reflexive anti-geneticism

This is my contribution to the ongoing symposium on genetics,race, and sociological theory as well as its twin on that other blog. A quick disclaimer: I was in graduate school with J. Shiao, lead author of the paper being discussed, and we talk occasionally at conferences.

My view of the original paper is that its contribution is real but quite modest in the scheme of theory. The best way to read it is as a social-constructionist “friendly amendment” to constructivism’s tacit, yet stubborn, insistence that there is no biological basis for racial categorization. Genetic information can be used “to distinguish race/ethnicity from the existence of genetic clusters” (emphasis mine). Shiao et al. suggest that constructivist approaches to race need not cling to a strong no-genetic-clustering claim in order to maintain most of the findings of constructivism (“In sum, relatively little of the empirical explanations made by sociologists of race/ethnicity require the claim of biological nonreality traditionally associated with racial constructionism.”). In short, race is a

social reality that is historical, processual, stratified, and analytically multilevel but that is also entangled with biological inputs inherited from the geographic distribution of humans in genetic watersheds over the past 50,000 years.

While I’m no fan of genetic essentialism, I don’t think that’s what’s actually going on in the Shiao et al. article, and overall I find the critiques in the special issue quite disappointing because by and large they respond reflexively to something else instead of engaging the article’s actual contents. I actually think the most important criticism of Shiao et al. is that it’s not really all that important of a finding: the idea that minor, generally meaningless, and ancient genetic variations produce phenotypes that then become inputs to the social construction of race and ethnicity is a minor correction to social constructionism. It becomes important enough for an article in ST because of the sheer symbolic importance of race and the reflexive anti-geneticism in the field. And the character of much of the responses provide further evidence that the objections are to the symbolic affront of the article instead of to its content.

Continue reading “reflexive anti-geneticism”

too many reviewers

I freaked out recently when, after reviewing an article, I received a packet of FIVE (5!!!)  reviews on the same article. I chewed out the editors for wasting my time and told them I would never review for their journal again. After an exchange (in which I got a little less testy), I told them I’d post my concerns to scatterplot and open a discussion on the topic. Although five was over the top and freaked me out, it has become pretty common now for me as a reviewer to get a packet with four reviews. No wonder we regular reviewers are feeling under the gun. The old calculation of two or even three reviews per article has gone by the wayside. The pressure for fast turnaround and the high turn-down or non-response rate among potential reviewers has led editors to send out articles to extra reviewers in the hopes of ending up with at least the minimum two or three.

But this is a death spiral. As a frequently-sought reviewer I get at least four requests a month, sometimes as many as eight, and I used to get more before I got so crabby.  When I was young and eager, I was reviewing an article a week [and thus, by the way, having a huge influence on my specialty area], and I know some people who are keeping that pace. But at some point you burn out and say “no more.” I, like all other frequently-sought reviewers I know, turn down outright the requests from journals I don’t know for articles that sound boring, and then save up the other requests and once a month pick which articles I want to review. So the interesting-sounding articles from good journals get too many reviewers, while the boring-sounding articles from no-name journals get none. If journal editors respond to the non-response by reviewers to boring-sounding articles by sending out even more reviewer requests per article, our mailboxes will be flooded even more and the non-response rate and delayed-response rate by reviewers will go up even more. Senior scholars are asked to review six to eight (or more?) articles per month. You have to say no to most of the requests.

And then we have the totally out of hand R&R problem. Continue reading “too many reviewers”

blog commenting, blinding articles

I’m in California helping my mother, who is much better than she was in March, but still mostly housebound, on oxygen, and weak. She’s easily frustrated and demanding, which is both understandable and tiring. One upshot is that I’ve been blog commenting all day. I do get periods of free time, but as I never know when I’m going to be interrupted, it is hard to crawl into the writing I’m way-overdue on. So far I’m 0 for 0 in my goal of working at least two hours a day, although I have gotten some reviews done.

Apropos of bits of work, here’s a question about articles for review. Say there is a pretty well-known data set that is identified with exactly one research team, such that anybody who has read the literature will recognize the authors, or at least the PI, from the data. It does not matter whether you use “identifying reference withheld” or third person references, the author, or at least the author’s research team, will be identified. How much trouble should the author go to in attempting to present the appearance of conforming to the norm of not identifying the author, i.e. in using the third person in describing the research procedures? (Identifying reference withheld would seem absurd in this situation, especially as the withheld citations would be central to any literature review.)

My view as a reviewer: if the author of an article in my area is a senior person, I know who it is. But under the cloak of the anonymous reviewer, I am willing to say critical things about my friends. And good things about people whose work I don’t recognize (and thus know must be junior). I have been told by editors that this is common; people will not say bad work is good just because their friends wrote it. It is the anonymity of the reviewer that is central to the integrity of the process. So I don’t think trying to pretend anonymity is worth the trouble. In fact, I loathe “identifying reference withheld”!! If you are going to anonymize, do it with third person references.

What do you think about an author who does not even go through the motions of third person references to disguise authorship, in a case where disguise would be futile anyway. Is that bad form? Or understandable, let it go? Should editors police this kind of thing? Do they?