Anonymous review

Over at Savage Minds there is a great discussion going on regarding anonymous and public peer review. Personally, I think anonymous review is pretty important – and while the community has been kind so far, I sincerely hope someone will rip into this blog in a huge way. I’m confident that I can stand any attacks on me, my personality, my writing, and of course on my ideas. I’m also pretty confident that while some criticisms can be voiced directly, there are challenges to really saying whats on your mind. I also feel that these harsher criticisms need an anonymous outlet. Anonymity for me is a kind of freedom.

Flame wars and flame posts also have a wonderful effect of making a page seem a lot less pretentious. So please. Flame on this post, and on this page, and please do it anonymously so I don’t feel the need to kick your ass 🙂

Of course, this tough skinned approach only works so far. One of the most interesting academic blogs I’ve come across so far has been danah boyd’s ( I would love to be able to write as openly as she does, but she admits it is quite difficult to do. In her post “Why Blogs Aren’t a Safe Space” (2004) danah boyd discusses how the blog is her space, and that anonymous reviewers have often been the ones attacking her personally. She writes:

“One thing that we’re missing as disconnected souls reading each other’s words is a shared social structure where we can intuitively understand when to critique and when to support. The blog world too easily lends itself to a forum for attacking each other, purportedly to critique ideas. How often are anonymous critiques truly constructive? How easy is it to tear apart someone you don’t know? Stanley Milgram learned that ages ago… if you feel like your responsibility is to critique, you can do so infinitely, regardless of how another might feel. And the further removed you are from witnessing the horrific reactions, the more you can continue on. Sometimes, i think we’re all a bit sadistic.”

And so I realize, that there is an element of sadism involved in writing for the world at large. Whats true of the web however, is also true of the real world. danah boyd writes “I continue to be reminded that blogging is not a safe space for me. There’s no common understanding, common ground. ”

Further, not to cite every word from her blog (although I recommend it entirely, as its incredibly open and insightful), she writes:

“Unlike many group blogs, this one has an identity. It’s a blog about women and tech. It’s a blog by women involved in tech. It’s a blog by thinking women who think, say, and create far more than a few posts a month on the site. There is an unspoken context. These are things that i take for granted. I try to keep posts short, but in doing so, i fail to lay out the framework and thus i’m attacked both for what i say and what i don’t say. Instead of creative suggestions, “perhaps you forgot this,” i usually see you’re wrong/foolish/inappropriate. Sometimes i wonder if we created misbehaving as a tool to increase our masochistic lashings. It’s certainly not a forum for interesting conversation in a safe space.”

So when is criticism a good thing, and what rules have been put in place to control the way anthropological work is reviewed? Is there a kind of code of conduct among anthropology websites? danah boyd argues that her blog has a particular identity, and that within that identity there is proper and improper behavior. Just because we can attack someone anonymously, doesn’t mean we should.

My question to everyone out there is: Once your work has been reviewed, how do you go about responding to the critique? Can you simply ignore it if you find it offensive, nasty, or irrelevant? I’m wondering to what extent peer review silences opinions, and to what extent authors appreciate having a chance to change things before they go into print. In the case of anonymous reviews, do you wish you could respond to them directly? Have you ever incorporated the anonymous reviewers statements directly into your work to respond to it?

Are anthropological journals “safe” spaces to publish ideas?

[sadistic] flame on [/sadistic]

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Spiritus Pantocrator on January 27, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Anonymous peer reviewing has now become first and foremost a means to boycott other people.

    I submitted 8 papers in the last 18 months and ONLY ONE has received the first review – one full of mistakes. If one could knew who has reviewed his/her paper (after this person failed to review it within, say, 3 months, or anyway after the review is public) there would be more progress in science. I always try to review quickly and fairly and my compensation is NO paper in print in 2009, even though I submitted 8 papers during the last 18 months.


  2. Dear Spiritus,

    Thank you very much. I am inching through writing the thesis, and this comment inspired me to attack the peer review section. And if you don’t mind I’d love to include your comment!

    Do you release “pre-published” versions by chance?

    Thanks again,


    • Posted by Spiritus Pantocrator on January 27, 2010 at 8:12 pm

      Ok, as long as you do not publish my email 😉

      Yes, I release preprints. This way, people see my name, I do not see theirs.


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