i’m blogging in the chronicle

A few months ago, I had a blow out because I was asked to review 8 articles in one month. This resulted not in a review, but rather a blog post. Shortly thereafter, I started receiving inquiries from the American Sociological Association’s offices encouraging me to submit the piece to our disciplinary newsletter, Footnotes. The final of these also suggested that the Chronicle might be interested–not a bad idea, I thought. So, I proceeded, and found out along the way that they have to have exclusive rights for a period–and so I pulled the blog entry.

Turns out, they really liked it. Whodda thunk? The “essay,” called “The Peer Review System is Broken” came out yesterday in the Chronicle Review Section. Hope you get a chance to read it. If your institution has paid enough money, you may be able to read it here.

Even better, they liked it so much that they’ve invited me to write 2-3 essays per year for them! Wow–maybe getting ticked off does pay! I’m taking suggestions for the topic of my next rant…

7 thoughts on “i’m blogging in the chronicle”

  1. I love your piece (even if I fear the consequences of your recommendations). Why not pick up on the third commenter’s suggestion that you address how the review process is linked with tenure and promotion? Especially given the predicted decline in (book) publishing opportunities…


  2. I saw you there. I was going to comment there, but was too busy trying to finish my syllabus . . . A better calculation is trying to estimate how many reviews are being solicited by counting # of journals & estimating submissions X reviewers per submission. I’m behind in a review for a top general journal (read article but then got too snowed to write it up), I fast tracked the review for a second tier journal because they followed up, only to find out they had asked for 4 reviews !!! of that article, and did not really need mine! I was annoyed.

    Guidelines that seem appropriate to me: journals are allowed to ask for only 1 full professor reviewer per article, and 1 or maybe 2 junior people. Trying to get multiple high status reviewers per article is part of what is driving some of us out of our minds while making other people feel shut out of the process.


  3. I loved your piece. One potential issue that you didn’t raise was the question of how broadly some subfields publish. Folks in sociology of the family are tightly clustered around publication in Journal of Marriage and the Family, with perhaps one or two fall back journals and occasionally aspiring to an AJS or ASR, but even so, they submit to far fewer journals than a field like Culture, where there is no clear status journal for the subfield, so people submit and publish to a much broader list of journals. Submission and publication then puts you into each journals pool of potential reviewers.

    I’m guessing your 8 reviews in one month didn’t come from one or two journals, but from 8 different journals who all wanted a piece of you and had no means for knowing that they had to join the crowd clamoring for your time.

    No centralized means of knowing about reviews means not only no reviewing gatekeeper, but no great way of monitoring slackers, and a great big tragedy of the commons.


  4. I, too, liked your piece a lot and actually came over to scatterplot today with the intention of writing about it…. thanks for beating me to it :)

    Frankly I think editorial judgment is a good thing, even if infuriating in the micro. That is, your suggestion to reject without review more often would be good for the discipline even if it feels bad to the submitters. Getting three reviews of every scrap that comes through the office is a CYA strategy with bad outcomes.

    I also think OW’s comment is very apt – the problem is not that everyone is reviewing a ton, but that high-status reviewers are. My practice has become, after asking some scatterbrains, to say “no” more often than I used to but to be quite liberal in suggesting alternative reviewers who are younger or otherwise not all that well known.


  5. Great Chronicle piece. I feel like a lot of people are complaining about this lately (although this is the most extreme situation I’ve heard about). Most junior people I know are pretty willing to review articles when possible — as long as the subject matter is relevant. So I wonder if the problem is not so much that other people are saying no as it is that there is just an increased volume of journal submissions in general. For example, when I started grad school in the mid-90s, it was very unusual for grad students to publish an article based on their master’s thesis. If they did, it was usually in a niche journal. Now it seems to be very common, and students are submitting these papers to top journals. Additionally, with the tight job market, ABDs and recent PhDs are feeling very pressured to get publications on their CVs, so they may be sending out more work than would have been the case in the past.


  6. I was reviewing 5 articles a month in the 1980s. And I’ve been in Dan’s situation often in the past 20 years. Just saying. I’m guessing that there may be some increase in submissions, but there is a longstanding problem that “good” reviewers get hit up a lot. I think increasing the number of reviewers through a combination of moral pressure and expanding the pool coupled with reducing the reviews per article (except in cases of controversy) is a better strategy.


  7. I’m thinking about posting this on the Chronicle site too. I’m now thinking that part of the solution is to require every journal to a) solicit self-nominations from potential reviewers (including advanced grad students) and b) send every article out for review to at least one and preferably two untested reviewers along with one or two tested reviewers. Logic: this is a way to expand the pool of tested reviewers.


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