The trouble with journals flaunting their rejection rates.
Way back, before I had my PhD, I read David Hull’s “Science as a process“. Twice. His thesis (thoroughly and inelegantly distilled here – after more than a decade) is that scientists themselves behave very much like tribes, with scientific offspring, and scientific Silver Backs (all individuals), and filled with the kind of tribal behavior and misbehavior that we would expect – but out of this – over time – an ever increasing approximation towards truth is distilled.
It really really resonated with me – looking at what I do, and thinking about what I do in a bit more broad perspective. (This is also one of the reasons I enjoy teaching philosophy of sciences, even if I’m not a real philosopher. Helps me think).
These days, I teach a course on the psychology of marketing. This is really applied Social Psychology, and heavily based on Robert Cialdini’s influence. He has thoroughly investigated those little persuasive levers that lead to “yes”: reciprocity, commitment and consistency, liking, authority, social proof, and my absolute favorite, scarcity. We want what is scarce. The beach front property, that very rare designer garment, the opportunity to buy for a lower price if we just act in time. I can feel it, and I respond to it, while still being able to articulate the psychological mechanisms. Also, when availability is threatened, you easily find your inner toddler, or inner teen, and insist on behaving in the opposite manner, no matter how long ago it was since you were that age, or how irrational it is.
What Cialdini hints at (but does not expand on in his book Influence, though I have no doubt he is well aware of this) is that the power of these ways to yes have an ultimate evolved logic. Reading Richerson & Boyds accounts of culture as an evolutionary force strenghten this thought, as many of these mechanisms seem to be things we look for to understand cultural learning and transmission. We reciprocate gifts, to strengthen social (often individual) bonds. We look at prestigious and successful others to see who we should imitate, or else, look at how those we like, or how those arround us behave, so we know how to behave properly. Committment and consistency is probably… consistent… with the need to establish a good reputation of being trustworthy.
And Scarcity? Cialdini glosses a bit over what is the reasonable part of our response to scarcity (some things that are very good are also very scarce – like ripe fruit – so it makes sense to be sensitive to this). He spends a lot more time on reactance – the inner toddler bit, which is a lot of fun (and, man can you manipulate people doing jiu-jitsu on their inner toddler leanings).
But, when I read Geoffrey Miller’s Spent I think I saw a much better positive rationale for scarcity – our need to distinguish ourselves, to grow our pea-cock tails, to display, through costly signals, how exquisite and special we are. So, choose me, baby!
This is what I thought of, when I read Eve Marder article titled “Rejecting Arrogance”
The big Silver Back journals are, like the hipper than thou discos from the 80’s, flaunting how many submissions they reject, to advertise how desirable, how exclusive, how must get in they are. (Oh, I’m sure the disco line selection still exists, but I’m so far beyond the age where that would even register. I don’t even not want to be part of it for the Groucho Marx reasons anymore).
And, she says, also, refuse. Reject the rejecters. This is unbecoming! It is the topic, the project, the research that is important, not the status-seeking proxy for quality. Don’t respond to their attempt to engage your scarcity modules.