Sunday, March 13, 2011

Is Blind Review Dead and Gone?

I'm still stuck on the response that I got from a very prestigious journal in my field this week. The reviewer was kind and respectful, said many complimentary things about the article, and had obviously read it very carefully and provided a detailed analysis. However, several things bothered me.

For one, blind review seems to be a thing of the past. My article was reviewed by somebody who initially received the article and knew who I was. The practice of assigning several reviewers to an article is also dead and gone. I published in this journal several years ago when they still had blind review and three different independent reviewers. Now, nobody is even trying to pretend that the process is in any way objective.

The person who reviewed my article is an esteemed scholar, and I found his feedback useful. However, this is not what academic publishing should be like. It shouldn't be up to a single person who is familiar with the author's name and credentials to decide whether the article is accepted for publication. It shouldn't be about whether that single reviewer agrees with the author. If the only people who get published are the ones this sole reviewer agrees with, the discipline's future looks drab.

Nothing is more discouraging to me than to observe this rapid erosion of scholarly standards. 


Pagan Topologist said...

Blind review was tried in some journals in mathematics in the 1970's. I was asked to review an article which I immediately recognized as having been written by my Ph. D. Advisor. It was eight years after I finished grad school. I gave it an honest review, and suggested some revisions. He later mentioned to me that he had revised the paper in accord with the referee's comments, and that it had led to a lot of important things' being left out. A couple of years later, long after the paper had appeared, I told him I had reviewed it.

I am still disappointed that the stuff I sugggested was not needed was never puiblished, since it is interesting, still, and I just did not comprehend it at the time. He could have written it more clearly, however, so that anyone reading it would have seen its significance.

Pagan Topologist said...

I am going to say that the new template works better with my browser than the last one. the last one was really slow and the text would disappear for twenty or thirty seconds while the background alone showed up every time I changed to a new post. The stark white, though, strains my eyes after a few moments.

Clarissa said...

Wow, now you have a picture! Is this a real picture of you?

In my field, I remember hearing about this tradition where people had to recuse themselves from reviewing if they recognized the author. It's sad that such practices are dying out.

Clarissa said...

I removed the stark white. Does this look better?

Pagan Topologist said...

The picture is indeed me. It was taken at a conference in Austin TX last June. I cropped it out of a larger picture of myself and one other conference participant.

The idea of blind reviewing was given up on in mathematics, since the number of people in the subfields is too small. It is pretty unlikely that I would not recognize any author in continuum theory, which is my branch of topology, by style or subject matter. The present practice is that the author does not know the identity of referee, but the referee does know the author. Editors have discretion as to how many reviewers/referees to use for a particular paper. For papers deemed really important, three is pretty standard, I think. For most papers, one is regarded by many editors as sufficient. There have been times when I was the only person an editor could get to read someone's work, since it was so difficult to understand.

The strangest thing I ever experienced was while I was in Poland in 1975. I refereed a paper in which I discovered a simple way to make a major improvement in the work. The editor made the decision that my discovery was so important that he suggested that I become a co-author. I agreed, he notified the author, we wrote up the greatly revised paper, and the editor sent it to another reviewer. It was accepted quickly, so I ended up with a joint publication with a mathematician whom I had never met. (We did meet a month or so later.)

Pagan Topologist said...

Yes, the color is much easier on my eyes. Thank you!