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On why ethicists tend to write longer papers, Saul Smilansky has proposed the following hypothesis:

1. Do many people NOT write short papers because they believe that (with the exception of Analysis) the journals insist on longer papers?

Do you have this perception? Do vote and let us know. I’m creating this post so that people are aware that there is a new poll. Please continue the discussion at Saul’s original post. Thanks!

Do you tend to write longer ethics papers because you have the perception that journals prefer longer papers? [See 'Why do ethicists write such longer papers?' for the discussion]

  • No (58%)
  • Yes (42%)

Total Votes: 132


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  1. 1. Posted by Rafael Martins | May 15, 2008 3:46 am

    I think this poll stimulates us to write shorter new papers, but I think there should be an antecedent question like “do you prefer to write short or long papers?”

  2. 2. Posted by Mark van Roojen | June 14, 2008 6:28 pm

    What is the evidence that ethicists write longer papers than others in philosophy?

    I do think that my papers (all in metaethics and ethics) are longer than optimal for publication much of the time. But that means I try to write shorter papers and often fail. As far as I know there is no demand for longer papers as opposed to shorter papers in ethics or anywhere else. Many good journals have maximum page limits. None have minimums. As someone who referees a good bit I could not imagine rejecting a paper for not being long enough, though I could imagine saying that the paper needed to treat this or that issue which was relevant to the topic but neglected.

  3. 3. Posted by S. Matthew Liao | June 16, 2008 1:42 am

    Hi Mark, this discussion got started with Saul’s observation that Analysis does not seem to publish very many ethics papers (see here). He then hypothesizes that ethicists tend not to write short papers. What do you think of what Saul has said in support of this idea? I’d be quite interested to learn your views regarding this matter.

  4. 4. Posted by Mark van Roojen | June 16, 2008 7:02 am

    Hi Matt,

    I noticed that thread after I posted the above. In response to your question, I think I’d still want some more systematic sample of papers before I would believe that the claim is true. Like other people philosophers are subject to confirmation bias. So once you think that ethicists write longer papers, you’ll be more apt to note confirming evidence than disconfirming evidence.

    That’s my first reaction. My second reaction is just that it seems like most journals prefer shorter papers to longer papers other things equal. Many have explicit page or word limits. And you could see why they would do so — they can publish more papers if the papers are not too long. So my suspicion is that on the acceptance end, all journals have some reason to prefer shorter to longer papers. And that in turn would seem to me to create some disincentive to write longer papers if one could write a shorter one on the same topic instead. Of course there might be some evidence that this was less true of journals with a primarily ethics orientation.

    I know that when I’m writing papers I always think of my tendency to write long as a disadvantage rather than an advantage. But that is just the sort of anecdotal evidence I’m somewhat suspicious of.

  5. 5. Posted by Saul Smilansky | June 17, 2008 6:28 am

    Hi Mark,

    I admit that the science here is still at the early stages :) but I don’t see how confirmation bias could explain some evidence of various kinds that we do have, e.g.:

    1. Analysis: this must be a good test, as we have 60 papers coming out every year in a regular way. And (putting aside free will stuff) there is just very little ethics (including meta, normative, and political). We might try to explain this in other ways, but I am not convinced.

    2. Thom Brooks has been running an ethics paper for around five years, and wrote: “Since the Journal of Moral Philosophy first started accepting papers in 2003 and first appeared in 2004, I do not believe I have once received a short, non-reply piece ever.” “Ever” is pretty strong stuff.

    3. Matt asked the following question: “Do you tend to write longer ethics papers because you have the perception that journals prefer longer papers?” This asks about one’s practice. The response so far is large by Ethics-etc standards, with 97 votes, 59% saying No and 41% saying Yes. There seem to be many moral philosophers who themselves write longer papers becuase of the way they perceive the expectations of the journals. (I only voted once :)

    Some of this evidence is consistent with the thought that all kinds of philosophers and not just ethicists tend to write longer papers because of the way they perceive the expectations of the journals, and some of the evidence isn’t. But even if the problem is not limited to ethicists it’s still interesting and problematic. The fact that most journals don’t have a bottom limit might just indicate that this isn’t much of an issue, i.e. that very few short papers get sent to the journals (except to Analysis). I have had papers rejected unread (e.g. by Australasian J of Phil) just because the paper was short and the journal has a policy of not considering such short papers.

  6. 6. Posted by Mark van Roojen | June 17, 2008 7:41 am

    Hi Saul,

    I should be clearer. I’m suggesting that we don’t yet have much reason to think that there is bias in favor of longer ethics papers at journals, other things equal. I’m not saying that a short paper might not be rejected because it doesn’t treat some aspect of an issue that is relevant given the topic of the paper, or because the editors regard the main idea as a small point.

    I also see now that I’m failing to distinguish two claims that I want more evidence about. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the ethics papers people write were longer on average than other papers, though I am withholding judgement at this point. As to the second issue I should distinguish, I’d be pretty surprised if journals were selecting in favor of longer papers when it came to refereeing ethics papers. Space in journals is tight and I just can’t see the incentives for preferring longer papers on the editorial side (other things equal). But it is an empirical issue.

    Analysis clearly prefers short papers. What we don’t know is the submission/rejection rates for various areas within philosophy. At least I don’t know that. So I don’t know what conclusions to draw. Thom Brooks’s evidence is also relevant but consistent with several interpretations until we have more of an overview of what happens at other journals.

  7. 7. Posted by Saul Smilansky | June 19, 2008 8:08 am

    Hi Mark,

    I think that there is significant evidence that (normative and perhaps meta) ethicists don’t write many short papers, and that this follows in part from a widespread perception that (except Analysis) the journals prefer longer papers. The question that seems more open, it seems to me, is whether that perception is correct. It would be odd if there was a huge misperception here. On the other side, there is your argument that editors have no interest in rejecting (equally competent) short papers, and indeed that it makes sense for them to encourage this (as they can then include more papers per issue). But I have doubts here. I think that the main aim of journals is to maintain their status and try to increase it. Since there are (outside of Analysis) few short papers, accepting Analysis-type papers in a non-Anlysis journal is risky. So, like many ethicists, most editors play it safe. But it goes deeper: since there are so few short ethics papers around, it’s natural for editors to feel that short-is-dubious. That’s the environment where everyone grows up. So the anti-short bias remains stable on all sides.

    I think that it would be better if there were more short papers around, and that, in any case, it is bad that many people do feel that they need to pad the papers that they are writing, and do not think of occasionaly just going and writing short papers, because of the way they perceive the expectations of the journals. But if my analysis is plausible, the conservative anti-short bias is naturally stable. Change would require editors that would go out of their way to signal that short-is-beautiful (and since we are assuming that Ethics-etc is read, the silence is telling); or more philosophers who would be willing to risk writing short papers even though they think that if rejected by Analysis it’s not clear how their papers will be published.

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