‘Whilst the review was useful the main issues were in relation to the methodology. The review did not follow a systematic review format either in standard or a shortened version. There were no questions which were being used to interrogate the literature and there was no summary of the studies that were included. Databases searched were no[n-] existent if very limited without adequate justification and therefore the findings of the review would not stand up to academic scrutiny. For the review to be acceptable it needs to be extended and a clear recognised methodological framework used. The methodology adopted beyond a systematic review is a limited use of philosophical logic. There a wealth of resources that might be applied to the paper. For example, Critical Theory, Feminism, Deconstruction, etc. I appreciate this might reflect interests that are not represented in the paper...’
The more I think of this report, the more baffled I am. I fear that, if typical, it suggests something rather worrying about the approach taken to social science but of course my reaction may be as much my own familiar responses to a negative review. They are never very enjoyable. Still it may be worth explaining my more general qualm in case it is on the right lines.
So the back story is that I was invited by this particular journal to submit a paper based on a presentation I’d given at a conference in the area a couple of years ago. I sent them the reply 18 months ago and had a response a couple of weeks ago. (The editor and administrators all seem very helpful and charming, by the way, if anyone is thinking of submitting article.) The paper, previously posted here, was an attempt to answer its titular question ‘Why teach the philosophy of mental health?’ taking as its stalking horse (not quite the right metaphor) a view that the purpose of such philosophy is to defend a conception of mental health care against criticism and thus presupposing an equal and opposite view that the purpose of philosophy is to advance an anti-psychiatry view. My claim was that philosophy was a self-conscious critical examination of mental healthcare and thus shouldn’t be seen as an external perspective on it (offering independent and either critical or supportive views) but rather an organic part of what good mental healthcare would involve. It is not a second order supportive, or critical, add-on but part of what a good first order approach would be. That is why it is worth teaching the philosophy of mental health. What is more, it can and has been so taught at UCLan and elsewhere.
In the light of this I’m struck by two features of the referee’s report. First, it assumes that my paper was a review and then rather a bad one. It would indeed fail rather badly as a review if they must follow some essential rules governing the inclusion of summaries of studies and searches of databases. But that suggests it is witless to assume it aimed to be one and good social science avoids witless interpretation. That, maybe, is just my frustration. What may be more worth sharing is this worry. Look at this.
‘For the review to be acceptable it needs to be extended and a clear recognised methodological framework used.’ My worry is that someone who writes this has not thought about what the point of a ‘clear recognised methodological framework’ is. It sounds here as though it’s a kind of fashion. As long as we all agree that lapels are wide this year, then we are fine. But providing that there is valid argument, a sustained justification of a claim to truth, who cares if there’s an appropriate off the peg name for the way the argument works? (The approach would also be subject to a vicious regress concerning the recognised name of the second order application of the recognised first order method in any particular context. Each such application would need a name, naming the process of application. But then that process would also have to be applied, calling for another named process of application at the next level up. The regress should be blocked by the realisation that there is a successful argument in play. But if so, it can be blocked at the zero’th stage.) This same disappointing attitude seems present in two further comments.
First, ‘The methodology adopted beyond a systematic review is a limited use of philosophical logic’. Now, in philosophy, ‘philosophical logic’ is a slightly old fashioned name for the philosophy of logic. (There was a tendency in the 1960s, I think, to say philosophical X to mean philosophy of X more generally.) But, given that no part of my paper was about the philosophy of logic, I’m confident that this is not what the reviewer means. What they seem to mean is this: the method of the paper was a merely limited application of logical argument. But if this is right, this way of raising the objection is depressing indeed but not critical enough. If the problem with the paper is this, then it means that the argument is very bad. In which case, the worry is not that this method – philosophical logic – wasn’t used enough: five times, maybe, when ten times would be the industry standard. It is that the argument was invalid: the conclusion didn’t follow from the premises etc. If so, say so! And say which arguments were poor. Offer a counter argument.
Second: ‘There [are]a wealth of resources that might be applied to the paper. For example, Critical Theory, Feminism, Deconstruction, etc. I appreciate this might reflect interests that are not represented in the paper...’ Again this is the thought that a method is a more or less arbitrary but fashionable way of going on. Add in a few more methods and we’re, again, fine because we will have mentioned enough of this year’s X-Factor ideas. What a dire misunderstanding of the aims of academic argument and analysis.
The more I think of it, the more the kind of approach to social science suggested in these comments seems something I want no part of. Perhaps it is good to have been rejected. I turn out to be with Groucho Marx.