An Author’s Encounter with the Social Service Review

In spring 2011, I submitted a manuscript to Social Service Review.  That manuscript appears in a separate post.  Dr. Michael R. Sosin, editor of the Review, rejected it.  This post discusses our correspondence.  (Some aspects of this correspondence may assume familiarity with the manuscript.)

The correspondence discussed here began with Dr. Sosin’s rejection letter of March 10, 2011.  That letter read as follows:

Dear Mr. Woodcock:

Thank you for submitting your manuscript entitled “The Definition, the Mission, and the Purpose of Social Work, and of the Social Work Profession.” I regret that we will be unable to use your work in the Review.

I appreciate the opportunity to read your interesting and well-structured essay about the definition of social work. Unfortunately, I do not think that the essay fits the priorities of the Review. I think one of my major concerns with the essay is that it does not fully incorporate what seems to be important, relevant published material. For example, Wakefield published in Social Service Review two classic articles about the definition of social work. A recent Review article on Flexner offers many insights about the profession (along with commentary from scholars who disagree with the conclusion). The essay’s comments about social work and matters of inequality seem to echo, and thus likely should fully refer to, work by Wilensky and Lebeaux. In what way does the essay expand on what already has been said about the profession?

In my opinion, while I do not disagree with the essay’s content, it seems to be a bit too general to deal with the key controversies in the field. While social work may “help,” for example, it sometimes does so for some people at the expense of others and only in some ways. I would argue that parameters should be specified. Further, literature concerning the professions suggests that the territory covered by social work will likely change over time with competition from other professions. Accordingly, I think that a definition must be considered along with a context.

The Review accepts only a small number of manuscripts. Although your manuscript fell into the large category of those that are not accepted, please consider the Review for future submissions of other manuscripts.

Thank you for your interest in the Review.

Sincerely,

Michael Sosin
Editor

I understood that, even if my manuscript had been perfect, it would still have had to compete, within the Review‘s limited space, with an unknown number of valuable submissions from others.  There would surely be questions, not only of the accuracy and importance of the arguments advanced in such submissions, but also of a given manuscript’s fit within the Review‘s larger purposes.

In other words, my concern was not that my manuscript should have been published.  That decision would have to rest with the editor.  My concern was just that the grounds for rejection should be clear and reasonably persuasive.

I took Dr. Sosin’s comments to heart, revised the manuscript, and sent it back to him.  I might not have done so if it had seemed that his initial evaluation was thorough and convincing.  In my efforts to address some of his stated concerns, I was somewhat at a loss.  The note that I sent with my resubmission, on May 23, 2011, read as follows:

Dear Michael:

I received your editorial review of the captioned manuscript dated March 10, and am now replying.  I wonder if you would be willing to reappraise the manuscript in light of the attached revision and the comments provided here.

As you will see from the revision and the accompanying redline, I have been able to improve the manuscript in some regards based on your comments.  In particular, I have incorporated some material from Wakefield, to whom you directed me.  I think, though, that his articles from 15 years ago argue in a direction other than what you were intending.  He is talking about the ecosystem perspective, which is not relevant to my manuscript.  He doesn’t offer a clear definition for social work.

Anyway, that is one area in which the manuscript has been revised.  I did find some ways to use his articles, as I say, and your comments were welcome.  I figure if you have the question, others will too; hopefully I have now addressed it.

On another point, I wasn’t sure which Social Service Review articles about Flexner you were referring to.  As far as I know, the only recent Review articles on Flexner are by, and in response to, Morris’s (2008) article on reinterpreting Flexner’s speech.  There didn’t seem to be anything in there of relevance.  Nonetheless, I’ve incorporated a citation to Morris.

I wasn’t able to identify which part of the manuscript you were referring to, when you spoke of “the essay’s comments about social work and matters of inequality,” and I couldn’t find relevant work by Wilensky and Lebeaux.  “Inequality” itself does not appear in the text.  I think you probably meant something about social justice, but I don’t know specifically what you had in mind there.

Probably the key points arise in your third paragraph, where you express your own views on the argument presented in the manuscript.  To me, the fact that we disagree is a good sign:  it indicates, in response to your inquiry, that I actually am advancing something other than “what already has been said about the profession.”

Specifically, you assert that “parameters should be specified” on the statement that the purpose of social work is to provide help as needed.  But why should parameters be specified?  Your view contradicts my argument.  The difference is that I have provided support for mine, whereas you have not.  I’m not saying that in irritation; I’m saying that I’ve raised a legitimate question.  Adding parameters would create unnecessary dissent, as people diverged on their views as to what those parameters should be.

Adding parameters would also box in the profession, which is precisely what I’m arguing against.  Why should social workers preemptively prohibit themselves from providing help in unprecedented ways?  As you say, “the territory covered by social work will likely change over time with competition from other professions.”  Wouldn’t the imposition of superfluous parameters be harmful — wouldn’t it tend to hobble the profession, as it sought to alter its territory?  Why not instead preserve flexibility and let the profession stay ahead of competitors by responding flexibly to new, potentially unanticipated areas of need?

This, as I say, is one question that you have raised, and to which I have responded in the attached revision.  I think the manuscript is now stronger for addressing it at greater length.

As for your question of novelty, neither you nor I seem to know of anyone else who has argued that social work is a superset of other professions, or that the social work profession is distinguishable from genuine social work.  As you see, those are core topics advanced in my abstract.  The fact that you have not referred me to relevant authorities in these regards does seem to substantiate my impression that I am presenting new arguments.

I appreciate that the editor needs to be a gatekeeper.  But in this case, I am not entirely confident that you gave my manuscript a fair reading, first time around.  It seems reasonable to verify that you are really sure that peer reviewers should be prevented from seeing this submission.

Sincerely,

Ray Woodcock

Dr. Sosin replied to that email two days later, on May 25, 2011, as follows (typographical errors in original):

Dear Mr. Woodcock,

Thank you for replying to my review of your manuscript, “The Definition, the Mission and the Purpose of Social Work and of the Social Work Profession.” As I see it, your response has two components.

The first component is a revised document. Unfortunately, I am afraid that I cannot review the revision.  Like many other journals, the Review does not accept revisions of works that have been rejected.  Otherwise, the burden on reviewers would be unwieldy.  Further, a rejection suggests that, in the opinion of the editor, the manuscript cannot easily be modified to fit the journal’s priorities.

The second component of your reply is an appeal of the original decision. After reading your appeal, I have decided not to reverse my decision. In general, I do not think that, as you argue, the key to my decision is that “we disagree.” I have no particular position on your argument; that is not the role of an editor. I am rather taken aback by your suggestion that I would make a decision on such a basis. Indeed, I believe that the suggestion is highly inappropriate. Rather, I think that my decision rests on such issues as that the manuscript’s argument is vague and that the work ignores a wide variety of relevant literature.

For example, I think that defining social work on the basis of “help” is too vague and does not distinguish the field sufficiently from other fields: I am sure that an enormous range of occupations, from banking to manufacturing automobiles, can also be argued to “help” in some way. I also do not believe that you clarify the distinction by your example (examples are not definitions, in any case) suggesting that teachers teach while social workers help. That is, as far as I can tell, teaching involves helping in the same way as, say, advocacy or counseling by a social worker (do counselors “counsel” and thus not help?). In short, I believe the work requires an extended definition of “help.”

In addition, I think that your basic claims are unsubstantiated at the level required for scholarly inquiry. For example, I do not see in the manuscript evidence for your main claim that social work as a profession has “become preoccupied with individual psychosocial phenomena and turned its back on other major areas of helping.” There is much debate over whether that is a fair representation of social work. Morris’ work on Flexner, for example, comments on the matter and argues that the criticism has been overstated for social workers, even if there is some truth to it for professionalized social work before the 1960s (p. 52). I am sorry that you were unable to find the passage. Specht and Courtney’s work, which you seem to cite to support your claim, has been subject to quite a bit of debate. In sum, I think that a work that is appropriate for this journal would need to widely cite and come to terms with the voluminous issue on the actual scope of social work.

Similarly, I think that one of the central arguments you seem to be making, that social work should be more involved in various forms of social action, is a traditional one. Accordingly, I do not see that your work breaks new ground in discussing the issue. For example, Wilensky and Lebeaux (in the 1965 revision of their work, if I remember correctly) came up with the famous distinction between residual and institutional social welfare and applied it to social work, and in the process cover the types of interventions you seem to suggest are new for social work (dealing with market failures), albeit with more precision. Some social workers have pursued what those authors call the “institutional” conception of social work throughout the history of the profession. Wakefield wrote several works for the Review that provide a complicated argument about a similar matter (supporting such interventions a psychotherapy) that also would need to be discussed (“Psychotherapy, Distributive Justice, and Social Work,” Parts I and II). Again, it is regrettable that you could not locate these rather famous works. With respect to you suggestion that the social profession should not be “boxed in,” work on professionalization (see Andrew Abbott’s book, for example) makes it clear that any viable profession (in this sense, the profession includes members of the professional association and others) limits its domain (or in Abbott’s terms, limits its jurisdiction). If you disagree, I believe you need to read through this literature on professionalization and demonstrate why the bulk of the literature in the field is incorrect and, for social work, there are sound reasons why parameters should not be specified. I do not see such a discussion in the manuscript. Finally, I think it is obvious that not all social workers are members of a professional association. Thus, I do not feel that there is anything new in your distinction between social work and professional social work (Morris also makes such a distinction, as noted above). In short, I do not think that the manuscript provides sufficient, significant original arguments to warrant publication in this journal.  I also do not feel that the manuscript supports its arguments in scholarly terms.  Of course, you always have the option of sending your work to other journals and determining if other editors are more appreciative.

Thank you for your interest in Social Service Review.

Sincerely,

Michael R. Sosin
Editor

I could have written back, but it seemed clear enough that Dr. Sosin was not eager to carry on further dialogue.  I could have submitted the article to another journal, but as other posts in this blog indicate, I had been having strange experiences at social work journals.  I would have been tempted to send the manuscript to Families in Society, where I had already published two articles, but the editor there had conveyed reluctance to publish “multiple articles by the same author.”  I got busy with other things, and eventually decided that I would just post the manuscript online.

I could understand that an editor might use a variety of excuses to bat away the swarm of manuscripts that would arrive in the daily mail.  I also understood that, once an editor had made a decision on a manuscript, it would be risky to reverse course.  If he erred on my manuscript, perhaps he erred on yours as well.  Changing one’s mind could invite a lot of additional work, if others likewise asked him to reconsider.  It might also be advisable to convey an impression of erudition; the journal’s stature would be reduced if people concluded that editorial decisions were sometimes arbitrary or poorly informed.

It seemed, though, that some of the excuses offered by Dr. Sosin were weak.  These seemed to invite doubt rather than confidence in his decision.  Consider, first, his claim that he could not accept a revision of a rejected work because “the burden on reviewers would be unwieldy.”  That did not make sense.  There had been no burden on reviewers.  He had rejected the manuscript without sending it to them.  Yes, they would have had a burden if he had sent my manuscript to them.  But that’s what they were there for.  There might be valid reasons to reject or not to reconsider my manuscript.  But this was not a valid reason.

There was also the claim that Dr. Sosin had “no particular position on your argument.”  My May 23 email had identified a point on which he clearly was disagreeing with me, and his May 25 reply underscored it.  In the latter, his large paragraph asserts that “any viable profession . . . limits its domain.”  That directly disputes an argument in my manuscript.  And he knows it does:  he goes on to tell me what to do “If you disagree.”  I do not know why Dr. Sosin would claim that he had no particular position, when several of his remarks made clear that he did disagree with me on points of substance.

I agree with Dr. Sosin’s view that “the role of an editor” did not allow him to preempt the reviewers.  I also agree with his statement that a good editor would not “make a decision on [the] basis” of his own personal disagreement with the manuscript’s arguments.  His job was not to prevent reviewers from seeing manuscripts merely because they expressed views different from his own.

Perhaps the most telltale aspect of Dr. Sosin’s May 25 reply was that it was a bit snide.  I had encountered that sort of thing at Columbia and elsewhere in academia and law.  Sometimes people who behave that way are simply rude – they are always like that.  I hadn’t noticed such behavior by Dr. Sosin previously, however.  I knew that sometimes people use that sort of behavior to try to intimidate or silence others.  That seemed to be the more likely explanation here.

As a general principle, it was inappropriate for Dr. Sosin to browbeat or insult the authors who wrote to him – saying, for instance, “It is regrettable that you could not locate these rather famous works.”  He made that sort of subtle but belittling remark repeatedly.  Snide remarks gratuitously portraying an author as ignorant and/or irrational are inconsistent with the NASW’s Code of Ethics, which calls for social workers to “treat colleagues with respect” and to “represent accurately and fairly the . . . views . . . of colleagues” (Ethical Standard 2.01).  But a person doesn’t need anything more than common sense and a bit of decency to recognize that you can do a lot of collateral harm with such remarks.  After all, he didn’t know who I was.  I might be a young person, just starting out, taking such insults to heart.  Or I might be an old guy, worried that dementia might be setting in, and here’s this knowledgeable editor making me out to be a fool.  If you have any sense of professionalism, you don’t go around making personal cracks about what you see as the other person’s failures of cognition – especially when you have no clue as to the impact that such remarks might have.

But it was informative, to me, that Dr. Sosin did adopt a belittling tone.  It suggested that he might not be entirely confident that his logic, by itself, was enough to win the argument.  The contrast in tone between his first and second letters suggested that he would put on a facade of politeness for the most part – but if someone questioned his judgment, he would inititate verbal abuse to make sure they recognized their inferiority.  This was reminiscent of abuse that I had seen in other male social work academics.  I wondered whether Dr. Sosin would dare to make such remarks to a female author – if, that is, his experience had taught him that he could get away with such treatment of obscure male authors in this profession.

Along with the snide remarks, Dr. Sosin’s May 25 letter also said that my May 23 letter had evoked a personal emotional response in him:  he said he was “taken aback” and considered it “highly inappropriate” that I would dare to observe that he did seem to disagree with me.  This seemed odd.  Even if he had not expressly disagreed with me, why would it be a big deal to suggest that there appeared to be some disagreement, between an author and the editor who had rejected his work?  His emotional reactions were at best irrelevant to his job; at worst, they suggested that he might be inappropriately injecting personal content into the task of deciding what was best for the Review and for the profession.  But it is also possible that he was merely posturing – was exaggerating his true reaction in a bid to invent some further rationale to reject my manuscript and/or to deter me from further attempts to communicate.

It does seem likely that my May 23 reply surprised Dr. Sosin.  Rejected authors are probably inclined to just move along and try their luck with the next journal, rather than question his judgment.  There could be dangers in such questioning.  Editors’ decisions determine whether a faculty member’s work is published, and thus affect careers.  It would be especially risky for an author to alienate the editor of one of the profession’s leading journals.  I don’t know if Dr. Sosin has any particular reputation among social work academics, but my own receipt of emotional and off-target remarks in this case could prompt a cautious professor to fear that he would take any reply as a personal matter.  An implicit threat that he could hold a grudge, or would otherwise engage in unfair or irrational behavior, would surely discourage authors from posing inconvenient questions, even if Dr. Sosin did not deliberately try to bully anyone.

Another red flag appeared in Dr. Sosin’s repeated suggestions that my manuscript needed to take account of assorted large areas of literature.  This was reminiscent of the exhortation to read one’s Bible.  There’s a lot in there – in the Bible or in any pile of books and articles.  A person could spend a year following that advice, and still might not have figured out exactly why the other person had issued such a vague assignment.  I doubt anyone would be interested in publishing a general-purpose summary of some large chunk of social work literature, but in any case that would be an article quite different in purpose from the one I had submitted.  Such suggestions seemed consistent with the apparent purpose of Dr. Sosin’s letter, which was not so much to engage with the substance of my manuscript but, rather, to invent assorted distractions from that substance.

As a highly educated individual, I assume Dr. Sosin was able to read and understand what I had submitted.  My article is not especially technical, and does not appear to be poorly written.  Indeed, Dr. Sosin himself had previously described it as “interesting and well-structured.”  I don’t mean to imply that he was deliberately evading its content.  The effect may have been unconscious.  But for whatever reason, his May 25 letter seemed to be inordinately preoccupied with the tangential material discussed above.  He seemed not to get the point of the manuscript.

Consider, for instance, this statement by Dr. Sosin:  “I do not see in the manuscript evidence for your main claim that social work as a profession has ‘become preoccupied with individual psychosocial phenomena and turned its back on other major areas of helping.'”  I am not sure how Dr. Sosin could have missed the section of the manuscript titled “Professional vs. Genuine Social Work.”  That section does make the obvious point that we now have separate professions and agencies that deal with many of the areas in which Jane Addams worked, including “recreation, housing, public health, advocacy, and unionization.”  Citing a number of sources, the text discusses various ways in which social work neglected opportunities to become a significant player in such fields.  Public health, for instance, has obviously become a separate profession, with topics of study (e.g., biostatistics, epidemiology, nutrition) that rarely figure in social work curricula.  As that section of the manuscript indicates, Flexner in 1915 defined social work as a superset of many areas of activity (including “any form of persistent or deliberate effort to improve living or working conditions”) that ceased to be part of social work thereafter.

Even if he did overlook that section of the manuscript, surely Dr. Sosin is aware that Jane Addams and other early social workers addressed matters of public health to which the social work profession no longer pays much attention.  I don’t know why his letter alludes to Morris’s (2008, p. 54) work on what she summarizes as the period “prior to the 1950s” (not, as he misstates it, the 1960s); her focus is on “the influence of Flexner’s speech on the field’s early professional development.”  In directing me to that work, as my email had already indicated, Dr. Sosin seemed to be getting off track.  My manuscript did not attempt a detailed exegesis of Flexner, and it was focused on today, not the 1930s.  But even within his obscure reference to Morris, Dr. Sosin does arrive at an acknowledgement that “there is some truth” to what I identified as the profession’s departure from Addams-style all-purpose helping.

The problem with Dr. Sosin’s reply is actually worse than that.  The two preceding paragraphs have rebutted his statement (above) about my “main claim that social work as a profession has become preoccupied with individual psychosocial phenomena.”  The rebuttal in those paragraphs has indicated that, historically speaking, Dr. Sosin was off on a tangent.  But it was actually a tangent within a tangent.  Not only was my manuscript not about the 1930s; its “main claim” was not that social work has turned away from other areas of helping.  As the abstract makes clear, the manuscript’s main claim is that genuine social work is a superset of helping professions, including not only today’s social work profession but also public health and others.  The historical narrowing of the social work profession is helpful and supportive, but the point of the manuscript would not change even if the history were entirely different.  The manuscript is not primarily historical.  It is forward-looking.  It addresses a contemporary problem, not a historical one, with a suggestion for how people might conceive things in the future.

This is evident from the manuscript’s abstract.  It does not contain any reference to the history of the social work profession.  Its only historical reference alludes to “many professions that have followed in the footsteps of Jane Addams.”  Otherwise, it speaks entirely in the present and future tenses.  I doubt that anyone, including Dr. Sosin, believes that the profession is a significant player across the breadth of topics that Addams addressed.  While abstracts can depart somewhat from the texts they purport to summarize, in this case it appears that Dr. Sosin developed an idea that departed from both the text and the abstract.

I hope Dr. Sosin did not deliberately distort the manuscript with the predetermined intent of keeping its message from its readers.  Such distortion could be motivated by a recognition that the manuscript recommends rejection of the status quo that presently serves an editor and his buddies.  I hope, in other words, that Dr. Sosin did not suppress my article in an intentional effort to prevent social workers from seeing remarks that might call for change he would find unpleasant.  I hope the explanation for his behavior is something else — that, for instance, he may just have been too encumbered with arcana to grasp and digest what others may consider the manuscript’s obvious point.

The manuscript’s point can be illustrated with Dr. Sosin’s own words.  First, as his May 25 letter repeatedly emphasizes, social work academics disagree on what their profession is about.  “There is much debate,” he says, over the question of whether the social work profession has become preoccupied with individual psychosocial phenomena and turned its back on other major areas of helping.  Some social work academics think it is essentially a clinical mental health profession; others strongly disagree.  This is not a minor controversy.  It is a core dispute about what the profession exists for.

That, however, is a problem.  Again, using Dr. Sosin’s own words, “any viable profession . . . limits its domain.”  There are many examples:  law is done by lawyers, medicine by doctors.  Social work, he says, has not been able to limit its domain.  That seems right.  There is not a general public line of work that everyone recognizes as social work, comparable to teaching or firefighting.  There is just an amorphous grab-bag of things that people with social work degrees do.  Their domain is not limited.  But according to Dr. Sosin, a profession without a limited domain is not viable.  The unintended import of his own words is that social work is not a viable profession.  Again, that seems correct.  As my manuscript indicates, Flexner reached more or less the same conclusion a hundred years ago.  Flexner was referring, at that point, to a much broader social work profession; yet even now, after so much has been removed, Dr. Sosin is still not able to say with conviction that social work has finally been able to focus on any one thing in particular.

The nonviability of the social work profession plays out on the conceptual level, as just noted, and also on the practical level.  Practically, in a slow-motion train wreck, social work started with a very broad reach, but has been losing its grip ever since.  Public health was an early departure, along with unionization and other areas cited above.  The hemorrhage continued even within the profession’s preferred area of mental health, as discrete competitors developed:  counseling psychology, for instance, and psychiatric nursing, and marriage and family therapy.  But again, debates about history are beside the point.  Whatever may have happened back then, we are now approaching the day when increasingly intelligent robots will displace social workers and home health aides for various purposes.  Similar concerns apply at other levels as well.  In particular, it would be foolish to assume that garden-variety LCSWs can never be sidelined by ever more capable, affordable, and nuanced software, pharmaceuticals, implants, and social arrangements.

Many academics who have enjoyed the social work status quo will continue, for as long as possible, to milk the system, using the profession as an all-purpose banner under which they can keep getting paid good money to do their own thing.  But as I discuss elsewhere, that status quo has not yielded ideal outcomes for the profession, for practitioners, or for clients.  Regrettably, it has produced a lot of low-caliber schools of social work, cranking out numerous vaguely trained, low-paid graduates who experience high rates of turnover and burnout and who, if they do achieve licensure, are not necessarily averse to providing quack treatments while ignoring published research (which, in academic journals, may not even be practically accessible for practictioners who lack a current university affiliation).  Lacking dominance of any particular turf, it appears that economic and technological developments will continue to whittle the profession down to a remnant of semi-connected niches, holding out to varying degrees against competing professions.

In other words, the social work profession depends upon its amorphous nature.  Its inability to specify and dominate a practical task, like engineering or dentistry, leaves it vulnerable.  Those interested in its survival might consider a shift in their orientation.  My manuscript offers the simple proposal that we recognize “helping” as the objective of genuine social work.

There, again, Dr. Sosin interposes an unhelpful tangent, suggesting that “help” must be subjected to a process of “extended definition.”  In taking that position, he disputes the manuscript’s suggestion that it may not be very helpful to “begin with an attempt at a dictionary-style definition.”  Dr. Sosin defends his perspective with the claim that “examples are not definitions.”  In that, he appears to be uninformed.  There are different kinds of definitions.  Ostensive definition is precisely the strategy of defining a term by pointing to examples.  It is an essential tool.  How else would one convey the meaning of “blue” to someone learning English?

While armchair philosophizing about an “extended definition” may suit academics making a good income, it has patently failed to provide direction.  We can see, plainly enough, that there are many ways to help, that Jane Addams used to engage in a number of them, and that genuine social work extends far beyond today’s rump profession.  That is a sufficient basis on which to begin thinking about how we can help – regardless of whether the needed help falls within the scope of what some definitionally bound individual might allow as social work proper.  This, anyway, is the de facto course taken by many social work graduates:  they have taken a variety of helping positions, without trying to square those positions with academic definitions.

In my email message to Dr. Sosin, I had already addressed the advice to provide “an extended definition of ‘help.'” He rejected the concept that genuine social work could and should be understood as an open-ended commitment to provide help as needed.  He argued that banking can be a form of helping.  Again, though, that was addressed in the manuscript:  society does not need help in banking, except when bankers cease to serve the public.  In that case, a helping profession would wish – and within its presently very limited capabilities, today’s social work profession sometimes tries – to insure that lawyers, government agencies, and other watchdogs are preventing exploitation of the most vulnerable persons with whom bankers interact.  The question posed in the manuscript is, “What is being left undone?”  Dr. Sosin appears to be arguing against the kinds of advocacy, across the spectrum of human activity, that do sometimes appear in the social work literature.

In a closing remark, Dr. Sosin’s writes, “I also do not feel that the manuscript supports its arguments in scholarly terms.”  His position seems to be that a writer cannot simply present a logical problem and suggest a solution.  I realize that proposed solutions are rarely novel.  In this case, however, there does not appear to have been prior discussion of the manuscript’s distinction between the existing social work profession and a superset of helping professions comprising genuine social work.  In repeatedly recommending random explorations without addressing that precise point, Dr. Sosin may have confused scholarship with pedantry – with, that is, the assumption that a discussion of the social work profession must inevitably beat around the bush and lose itself in endless debates, without ever getting to the point.

As I say, I would have preferred to engage Dr. Sosin directly on these matters, but he did make clear that he wanted me to go away.  I appreciate that his workload may preclude correspondence with individual authors.  That, however, is not the author’s fault.  If a journal cannot spare the time to make defensible judgments – indeed, if editors find themselves so stressed that they must resort to unethically snide and browbeating behavior – then maybe the journal should break down and hire an assistant or two.

In this post, I have demonstrated that the editor of a leading social work journal persisted in illogical arguments, displayed unfamiliarity with the submitted manuscript, and behaved unethically in an attempt to win an argument, with an author, regarding the substance of that author’s submission, while disingenuously claiming that no such disagreement was actually taking place.  I have traced through these matters, in part, to supplement the impression, documented elsewhere in this blog, that the journals exercising so much influence on social work knowledge display a pattern of resistance to potentially valuable heterodoxy.

I do not know how many other authors have encountered these sorts of behaviors.  Journal processes are generally concealed from public view.  But it does seem safe to surmise that social work writers have experienced many encounters like those described in these blog posts, and that the profession’s knowledge base and its future have suffered as a result.

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