Editorial Impasse

sherkatmack1.jpgIt’s that time of year again. The end of Winter break always brings with it a glut of manuscripts to review. I’m on the editorial boards of Jrn. Scientific Study of Religion and Social Science Research, and I just cycled off of American Sociological Review (supposedly, as the manuscript flow continues). So, winter meant that I received 8 manuscripts from various journals. To add to the joy, Chris Ellison and I have been co-editing a special issue of Sociological Spectrum. So, we’re busy doing “tie-breaker” reviews for that one. I’ve always done a lot of reviewing. I’ve been on the boards of Social Forces, American Journal of Sociology, and Review of Religious Research, and Chris and I co-edited Review of Religious Research for a term. I average about 60 reviews per year, and have refereed manuscripts from more than forty different journals in sociology, economics, political science, epidemiology/health, criminology, and sexuality.

    Editing the special issue this time has really brought home a serious problem in Sociology, and in most disciplines. While I have busted my ass to do my professional duty and provide what I think are fair and reasoned critiques of other people’s work, so that editors can do their jobs and scholars can have their work published (or not), I’m not typical. No matter what forum you examine, you see sociologists and other scholars whining about editors, review time, manuscript processing problems, and all manner of such things. Sociology used to be a discipline where you could pretty much bet on having some kind of a decision on a submission within four months. Now, we’re up to something more like six months…with a large standard deviation. My spouse is an economist, and throughout her career wait times have always exceeded a year. Yes, a year before hearing anything. Indeed, I have a manuscript under review right now at a journal (which I will not name, yet), which has been there for 14 months…no word. I checked twice to make sure they got it….

 Editors can certainly help or hurt, but the real problem  is usually beyond the editorial office. Right now, we’re sitting on about a 60% refusal rate to review manuscripts. Most people won’t review manuscripts, even when they are directly in their areas of expertice. And, of course, tardiness and other issues are also a problem. But, the big deal is that many people think that they have some free pass on reviewing manuscripts. They want their stuff reviewed in a timely manner by fair and thoughtful reviewers, but they think that they are too busy (or important) to use their scarce time to perform the same professional courtesy. I’ve seen some evidence that junior scholars are actually being socialized into not reviewing manscripts. Wow. Brilliant! Don’t have a say in what gets published in your field. Don’t help editors with their difficult and thankless task. Just do your own work and (you think….) cover your own ass!

 If you want more time for your own stuff, I suggest pulling the plug on your television. Avoid going to the movies. Stop standing around in the halls yapping about nothing with your colleagues, acting as if you are working or being an intellectual. Stop wasting your time with pointless departmental and university politics. But DON’T neglect your one genuine duty to your discipline. OK, if you have eight or twelve manuscripts sitting on your desk, you may take a pass. But if you have four, I’m sorry, that’s not that much. 

 Reviewing manuscripts is your scholarly duty, and it puts your stamp on the field. People need to stop whining about editors and blaming them for the increases in time-to-decision.

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