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Peer Review

 

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0329  Friday, 3 August 2012

 

[1] From:        Eric Johnson-DeBaufre < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         August 2, 2012 2:09:22 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Peer Review 

 

[2] From:        Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:         August 2, 2012 4:55:47 PM EDT

     Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Peer Review 

 

 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Eric Johnson-DeBaufre < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         August 2, 2012 2:09:22 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Peer Review

 

Gabriel Egan (citing with approval Larry Weiss) writes:

 

**********

From:        Gabriel Egan < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         August 2, 2012 4:43:31 AM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Peer

 

Larry Weiss writes of peer review:

 

> It would be preferable, however, for referees to

> recuse themselves if they infer the identity of

> the author. Perhaps Gabriel, who wants a pure

> double-blind scheme, will agree.

 

Agreed. If the anonymity is compromised—either because the referee recognizes the work, or (as with Downs’s case) the author identifies herself—the referee’s opinions should not count. But the obligation to ensure this sort of thing is the editors’, as they must be able to justify the journal’s practices to the publisher and (more importantly) to external audits such as the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF). The referee’s responsibility ends with telling the editors about the loss of anonymity.

 

Gabriel Egan

 

**********

 

In theory this is all well and good, but practically speaking it seems impossible to implement given the way the field of Shakespeare studies is currently structured. Given 1) the relative smallness of the field; 2) the proliferation of various niches within it, which tends to lead to more regular conversation with a smaller number of conversation partners (which is neither good nor bad); 3) the growth of more specialized conferences (a phenomenon at once distinct from and linked to #2); and 4) the reliance of journal editors on referees qualified to assess the merits of scholarship that is produced within this system, given such a structure it becomes rather difficult to argue that referees should recuse themselves if they recognize the work. Were they to do so, editors might quickly find themselves without a sufficient pool of referees able to judge the quality of the work.

 

Don’t get me wrong: there are many liabilities (John Drakakis has raised several of them) with the present system. But I am not convinced that we can repair it by asking referees to recuse themselves whenever anonymity seems compromised. That will likely lead only to a much slower review process than the terribly slow one that obtains at present, greater burdens on journal editors, increased frustration among non-tenured scholars, and a greater lag-time in the publication schedule.

 

Cheers,

Eric Johnson-DeBaufre    

 

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------

From:        Larry Weiss < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

Date:         August 2, 2012 4:55:47 PM EDT

Subject:     Re: SHAKSPER: Peer Review

 

Gabriel replied to my point about recusal with a qualified agreement:

 

“Agreed. If the anonymity is compromised—either because the referee recognizes the work, or (as with Downs’s case) the author identifies herself—the referee’s opinions should not count. But the obligation to ensure this sort of thing is the editors’, as they must be able to justify the journal’s practices to the publisher and (more importantly) to external audits such as the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF). The referee’s responsibility ends with telling the editors about the loss of anonymity.”

 

For an editor to make an informed decision about whether or not to replace a proposed reviewer, he should at least be told if she had any involvement with either the paper or its author, and what it is.  To say, “I infer that this submission was written by John Smith” is not enough.  The reviewer should disclose all facts relating to possible bias—e.g., “I was consulted by Smith about this paper and recommended that he not try to publish it:”; “I assisted Smith in drafting section 2 of the paper and I’m astonished that he did not credit me in a footnote”; “By the way, Smith wrote a negative review of my last book”; or “Smith is an obnoxious little twit and a lousy lay.”

 
 

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