The Blogora: The Rhetoric Society of America


Peer Review: Should you Google the title of a work you are reviewing?

Submitted by syntaxfactory on February 27, 2013 - 8:33am

(This is a tough one. By googling a piece I was reviewing, I learned that a substantial hunk was already printed in another journal. That seems worthwhile. On the other hand, maybe that's the editor's job, not the reviewer's job. This blog post uses some hyperbole but it asks a basic question about what 'blnd' review is in the age of Google.)

From NewAPPS:

Self-restraint in refereeing
by Helen De Cruz
Dear author,

I regret to inform you that Awesome Bigname Philosophy Journal cannot accept your paper for publication. After having googled the title of your paper, and failing that, lines from your abstract and paper, our referee discovered your identity. He found that you are a nobody from an lackluster university, without a tenured or tenure track position but only a lowly [adjunct teacher, grad student, postdoc etc], and [a woman, black, non-English speaker etc] to boot. Therefore, after a perfunctory glance at your paper, the referee has decided that your paper is not of high enough quality to be published in ABPJ.

We pass on referees' comments in the hope that they may prove useful. We receive over n submissions each year, and must reject many very competent papers, especially those written by people on the bottom of the academic ladder. We hope that your work will find a home in another journal, though obviously one not as highly regarded as ABPJ.

Best wishes,

The Editor.

I cannot imagine a real situation where an author would receive such a letter, but apparently it is not uncommon for referees to try to find out the name of an author of a paper they referee. They are not shy about it either. Brit mentioned many freely admitting this, and thinking they are free of bias. Interestingly, the belief that one is free of bias, unlike other people, who are of course biased, is another form of bias, called the bias blind spot. The bias blind spot does not get attenuated with intelligence or education. So it is very problematic that referees lack the self-restraint and google titles of papers in an attempt to find out the authors' names....

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