Academic socialisation, publishing and Tyler Cowen
Tyler Cowen shared some basic rules for academic publishing in a video two weeks ago. I was a bit disappointed, because it appears that he took a very conservative stance on the subject, not mentioning the 'political economy' of publishing that is often part of the process. He seems to follow a purely scientific model where a high-class paper will be reviewed by high-class reviewers leading to high-class feedback and in the end to a high-class publication on your CV. This is not going to be a rant suggesting that there are secret networks of power and mafia-like structures when is comes to getting into the publishing circles, but my experience so far is that in addition to good, high-quality research you need the right amount of luck, take advantage of unexpected opportunities and be prepared to learn that publishing does not take place in an unbiased, purely scientific bubble where only 'the best' research is going to be published. Cowen's talk reminded me a bit of a workshop at a university I once attended where a senior academic told PhD students that they should avoid typos and follow the referencing system of the journal they are submitting to. That may be part of the submission process, but then again no journal is rejecting your paper if it contains three typos. As with many other features of academia, as much as we would like to believe in meritocracy there is often also an element of socialisation involved, tacit traditions and knowledge that go hand in hand with excellent scholarship. It reminds me of the issue of children with a working-class background less keen on attending universities, not just because of lacking scholarships, but also because of socio-cultural factors that have played a role in their upbringing (see one paper here (in a peer-reviewed, gated journal) or a recent article from the UK).
The right academic socialistion plays a role in ultimately getting that high-class publication. My friend Thomas met the special editor of a forthcoming journal issue who happened to be a slighly more senior academic colleague in his old department and he asked Thomas to submit an abstract to the journal before there even was an official call for papers. My friend Angela attended a conference and was approached by the editor of a journal who recommended his journal as an excellent outlet for her paper. Karen's supervisor is on the editorial board of a journal and supported her submission process of a paper she wrote for her PhD. And my friend Diego received an E-Mail from a colleague asking him whether he was interested in co-writing a paper for a journal based on a Google search he did and his profile on the department's website. They all produced high-class scholarship and there was no mysterious 'old boys network' involved, but because of their universities, departments, supervisors and knowledge of 'the system' they were able to get a paper published-maybe only a bit sooner or in a slightly 'better' journal than the colleague who followed all the guidelines and submitted to the journal.
I also remember the case of my friend Max who submitted an excellent paper to a relevent journal and then got into long discussions with one of the reviewers who appeared to be more industry-friendly than Max was in his paper on international corporations and their involvement in developing countries. In a reltively small and specialised part of academia these seemingly anonymous debates facilitated by the editors turned out to be very personalised ideological battles. In the end, Max published his paper in a different journal.
What could be a separate discussion, at least in my area of research, is also the question of scholars and scholarship from developing countries and why they find it often more difficult to get their papers accepted in peer-reviewed journals. My feeling is that the quality of research as well as 'softer' factors play a role.
I am sure some of my readers have more stories (you can always share them anonymously in the comment section or send me an E-Mail), but my point is that academic publishing is just another facet of the 'academic industry' and is simply guided by excellence in research and/or writing, but by other, 'softer' factors as well. This is not really surprising, but it would have been nice if Tyler Cowen could have mentioned this part of the process as well.