6/21/2013

What is a 'generalist' journal?

There has been a lot of discussion in the blogosphere recently about some of sociologist Kieran Healy's really interesting preliminary findings about citations in the 'Top 4' philosophy journals (Philosophical Review, Journal of Philosophy, Mind, and Nous).  The question he is trying to answer is: 'What conversations are leading philosophers having?'  The original post is here, and the follow-up (which I want to talk about) is here.  NewAPPS and Feminist Philosophers have both opened up interesting discussions of the data and what they mean -- and what we could/should do in light of them.  Go check them out, if you are at all interested: they're worth your time (first of each here and here).

I wanted to add an ego-centric point to the discussion.   These Top 4 journals are also called 'generalist' journals.  I am not sure exactly what philosophers who use the word 'generalist' to describe journals usually mean, but I (perhaps incorrectly) assumed that they meant that it's a journal where a variety of types and/or sub-fields of philosophy are well-represented.  The point I wanted to make is that Healy's results suggest that the Big 4 are NOT generalist journals in this sense, insofar as philosophy of science is pretty seriously under-represented.  (I would guess that this is true for certain other sub-fields as well, but I don't know enough about those other fields to be confident in my assessment.)

Now, I am NOT saying that these journals never publish philosophy of science.  There is no question that they do; some really great philosophy of science has appeared in these journals in the last two decades.  But there are two pieces of evidence that suggest that these four journals are not a place where conversations in philosophy of science are happening.

1. In the second post, Healy has a list of the 526 most-cited items in the Top 4 from the last two decades.  A grand total of 9 of them (by my count) are solidly, squarely in the philosophy of empirical science.  Now, if we open up the criteria a bit, and count e.g. philosophy of mathematics, we can add 3 more.  That's 1.7% and 2.3% of the total highly-cited items.  I'm guessing that more that 1.7% of professional philosophers are philosophers of science.  (Mere counting of course will be misleading, because many people will describe themselves as philosophers of science AND something else; but even after adjusting for that, 1.7% is going to be too low, I think.)

2. In the first post, Healy presents a chart with a bunch of connected nodes.  Recall that the basic motivating question was: what are the main conversations?  Each node represents an item cited in an article in one of the Top 4 journals.  A line is drawn between any two items that are cited together in any one (third) article in the Top 4.  Healy's rationale: "the more often any two papers are cited together, the more likely they are to be part of some research question or ongoing problem or conversation topic within the discipline." Healy then cleaned up the picture by 'erasing' any lines that connected items that had not both been cited at least 10 times.  In the resulting chart, there are 'clusters': these represent the conversations Healy was interested in finding.  Interestingly (and here's my point), there are no 'pure' philosophy of science clusters.  There IS a cluster where the metaphysics of causation borders philosophy of science (in the chart: it's green, about halfway down, on the left-hand side).  But other than that, there aren't really any 'big conversations' in philosophy of science happening in the Top 4 journals.

Bringing this together: looking at Healy's chart, I thought: maybe the so-called 'generalist' journals aren't really generalist in a strong sense.  Rather, they are the most prestigious journals for people working in metaphysics, epistemology, language, and mind (LEMM).  To put the point in an analogy: the Top 4 play the same role for LEMM philosophers that the journals Philosophy of Science and the British Journal for Philosophy of Science play for philosophers of science.  There is (in my limited impression) no absolutely top-prestige journal for the four LEMM components, though there are very, very good journals that specialize in one or the other of them (e.g. Episteme, Mind & Language).

If something like this is correct, the Top 4 journals are not generalist in the sense of being a forum for all the best conversations in professional philosophy as a whole.  But perhaps they could still be called 'generalist' insofar as specific LEMM topics are of general interest to all philosophers, even those not publishing on LEMM topics.

One qualification, however: the Top 4 journals DO occasionally publish pure philosophy of science pieces.  Philosophy of Science never publishes an article on e.g. Rawlsian justice.  So that is a clear and unequivocal disanalogy between the two cases.

2 Comments:

At 29/7/13, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greg,
Have you seen my 2010 paper in Erkenntnis, "Philosophy of Science: what are the key journals?"

Not surprisingly, they are PoS, J.Phil, BJPS, Synthese, Erkenntnis, and SHPS.

Not only one of the four key "generalist" journals are on the list.
Brad

 
At 30/7/13, Blogger Greg Frost-Arnold said...

Hi Brad --

Yes, I really like that paper of yours! I think I may have asked you about your "therefore, HPS as a discipline does not exist" conclusion in person once... or maybe I just meant to ask you about it? I can't remember now.

 

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