A few days ago I blogged about the peculiarities of recent European Science Foundation (ESF) Journal rankings. (An important topic that has come up before.) I called attention to the fact that the Vienna Circle Institute Yearbookk (IVCYB) is listed among these, although it appears as a book series with Springer.
In subsequent (private & public) discussion it became clear that Friedrich Stadler (who is one of the world's leading scholars of early analytic philosophy and the history of the philosophy of science) is both the series editor and a member of the ESF sub-panel in philosophy of science. So, given that questions about conflict of interest became pertinent, I wrote Stadler, who kindly responded quickly even though he is currently directing a popular Summer School.
1. Stadler was not on the ESF committee when the decision first was made to include IVCYB in the journal rankings. (IVCYB is listed in the 2007 rankings.)
2. In addition to invited papers, IVCYB does publish submitted papers after refereeing. I continue to believe it is a mistake to treat it as a journal (in part because it is no different from lots of periodic edited volume series), but it is clearly a judgment call.
3. Stadler assured me that "was not present for the [ranking] decision on the IVCYB". So far so good. I sincerely apologize to Stadler that my blog-post insinuated that he may have been involved in some unethical behavior. But as I list below there are, shall we say, further complications.
4. In the absence of Stadler, the ranking decision on IVCYB was made by two remaining panelists. (This reminds us how small the composition of the sub-panel is!) But one of these, Maria Carla Galavotti, the chair of the panel, proudly lists her membership on (you guessed it) the “Advisory editorial board” of the “Vienna Circle Institute Yearbook” on her website. Now I don't think that membership of an editorial board is an evident conflict of interest (because often one's association with the journal is rather weak); since editorial boards are populated with the folk that we want on expert panels, it would be silly to prevent them from judging journals.
5. Yet...Galavotti, who is a very broad philosopher (with important work on probability theory and Causation), has a shared interest with Stadler in early analytic/history of early twentieth century philosophy of science. This is especially striking because the third member, Juha Sihvola, is really a historian of Ancient philosophy. And this historical slant surely makes the sub-panel entirely unrepresentative because in Europe philosophy of science (as practiced by vast majority of members of EPSA and as, say, published in...to pick a random journal... Synthese) is starkly a-historical; I am pretty sure that most of my continental European peers don't find that my work on Newton qualifies as "philosophy of science." (Even my work on economics is often treated as too historical around here by the decision theory mafia.) While the Vienna circle is treated with lots of respect by the EPSA and (say) BJPS membership, historical scholarship is not where the main action is.
6. In fact, Galavotti is involved in a peculiarity noted before. She also proudly lists being a "member of the editorial board of “Erkenntnis”" on her website. But Erkenntnis is ranked differently by two expert panels: the general philosophy panel ranked it lower (perhaps unfairly) than the philosophy of science panel!
So, what can we conclude? Let's allow that the rules were followed and that despite the club-like appearances, there are no conflicts of interests. But membership of this panel needs urgent reform: it is too small and the newcomers should represent more of the way philosophy of science is practiced in Europe. Some transparency about the criteria and metrics would be welcome, too.