Information for Reviewers
Reviewers are the backbone of the Journal. They use their expertise and experience to ensure that the articles published in the Journal maintain the standards of clarity, originality, consistency and up-to-date scholarship that are required of every academic journal in Philosophy. This may be slightly more challenging in this journal, because of the wide span of its focus and aim, and because authors have to balance the time spent in discussing a philosophical argument with the need to present in a summary form, but with enough detail, the SF stories used in their argument. It is an unusual way of writing philosophy, and reviewers may need to spend more time than the usual providing feedback and advice to the authors. (On the bright side, manuscripts tend to be lighter on the technicalities, and more entertaining than average.)
Below you will find:
- How are reviewers assigned?
- How often will I be asked to review articles?
- What if I don’t have time to do a review at the moment?
- Can I be both a reviewer and an author?
- How to register
- How to review: the practical side
- What kind of article are we looking for?
- Our Reviewing Philosophy
HOW ARE REVIEWERS ASSIGNED?
When a manuscript arrives, the Editor examines it to determine whether it fits the Scope & Aim of the Journal (otherwise, the author will be notified, and sometimes given recommendations for alternative venues), and whether the scholarship and writing seem, from a first approach, solid enough to merit the time spent in reviewing (otherwise, the Editor sends back the article, often with feedback on how it could be improved). If the focus is adequate and the manuscript looks solid enough, the Editor moves it to the Review phase, notifying the author.
The Editor will first contact those reviewers whose area of expertise (and sometimes, their reported interests in SF) makes them good candidates for reviewing the article. The Editor asks those candidates first if they’d be willing to do the review (and whether they have the time to do it), trying to find three reviewers for each manuscript. Reviewers can always turn down a job.
If not enough reviewers are found, the Editor may try to contact candidates whose area of expertise, more broadly considered, would make them adequate for the review, and in some cases contact first those reviewers who have not had the chance of reviewing a manuscript recently. (We value your willingness to help out, and will try to give everyone who is qualified and has volunteered to be a part of this endeavor). Finally, the Editor will send a general call to all available reviewers, with a brief description of the articles available. At each one of these stages, the first reviewers to respond will be given priority.
HOW OFTEN WILL I BE ASKED TO REVIEW ARTICLES?
Our intention is never to ask a reviewer more than once every two months. If a reviewer cannot review at the time because of time constraints, we will wait at least a month (normally two) before asking again. As mention above, a reviewer can always turn down a job; they are only assigned after discussing it with the Editor.
At present, though (and it is possible this will continue to be so in the future), the pool of reviewers is wide enough that it will be rare that a reviewer be asked more than once every six months or so. The volume of viable manuscripts sent is bound to increase in the future, but so is the pool of reviewers.
WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE TIME TO DO A REVIEW AT THE MOMENT?
Please tell us so. You don’t need to provide any explanations. We will never think poorly, or doubt the commitment of a reviewer, because he/she turns down a job. It is a fact of life that people are busy, especially philosophers, and it is much more helpful for us if someone turns down a review than if, feeling obligated, they accept it only to find later they are too busy to complete it in time. If you can only do one review every two years or so, you are still helping out!
CAN I BE BOTH A REVIEWER AND AN AUTHOR?
Certainly. Just not at the same time and in the same place. When you submit an article for consideration, you will be taken off the rotation as a reviewer until your manuscript undergoes the whole process (and hopefully gets published). Because reviews are double-blind, you will not know who is your reviewer, nor will the reviewer know who you are, so the fact that you have volunteered for the Journal will not influence the reviewers one way or the other.
(On the other hand, being a reviewer will help you write a better paper, because you are seeing the process also from the reviewer’s point of view, and will know what to look for ahead of time.)
After the manuscript goes through the process, the Editor will wait for a month before putting you back “in the rotation.”
HOW TO Become a REviewer
In order to be considered as a reviewer, you should contact the Editor with your request, adding a short explanation of your qualifications and reviewing interests.
HOW TO REVIEW: THE PRACTICAL SIDE
Reviewers are assigned a manuscript via our OJS-run website. The manuscripts are expunged from information that could point at the author, in order to make a blind review possible. (The Editor double-checks this; it is possible that his name will show in the “author” or “contributor” field by accident after saving the revised file, so let him know if this is the case.)
To facilitate the review process, we use a standard form given to all reviewers. Many fields are multiple choice, and there are parts of the form where you can type in your feedback. The form is optional, though, and occasionally (especially when a lot of feedback is deemed necessary) reviewers have opted to write comments on a copy of the manuscript, or simply write down their review, with comments and notes. More commonly, though, reviewers use the form.
Unless a reviewer specifically volunteers so, the forms or the review document are not provided directly to the author, so feel free to write anything you need in them, without worries about hurting the author’s feelings. The Editor, when contacting the author, will provide a selection of feedback comments from all reviewers, selecting the most helpful ones and without identifying any reviewer. If you would like the author to receive your review form, or if you’ve written your comments specifically with the author in mind, you can let the Editor know, and the Editor will forward them to the author.
WHAT KIND OF ARTICLE ARE WE LOOKING FOR?
What we want most in an article is the discussion of a philosophical theme or issue, or the development, in original ways, of a philosophical argument or idea. This should be the focus of the article (with the peculiarity that the discussion is carried out within the context of a science fiction story). The philosophical argument should be in the foreground, the science fiction story in the background. Discussions of craft, composition, or the context in which the story was written can be useful, but should be even further in the background. In this we want our journal to distinguish itself from other (few, unfortunately) existing journals on SF, which focus instead on literary analysis.
So if a manuscript, despite announcing a philosophical project, ends up discussing mostly an aspect of literary analysis (e.g. the racial biases prevalent in the time a text was composed, as evidenced by bias in the text), the manuscript will probably be rejected early in the process, not because of defects in the scholarship involved, but because it is not focusing enough on a philosophical theme (which it would, if it used this analysis to launch into a more general discussion, say of bias, race theory, human rights, personhood, etc.) The same could be said for a manuscript that demonstrates an encyclopedic knowledge of the world, species and characters of an SF series or franchise, but that does not investigate in more than passing detail the philosophical issue proposed.
Finally, we are looking for articles that examine a philosophical issue with the depth expected of current scholarly articles, grounded in and demonstrating an awareness of current scholarship. That is, explanations of an introductory nature, that might be adequate for, say, a volume on SF and pop-culture, may fall short of this expectation if they don’t push the idea further into original thought. (This, unfortunately, was not clear enough during our first call for papers; the need for formulating these standards more explicitly emerged during the first round of reviews.) We do want to prepare a place for such introductory articles, since it is part of our vision to make philosophy more accessible with the use of science fiction, but that section will be a different one from the ones dedicated to scholarly, peer-reviewed articles.
OUR REVIEWING PHILOSOPHY
After familiarizing yourself with what kind of article we are looking for, this remains to be said: we encourage reviewers to think of themselves more as shepherds, or gardeners, than gatekeepers. This means that we invite those volunteering to review to go beyond the task of determining whether the scholarly quality of a manuscript is at present suitable for publication, and think on how to guide the author towards the production of a better manuscript. (Or if, as it may be the case, a manuscript is too far off the mark to be made suitable for publication, think on how to articulate what the problem is, so the author can do better in their next submission.)
There is a reason of efficiency for this. An author puts a lot of time and effort into their manuscript; it makes a lot of sense for a reviewer to spend a couple of additional hours writing down some helpful feedback if that will make the difference between publishing an article or throwing it into the rejection pile. Every minute that a reviewer spends in articulating some feedback for the author makes the Journal better, and we are enormously grateful to every one of our reviewers. (So far, they have been all exceptionally proactive in volunteering helpful comments, sometimes going into many pages!)
Also, it seems to us that the community slowly forming around the Journal is not simply brought together by a scholarly interest, but also by a significant degree of good will and enthusiasm for the project and the vision of the Journal. (And, we may add, of understanding for the potential difficulties encountered at the beginning of every project.) This translates, among other things, into reviewers going into great efforts to help authors achieve a publishable article, and is a spirit that we would like to encourage and foster.
Finally, we must acknowledge the fact that the subject matter itself seems to be attracting a crowd of young, developing scholars, boldly trying their luck at publishing, finding out how challenging it is to polish a manuscript to publication standards, and who will naturally need a higher degree of guidance than seasoned scholars. We are thrilled by this, by the opportunity of helping developing scholars learn the ropes, become published authors eventually – it means more work now, of course, from the editorial and reviewers’ point of view, but it also means, in the near future, the expectation of great things to come.