Thursday, December 19, 2013

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy [IEP] vs Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [SEP]

A query and blogger's [Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog] responses...

"Thoughts on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy?"

December 19th, 2013

Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog

A young philosopher writes:

I've been invited to contribute an article to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP), and I am wondering whether it would be wise to accept the invitation. Several of my friends and colleagues have likewise been invited, and there has been a lot of disagreement on this question. More specifically, I would like to know:

    1. Whether an IEP article is a good idea for tenure or job market purposes.

    2. Independent of (1), whether contributing to IEP means doing a good thing for students or the general public.

    3. How the IEP is regarded in the profession in general, on its own or compared to the SEP.

My own sense is that there is no comparison, in terms of both quality and visibility, between SEP and IEP.  I never use IEP, whereas I use SEP a lot, and I expect I'm not atypical.  What do philosophers think?


Brad said...

Like Brian, I believe that the *Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy* is regarded as far less important than the *Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy*. But the would-be contributor should give consideration to the following. First, would they enjoy writing such an article? Such things can be quite enjoyable or quite tedious. I have sometimes taken on tasks that I knew would be of little value to my professional advancement, but I anticipated enjoying doing them. If you are lucky enough to be a philosopher then be sure to do the sorts of things that make it enjoyable. Second, do you have expertise in the area in which you will write an article? Sometimes the bar can be pretty low for invitations of this sort. If you do not already have expertise in the area, as demonstrated by well-placed publications in the area, then you really do not have any authority on the topic, and writing the encyclopedia article will not give you such authority. An encyclopedia article is not supposed to be your grand entry into a subject area. The ideal encyclopedia article authors are philosophers who are already published and recognized experts in the area.

Chris Tucker said...

I use both the IEP and the SEP. In my experience, the IEP entries tend to be more student friendly, at least for undergraduates. While I do think IEP entries vary more in quality than their SEP counterparts, all IEP entries I've read have been helpful. Since my sample contains entries mostly within epistemology and written by people I had heard of, my sample may not be representative of IEP, more generally. I doubt that writing IEP articles will help much in getting a job, especially research jobs.

Shane J. Ralston said...

I am the author of the IEP entry on American Enlightenment Thought....

To answer your questions: 1. I do not believe that the entry has had any impact on my job market prospects or my tenure review process. 2. The search hits on the entry average about 6 per month (according to It is a generalist topic, so that probably explains why it gets some regular traffic. 3. I'm not quite sure how IEP is regarded in the profession. I suspect that it is less well regarded than SEP.

I was recruited to author the IEP entry because I had written two reviews of books on Benjamin Franklin and authored a published paper on Franklin and philosophical pragmatism. However, I wouldn't say that I am an expert on the entry topic. If you're interested in the topic assigned to you, I don't think you have anything to lose by writing the entry.

Similar to writing book reviews, I see writing encyclopedia entries as a service to the profession. While Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews has never asked me to author a book review for their publication (they are an elite, invitation-only, open-access, book-review-only journal), I am not surely to waiting around for their invitation. I'd imagine I'd be waiting for a long time. So, I regularly review for the less prestigious and more populist book-review-only, on-line journal Philosophy in Review: My rationale was similar for writing an IEP entry (rather than waiting around for SEP's invitation, if it ever arrives).

John Turri said...

The correct answer to YP's question (1) is extremely case-specific and I doubt that there is any general and helpful advice people can confidently offer. The answer to (2) is yes, contributing to IEP is a good thing for students and the public. The answer to (3) is that IEP is an excellent and valuable resource, while SEP is more highly regarded.

While I agree that SEP is overall better, in my own research, I have found IEP articles to be of comparable quality and usefulness to SEP articles. More generally, the discipline and public are very well served by both outlets. I have published articles in both SEP and IEP, and overall my experience with IEP has actually been better and more constructive. Both venues deserve to be valued and celebrated.

Sherri Irvin said...

My sense is that an IEP entry, unlike an SEP entry, would not do much for one’s job market or tenure prospects at most research-oriented universities. The IEP is probably fairly widely read by undergraduates, and perhaps by interested members of the general public, and there is something to be said for giving them useful information. IEP entries seem to be shorter than SEP entries on average, which may make them more accessible to some readers.

There are some useful entries in the IEP. The aesthetics section has a few entries by very good and in some cases well-known philosophers. In general, the entries have responsible bibliographies. That said, I would be more likely to consult the SEP or one of the print Companions than most of these entries. Some of the IEP entries have not been updated in quite some time, though there has been a great deal of development since initial publication.

A couple of other observations: the IEP seems to have some serious gender challenges. It appears that only one of the 25 area editors is a woman, and she is listed as “acting” editor. The two general editors are both men. There is no area editor listed for feminist philosophy (!), though there are 8 articles in the Feminist Philosophy section (a shockingly small number, given that the IEP was founded in 1995). In the aesthetics section, only 3 of 14 articles were authored by women, though women are better represented in aesthetics than in many other areas of philosophy.

I have not attempted to assess the racial diversity of editors or contributors, but I note that there is no philosophy of race section (there are articles on Du Bois and Fanon, as well as one titled “Feminism and Race in the United States”). There are quite a few entries on Islamic, Indian and Chinese philosophy.

In the spirit of the Gendered Conference Campaign ( ), if you are a white man who is invited to contribute to the IEP, you may wish to examine the demographics of the authors in the section you’ve been invited to contribute to and, if appropriate, ask the relevant editor(s) to share their plan for increasing diversity in the section.

If you’re a feminist philosopher or philosopher of race and think you would enjoy writing for the IEP (in line with Brad’s comment above), perhaps you’d like to consider writing to the general editors to pitch a piece in an area you specialize in: editors who have to make commissions may welcome a well-thought-out pitch from a qualified author. Or, if you’re especially enterprising, perhaps you’d like to volunteer to be a section editor yourself. I don’t know what, if any, efforts the general editors have made to increase diversity among authors and section editors, but on the surface things look quite disappointing at present.

Justin said...

Two considerations that might be relevant:

1. Is it a topic that is likely to be covered by SEP in the near future? If not, then your article will probably be the go-to source for those who need an extended, philosophically informed introduction to the topic. IEP has better historical coverage than SEP, in the sense that it has more entries on lesser-knowns in Ancient Western philosophy, 17th-19th century European philosophy, and non-Western philosophy more generally. So if you've been asked to write an article devoted exclusively to Louise de La Vallière or Ralph Cudworth, you may well have several years to shape people's earliest impressions of them. If I were an expert on La Vallière or Cudworth, and passionate about them, I'm not sure I could bear to leave that to anyone else.

2. IEP articles are peer and blind reviewed. For purposes of tenure and promotion, some deans and university-wide review committees insist on giving peer and blind reviewed articles more weight, no matter how much philosophers protest that other, merely invited articles are more valuable, more influential, in more reputable venues, etc.

Michael said...

To second Justin's comment above, as a graduate student in another field who regularly makes use of the SEP, and occasionally the IEP, I can't stress how helpful the latter is in covering the gaps in the former. While I do tend to find the SEP articles more helpful, and their bibliographies more thorough, if I simply want to make sure that I've got the basics of an idea down both have been helpful.

Kenny Pearce said...

I am the author of the IEP article on omnipotence. IEP articles tend to come up pretty high in Google results, which surely can't hurt you in terms of just getting your name out there, especially for purposes of getting further invitations, etc. Also, as some other commenters have mentioned, IEP articles tend to be shorter and more accessible to undergrads than SEP articles, which is good. If undergrads at other institutions are citing your article and it seems to be helping them understand the material, surely that would be a plus on the job market, at least for teaching-focused schools. Also, I don't know for sure about this, but I've read about more schools looking favorably on 'public outreach' in tenure files; surely an IEP article ought to count for that. Another consideration, I think, is that the process of writing an encyclopedia article is extremely helpful for getting a firm grip on the literature, so if you plan to publish other articles on that topic, writing an IEP article might help you, quite independently of how good it looks on your CV.

I want to call attention to one other contrast between the SEP and IEP. SEP articles are mostly written by very well-established figures in the field, while IEP articles are often written by early-career people, even grad students. Overall, this is clearly an advantage to the SEP, but it is not without its downsides. Here are two: (1) sometimes these senior figures are so immersed in the dialectic that they have great difficulty explaining it to a true outsider; (2) sometimes these senior figures overemphasize the importance of their own position relative to its genuine level of influence in the field, and may even completely ignore certain views that are well-represented in top journals, but that they themselves regard as unimportant or obviously wrong. I think both of these things sometimes happen in the SEP (though I won't list any particular articles), but I haven't seen any examples in the IEP.

That said, the average overall quality of articles in the SEP is clearly greater than that of articles in the IEP, and the SEP certainly has more prestige attached to it.

[All replys are dated the same...December 19th, 2013.]

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy [IEP] [Wikipedia]

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy [IEP]

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [SEP] [Wikipedia]

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [SEP]

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