Friday, December 4, 2015

Considering Article Reviews on a Friday Morning

Les Back, a British professor of sociology, writes some wonderfully insightful blog posts about academic life. In one post titled, The Devil You Know, he calls into question the nature of the blind review process.

I have been ambivalent about the practice of blind peer review for a long time. The arguments for it are compelling. By engaging in a blind review, reviewers are safe from retribution, and can give a fair and unbiased review.

Yet, we seldom consider its issues, and the implications of these issues for how we approach our work.

We send our articles to journals, whose editors are supposed to seek out the most qualified experts to read our work. However, this often does not happen. Editors are us, faculty, who rarely get release time for their editorial service. They are super busy, and often don't have time to look for reviewers who are perfect matches for our work. I do not blame them, but this is just the truth.

There are perhaps a dozen reasons why the review process may lead to highly idiosyncratic, sometimes capricious, and often unfair reviews. It is really important that scholars understand the quality of reviews. Too often, young scholars are subtly, and sometimes not so subtly taught that reviews are sacred documents that they must accept as being perfect. This can lead to two unhelpful responses: 1) self downing and not sending the article out for a long time (if ever); 2) authors reacting so defensively as a means of ego self-preservation that they do not pay attention to helpful feedback.

It is important to approach the review process in a non-defensive yet critical manner; reviews are sometimes helpful, but not always If you receive a revise and resubmit, your job is to try, the best you can, to non-judgmentally and non-defensively make all changes you can that do not compromise the integrity of your work. If your article was rejected, your task is to use whatever feedback you can to improve your article in your best, non-defensive judgment.

Your subsequent goal should be to resubmit your rejected article within a couple of weeks (or, it will probably not get resubmitting for a long, long time). You are no longer bound by the reviews of the past reviewers; they rejected you, and you are moving on. Take what you like and leave the rest, as new reviewers are most likely going to focus on an entirely different sets of "problems", most of which you (or anyone besides said reviewer) are not going to be able to predict.

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