The subtitle is: “A place for authors, editors, and referees to share information on philosophy journals.” The problem, of course, is that many journals don’t publish their submission data (and that many of those that do, don’t publish it in an open access format), and so many people are forced to rely on their own limited experience and the anecdotal word-of-mouth information that they get from those who they know, which is, I think, even more unreliable, precisely because it’s even more limited. Moreover, this information is somewhat privileged, for many who are new to the profession have no idea that certain journals have on more than just one or two rare occasions had a response time exceeding nine months — a least, this was true before blogs and wikis came to the rescue and put the word out. I believe that when a journal fails to provide the information that we need, we’re forced to rely on our limited experience and on the testimony of others. This information is inherently unreliable, but it’s better than nothing. And I think the more we have of it, the more confident about the patterns that seem to emerge.

  7. We have a deal, Doug! I will do this in the next 24 hours. I think it is crucial people know the vastly different situations, procedures, etc. of the journals through which they hope to find an audience, get tenure/promotion, etc.
    P.S. I am glad to find the JMP on the wiki and glad that, thus far, the experiences of authors with us appears to have been positive.

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