Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Carly Simon Collorary of Academia

I am behind in reviewing articles for academic journals. This obligation, for which we get paid nada, is a fundamental part of the academic enterprise.  Journals are respected if they deploy a double-blind referee system:
  1. where submissions are sent out for review without any identifiers so that the referees do not know who the author is,
  2. and the author does not know who will be the referees.
Sure, in the modern day, with google, one can figure out who the author is pretty easily.  I resist the temptation, but can still figure out the author some of the time if the work is close to mine (so that I have read the author's other work or know what she/he is doing these days).

Carly simonThe more interesting part to me today (hence this post) is the second part--that the author does not know the reviewer is but can perhaps game the system, including cites that might lead journal editors to send the piece in particular directions which is where Carly Simon comes in.  Well, while reading the piece du jour, I am wondering: is this citation of my work in this piece really necessary or is it just to play to my ego in case I am a reviewer of it?  Yes, I am so vain I think this citation is about me.  The next question is this: will I be more likely to accept the piece because it cites me?  Because it cites me a bit gratuitously?

To be sure, reviewers will be off-put if their highly relevant work is omitted.  The academic ego can be a fragile thing.  Plus if an author does miss some central work in the field, that might be part of the legit justification for recommending a revise and resubmit or rejection.  But I do wonder if playing this game too nakedly, with gratuitous cites, might be akin to being too much of a suck up.

So, academic readers, how do you respond when you are refereeing a journal article and the author seems to be making a pitch directly to you?  Today, the issue is largely irrelevant as the piece is a revise and resubmit that has done everything the reviewers (including myself) have asked of the authors and more.  But I do wonder--am I being played?  Are you?  Should I try to play this game myself?

1 comment:

Josh Busby said...

It's a big field so I try not to take it personally if someone doesn't cite me, unless the lack of a citation is egregious (if the article is really, really close to a narrow thing I've written).

I generally try to see if they are missing cites of the people I cite. I'm flattered if I'm cited, but I'm not going to give someone an R&R or above just because they cite me. If the article is still bad, them citing me won't tip the balance. It might have a marginal effect on close calls for an R&R.