Of White Papers and Jumping the Shark
by Daniel A. Kaufman
When one hears the expression “white paper,” one thinks of a document of great historic significance, typically issued by a government. Winston Churchill’s famous 1922 white paper clarifying the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which set in motion a series of events that changed the face of the Middle East, immediately comes to mind.
What one doesn’t think of is an entirely inconsequential, self-serving piece of propaganda, designed to further entrench the ideology of a trendy in-clique, who already enjoy wildly oversized influence within a profession. One especially doesn’t think of a document, the purpose of which is to address a “problem” that is almost entirely the product of the malfeasance of a number of said document’s authors and advisory board members. And yet, to my amazement, a group of philosophers has managed to create something that fits both of these descriptions. Only a few months after chronicling what struck me at the time as peak lack of self-awareness on the part of my profession – the sublime, self-congratulatory antics of Justin Weinberg, on the occasion of the Daily Nous’s anniversary – I now find myself confronted with what has to be the pinnacle of philosophical cluelessness, ideological capture, self-importance, self-delusion, and sheer nerve all wrapped up into one precious package: Just Ideas? The Status and Future of Publication Ethics in Philosophy: A White Paper.
If you liked the Thieves’ Guild’s guide to the ethics of personal property, and if you found yourself moved by the Arsonist’s Society’s guide to the ethics of firefighting, you will love the Put-the-Shiv-in-Rebecca-Tuvel Gang’s guide to publishing ethics. Yes, three out of five of the authors of the “white paper” on publishing ethics were signatories to the now-infamous “open letter” calling on the feminist journal, Hypatia, to recall Rebecca Tuvel’s paper on transgenderism/transracialism, after it had been published.  A fourth serves on its advisory board, the whole of which reads like a who’s-who of the woker-than-woke-crowd who have been doing their busy best to turn our once-distinguished, highly respected discipline into an intellectually lightweight, identity-obsessed laughing-stock; the delight of YouTube trolls and right wing political commentators everywhere and fodder for every miserable conservative state-legislator looking for a reason to slash humanities and liberal arts budgets in “red” states and counties across the country.
So shameless is this particular klatch of woke philosophers that in their document (I can’t keep calling it a “white paper” without feeling the urge to shove my head through the drywall in my office) they admit that the inspiration for developing ethical publishing guidelines for philosophy arose from “a wide range of ethical issues pertaining to publishing in humanities (including the question of how to address them)” that “came to the fore in 2017 when three publication controversies made headlines.” They even cite the Tuvel-affair as one of the three, but never identify themselves as among the principle miscreants. Could they have possibly thought that no one would notice or find out? Are they so convinced of their own virtue and importance within the profession that they don’t think it matters? Where they emboldened by the idea that their shills in the philosophy blogosphere would run interference, as the indomitable Weinberg valiantly tried to do in the discussion following the Daily Nous post on the subject? The mind reels.
The bland recommendations offered to journal editors and editorial boards at the end of the document – Be transparent in communicating your values! Collaborate with others! – all articulated within an insincere, noncommittal frame – “we do not advocate any specific policies or procedures” – barely conceal the document’s real message, aptly summarized by John Bogart, in a comment over at the Daily Nous:
The Paper gives the impression that the project is really about institutionalizing the view that demographic diversity in authors should be a primary concern of journals, that philosophical work touching on (it is hard to discern exactly what the standard is) matters of concern to marginalized or vulnerable groups should be vetted by members of such groups, and that there should be a post-publication process of discipline or sanctions. 
To deliver this subtext, the authors insured that those they interviewed for the purpose of drawing up the guidelines would convey it for them, relieving them of the burden of saying it themselves and thereby lending their ideologically-motivated paper a false air of objectivity and neutrality. Rather than survey the thousands of professional philosophers across the country – or world – which is relatively easy to do in the internet-age, but the results of which would be unpredictable, they limited their investigations to those whom they knew were likely to share their view of the profession, namely its gatekeepers and those of other branches of the humanities. 
The result is an entirely predictable litany of identity-soaked keywords, catchphrases, imperatives and concerns. We should worry about the extent to which “systemic bias — by authors, reviewers, editors, and the discipline as a whole — compound difficulties in preventing, identifying, and correcting unethical and unreliable scholarship.” We must ensure that “journal leadership include[s] more varied backgrounds, experiences, scholarly traditions,” because “accomplishing diversity of authorship would flow more easily from that.” We should concern ourselves with how to determine the “difference between responsible engagement and exploitative appropriation of ideas, histories, and experiences” and lament the rarity of “guidelines on diversity (for instance, anything approximating the principle ‘Nothing about us, without us’ for policies and research on vulnerable populations…)”
At one point, the document refers positively to the juvenile “Bechdel test” for philosophy, according to which a paper passes the test just in case it (a) cites two women, with (b) at least one not being cited because she discusses a man. (Apparently unaware of the irony, the author credits David Chalmers for (b).)  At another point, as if their disgraceful conduct with regard to Rebecca Tuvel wasn’t already enough, the authors add insult to injury by giving the impression that she actually deserved the treatment she had received. After all, anyone who has read the Open Letter to Hypatia and followed the subsequent controversy will immediately recognize the following “logic” from the present document:
there was quickly general agreement that there can be other forms of misconduct than plagiarism, especially in relation to scholarship related to marginalized groups and citation practices. For example, an editor suggested that “under-informed papers” — along the lines of “if the famous people in my head have not talked about this idea, then no one’s talked about it” — may constitute a form of misconduct.
Of course, the fixation on diversity is itself disingenuous; a mask for the woke-klatch’s apparently insatiable desire for ideological conformity within the discipline. For unless the authors of the guidelines are of the view that the members of “marginalized communities” and “vulnerable populations” are ideologically uniform, the constant invocation of them clearly is intended only to indicate those members of the relevant communities who agree with the authors and not to black, Hispanic, trans people, or women generally. After all, there are any number of trans people who vehemently disagree with contemporary gender-identity activism and would wholeheartedly support the analysis Tuvel gives in her paper. Are we supposed to believe that these are the members of the relevant “vulnerable population” whom the guidelines’ authors suggest journals should consult in a vetting capacity, with regard to submissions on the topic of gender identity? Scholars like Glenn Loury and John McWhorter have been sharply critical of affirmative action, reparations, and progressive racial politics more generally. Are they the sorts of “people of color” of whom the guidelines’ authors think journal editorial boards and submitting-authors should be more heavily comprised? If you think so – maybe because of the hand-waving towards “diversity of styles, approaches, and topics” that is sprinkled throughout the document – I have a few bridges on the East River to sell you.
That one of the authors of this ridiculous document is the Executive Director of the American Philosophical Association is a depressing reminder of the extent to which our nominal governing body has been captured by this identity-obsessed ideology, which by now has long since jumped the shark. Philosophy departments across the country are in a struggle for their very existence, as the higher-education bubble pops and humanities and liberal arts programs are the first to get the knife in what looks to be the new, brutal reality of university spending priorities in the 21st century. My poor Program Director just had to summarily fire two of our full-time instructors on orders from the Dean, leaving then financially screwed and stranded and just five of us remaining to teach the entire departmental course load. The merciless march from diminished staff to diminished enrollments to elimination of the major and beyond seems likely to follow. In an earlier essay, I described the preoccupations of our leadership as giving the impression of “fiddling while Rome burns,” and this “white paper” does just that, but in spades. The irony is that for all their virtuous hand-wringing about privilege and all their exquisite labors to produce guidelines for rooting out its myriad and allegedly devastating effects, theirs are the sorts of fixations that only the privileged can afford to have. Everyone else is wondering whether they are going to wind up with a 200+ student-per-semester workload or lose their major or whether they even will have a job at all next week. Beyond the sheer hypocrisy of the document, then; beyond the mendacity of a good number of its authors and advisory board; beyond its repellent virtue-signaling; even beyond its efforts to effect ideological conformity within what is supposed to be the quintessentially critical discipline; it is this, the sheer irrelevance of it all, in light of philosophy’s rapidly diminishing fortunes and the terrible price that will be paid by those who teach it that rankles the most.
 The sole exception to this being a vague reference to “conversations with the broader community,” mentioned in (4):
Our research approach to this project was multifaceted, and consisted of the following: (1) a survey of existing publicly available policies and statements on publication ethics of 265 journals in philosophy, (2) a set of in-person and virtual focus groups with journal editors and members of APA leadership committees, (3) a set of focus groups with representatives from publishers of philosophy journals and representatives from COPE, (4) conversations with the broader community via in-person meetings and the project website, (5) an extensive review of the literature on publication ethics (especially in philosophy and the humanities), and (6) a discussion with leaders from other scholarly societies in the humanities and humanistic social sciences to understand how our findings compare to the ongoing conversations in the humanities more broadly and to discuss next steps.