By: Charlene Makley and Carole McGranahan
Would you peer review manuscripts for a journal or press that politically censors its content? If your answer is no, then please join us in making your statement public by signing this petition.
Why the need for what seems like such an obvious defense of academic freedom? Several weeks ago, the People’s Republic of China pressured Cambridge University Press to restrict access in China to articles and book reviews in two major journals: China Quarterly and Journal of Asian Studies (the flagship journal of the US-based Association of Asian Studies). The Press agreed to censor content in China Quarterly, but then changed this decision after international scholarly protest.
The content to be censored was scholarship the Chinese government considered sensitive or dangerous, including works by anthropologists of China, Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang. Content requested to be censored is extensive and dates back to 1952 as you can see on the censorship list for each journal (list of the 300 articles China Quarterly initially blocked, then reversed decision on, and list of content Journal of Asian Studies refused to block).
Not a scholar of this part of the world? Your support of this peer review boycott still matters. It matters for broad support of intellectual freedom and access to scholarship. Your expertise matters as a peer reviewer on manuscripts with topical and theoretical overlaps with your specialties. Continue reading
This is the third post in a sequence called Strange Rumblings in the Meritocracy.
[What follows is an edited and condensed transcript of an interview I conducted with Reviewers 1, 2, and 3. NB: Reviewer 1 and 2 and I had been sitting around for two hours, waiting for Reviewer 3 to show up, when we decided, to hell with it, we’ll just start talking. Reviewer 3 eventually showed up.]
Daniel: I just wanted to thank both of you for taking the time to talk with me. I know graduate students and junior scholars will likely appreciate a peek behind the curtain of anonymous peer-review. For many people it’s their first excursion into the broader discipline beyond the networks of their home institution, professional colleagues, or academic peers. More prosaically, successfully navigating peer-review is the only way any of us will get jobs. I’m guessing, too, that some mid- and senior-level scholars who are not actively involved in journal editing might like hearing what their colleagues say.
I also want to apologize for Reviewer 3. I’ve been getting texts, I think they’re stuck in traffic, or there was a schedule conflict, or there was a sick pet, or a student crisis, or something. I’m not really sure. The message keeps changing. They say, though, that they’ll be here soon. So I guess we should get started, and make due.
I was wondering if we could start off with a basic question. When you review for an academic journal, what do you look for in an article?
I recently did a peer review for American Anthropologist, and was surprised (and delighted) to receive a note for them thanking me for my work and telling me that decision the editor made regarding the manuscript and — this is the new part — attaching all the feedback all the other peer reviewers gave the article as well. I’m familiar with this model, which is widely used in the biosciences, and I think it is great . Peer review is central to what we do but we rarely teach it to our graduate students, and the process itself is wrapped in a secrecy which makes learning on the job difficult.
At times peer review is like some sort of kinky Victorian sex act that Foucault would dissect: secret, unmentionable, but totally central to our academic/libidinal economies. People speak of it in hushed tones, afraid of the terrible secrets that will be disclosed if their behavior ever became public. Opening it up like this will help increase the quality of peer review by making review more transparent. I think it will also encourage peer reviewers to not act like total assholes when they review pieces. Which, let’s be honest, is something that needs to be encouraged.
I was curious about how this change was made so I reached out to Michael Chibnik, the editor of AA, and asked him how it came about. Thanks to Mike for answering these questions so thoroughly. Continue reading