There are interesting discussions going on at Brian Leiter's blog here and here. In the latter, John Protevi recommends that philosophy job candidates have a sober, simple, clean website, and adds: "The style of a website is like the style of clothes worn to an interview; it shows something about the style of the person in social interaction." I agree with his advice about having a website like that, but I was also struck by how explicit he is about the importance of coming across as, for want of a better word, normal. He's not wrong, but the sociology is interesting to me, especially in light of the other thread about advice for graduate students on publishing.
Ben Hale asks "doesn’t it only make sense to reward the strong publications but not to punish the weak publications?" I would say Yes, but he feels the need to ask the question because others on the thread, including Brian Leiter himself, have referred to publications in some journals as being minuses or stains on one's CV. I find this incredible (and unpleasant). Even Ben Hale seems to concede too much when he writes:
Assume the Gourmet Report and imagine the following:
1) NYU: A sparkling young NYU PhD comes out onto the market with top letters from all the important players. Her pedigree and recommendations are stunning but her CV is empty.
2) Oxford: A similarly sparkling young Oxford PhD comes out onto the market with top letters from all the important players. Her pedigree and recommendations are equally stunning, but she has one publication in the _Journal of Value Inquiry_. (Apologies to JVI. It was mentioned above, so I’m just using it to make the case.)
Arguably, there may be a reason to discount the one with the publication: The Oxford student is evidently not as good as she appears on paper. A middling publication is evidence enough that a candidate is middling, where no publication demonstrates nothing about a candidate, so the candidate’s quality is left up to the letters and the pedigree, which are stunning. The NYU student, on the other hand, hasn't yet proven her mettle. She is _only as good as_ she appears on paper. If publication history is a better proxy of someone's potential than letters and pedigree, then publications trump all and Oxford loses to NYU.
Weird, but fair enough.Really? Fair enough? If publications trump all then why does the candidate with one publication lose to the one with no publications? What if the paper she published in the Journal of Value Inquiry was not her best work? What if someone advised her to publish there, or invited her to submit it there? Does it really make sense to hold it against her that she took this advice, or that she chose to publish something (perhaps several years ago) that was not as good as the work she is now capable of producing? The only way I can see it making sense for NYU to beat Oxford in this example is if we are snobs and want nothing to do with people who publish in journals like that, or who get advice to publish in journals like that, advice that, apparently, is contrary to what is given out at the top-ranked departments. It looks like an unhealthy concern with pedigree. I'm genuinely curious as to whether I'm missing something here, but I don't want to post this over at Brian Leiter's blog because it might seem to be attacking him (and "escalating").
The usual argument seems to be that publishing in humble journals shows poor judgment or else is evidence of an inability to publish in top journals. But given the job market it does not show poor judgment. It might reflect a lack of confidence in one's ability to land a top job, but that lack of confidence might be a thing of the past and, besides, need not be a bad thing. As far as evidence of ability goes, I don't see that relatively moderate achievement (so far) is worse than no achievement (so far) at all. If there's something about probabilities that I'm missing, I'd like to know it.
Reading between the lines a little bit, by which I mean taking people at their initial word and ignoring what they say when they seem to backtrack, my inference is that departments that regard themselves as "top" really will hold non-stellar publications against applicants whereas it might be precisely such publications that you need to get a job anywhere else (because you need some publications and because stellar publications (where what is or is not stellar depends solely on the reputation of the journal it's in, not the quality of the paper itself) might make you look unsuited to life in a lowly department). So we have something like the 1% versus the 99% divide, given how few jobs there are at top departments. Job candidates have to decide which they are and submit to journals accordingly. Or submit to the stellar journals and then see whether they can make it into the top 1%, although that's a risky strategy. I find this very depressing to think about (perhaps because I have published in the Journal of Value Inquiry, but I hope that isn't it).
It would surely be a good thing if no publications were ever held against candidates (with the only exceptions being based on the content of the paper itself, and here I have in mind things like defenses of racism, not merely weak arguments from which the author might have since moved on). Top departments should not be snobs and lesser departments should realize just how much of a buyer's market it is.