Ren, Compton and Walter are at the cafeteria.
‘No, I’ve heard nothing more about Tyson other than that he was quickly transferred to a private hospital in London,’ says Walter.
‘Thank God for that,’ says Ren. ‘If he’d stayed at the local hospital then the story might have leaked out.’
‘But I have heard that your TITE colleagues, Tilly…’
‘Millicent. And the other one, who took the full force of the depth charge…’
‘Lenora. Or as I now call her, Jesus the Pooh.’
‘They’ve been demanding that action be taken against him, preferably criminal charges. But, of course, as Tyson was on the psych ward the University couldn’t do that.’
‘Not after all the high-profile campaigning the University’s been doing on understanding mental health,’ says Compton. ‘Getting in actors like Roger Horse to lecture us about how awful our attitudes to screwed-up people are. Even evil political fixers are forgiven as long as they say they get depressed sometimes.’
‘As long as they’re on the left, of course,’ says Ren.
‘So putting Tyson in jail would be viewed as a return to Bedlam,’ says Compton. ‘Not going to fit with the latest narrative.’
‘Sometimes the left hand doesn’t know what the extreme-left hand is doing,’ says Ren. ‘How’s George doing?
‘Says he’s fine,’ says Walter.
‘That’s what he said last time,’ says Ren.
George’s collapse was supposedly about his oesophagus again, not his heart, but no-one except himself thinks he’s in good shape.
‘Don’t tell me he’s taking his classes this week?’
‘The show must go on, he says.’
‘George Bagnall as Freddie Mercury in his last days. Not a comparison I ever thought I’d make.’
‘Well, he does have the body for it,’ says Compton, to puzzled looks. ‘As in thin and gaunt.’
‘Has Robot had a go at you for not looking after Tyson properly?’ asks Walter.
‘He has,’ says Ren, ‘but I said that if it was so well-known that Tyson was mad then why was he invited to give us a talk? And why didn’t Robot turn up himself to help keep an eye on him? I’ll be very glad when this term is over. Just a bit over a week to go and then I’ll have completed my teaching for this academic year. I’m only hanging on for Friday night next week.’
‘Congratulations, by the way, on getting your paper into the British Journal of Metaphysics,’ says Compton.
‘Thanks,’ says Ren. ‘Just a minor piece, really, And I’ve a long way to go before I catch up to Robot. I was counting his list the other day. He has seventy-five publications, and probably some more that have been accepted recently.’
‘If you do philosophy properly you’re unlikely to ever catch up to Robot,’ says Compton. ‘He just writes the same papers over and over again, and still gets them published. He really only has five papers, yet somehow he has stretched that out to seventy-five publications.
‘It’s five good journals, ten okay ones, fifteen mediocre ones, twenty bad ones, and the rest are book chapters,’ says Walter.
‘Because so many of his papers are in his obscure area that no-one cares about, no-one’s really sure how bad the journals they’ve never heard of actually are,’ says Compton.
‘And all the referees in that area are friends with each other,’ says Walter. ‘They all accept each other’s work.’
‘That’s one way you can get ahead with publishing,’ says Compton. ‘Robot’s the master at that. Find a niche area, make friends with everyone in it, then you all have to referee each other’s papers because no-one else can, and you each give a yes to the other’s work.
‘Even if you know it’s the same rehashed paper your mate writes every time,’ says Walter.
‘The Continentalists, of course, are the real masters at this,’ says Compton.’
‘And Grant’s book chapters are just commissions from his network, they’re not even really refereed,’ says Walter.
‘One thing that keeps it in check is if those people fall out,’ says Compton. ‘Which, being academics, they often do. Then they end up as bitter rivals, desperately trying to keep the others’ work from being published.’
‘Don’t editors have tactics to get around the mutual back-scratching?’ asks Ren.
‘Well, sometimes they get referees from outside the area, but then those referees will often make bad decisions because they don’t know what they’re doing,’ says Compton.
‘Some editors will just make executive decisions not to publish a piece that the referee has said yes to, either because they’ve looked at it themselves, or they’ll come up with some other reason,’ says Walter. ‘But editors having that sort of discretion is being clamped down on, because it’s thought to be too subjective. So some editors are now just declaring, not very loudly, that they aren’t publishing in certain areas.’
‘Not that they say it like that,’ says Compton. ‘If pressed, they’ll say they’re preferring pieces in their central areas. But that’s not going down too well either. But they can do it because of the huge number of articles that get submitted to them, that gives them scope to reject articles that even two referees have said yes to.’
‘One other thing journals do is they don’t use a referee for a piece if that referee is from the author’s own department or University,’ says Walter. ‘Even if the paper is submitted to the referee without a name or department, the referee might still know it’s by their colleague. It makes sense to not let that happen, but that does nothing to stop the alliances that exist outside departments, which are usually even stronger than any departmental alliance. Members of the same department are just as likely to dislike each other than like each other.’
‘But that has to be done,’ says Ren, ‘because with the RAE it’s to a department’s advantage, both financially and otherwise, to have the members getting work published, especially in better journals.’
‘It does have to be done, yes’ says Compton, ‘but the non-departmental alliances have no such block. Not that you really can block them. We want academics to network and get to know other academics from outside their own departments. You can hardly demand that referees not know anyone.’
‘It wouldn’t be hard to recognise Tyson’s submissions these days, would it?’ says Ren. ‘They’re the ones written in pooh mixed with semen.’
‘He’d be better off submitting those to the sort of journals that Verna and Adalia get published in,’ says Compton.
‘They’d be accepted there straight away,’ says Ren, ‘on the basis that the author is making a strong political statement with their materials, and because the content is incomprehensible gibberish.’
‘And also he’s a full-blown member of the latest celebrated minority,’ says Compton, ‘people with mental health issues.’
‘You mean nuts?’ says Ren.
‘You can’t say that any more,’ says Walter.
‘It’s short for Noncomformists Under Tremendous Stress.’