Reacting to a statistic

At the 2010 meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association in Montreal last weekend, I attended a truly inspiring symposium on the subject of peer review. My full recap of the symposium will be up later this week over at The Bubble Chamber,but for now I wanted to share just one surprising statistic I learned during the symposium:

The acceptance rate for articles submitted to natural sciences journals is around 60-80%.
The acceptance rate for articles submitted to humanities journals is around 10-30%.*

I can’t decide if this is depressing, because I’ll never get published, or encouraging, because at least my field has standards. So which is it? Tell me your opinion in the comments.

* Thanks to Carole Lee for this statistic and for my favorite talk of the weekend.


EDIT: Dr. Lee sent me the paper in which she quoted this stat, and the papers she is citing are from 1971, 1988, and 1990. So the stat’s way outdated. Better question: what are acceptance rates now for first-tier journals in natural sciences and humanities?


About burstenj

Assistant Professor of Philosophy
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4 Responses to Reacting to a statistic

  1. I’m skeptical about how informative that statistic is. It could simply mean there are more lousy journals in the sciences, and I’ve worked in research institutes in science/engineering where most of the community was publishing crap in crap journals, so this seems plausible to me. (I think this is fairly normal in less developed countries, where governments are anxious to promote science so they throw money at the sciences without much discernment about the quality of the people or projects they are funding. The humanities are generally neglected by these countries since they are perceived to lack economic promise.) For the science journals that matter for academic promotion in the US, I’d bet that the acceptance rates are pretty low.

    • burstenj says:

      Sure, no question. I doubt that Nature has an 80% acceptance rate. But would a few publications in third-tier journals during your early career hurt your chances at a tenure-track job? Would they help? Should we humanists be jealous of that opportunity afforded to our natural-sciences counterparts? I don’t know. Maybe we should just write gooder things and get published in the better journals… or, see update to post.

  2. Anthony Gardner says:

    Also, consider that you’re looking at ratios, not totals. It could be that there are fewer submissions to natural sciences journals, but that a majority of these are serious works by well-qualified persons. Continuing this thought, it might be that humanities journals receive higher numbers of submissions and that many of these are poor works by poorly qualified persons.

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