Publishing in the Digital Age

How and why Reality is doing things differently


“Why another philosophy journal?  Aren’t there too many already?  Why not just publish in something that is already established?”

There are many—too many—philosophy journals in existence today: too many journals that, for all they produce, struggle to produce meaningful advances in thought.  Most articles are rarely, if ever, cited—even in the best known and most read journals with the greatest reputations.  The accomplishment of being published in one is usually not an accomplishment of advancing the field: it is the accomplishment of satisfying the editors and peer reviewers.

In consequence, academic journals as a whole end up doing more for the author’s CV than they do for the improvement of philosophy.

Reality aims to provide a new form of academic journal, suited to the age of digital technology, which strives to publish philosophical truth about reality.  As executed through the digital medium, the journal will in principle have a fundamental openness and transparency while maintaining philosophical rigor.  We are seeking to publish scholarly, persuasively argued, insightful, and accessibly written pieces in a forum open to equally-intelligent disputation with minimal editorial interference.

The Context of Academic Publishing

Behind the current bevy of problems in academic publishing stand two primary causes.  First is the hesitance of those in charge of publications to adjust sufficiently to the changed technological paradigm: that is, not recognizing both the possibilities provided by the digital sphere—wider dissemination through open access or more affordable subscriptions, greater involvement of authors and respondents, the improved possibility of dialogue, increased freedom regarding publication schedules—and the change it demands in the format of publication, namely, formats which move away from centralization of prestigious institutions and towards de-centralized venues of discourse.

Second is the larger and more complex problem of present-day academia’s structure: from the costs in running a university, both moral and financial, associated with land, buildings, federal funding, and accreditation, to the subsequent bureaucratic entrenchment of daily operations, the simultaneous corporatization which makes even the best liberal arts schools into centers of vocational training, and finally the stress this puts on academics to establish themselves as having prestige, particularly in the liberal arts.  In other words, academia has become not a competitive field for ideas, but for persons, institutions, universities, and even journals.  While all disciplines suffer from the notion of “publish or perish”, this mentality is particularly destructive to philosophy, where publications ought to be the deepest, most probing, and most thoughtful of all those produced within academia.  Instead—especially for early career philosophers—one feels a pressure to publish for the sake of one’s CV, so that one can advance towards tenure.

Crowded, Narrow Channels

This mad dash of “publish not to perish” has resulted in a proliferation of increasingly nuanced philosophical journals requiring very specific types of submissions.  Thus, to successfully publish, not only must one meet scholarly standards, but formatting, style, and content-type parameters, as well as aligning with one school of thought or tradition of philosophical development.  But the channels for submission are not only narrow, they are often overcrowded—which leads to a vicious circle, as the parameters for submission become only narrower as editors strive to make their workload manageable.

Should a paper fit the journal’s various submission parameters, it must proceed through peer review—usually blind, and often double-blind.  This requires a large number of reviewers.  Yet peer review is an unpaid labor, little rewarded or recognized;[1] and as such often contains criticism either hastily made or as the result of snap judgments, and is occasionally performed by graduate students and early-career academics—who would already be overworked and underpaid even if they did not engage in peer review. The only motivation for well-established academics to perform peer review is a kind of noblesse oblige.

But the biggest problem with the current approach to peer review—in the over-crowded, rush-to-publish, rush-to-reject journal market—is that it often unintentionally inhibits dialogue about difficult issues (and thus a new approach to peer review is needed; see below!).  Most papers which make it through both editorial and peer review are either 1) dealing with well-known issues popularly debated as addressed in common formulations; 2) fitting the narrow niche of an extreme specialization; 3) “controversial” in the sense that they advocate a position which is not genuinely challenging to thought but attention-grabbing; or 4) some combination of any of the above three.

A New Approach

Enter Reality: as aforementioned, a journal suited to the digital age, seeking philosophical discussion of truth rather than fitting articles into narrow historical or otherwise ideological paradigms, and, moreover, which operates outside the institutional paradigms of traditional academic publishing.  In other words, publication in Reality does not aim at being a means to prestige.  The goal for every published submission to Reality is not a high citation rate or improving one’s CV, but participation in genuine philosophical discourse.  While such participation requires scholarly background—a deep understanding of the history and commentary of philosophy—improvement to scholarship is only a by-product of the submissions published.  The only restrictive parameter as to school of thought is a commitment, broadly speaking, to realism: i.e., that human knowledge is not a fiction of the mind or mere description of experience, but the true grasp of what has an intelligible existence irreducible to the mind’s contributions.

Open Peer Review

Among the major differences in Reality’s approach to publishing is the conduct of review.  For Reality, articles—submissions of typical journal length, approximately 9,000-15,000 words—undergo a brief review by editors to ensure the article is fundamentally but not specifically sound.  That is: so long as the argument appears coherent, interesting, has no glaring flaws in scholarship, and is worthy of discussion, it will be published.  Subsequently, it is presented as open for peer review: at which point, any qualified person[2] may submit either a comment or response to the article—a comment, being a shorter length, will discuss the scholarship and argumentation of the article, highlighting both merits and weaknesses. Responses, of near article-length, while they may include some discussion of scholarship and argumentation, are intended to instead present a different interpretation of the same issue addressed by the article in question.  Nothing is made blind at any point in the process.  If an article or review is editorially rejected, the reasons are given in plain, straightforward language.

This approach is novel, experimental, and a bit of a risk; but it also comes with significant rewards which are not provided by more traditional routes of peer review.  The system of open review (and especially the publication of the reviews and responses) is inherently dialogic.  Rather than disputing whether articles should be published, i.e., whether they deserve to be seen at all, the dispute centers on the ideas themselves: whether or not they are good, well-argued, insightful, and so on; and not only this, but reviewers are encouraged to respond with their own theoretical contributions through submitting responses to.

For a second benefit of open peer review, reviews are driven by the interest of the reviewer rather than the need of the editor.  While the editors may ask individuals to perform reviews from time to time (soliciting from known qualified persons), these requests will be made because the editors have reason to believe the person asked might have something fruitful to add to the dialogue, rather than out of a need to have reviewers.

For a third benefit of open over closed review, peers will receive explicit, public, demonstrable credit for their work, such that they can point not only to the journal for which they have performed peer review service, but to the reviews themselves.

[1] At most, some who regularly review for specific journals will add a line to their CVs: “Referee for [journal name]”; which says nothing, of course, about the quality of their reviews.

[2] Whether or not a person is qualified will be determined at the discretion of the editors, but: this could be a professor of any rank, a graduate student, an independent scholar or unaffiliated academic, from a variety of disciplines.  One need not have a terminal degree to submit a review or response, so long as they can verify other credentials (a body of written work, e.g.).