Signing reviews and even publishing them?

Shirley Wu pointed out an interesting entry by Luis Von Ahn arguing that reviews should be published.  This comes to me right after an interesting discussion with a colleague who routinely signs his reviews (which are typically done anonymously) so that the authors know who he is.  Both make the point that by either publishing to everyone or signing, it ensure that the quality of the review is good (your name is on it, afterall) and that you don’t take cheap shots (believe me, this is common in anonymous reviews) and that there is an opportunity for scholarly debate over the paper.  I have signed my reviews occasionally (usually for positive reviews, I must admit).   I am considering doing it routinely now.

There are downsides.  First, I don’t want to make every review I do a review that “keeps on giving.”  I am asked to do many reviews and if all of them are the start of a potential long-winded dialogue, I will decline a much higher percent.  (I am currently probably accepting 20% of requests, just to make sure I get my day job done).    Second, I have tenure but it may be asking too much for an untenured junior faculty member to speak frankly and expect their colleagues to respect their effort, and not hold it against them later when writing letters for appointments and promotions.   Finally, we don’t have a good system to allocate credit for quality reviews, and if the level of effort were to be increased, we would certainly need to consider ways to reward those who do a good job reviewing.   Part of this would be self-correcting because the “record” would show who is doing a good job, and potentially the reviews could be as “famous” as the papers themselves.

The technology is in place with online resources to trivially support a full audit trail of initial paper, reviews, and then final paper.  This would certainly be a fascinating repository of information.   Historians of science might love it.  Students might learn a ton from it.  I think the physics community does something like this, but I am not sure.  My colleague Chris Lee at UCLA has fascinating ideas in this area, but I don’t know if he has published on it.

But the first step for me is to sign the review, and I may try doing this–even for negative reviews.   After that, we can see about publishing the reviews–there, I am mostly concerned about logistics, time commitment and efficiency.

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4 comments

  1. Biology Direct edited by BioMedCentral is such an example. In the phys/math community the open arXiv (arxiv.org) is a repository for the different versions, not for the reviews.

  2. I think about this issue a lot. I try never to write anything in a review that I wouldn’t take 100% responsibility for (i.e. no cheap shots)- but I am sometimes saddened when I read reviews that I get back- because I have gotten reviews with snide or unprofessional remarks- and then suggestions just for the purpose of making suggestions- that don’t improve the content of the paper itself.

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