The latest issue of the academic journal I edit, Agriculture and Human Values, has just been published. This is the official journal of the Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society. The table of contents to issue 1 of volume 34 is here.
A brief summary of the articles in this issue is as follows: Fouilleux and Loconto examine the conventionalization of organic agriculture through the perspective of tripartite standards regime of governance. Jones et al examine the perceptions of students from developing countries about agriculture as an occupation. Contzen and Forney introduce a typology of farm family configurations in a study of Swiss farming. Mann and Bonanomi offer a framework for assessing the ethical implications of large-scale land acquisitions in developing countries. Papaoikonomou and Ginieis assess the transformative nature of local food systems by focusing on the practices, narratives about and governance characteristics of CSAs in Spain and New York City. Arcari uses discourse analysis to examine how meat and animals are discussed and framed in debates about animal agriculture. Stone and Glover use the lens of embeddedness to examine “rice worlds” of the Green Revolution, Golden Rice and heirloom landrace rice. Kurth and Glasbergen examine the effectiveness of halal certification organizations in a study focusing on the Netherlands. Bellante uses a case study of a local food movement in Mexico to provide a more balanced view of their advantages and limitations. Poulsen examines the degree to which urban farms are able to overcome critiques about civic agriculture. Desmarais et al document changing land ownership patterns in Canada. Zepeda and Reznickova describe the evolution of a Slow Food movement at the University of Wisconsin. Additionally, Jennifer Clapp, S. Ryan Isakson and Oane Visser introduce a collection of four papers on the complex dynamics of agriculture as a financial asset. The issue also contains book reviews and a list of books received.
Much has been written about the poor quality of academic writing. Examples include Steven Pinker, a Harvard University psychology professor, explaining why academics stink at writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and author Victoria Clayton, describing the needless complexity of academic writing in an article in The Atlantic. Pinker points to literary analysis (e.g., when scholars “lose sight of whom they are writing for”), cognitive science (e.g., when scholars know too much and have “difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know”) as well as economic incentives (e.g., because scholars have “few incentives for writing well”). According to Clayton, “Academics play an elitist game with their words: They want to exclude interlopers.”
When are scholars going to get the message?
The following is the first sentence in the introduction of a paper submitted to Agriculture and Human Values: “This paper will explore how environmental documentaries through their use of direct address and creative aesthetics and imaginaries foreground a range of cautionary tales around the ethical importance of modes of food production, waste, and (over)consumption.” The paper concludes with this: “The toxic materiality of the eco-documentary … is a matter of a complex network of social and material effects, involving not only the immediate material of the DVD or film strip, but also the design and mass manufacture of technology, travel and transportation, land use and accessibility.”
I rejected the paper for publication. This is what I wanted to say to the author: “I am rejecting your paper because it is utterly incomprehensible. Too much of it is scholarly mumbo jumbo and academic goggledygook. I do not know what you are saying and don’t want to spend any more time trying to figure it out. Learn how to write clearly and simply before submitting a paper to my journal.”
Of course I was more diplomatic. My response began this way: “Critiques of the food system and assessments of ethical issues relating to food production fit within the aims and scope of this journal. However, I struggle to see the contribution of your paper to the kinds of debates we see published here and in similar outlets …”
Interestingly, dictionary.com gives this definition for goggledygook: “language characterized by circumlocution and jargon, usually hard to understand.” Circumlocution? Really? Merriam-Webster’s is better: “wordy and generally unintelligible jargon.” Maybe Dictionary.com has too many academics working for them.
The next issue of Agriculture and Human Values, volume 33, number 4, has just been published. The table of contents as well as links to papers (for those with access rights) is available here. This issue contains twelve regular papers, two discussion papers, the presidential address given at the 2016 meetings of the Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society, a special symposium, and several book reviews.
The regular papers are summarized as follows: Specht et al identify factors relating to the acceptance by stakeholders of farms in and on urban buildings in Germany. Cederlöf revisits the agroecology versus industrial agriculture debate through a study of low-carbon urban farming in Cuba. Warner studies the ability and willingness of smallholder farmers to adapt to climate change and trade policy changes in Costa Rica. Wairimu et al use a case study from northern Uganda to examine the interplay between humanitarian services and development policies. Jaffee and Howard analyze similarities and differences among four US fair trade certification programs. Schupp uses national, regional and census tract data to evaluate the location of farmers markets in the US. McIntyre et al expand Poppendieck’s Sweet Charity critique of contemporary food banks through a careful review of the literature. Carson et al conduct a study of vendors and patrons of farmers’ markets in order to determine how information exchanges affect consumer purchasing behavior. Robinson et al examine the ability of mobile food markets to address food security needs in a case study from Syracuse, New York. Tobin et al critically evaluate the ability of pro-poor value chains to enhance the food security of participants in their study of farmers in Peru. Gillespie et al examine the reasons U.S. farmers choose to raise goats for meat production. Berry et al assess the agrarian attitudes of Australians through an innovative quantifiable index.
The discussion consists of two papers. Mueller, et al provide a critique of a previously published paper examining the empirical relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and organic farming. McGee, the author of the original paper on greenhouse gas emissions, writes a response to the critique. The 2016 AFHVS presidential address, “Decoding diversity in the food system: Wheat and bread in North America,” is by Phil Howard (from Michigan State University). Lincoln Addison (from Memorial University) and Matthew Schnurr (from Dalhousie University) edit a special symposium of papers on the topic of labor, gender and sources of agrarian change.
One of the responsibilities I have as editor of the academic journal Agriculture and Human Values is to invite scholars to evaluate papers submitted for publication. But soliciting reviewers is difficult. It takes time to identify potential reviewers and to extend the review invitation. In 2015, I made 900 invitations to scholars to review papers submitted to the journal. Two thirds of those who were invited agreed to review and most provided excellent reports, which helped me make the difficult decision of accepting or rejecting papers for publication. But one-third of invited reviewers declined to review. I use an online manuscript management system to send an email to reviewers asking them to accept or decline the review request. When an invited reviewer declines, the reviewer is asked to provide a reason. Almost half of those who declined gave no reason for their unwillingness or inability to review the paper.
This afternoon I sent a request to a scholar to review a paper for me. Within minutes the person decline but did not give me a reason. I get really annoyed when a scholar says “no” without giving me a reason. Give me a reason! I’ll take almost any excuse over nothing. For example, sometimes invited reviewers give trivial reasons, as in “I am too busy now.” I can accept that. That is better than offering no reason at all. Giving a reason shows respect. Not giving a reason is what masters do to servants, officers do to conscripted soldiers, and kings do to subjects.
In 1978, a Harvard University professor published the results of an interesting experiment in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In the experiment, a person approached adults waiting in a line to make photocopies and asked, “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine?” Not surprisingly, the request to cut in front of others waiting to use the same machine was frequently declined – in this case, 40% of the time. When a meaningful reason was given for the request, as in “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?” the number of persons refusing the request to cut in line declined to only 6%; thus, most people let the person cut in line. Interestingly, when a trivial reason was given for the request, as in “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies?” the rate of refusal was almost identical to the case when a meaningful reason was given. This is interesting, because the reason given in the latter case was the same reason that others had for standing in the line. In other words, all that mattered for those waiting in line was that a reason be given for the request that created a burden for them – “even if the reason conveyed no information,” according to the study. Simply stated, people appreciate and will respond to a reason, even if it is a trivial one.
So, if you ask for my help, I’ll probably tell you “no”, but at least I’ll give you a reason.
I have been editing the academic journal, Agriculture and Human Values, for 10 years. I get more than 400 submissions a year, and I publish between 40 and 50 articles each year. If you do the math, that means I reject far more papers than I accept (my acceptance rate is about 12%).
I know it is not easy receiving a rejection letter. As an academic with a responsibility to publish, I get rejection letters, too. I know the feeling a rejection creates. Your heart rate increases and blood pressure rises. Your chest tightens. You want to lash out at the naive editor who made the bad call or the idiot reviewers who are clearly ignorant of what ground-breaking research looks like. If a reason is given for the rejection, then you see only the flaws in its logic; you miss points of genuine concern. If no reason is given, then you get even madder because the rejection now seems arbitrary and without merit.
Occasionally I get a “lashing out” email from authors of papers I rejected. The writers are clearly writing out of emotion. Many of these express unkind things about the editor, the editorial process and the reviewers providing reviews. Fortunately, there is a delete button that safely handles these emails.
But on even rarer occasions I get an email from an author of a rejected paper thanking me for the opportunity to consider their work and expressing appreciation to the reviewers for their helpful comments and insights. Wow. How amazing it is to find someone who is civil and gracious in rejection!
I received such a message yesterday shortly after my sending the dreaded rejection letter. The writer said this: “Thank you for the thoughtful response regarding this manuscript submission. While I am disappointed at the final decision, I very much appreciate the care with which the reviewers considered the manuscript as well as your commentary regarding your decision.” The writer continued with a request that I let the reviewers know that the author was grateful for the comments and suggestions they provided.
It is encouraging to know that there are scholars of integrity out there, especially those who are able to see rejection for what it is–an opportunity to improve one’s research and to demonstrate that they are a person of character.
The latest issue of Agriculture and Human Values, volume 33, number 3, has just been printed. It is one of the largest issues printed, with 15 regular articles, one in-the-field report, and five book reviews. There is an outstanding collection of articles in this issue. Here is a summary:
Clark and Inwood examine the extent to which the production of fresh fruits and vegetables can be scaled up to mainstream grocery venues in Ohio. LaCharite examines the evolution of university agriculture projects in the US. Soper reports on how indigenous peasant farmers in Ecuador prefer export markets over production for local markets and food sovereignty. Steckley shows how food sovereignty is related to class hierarchies and social preferences for imported foods in a study from rural Haiti. Suhardiman, et al use a case study in Laos to show why policies to promote sustainable intensification are difficult to implement. Guthman and Brown use the case of a soil fumigant and public comments that led to its withdrawal in California to discuss the nature of consumer activism. Phillipov uses a case study to explore how supermarkets use social media and other techniques to respond to consumer concerns about food ethics. Costanigro et al examine how product labels and preferences for corporate social responsibility activities of firms affect consumer purchase decisions of milk products. Lehberger and Hirschauer use a combination of economics and psychology to examine how the preferences of German women to become professional farm managers differ from those of men. Montenegro de Wit critiques the debate about the nature and extent of agrobiodiversity loss. De Bont et al examine how control over water resources evolves through a case study in Tanzania. Wertheim-Heck and Spaargaren review different ways Vietnamese consumers shop for vegetables and relate their findings to the historical development of supermarkets. Bonnave et al explore how seed exchanges in Bolivia relate to crop genetic diversity. Shete et al show how large scale farms affect soil health in Ethiopia. Ekers et al examine the economic and non-economic aspects of non-paid labor on Canadian farms. Finally, in their in-the-field report, Sardos et al examine the biodiversity of root and tuber crops in Vanuatu.
A direct link to the online version of the issue is available by clicking here. Some articles in the journal are open access. Others may require an individual or institutional subscription to read in full.
The next annual meeting and conference of the Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society (AFHVS) and the Association for the Study of Food and Society (ASFS) will be held June 14-18, 2017, in Pasadena, California. The conference is hosted by Occidental College. The conference is a great opportunity for scholars, policymakers and activists to examine issues relating to food, agriculture and the food and agricultural system and to network with other scholars, policymakers and activists. Submissions for individual papers, panels, roundtable discussions, lightning talks and other events will be accepted beginning December 15, 2016. Abstracts and submissions are due January 31, 2017. The conference website is at http://oxyfoodconference.org/.
Information about the Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society is online at https://afhvs.wildapricot.org/.