LINGUIST List 15.354

Thu Jan 29 2004

Disc: Re: Blind Peer Review

Editor for this issue: Sarah Murray <>


  1. Kevin R. Gregg, Re: 15.324, Disc: Re: Blind Peer Review
  2. N.S.H.Smith, Disc: Re: Blind Peer Review

Message 1: Re: 15.324, Disc: Re: Blind Peer Review

Date: Thu, 29 Jan 2004 15:24:52 +0900
From: Kevin R. Gregg <>
Subject: Re: 15.324, Disc: Re: Blind Peer Review

Although I could add some gruesome tales to this discussion from my
experience of dilatory editors and perfunctory, evidence-free reviews,
I'll confine myself to one point that I believe has not been made
explicitly (forgive me if I'm wrong): Not all reviewers, and certainly
not all people who one would, ideally, want to be reviewers, are
tenured. Some people who do not like to receive negative reviews or
rejections are in positions where they can affect some other person's
tenure. Verb., as they say, sap.

The day before Ron Sheen's initial posting appeared, I came across the
following, which, although not strictly relevant to the discussion,
seemed too serendipitous to omit:

 "'s not easy for cognitive scientists to get grants if they
are working on questions of any theoretical interest. (To ensure this
is a main function of the institution of peer review.) 
- J.A. Fodor, 'The mind doesn't work that way' p.10

Kevin R. Gregg
Momoyama Gakuin University
(St. Andrew's University)
1-1 Manabino, Izumi-shi
Osaka, Japan 594-1198
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Disc: Re: Blind Peer Review

Date: Thu, 29 Jan 2004 11:12:51 +0100
From: N.S.H.Smith <>
Subject: Disc: Re: Blind Peer Review

David Odden writes:
The solution to the peceived problem would be to persuade editors that
it is desirable to reveal reviewer identities as a matter of policy.
As editor of the journal Studies in African Linguistics, I will not do
this, because it would exacerbate the problem of getting good
reviewers to write honest reviews. It is not easy to find reviewers,
and abandoning anonymity would only decrease the size of the pool of
reviewers, which would be a seriously negative outcome. -David Odden

There has been a lot of discussion recently in the British Scientific
Press on the blind peer reviewing system. Some critics have made the
point that it has a corrupting influence whereby the "establishment"
in a given field can block articles and projects from people they
don't approve of while keeping their names secret.

Linguistics is no stranger to this kind of thing. I myself have seen
from close by a case where a grant application was rubbished on
completely irrelevant grounds. The cloak of anonymity allowed the
reviewer in question to hide his identity. His review satarted out
with promises to provide the detail later on general criticisms he had
made. These promises were mostly not kept, and as the review
progressed his tack changed to referring back to previously announced
(but not articulated) criticisms. The only criticism of substance was
a lengthy attack on Optimality Theory - hardly a controversial
approach in phonology. The result was that a promising career in
Linguistics was terminated.

So the problem is that anonymity can be a cover for a dishonest review
from a dishonest reviewer. I'm sure David can spot such a thing in the
context of his specialist journal, but it's a different matter when
it's a general granting agency, when civil servants are dependant on
other people to provide the specialist opinions. 

Norval Smith
Amsterdam Centre for Language and Communication
University of Amsterdam
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue