07 September 2010

Peer pranking: Review and run

Lots of homeowners have fallen prey to kids who run up, ring the doorbell, and hide before anyone can get to the door to answer.

Of course, that’s the nice version of the prank. Another version involves placing something sticky and unpleasant in a paper bag, and lighting the bag on fire before ringing the bell, so the unfortunate person answering it will stomp on the bag to put out the fire, and end up with feet covered in... stuff.

Sometimes, opening up email with the review on an academic paper feels like very much opening the door to find a flaming bag of poop on your doorstep.

Lately, I’ve been arguing against anonymity in reviews (links below). But recently, I heard about a review process that might make anonymous peer review more agreeable.

A problem with anonymous reviews is lack of accountability: the reviewer generally doesn’t have to answer to anyone for whatever she or he writes. An anonymous reviewer can say downright nasty things about a paper and know that they don’t face anything much more than the authors trying to rebut their arguments when they submit a revised manuscript.

To put it another way, reviews are often like messages in bottles. You don’t know where it’s from. And it’s going to be a long time before you get another one washing up on shore.

I recently heard about how Frontiers journals handle peer review in part.

(A)uthors and review editors collaborate online via a discussion forum until convergence of the review is reached.

I like this idea. Now, instead a reviewer being able to drop a flaming load of, “This paper is too descriptive, doesn’t advance the field, and is boring,” and not having to hear any response for a few weeks, authors come back and say, “Here’s the page and paragraph where we describe the controls that you complained that we didn’t do.”

As it happens, these journals do publish the names of reviewers after articles are accepted. I had mentioned this possibility earlier, but just creating a dialogue may make the need for disclosure somewhat less. I would be much more okay with anonymous reviewing if journals had this sort of dialogue as reviews,

Anything that gets us closer to the sort of collegial back and forth, discussion, give and take that I usually see at conferences and away from the mysterious and inexplicable sniping that I hear people complaining about is a good thing. Dialogue has got to beat unanswerable missives. Instant messaging has got to beat a message in a bottle.

Related posts

nature didn’t want it, so you get it
Vendetta, Part 2
Should we give up anonymous reviewing?

Photo by tormol on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

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