Reframing The Academic Realm With Lex Academic CEO Louise Chapman

Philosophy is a funny subject because it can be interpreted in so many ways. To some, it’s an academic thing to study. For others, it’s a way of life or a personal set of values that are unique to an individual. This multi-layered view is what makes philosophy awesome and to come at from different angles.

Louise Chapman of Lex Academic has a wonderful story to tell about philosophy, editing, changing perception in the academic world and so much more. She’s also the partner of Constantine Sandis, who’s provided excellent commentary on the psychology of philosophy. 

Thanks for taking the time to chat Louise. For those who’re unfamiliar with your work through Lex Academic, what is the business about and where are you looking to take it in the future?

It’s my great pleasure. Lex Academic are an author services company for academics (the clue is in the name!) We help researchers across the globe to publish better by providing them with exceptional proofreading, copy-editing, indexing and translation.

Most of our clients work in the humanities and social sciences, and we have particular strengths in philosophy, classics, anthropology, psychology, and film studies, but we also have a small team of dedicated editors who specialise in STEM subjects and fiction.

We began as a proofreading company but now also help authors with things like transcription, book and funding proposals, CVs and cover letters etc. Unlike other companies who provide such services, all of our editors have a research background (typically to PhD level and beyond) and we match each manuscript to an editor (translator, indexer, etc.) with the appropriate expertise.

In terms of our mission, we firmly believe in levelling the linguistic playing field within academia. Analytic philosophy, in particular, has a language problem insofar as many of its esteem indicators are tied to anglophone journals and publishers. It would be a better world if this weren’t so.

Lex Academic can’t single-handedly change the world but what we can do is help non-native speakers with brilliant research to ensure that they are not discriminated against because they are writing in their second – or indeed sometimes third or fourth – language.

In tandem with this, we’re also helping to raise dyslexia awareness within academic philosophy at the postgraduate level and beyond. Universities nowadays have decent dyslexia policies at undergraduate level, but things get a lot murkier as students transform into full-blown researchers.

For this reason, we have introduced Lex Academic Scholarships for dyslexic postgraduate students working in Classics and Philosophy. While there is a monetary aspect to these scholarships, those who win them also receive our editorial services for free so that the submission of their final thesis or dissertation is not hindered by their learning difficulty.

Looking to the future, we aim to do more charity work as we continue to grow. In 2023, we shall be supporting an ESAP symposium on “Expanding the Canon”, which asks how we might include more women in the official history of philosophy.

We’re also in discussions with BookTrust to see how we might help with their Disability and Books campaign. BookTrust sends book parcels to children (3-12 years old) who’re vulnerable or in care.  They also support the creation of dyslexia-friendly picture books.

Finally, we are proud to be a founding partner of the European Institute for Global Well-being, which brings together transdisciplinary researchers, academics, and entrepreneurs in pursuit of the major societal challenges of our time for sustainable development and well-being.

In addition to such partnerships and collaborations, we shall be launching new services, either as Lex Academic or through a sister brand. While our core activities will always be editorial, we are experts in the humanities space and have already begun to offer various forms of consultation to both individual researchers and institutions.

This currently ranges from advice on publication options to help with impact and public outreach strategies and how universities and colleges can better serve dyslexic postgraduates.

Lex have the resource and experience to help both researchers who wish to flourish within the academy and those seeking a less traditional path, whether as independent scholars, philosophical consultants, or entrepreneurs. We have also been working closely with a number of institutions and are also building a global advisory board of academics that will play a larger role in our consultation processes as we develop.

On the editing side of things, we receive an increasing number of requests to edit fiction, so this is something we are considering branching out into officially, but we’ll only do it if we find a way to ensure that it doesn’t interfere with our core activities.

Louise Chapman of Lex Academic.

What’re the trends and challenges you’ve found have cropped up in the world of academic publishing?

We’ve seen moves in both positive and negative directions. On the positive side of things, there is a near-universal acknowledgment that open access is a good thing and that authors shouldn’t have to pay for it themselves, not least when they give away their work (and sometimes even the copyright to it) for free.

Indeed, we plan to play a bigger role in supporting academic authors to reach better terms of agreement with publishers and not fall prey to publishing scams. Philosophers’ Imprint and Ergo are nice examples of incredibly prestigious anglophone open-access journals, both associated with the University of Michigan, who’re clearly doing something right!

And there are more examples on the continent, such as Klēsis and Argumenta. We are jointly sponsoring a prize with the latter.

A trend we’re less pleased with is the heavy pricing of anglophone academic tomes, compared to their affordable equivalents on the continent. The former publishing model is heavily dependent on library sales.

We understand the economic need for this, as many important academic books don’t have a general audience, regardless of price. But the strategy works best when they are accompanied by paperback editions that are affordable.

Bloomsbury Academic have pioneered this dual-format approach and I hope that more publishers will follow suit. And Hackett have an incredible history of providing extremely high-quality work at affordable prices.

To my mind, they are the Penguin of academic humanities publishing and have remained independent since their launch in 1972. Otherwise, you work on a book for years, and then your own friends and family can’t access a legal copy without having to re-mortgage the house. It’s not right.

I’m also reading interesting debates on the pros and cons of the current peer-review system and how to best reward referees for the work they do (book publishing is generally better at this than journal publishing).

Journal editors have a difficult task of trying to source appropriate referees who are willing to give their time away for free as a service to the profession.

Unfortunately, some of those keenest to referee are motivated by the power awarded to them by the role. Peer review is a good thing, not least because it helps to minimise certain biases (e.g., in relation to gender), but we need more accountability for the bad refereeing encapsulated by the ‘reviewer #2’ meme.

For example, if a referee recommends that the author needs to read all their publications, this needs to be nipped in the bud by the associate editor responsible for the article’s management.

To end on a happier note, we were pleased to see (and are signatories of) the Barcelona Principles for a Globally Inclusive Philosophy, and we’re delighted to see that journals such as Philosophical Psychology subscribe to them. We’re actually sponsoring a prize on linguistic discrimination for their special issue on Understanding Bias.

What kind of editing skills do you bring into your work and what best practices would you give for creatives when editing their own work?

Editing is an intuitive process and it depends on the purpose of the material. If I’m editing philosophical work, the overall goal is clarity and concision. If I’m editing for an art historian, by contrast, I can utilise a wider (and more florid) lexicon.

In most cases, I’m seeking to crystallise the argument and to signpost it for optimal comprehension. Some clients are looking to have the general academic register of their prose elevated, which I enjoy immensely, as I spent my childhood reading dictionaries for fun.

There are so many editorial skills I’ve internalised as an academic and professional copy editor; it’s difficult to pinpoint specific editorial advice. I enjoy trading trite expressions for more sophisticated constructions (for example, substituting “due to…” for “owing to…”).

Some language lands with a thud and I’m always looking for ways to add levity with formality, as that’s the kind of prose I enjoy reading.

These days I don’t get to edit as much as I did when we began, as I must prioritise my CEO duties. I still occasionally do it for some of my oldest clients who were there from the get-go, but otherwise, I’m grateful that we have a 200+ strong team of freelancers, supported by our marvellous in-house editorial team.

What was your first experience with philosophy and how has your understanding of it changed over time?

I first encountered philosophy via the theory of knowledge, which (at least at the time I did it) was a compulsory component of the International Baccalaureate programme I was completing.

My philosophical interests later drifted towards moral psychology, especially in Kant and Plato, but epistemology shall always hold a place in my heart, especially that of the Sceptics, Stoics, and Epicureans.

For me, their unique set of concerns relating to things like ataraxia acted as a bridge between my interests in theory of knowledge and modern psychology. After that, I took some time off studies, and during my second gap year, I registered for the University of London’s International Programme, with the help of my marvellous external tutor, the independent philosopher Geoffrey Klempner.

I subsequently registered as a mature student on BA in Philosophy at King’s College London. From there, I proceeded to do the MSt in Ancient Philosophy at St Anne’s College, University of Oxford and finally my doctorate on Kant at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge.

I’m hugely grateful to the Boustany Foundation and the Cambridge Trust for supporting my postgraduate research.

From the get-go, my understanding of philosophy has been one in which it develops side-by-side with psychology. When I first studied philosophy, I was largely interested in Freudian psychology (as many teenagers are).

These days I’m far more interested in post-Jungian empirical psychology that considers the innate characteristics of personality types from an evolutionary point of view, as exemplified in the work of Doug Lisle and Jen Howk.

I find the distinction between philosophy as an academic pursuit and as a lived experience interesting.  

What are your thoughts on trying to use the topic practically rather than as something to study?

I don’t know about consciously trying to use it, but there’s no question that a lot of the philosophy I’ve soaked up over the years has made a practical impact on my life.

When my husband was diagnosed with advanced cancer three years ago, I didn’t consciously summon up Stoic philosophy in my mind but I’m sure that everything I’d learned from it over the years played its part.

Lex Academic grew out of those circumstances; learning to become what Nassim Taleb calls ‘anti-fragile’, even when my husband’s cancer treatment had to be cut short at the start of the pandemic.

My PhD work on Kant was all about the role that exemplars can play in motivating us to become better versions of ourselves. Here too, then, my academic pursuits translate into lived experience.

This has been especially true in business, where I follow a number of exemplars. Some of them are my business heroes, such as Toto Wolff (CEO of the Mercedes AMG Formula 1 team), who transitioned into motorsport out of a corporate career.

Mercedes have had a terrible year on and off the track (#wewasrobbed), but what’s really interesting to me is how Wolff has led in failure, through resilience, fortitude, and humble perseverance.

His remarks about the importance of teamwork have been especially powerful; it’s unusual to hear a billionaire speak so candidly about the importance of being there for one another. He’s made it clear that there’s almost no place for ego in successful businesses with happy workforces.

Then there’s Roger Federer, who shows how a high-performance athlete at the top of his game can be a gentle, self-possessed, and sophisticated human being without sacrificing an inch of his competitiveness.

My husband’s leading clinician at Addenbrooke’s Hospital (whom I probably shouldn’t name lest they get bombarded with requests) is similar in all of these ways, which adds credence to the suggestion that there is a type to be emulated.

Who are some philosophers that you admire and who’ve influenced your life?

Apart from Plato and Kant, I would say Christine Korsgaard, Martha Nussbaum, Rae Langton, and Jens Timmerman (I feel it’s important to include a token man).

What’s it like being married to a fellow philosopher in Constantine?

Oh yes, I suppose I should have mentioned him in the list above! Constantine is a rare philosophical beast in that he professes to be a jack of all philosophical trades but can actually hold his own against the top specialists in any sub-field that he’s applied himself to.

I’ve never known anybody to read so much and so widely. We’re different temperamentally in this way. Constantine describes his research interests as ‘unfashionably broad.’ If that’s right, then I guess mine are fashionably narrow.

That said, all the work I’ve read in my editorial capacity at Lex Academic has really helped to broaden my horizons. In other ways we’re extremely similar, both sharing a love of moral psychology, rock music, animals, and vegan food.

But our complementary personality types (he’s far more sociable than me) also make us ideal business partners. We cover a lot of bases between us.

I’m on a mission to make philosophy as accessible as possible and am curious to know what tips you’d recommend for promoting it to teenagers and kids.

For younger kids, I’d recommend the marvellous On Planet Fruitcake by Anne Fine of Madame Doubtfire fame (better known to some through the film adaptation Mrs Doubtfire). The book aimed at middle readers (8-12 years old) and introduces critical philosophical thinking through an incredibly humorous plot.

She was married to the philosopher Kit Fine (to whom the book is dedicated) for 20 years, so the book has that perfect balance between someone who is extremely acquainted with the highest level of philosophical thought, without having the ‘insider’s’ problem of articulating it to young children. It also contains hilarious illustrations by Kate Aldous.

Teenagers are trickier. There are plenty of good books out there introducing philosophy in an accessible manner (e.g., Thomas Nagel’s What Does It All Mean?), but there’s a greater danger of talking down at them.

While you wouldn’t expect a thirteen-year-old to necessarily understand the latest article in Mind or, for that matter, much of what Kant wrote, many 13-18-year-olds would really enjoy reading Sextus Empiricus, de Beauvoir, Nietzsche, Camus, or even Gilbert Ryle first-hand and I think it’s important that they do so before reading too much about them, so that they are not biased by interpretation.

You can also get a lot of philosophy from novelists like Virginia Woolf and George Elliot.

What is your interpretation of authenticity and how do you think people can showcase their values personally and professionally?

Academically speaking, I’d be out of my depth to try and answer, as I’m not well versed in the literature on this (Constantine is far more into all this Sartre stuff about bad faith). I don’t have a formal interpretation.

But in recent years, I’ve formed a more articulable personal and professional take on it, as CEO of Lex Academic. It’s may sound obvious, but it never pays in business to pretend to be anybody other than who you are.  The important lesson is to turn what some may perceive as a weakness into a strength.

Returning to some of the themes we discussed earlier, I’m an avid fan of the Beat Your Genes podcast, hosted by Douglas Lisle and Jennifer Howk. One of their big lessons concerns how to change your environment so that the authentic ‘you’ can thrive, as opposed to giving into peer pressure to adapt to one’s environment by attempting to morph into someone you’re not.

In my own case, I suffer from an extreme social anxiety disorder, something that I know you’ve battled with too, having read your Sexy Philosophy newsletter about it.

We share something incredibly similar here: you started Stoic Athenaeum because it enabled you to help businesses while staying true to your authentic self; I founded Lex Academic because it enabled me to help academics on their journeys while not following that particular career path myself.

The things I would have had to do as a paid-up academic (lecturing, conferencing, etc.) go against every fibre of my being. I’m proud that we can talk of our respective anxieties not as weaknesses but as strengths that have enabled us to do the things we do.

Critics talk of ‘neurodivergency’ as if it’s some kind of wishy-washy ‘woke’ term. I feel sorry for them because they have no idea what we’re capable of given the right environment.

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