Submissions to Multiple Journals

[UPDATED WITH A CORRECTION] In my recent summer orgy of refereeing, there were two occasions in which it seemed that an author had simultaneously submitted to different places (in one case it turned out I was mistaken). I know there are movements amongst some folks to allow these, but for now they are against most (if not all) philosophy journal policies, for what I take to be pretty good reasons about the time and energy involved in refereeing and editing that could be wasted (I had one former really placid colleague who got so angry about people engaging in this practice that his face turned red and he banged repeatedly on the poker table).

Now the journal editors I contacted about these cases were very grateful for the information and handled the situation swiftly and delicately. My question here is this: What more could be done to prevent this activity? I’m assuming that editors would want there to be a way to check that submissions are only to their journals. So why not some kind of coordinated private wiki, where, say, the title and the first paragraph of the paper are entered when it’s received? Or perhaps there are other solutions? Have editors tried anything? Or do they think this is like voter fraud, happening so infrequently that there’s no justification for trying to do anything to prevent it? (I hadn’t discovered anything like this before, and I’ve refereed well over 200 papers). I’m especially interested in hearing from actual journal editors. (I’m also interested in whether other referees have made these discoveries, although that’s less important here.)

6 Replies to “Submissions to Multiple Journals

  1. I’ve never encountered this before — either as a reviewer or as an editor. I suspect that the reason is that it’s just too easy to get caught and that this obvious to most people. Suppose that you write a paper on psychopathy and moral responsibility and submit it two different journals simultaneously. It seems quite likely that Shoemaker is going to be on each editor’s list of possible reviewers.

  2. I would imagine that the most probable explanation for a single expert getting simultaneous requests from two journals to review the same paper is that the paper was simultaneously submitted to n>2 journals.
    I agree that the practice is unjustifiably dishonest given the current policies requiring exclusive submission. But I’m sympathetic to the authors insofar as the review process takes far too long, and that the effects of this are worse for authors than the effects of dishonest multiple submissions are for journals/reviewers (setting aside how such submissions may make the review process even longer).
    I’d think it would be worth considering something a bit more like the law journal review process: submit a paper to a collective review pool, have some sort of process in which journals assign some number of reviewers, and then let each journal make a decision once those reviews are in. If more than one journal accepts, then the author can decide where to place the paper.
    What I really don’t like is getting requests from different journals to review the same bloody paper I have already reviewed and rejected at a different journal, with extensive comments, and not one change to the paper to accommodate those comments (today’s first email, as it happens). I understand why it’s rational for people to just keep sending the same paper out again and again, but it doesn’t make for good philosophy. The review process should improve a paper and not just judge whether it’s publishable. Having a multi-journal review consortium should cut down on that.

  3. I think I agree that shotgun submission, in violation of the exclusive submission requirements at most journals, establishes a pro tanto case for censure and sanction. But I recognize some mitigation in cases in which the author is a junior faculty member nearing the end of his or her tenure clock and either a late bloomer or someone who has suffered through long delays on earlier submissions. (Obviously, I have no idea if these mitigating circumstances apply to the cases you encountered.)

  4. Law reviews allow multiple submissions. I think it undermines the quality of reviews. The student reviewers do not have the usual incentive of power and influence. Philosophy authors may have submitted papers to law reviews and thus know of this practice, thinking that maybe it isn’t so bad, since it is done.
    As a long-time editor, associate editor, and reviewer, mostly in fields related to psychology, I have never run into this problem. I have run into other problems: submission of papers already published with a different title; use of made-up data; and submission of articles that have no relation to the journal. Many of these problems arise from authors in countries known for corruption in other areas of life, although the correlation is not perfect. (I hesitate to name names with such a small sample.)
    The journal I edit is open-access and has no author fees. This perhaps encourages such random submissions. Most of the time, it takes me no more than 3 minutes to fire off a quick rejection.

  5. Jonathan — is it the student reviewers that undermine the quality or also the multiple submission practice? If it’s just the former, then there would be no need to replicate that aspect.

  6. I have to say, I’m quite surprised that this is done. Trying to get a paper published is hard enough. Alienating reviewers and referees is the last thing an author needs.
    I’m glad that editors quickly handled the situation in the OP’s case. My suspicion is that anyone doing this is a grad student, otherwise very junior, and/or simply has not had much professional mentoring or experience in submitting journals. So, I’m glad the issue was handled with discretion, as I think it would be terrible to punish someone severely who did this because they simply didn’t realize it’s unacceptable (authors should read policy guidelines, but philosophers aren’t generally the most details-oriented people, and it could be easy to miss this in the fine print).
    So, in general, I would urge referees who encounter this to try to not be too harsh in their assessment of the author. The author is probably not trying to game the system. More likely, they’re (say) a masters student who is submitting for the first time. Not that I think the OP or anyone else is suggesting we judge such people harshly, but just a reminder about who is likely to do this and why.

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