The work of a reviewer is wonderful in a lot of ways—with plenty of access to fresh ideas and opportunities to shape journals in terms of contents, voices, and directions. These works help one see what colleagues are doing around the country and world. The reviewer work also encourages one to stay on top of the field and to make efforts to enhance it.
While journals get what is cutting-edge (sometimes), it’s rare to get anything bleeding-edge. For that, it’s about being active in the field and being there in the design of such works and socializing with colleagues to find out what’s actually going on. A lot of fantastic work also never gets written up in the literature because—frankly—a lot of people dislike writing. And some projects are so complicated, it takes actually being joined-at-the-hip with a researcher to be able to write about it, or it would take a “mind meld” of sorts to actualize any sort of paper. Both are impractical and time-consuming.
Not only that, many are very publicity-shy. They’d rather do their work, write up their grant reports, and move on to the next thing. They don’t want the potential eyes-on-project, and they also don’t want any potential headaches from publicity.
This has been on my mind because I just hit “Send” to release a review to the editor. I am under few illusions that people cannot find out who reviewed their work. After all, there are thin protections. If people wanted, they could find out the name on the annotations. They can dig around the file properties. They can “socially engineer” responses from editors, and many editors are not too protective of information. Many do not mediate comments.
I have personally found out who critiqued a chapter (the person accepted the work but added scathing and grumpy comments about my in-text APA citations—probably well deserved) of mine without any difficulty. I am not holding any grudges, but that just showed how easy it was to surface information…and then cross-reference it with other information streams to verify.
Speaking of verification, I have somewhat of an irritating (to other writers) approach of verifying truth claims made in research papers. If something is asserted about a research project and it strikes me that the work probably already appeared in print before, I’ll track down the original. If someone makes huge claims about the sizes of the membership of a particular virtual world group, I’ll verify (imagine finding double digit membership instead of four-digit membership). If a person makes truth claims, I will look for evidentiary supports and clear citations. I’m not pugnacious about it…but how am I doing my job if I’m not verifying?
That “Oh, really?” response is not about being tough but about being realistic. It’s about seeing what’s-what and hopefully learning in the process.
That fact-checking is due diligence for all professional media organizations. It’s unthinkable that academia may sometimes have lower standards than what mainline media have.