[OPE-L:5058] Concerning Andrew Kliman's allegations

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Date: Fri Feb 23 2001 - 23:10:01 EST

In political economy as elsewhere, it is surely difficult to launch a new
paradigm and have it accepted as part of the standard discourse of the
discipline.  Andrew Kliman and his fellow exponents of the TSS
interpretation of Marxian value theory have no doubt encountered these
difficulties in full measure.  Presuming this to be the case, I can
certainly understand that feelings of intense frustration might arise from
the effort to promote the paradigm, and that such frustrations might induce
a perception of orchestrated attempts to "suppress" the new approach.

But to understand is not to agree.  I categorically deny Andrew's claim
that the Editorial Board of RRPE has "suppressed" TSS research in any
relevant sense of the term.  The "evidence" alluded to by Andrew does not
begin to establish grounds for this claim.  Furthermore, relevant
considerations not mentioned by Andrew argue strongly against any such

I stated in my previous post on this topic that I could not and would not
respond specifically to Andrew's charges, and it remains the case that
there are certain points centrally relevant to this dispute that I cannot
discuss, in part due to the need to respect certain people's privacy as
well as the integrity of RRPE's editorial process (about which more later).
 But despite this handicap, I feel I must respond in some detail to
Andrew's charges, due to the persistence and seriousness of his claims and
out of respect for the membership of this list.

Andrew has alluded to two bases for his allegation.  The first is a summary
of RRPE's treatment of "8 manuscripts submitted by proponents of the
TSSI..."  The second refers to statements by 2 referees of a single
submission of his.  Regarding the first point, his statement, reproduced in
full, is as follows:

"It is not a matter of referees rejecting *my* papers per se. Of 
the last 8 manuscripts submitted by proponents of the TSSI to the 
RRPE (not ROPE), 1, a paper of mine on the Okishio theorem, was 
accepted. 5 have been rejected, including a *book review* written 
by an author with a publication list longer than your arm. (The 
RRPE's rejection rate on book reviews is only about 10%.) What 
about the remaining 2 manuscripts? Oh, they were returned 
without even being sent to referees."

Let's examine this claim more closely.

1)  Concerning the "remaining 2 manuscripts" that were "returned without
even being sent to referees":  

With regard to at least one of these manuscripts, Andrew is not revealing
the full circumstances surrounding its return.  It is his prerogative not
to do so, of course, but I would just suggest that knowledge of these
circumstances would create legitimate doubt, at minimum, that the
manuscript's return necessarily resulted from any deliberate attempt to
"suppress" a particular line of research.  

The RRPE has no record of a second manuscript being returned without being
sent to referees.  Unless this alleged return was related to the set of
circumstances alluded to above, there is only one plausible reason for this
to occur outside of simple human error, namely that the manuscript did not
conform to our "Instructions to Contributors" (listed on the inside back
cover of each issue)--e.g., it wasn't in the proper format, or exceeded 40
pages in length, or something of that nature.  

Let me amplify this point:  our managing editor, who initially receives the
manuscripts, is not a practicing political economist, and thus has no idea
what the TSS paradigm is or why it matters, what a paper written in this
paradigm would look like, or what is the roster of its practitioners.  Thus
she could have no basis for returning a manuscript with the aim of
"suppressing" this approach.

In light of the foregoing, I extend an invitation to Andrew.  Presumably
you know the identity of the author of this allegedly returned 2nd
manuscript.  Please urge him or her to resubmit it, and if it is unaffected
by the set of circumstances mentioned above and conforms to our
instructions to contributors, its unrefereed return was simply a mistake,
and I'll personally follow up to ensure that it is sent out to referees. 

2)  Concerning the remaining 6 cases:  as Andrew mentions, one was a book
review, which is judged by a different set of criteria than that for
article submissions and accordingly has a low rejection rate on the whole.
But it is impossible to make any sort of judgment about bias on the basis
of a sample size of one, even if the rejection rate for the relevant
population were .10% rather than 10%.  

3)  This leaves 5 article submissions, of which one was accepted. This is
still an incredibly small sample from which to draw any meaningful
conclusions.  But I will note, since Andrew did not, that our average rate
of acceptance for refereed article submissions is about 26%.  26% of 5 is
1.3, which, rounded to the nearest integer value, is 1.  

Thus, the TSSI experience of 1 acceptance out of 5 refereed article
submissions is consistent with the average rate of acceptance for all
refereed article submissions. Not only does this outcome fail to establish
grounds for Andrew's claim of "suppression," it is evidence, insofar as the
small sample size permits, for the *absence* of any such bias.

Even if I threw back into the mix both the book review and the manuscript
returned for reasons other than human error or nonconformance to our
editorial standards,  the expected unbiased rejection rate for a sample of
7 submissions is just .26 times 7 = 1.82, which rounds up to 2.  So at its
very strongest, Andrew's "evidence" on this point is based on a tiny sample
drawn from a very large population, for which the actual acceptances were 1
less than would be expected given a complete lack of bias.  Could anyone
without a vested interest on this question derive a conclusion as
categorical as Andrew's from such paltry "evidence"?  

4)  This is not the end of the matter.  According to Andrew, a total of 5
TSSI submissions from this set of 8 was rejected by RRPE.  But he neglected
to mention that our editorial decisions on submissions are not limited to
simple "acceptance" or "rejection."  Unlike the practice at most other
journals, we have *two* categories of the latter:  outright rejection, and
rejection of the submission in question coupled with strong encouragement
for the author to submit a new draft *on the same subject matter* in which
certain fundamental problems identified in the presented draft are
corrected.  This would of course be an absurd offer to extend to any author
whose work the Ed Board intended to "suppress," since reviewing new
submissions, even ones that are eventually rejected, takes significant time
and effort.

I know of at least one submission among the remaining 5 for which the
author was *strongly* urged by the referees to submit a new draft.  To the
extent that the "rejections" indicated by Andrew were in fact coupled with
encouragement to submit an emended draft on the same topic, his "evidence"
for "suppression" can at least as easily be read as evidence that RRPE
*promotes* dissemination of the TSS approach to value theory, since it
would hardly be in the interests of its authors to present their work in a
problematic light.

Andrew's second piece of "evidence" for the RRPE Ed Board's "suppression"
of the TSSI approach is based on his characterization of two referee
reports on a single submission of his.  [Necessarily this bit of "evidence"
couldn't be based on referee reports for *all * of his submissions to RRPE,
because, of course, at least one of these was accepted for publication.]  I
won't go into detail on the substantive merits of his submission, since
among other things it would violate the spirit of our editorial policy to
do so.  But some comments about the nature of our editorial structure and
procedures are in order before I address this indictment directly.

1)  There are about 27 members on the RRPE Ed Board, at least half of which
might routinely be called upon to review submissions on topics in Marxian
value theory.  Andrew, is, in fact, a member of the Board. [No, he hasn't
been "expelled," which under the circumstances should count as strong
additional evidence against any allegation of "suppression."]
As mentioned earlier, our managing editor has no basis for allocating
submissions among reviewers on the basis of desired biases, even if she had
a mind to; she can only go on our own statements concerning areas of
competence and interest.

2)  Unlike the practice at the vast majority of journals, Ed Board members
are elected democratically (at the URPE Summer Conference), and from a
*self-nominated* slate of candidates.  Incumbent Ed Board members have no
control over the slate of self-nominees or the electorate that shows up to
vote on this slate.  Thus the Board cannot dictate its own membership.
This practice consistently translates into a highly diverse editorial
collective with quite varied approaches to left political economy.  Thus
the procedure by which the Board is constituted militates strongly against
the development of any particular "party line."  

3) Unlike the practice at the vast majority of journals, we assign three
referees for every article submission, providing an additional check
against the exercise of arbitrary judgments by a single reviewer.  As I'm
sure many of us have experienced in submissions to other journals, I have
in contrast had a number of my own efforts rejected on the basis of a
*single* referee report.  And some of these have been based on judgments
much more problematic than anything Andrew has alluded to. [Judge for
yourself:  one single-referee rejection was based on a report that
insisted, among other remarkable things, that the German phrase of Marx's
standardly translated as "labor-power" is most appropriately interpreted as
simply "labor."]  [And yet I made no judgment about policies of
"suppressing" my work from such rejections, however ill-considered.]

4)  Unlike *any* other journal's practice that I know of, our referee
reports are all *reverse* single-blind: that is, reviewers do not know the
author's identity, but the author is always told the identity of the
reviewers.  Thus, each of our reviews are done with the knowledge that a
disgruntled author can do just as Andrew has done, and sneeringly quote,
paraphrase, or mock [or, as I believe to be the case here, misrepresent]
our judgments in public, along with our names if so desired.  This
provides, as you might imagine, a powerful check against any attempt to
implement an otherwise unmerited policy of "suppressing" a particular line
of political economic analysis.  
With these points in mind, let me now turn directly to Andrew's allegation.
 He offers as "proof of suppression" characterizations of two referee
reports on a single submission of his.  Even were I to grant entirely the
legitimacy of his characterization of these two reports and their
consequences, this cannot conceivably establish grounds for his much
stronger claim that the *RRPE Editorial Board* acts to suppress research in
the TSS vein.  

First, these are two referees among 27, and as indicated certainly not the
only ones that review submissions in value theory.  Second, as mentioned,
we have no control over the makeup of the board, and thus could possibly
bar *individual* board members with unyielding biases against particular
analytical approaches, assuming that there are any such (and I don't
believe that Andrew has established even this).  Third, this is just one
submission, not nearly sufficient to support a categorical conclusion of
bias.  Especially given that another submission of Andrew's was accepted by
the RRPE for publication.    

Let me put this point the other way around. Accept Andrew's representation
here as probative of his allegation, and you must by similar reasoning
insist that *any* rejection of a single journal submission on the basis of
two reports, one with strongly worded criticisms and one with (allegedly,
according to the necessarily self-interested author) "false disproofs" of
one of the author's claims, counts as evidence that the journal has acted
to "suppress" the paradigm represented by the author's submission.  Any
such inference is implausible on its face.   

But second, I do not agree with Andrew's assessment of these reports or the
subsequent disposition of his paper.  Unfortunately, we enter here into
matters that I cannot discuss.  I will therefore simply state, for what
it's worth, that I have direct grounds for respectfully but fundamentally
disputing several aspects of Andrew's characterization.

I do not expect that the foregoing will serve to convince Andrew or fellow
students of the TSS interpretation of Marxist value theory that the RRPE
Editorial Board has not attempted to "suppress" this approach. It is, of
course, impossible to prove the absence of a conspiracy to those who
presume one exists, since any difficulty in proving its existence can
itself be advanced as evidence for the operation of a conspiracy!  Similar
reasoning might lead those who insist that the RRPE Ed Board is biased
against the TSS approach to interpret the fact that the Board a) has
accepted at least one TSSI-based submission for publication and b) has
encouraged at least one author of a rejected TSSI submissions to submit an
emended version of the same arguments as simply a "smoke screen" designed
to divert suspicion from the true state of affairs.  Of course it is
impossible to respond to this mode of reasoning.  But I do hope that my
response will satisfy more disinterested members of this community that
there are insufficient grounds for believing Andrew's allegations, and
compelling reasons for doubting if not dismissing them. 

In solidarity, 

Gil Skillman 

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