The Berlin Journal of Philosophy
established 2011


The American Philosophical Association advocates “author-anonymous” review for journal publications and conferences “in assuring fairness and eliminating possible bias.” However, most philosophy journals do not practice author-anonymous review at this time. Even fewer explicitly state a commitment to the policy of double-blind review, in which both author and referee are blind. Some state a general commitment to blind review, without specifying which one – author or referee or both – is blind. The hard data and statistics are available here.

Some top-ranked journals simply instruct authors to delete author-identifying information. Some state, furthermore, that papers not thus prepared will not be read. However, it does not follow that papers that are read, in virtue of being thus prepared, are read under an author-anonymous review procedure. Papers prepared for author-anonymous review do not thereby necessitate actual author-anonymous review unless they have been blind-submitted. A paper is blind-submitted only if its author remains anonymous to all representatives of the journal that receives, administrates and reads it. A journal that lacks a blind submissions procedure cannot guarantee that its author-anonymous paper submissions are in fact author-anonymously reviewed.

For those who aspire to peer-reviewed publications accepted exclusively on the basis of their quality, or at least to avoid treatment affected by knowledge of the author's identity, an explicitly stated policy of blind submissions is therefore a necessary supplement to an explicitly stated policy of author-anonymous or double-blind review. By concealing the author's identity even from administrators, it guards against information slippage, whether intentional or unintentional, between administrators and referees. At this time there are no known philosophy journals, other than The Berlin Journal of Philosophy, that state an explicit commitment to a blind submission procedure in this strict sense.

However, even an explicit blind submissions review policy by itself cannot protect a submitted paper from the possibility of plagiarism, whether before or after publication. The Berlin Journal of Philosophy’s submission guidelines here require anonymizing measures designed to minimize this risk. But for authors whose written contributions receive rather more use than mention by their colleagues, a strong and consistent anti-plagiarism policy, of the sort recommended by the Office of Research Integrity, the Committee on Publication Ethics, or the Singapore Statement on Research Integrity is as important as a blind submissions policy.

These two procedures appear to be mutually incompatible: A robust blind submissions procedure requires that the author's identity not be disclosed, even to administrators, until after referees have made a positive decision on the paper; and, if a negative one, not at all. A robust anti-plagiarism procedure requires that plagiarism sanctions apply independently of whether or not the paper is accepted for publication; and this, in turn, requires that the author's identity be known at least to administrators in advance of that decision. Whereas blind submission prohibits author disclosure until after the publication decision, anti-plagiarism necessitates author disclosure before the publication decision. It would seem to be impossible to satisfy the requirements of both simultaneously.

For a long time, I tried to think through a peer-review publication procedure that might reconcile these two conflicting policies, with very limited success. Suppose, for example, that an administrator were to require blind submissions to remain anonymous only until the referee's notification to the administrator that a decision had been made. At that point, the administrator would require disclosure of the author's identity only to the administrator, in advance of the referee's disclosure to the administrator as to what that decision was. Should the referee then report evidence of plagiarism to the administrator, the administrator then would reveal the author's identity to the referee and both would apply the anti-plagiarism policy.

One problem with this procedure is that it requires of administrators both professional incorruptibility and also sharp powers of concentration on the timing and detailed execution of each step in the procedure. Professional incorruptibility is irritating enough, the insufferable prigs. Unleavened by absent-mindedness or general administrative incompetence, it is completely intolerable.

A second problem is that, unlike a pure blind submissions process that can be fully computerized, it places all of the responsibility for executing the procedure on an administrator who, even with the best and most focused will in the world, is humanly fallible – and may thus accidentally leave disclosing information in the wrong in-box, send it to the wrong e-mail address, delegate it to an insufficiently trained assistant, grade and return it to a student, photocopy and distribute it as a course hand-out, or send it to a referee doing unannounced double duty as a co-administrator.

These problems led me to wonder whether some such procedure could itself be fully computerized, on the model of the very successful XI. Kant Congress Pisa 2010 blind submissions procedure, such that human error could be eliminated at least up to the point where substantive judgments as to the evidence, origin and consequences of plagiarism had to be made. In the process of researching this possibility, I was compelled to conjure in imagination the philosophy journal in which such a procedure could be most easily be put to use; and concluded that I would have to establish it myself. That is how The Berlin Journal of Philosophy came into existence. With the help of my webmaster, I did develop that procedure, a simple web application template. This application is the backbone of the Journal’s selection process. On 7 April 2011, I publicly announced it, and offered it gratis to any other journal that might wish to use it. As of January 2015, no philosophy journal had expressed interest in seeing it. So The Berlin Journal of Philosophy is unique in its commitment to simultaneous policies of strict blind submission, consistent and impartial double-blind review, and anti-plagiarism.

Digest of Philosophy in Europe Responses 12 April 2011