Wednesday, August 15, 2007

dodging reviewers

Wicked Anomie, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at ASA, posted a list of tips for getting your paper published based on a session of journal editors at ASA. One of them:
[A]nyone you name in the acknowledgments will NOT be called upon to serve as a blind reviewer. That statement may sound obvious, but think about it this way: if there is anyone you DON'T want reviewing your paper (nemesis, archenemy, etc), acknowledge their brilliant advice on an earlier version of your manuscript.
I regard this as ethically sketchy and am somewhat surprised an editor recommended it. Nonetheless, from a purely strategic standpoint, my recommendation would be that the smart thing to do if you are going to insert a name of somebody who has not read your paper into the acknowledgments as a way of having them off the list of possible reviewers, remove that person's name after the paper is accepted. There is someone who has acknowledged me on at least one paper on which I most certainly did not provide feedback prior to its publication, which you might imagine was irksome for me to see, both because of the private implication to me that the person is trying to dodge having me review their paper and the public implication that I provided help on a paper I think is of quite low quality.

BTW: I don't typically include acknowledgments in manuscripts I send under review. I wait until after the paper is accepted and add them. (I'll sometimes have them on drafts I circulate, and will usually not include them in the version I send for review.) Is that unusual?


Anonymous said...

Ethically sketchy, sure -- and I've seen even more dubious advice circulated as lore to help novices get into print. But in this case, the advice is wrongheaded. Perhaps that journal editor wouldn't send a manuscript to someone the author acknowledged, but that never stopped me when I was editing a journal. What's the reasoning? That someone who commented on a previous draft couldn't be impartial in a blind review? That's a problem with a personal relationship between author and reviewer, not with the fact that the reviewer had read the manuscript before.
I also found that reviewers would make it known to me if they had read the paper before, or had a relationship with the author, so that I could decide whether I felt there was a salient conflict of interest.
Some scholars circulate their work widely before submitting it to a journal, getting comments from friends and foes alike. If an editor struck all who had read a paper from the pool of reviewers, the top of the field might be lopped off, and the quality of the reviews lowered.

sara said...

I also don't include any acknowledgments when I send manuscripts in for review, but rather wait until the paper has been accepted. To do otherwise seems to compromise the (already fragile) anonymity of the peer review process. Also, waiting gives me the opportunity for a more complete gratitude accounting.

On the other side, as an editor, I've had the experience of a potential reviewer declining an invitation to review, because he had read and commented on previous versions of the paper at the request of the author. If I understood correctly, the concern here was not only for anonymity, but rather than he might judge the paper more harshly if previously recommended revisions had not been accomplished (i.e., making what should be a "first review" more like the review of an R&R).

Tangentially related - I love reading acknowledgments, not only as social network data but also for the ways in which they highlight the structures and processes that make our work possible. Though, to be sure, some debts are hard to fully express, like - "Thanks to Jeremy Freese who first introduced me to the Destiny's Child song "Survivor," which was the soundtrack to which this manuscript was completed."

Anonymous said...

Probably the more common ethically-questionable tactic is leaving people off of the acknowledgments list because you want to get them as a reviewer. Of course, if you never include an acknowledgments list on the first review, then you couldn't call it a challenge to ethics. But don't you run the risk of acknowledging someone after the paper has been accepted that turned out to be one of the anonymous reviewers? Would that be a cause for concern for the editor?

Captain Crab said...

One nice thing about being in sales: The only things I worry about getting published are comments on this blog.

Dan Myers said...

I typically include acknowledgments on submitted manuscripts because it helps the editor avoid refusals (such as described by editor number 2 above). Anything that improves the efficiency of the review process these days is a recommended practice.

If you want to avoid a reviewer and you have good reason, I'd suggest the up-front approach. Tell the editor in the cover letter. I've done this, and as far as I can tell, they have respected my wishes, as have I when asked.

Anonymous said...

The editors had mixed opinions on the merits of telling them upfront that there is someone you think should be avoided as a reviewer, and conversely, providing suggestions for potential reviewers. One editor welcomed such information, and the other two found such author behavior suspicious. One editor even insinuated that they might AVOID sending out manuscripts to author-suggested blind reviewers.

I did notice that they disagreed about many things. I think it all just depends on the person.

Anonymous said...

To Jeremy and the experienced academics who post in comments:

Any advice on how to strongly, yet respectfully, disagree with an established scholar in your paper without seeming unnecessarily confrontational?

jeremy said...

Anon: It's hard to speak to that without specifics, but so long as you are not gratuitious I wouldn't worry about it. People expect to be disagreed with, although they will probably disagree with your disagreement.

Dan Myers said...

I agree--just don't be a jerk about it. I have been and later regretted it. Remember that most people have tried to do good work and nothing is perfect. Think of the time when you are inevitably going to meet up with the person at ASA, or a job talk, or when you lecture somewhere. If you write your disagreement in a way that you won't feel uncomfortable when you discuss your work with that person, you've probably done a good job. Personal note here: Sy Spilerman was a total class act when we met--despite how I'd treated him in print. I learned a lot from that meeting.