“Blind” Review: You Can Ask to be Seen!

March 11, 2010

My friend and colleague, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, has written much and more on the state of academic publishing (and I recently edited a section on this in Cinema Journal) so I won’t go there again here. Kathleen’s recent book, Planned Obsolescence, is being openly peer-reviewed, on-line, at MediaCommonsPress: “open scholarship in open formats.” In this spirit of openness and full disclosure, I share my recent escapades in the dodgy realm of the “blind” review. For, “blind” reviews certainly achieve many things, including the cloaking of shoddy practices of those in control, the hiding of labor and promises behind shields of anonymity, and the use of outdated methods that have lost touch with current technologies as well as practices of publishing.

About two years ago I applied to write for an edited anthology (by two of Cinema Studies’ most esteemed statespeople), to be published by a pre-eminent discipline-specific press, about Teaching Media Studies. How proud was I to be accepted! I wrote and re-wrote my little manifesto about teaching media production within media studies classrooms, with the close help of my editors. A lot of time was spent, and the piece was perfected for this particular place. Quite recently, I was rather summarily dismissed from the enterprise, after being told in a professional but not particularly supportive way, that there were too many words in the anthology, and mine had been, not surprisingly, given its edgy and marginal goals, selected to go to reduce word-count. In the meantime, the uncountable hours of revision were wiped away, “blind” to all but me.

Now much too short for just about any place (the requirements of the anthology) and entirely re-directed to address the editors’ and anthology’s concerns, I naively set out to try to re-place my effort elsewhere. I chose to send it to one of the pre-eminent journals in the field because the book version had itself been written for a lofty forum and a field-specific audience. The journal has a nifty little on-line submission template, so imagine my surprise, after the cumbersome effort of filling in all their required fields, and taking my name off the front of the article, to be asked to re-submit. I include my correspondence about this for one reason: to prove that these creaky old rules, that make less and less sense in our on-line world (where a quick google search could identify anyone anyhow, if anyone actually cared), can be re-thought to be more responsive to our needs as writers and thinkers, critics and learners.

Dear Dr. Juhasz,

I write you in regards to manuscript #x which you submitted to Y. Y is an academic journal which peer reviews all its essays. As per the instructions to authors on our website, all the files you upload, apart from the cover letter, must be blinded, ie not give any information as to your identity. The manuscript you have now submitted twice is not blinded for review. Please can you log in again and resubmit it, with the cover information in a separate file. When you resubmit, please can you answer all the questions fully (ie  not “already answered” in place of essay title etc). Your previous versions will not be visible to our reviewers, so the latest version needs to have all relevant information fully completed.

Sincerely,
Z

—–Original Message—–
From: Alex Juhasz
Sent: 02 March 2010 18:19
To: Z
Subject: Re: Decision on Manuscript ID X

There must be some misunderstanding here. The version I am uploading has no cover information on it. Is there something I am missing? Thanks,

Alex Juhasz

——-

On Mar 4, 2010, at 8:06 AM, Z wrote:

Dear Alex – your name is listed several times in the contents of your essay. Any info identifying you must be uploaded separately, as a cover letter.

Z

—–Original Message—–
From: Alex Juhasz
Sent: 04 March 2010 17:26
To: Z at Y
Subject: Re: Decision on Manuscript ID X

I am a feminist scholar who writes about my own media work in conjunction with production and scholarly traditions that inform it.  Taking out references to myself in the piece seriously changes the fundamental theoretical, political, ideological and stylistic program of the piece. Not really sure what the best response is…Happy for your advise.

Alex

—–

On Mar 8, 2010, at 2:32 AM, Z wrote:

Dear Alex

Blinding essays so the author cannot be identified is a long-established process in peer-reviewed journals. If you feel you cannot remove references that identify you without compromising the piece, I’m afraid Y cannot accept your essay for peer-review.

Best wishes
Z

——-

From: Alex Juhasz
Sent: 08 March 2010 16:45
To: Z
Subject: Re: Decision on Manuscript ID X

Z:

I will re-send this truly blind, as you request. In the meantime, I an requesting that you bring this matter to your Editorial Team. As a feminist scholar who has looked to (and published in) Y for my entire (nearly twenty-year) career, and has applauded its role in allowing feminist practices and concerns to have a central role in the (re)shaping of the field of Cinema Studies, I am somewhat stymied, or perhaps disappointed, that the “long-established process of peer-review” trumps careful decisions about particular pieces that fall inside and outside these cherished rubrics. The challenging of such common-sense institutional practices was once a focus of your journal. I have a long and steady career of writing about my own work in the first person voice and theorizing from this position. I am not alone in such a writing style and method: one theorized by feminists in these very pages over the course of twenty-plus years. In fact, in the 1980s, I published a piece in Y about making AIDS activist videos, where my presence, work, and personal relationships were central to the theoretical meaning(s)of the piece. I do not remember striking references to my videos, or myself when this writing was reviewed. I will continue to insist that by taking the web-site that I discuss (and made) out of this piece in the name of “blind review” you do a greater disservice to the meanings of the piece, which are that real people make the culture they need by looking to past practices, sharing their own experiences, and building communities of conviction. I hope you understand that it is your institutional practices that are of real concern to me. The matter of my piece is pretty incidental.

Alex Juhasz

—–

Dear Alex

I’ll check this out with the editorial board. It does sound as if this piece needs to be seen as is, so please hold off resubmitting another version for now – I’ll just need to run it past them and I’ll get back to you.

Best wishes
Z

——–

09-Mar-2010
Dear Alex

I’ve checked with the editors as requested and in this case they’ll accept your original version of “TEACHING MEDIA PRAXIS”. So, I’m sorry for the inconvenience but please can you upload original version again.

Best wishes,
Z
Administrative Asst, Y

3 Responses to ““Blind” Review: You Can Ask to be Seen!”

  1. Ana Thorne Says:

    This sounds like a victory! Just what we were referencing in class today – the “I” in the text – a strategy I find extremely empowering. Prof. Juhasz, you rock!

  2. cball Says:

    Alex,

    A great example here of why blind review doesn’t work in media studies or in most digital publishing. It’s something I have to constantly explain in tenure letters (e.g., Kairos doesn’t do blind review because a piece that requires a headshot video of the author won’t make sense without that headshot video!) I’m sorry you had to go through the aggravation, but I’m glad you did — it’ll be an inspiration to others to ask for the same. Thank you for posting this!

  3. Shawn Says:

    This is fantastic Alex!!!😉


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