Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ruminations on reviewing

Okay, I was just reading Crazy's post about being a reviewer for a journal, the sad responsibility of giving a negative review, and how impersonal the feedback process seems to be. I can really relate to her comments. I serve as a reviewer for three journals, and I wrestle with some of the same problems.

Some of that issues Crazy raises relate to the rules of double-blind reviewing. If I don't know who is writing the piece, I have to say, "The author needs to flesh out these ideas..." "The author(s) should clarify their methodology." Etc. And then I send my comments into the abyss, where someone hopefully reads them, curses me, and revises and resubmits. (One could argue this is not a problem if the author is dead, but let's assume we agree the author is a living, breathing person or persons who would like to get their damn article published.)

I have some ideas for improvement of the process:

1.a. Have authors pick a pseudonym. Not like Jake or Allyson or something more androgynous like Pat, but something that gives a little insight into their soul. Something more like blogger names: Dying in Midwest Small Town, Partygrrrl, or even Fishface. It really would be more fun to respond to Fishface's theory of social change than "the Author's". It would also help us determine articles with more than one author, helping the reviewer ditch the unfortunate use of "author(s)".

1.b. Perhaps have reviewers pick pseudonyms, too. Or the author could assign us names. Instead of being "Reviewer 1," I could become "APA freak" who seems more obsessed with comma placement than the content of the article. (Not that I would EVER do that.)

I always assign my reviewers names--I seem to think I can determine their age and gender, based on their comments. I had "grumpy old white guy" and "suspicious black woman" on one of my articles on race; GOWG felt that it was inappropriate to use race as an analytic lens on any social process (seriously), whereas SBW couldn't believe that some white people really thought (or were taught) that all blacks supported integration and the only whites supporting integration were Northern ("Mississippi Burning," anyone??).

2. Send author comments back to the reviewers. It is a drag for a reviewer to write detailed comments and never have a chance to hear back from the author(s). It would be okay to have someone tell me that I missed something on page 2 that answered my question about page 5, or that my suggested literature actually helped them expand their lit review and their conceptualization. I would even be okay for someone to tell me they thought I missed the point altogether. I am no definitive expert; I just bring my experience, knowledge and perspective, which are altogether too fallible. Instead, I am judge and jury with my blindfold and earplugs in place, making a ruling that I never hear.

3. Notify reviewers when an article is (a) accepted and (b) published. I did the work of reviewing; let me know what the final product looks like!

4. Encourage authors to thank their reviewers--even the ones they hated. I just saw an article I reviewed published, and it was stronger because of my recommended changes. They didn't thank the outside readers, which was kind of a bummer.

Also, I always wanted to add a note in my book that thanked the one elitist woman who recommended against publishing the book because my co-author and I didn't work at one of the premiere schools. (I was at an R1 at the time, but apparently it wasn't an R1 that impressed her.) My note would have said, "To the outside reader who dissed our schools: Thanks for inspiring me to move on to bigger and better programs. I hope to be your boss someday."

5. Let reviewers cycle off every few years. I get tired of reviewing articles. I have learned that if you have a fast turnaround time on reviewing, they send you MORE. You actually are punished for being quick and consciencious. (Of course, this is true in every aspect of academe; if you can keep up with details, you get elected chair of committees. If you can get grant money, they want you to get more. If you can relate well to students, go do advising, serve as advisor to the student group, and handle all the problem students.) Yet, I would argue that this doesn't bode well for scholars in the long run. Instead of encouraging reviewers to slack off, I encourage journals to cycle scholars off their lists of reviewers regularly. Give someone new a chance, and let some of us old-timers get a break. I find I am nicer and more conscientious when I have had a few months between articles.

As with the other advice, I really am serious about the pseudonyms. If you ever get a review signed by "Harried and Hurried," just know that I am still trying to do right by you, despite the pressures of my current administrative, teaching, research, and service roles. And be sure to write me back and let me know if the feedback was helpful.


undine said...

This is all true, but especially the part about being prompt. Nothing punishes you like success at promptness.

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