Blind review process can perpetuate inequality (feedback)

The blind peer-review process has long been a feature of academic research. The blind review confirms that the research is evaluated on the basis of job qualifications, not those who did the work. Theoretically, this results in better quality research and reduces the impact of bias and gatekeeping on academic publications. In practice, however, blind reviews can facilitate the perpetuation of institutional inequalities by looking at the identities of those whose work has been promoted and their organizations’ agendas. It is time for academics to reconsider the consequences of blind review and create a process to evaluate research that promotes high-quality work sharing without the unintended consequences of strengthening the legacy of loss.

I heard from those who took part in the Pandemic Pedagogy Research Symposium (PPRS) event on May 11 because the problems of blind review have become clear to me. They are changing the way they teach, based on innovation from the epidemic-era remote and hybrid education. In evaluating the research proposal, we used a two-blind review process; I sent de-identified submissions to a pool of external reviewers and they returned reviews anonymously. Each proposal is reviewed by three people, and scores are added together. The final program of the symposium included 34 proposals with the highest score.

This seemed to be a responsible and time-honored way to ensure that our review process was not affected by the underlying bias. In fact, we have received a submission from a team of authors representing multiple universities, including discriminatory policies against LGBTQ students, faculty and staff. Specifically, the four religious universities represented at our event have official policies that prohibit students from revealing their homosexual, homosexual, queer, or transgender identities. Students and staff members who violate this rule will be subject to sanctions, including expulsion or termination. The response we have received from our participants reflects the real and profound shock they felt when they heard a lecture on innovative learning from people representing universities that support discriminatory beliefs and practices.

Blind review protects us from making bad decisions because of our inherent bias, but it also prevents us from taking proactive steps to eliminate inequality. Clear By placing personal and institutional identities outside of the decision to publish biases, we create space for messages that conflict with our values.

Blind reviews create a way for people who control the space for speech to avoid taking on the responsibility of including those spaces. Instead, it is the responsibility of those of us who conduct research campaigns to consider the historical implications of institutional inequality and to take deliberate and proactive steps to mitigate it. As long as we do not actively oppose discrimination, we will continue to suffer.

At the very least, conference organizers and journal editors need to think about how they can ensure that the work they promote is consistent with their values. Researchers are evaluated not only by the research they do but also by the context in which they do it, starting with their data collection ethics and how they use and cite the work of others. Considering the practices surrounding equity and inclusion where they work is a necessary extension of research ethics assessment.

Blind review of deposits should be the standard for job evaluation, but a final blind review should be done to exclude deposits from organizations that do not conform to the stated standards of the event or publication. This has the immediate effect of ensuring that our publishing outlets do not give voice to organizations that promote discriminatory practices. In the long run, holding researchers accountable for the organization in which they want to work can be a catalyst for more significant and influential change in where research funds go and where people choose to work.

In the case of PPRS, our call for proposals should have included a statement that submissions from institutions that intentionally and explicitly discriminate against LGBTQ students and staff members should not be accepted. The proposals I received should have been verified to make sure they all met this standard. I will do this in the future, and I encourage other organizers and editors to do the same.

There is a place in the academic publishing process for blind review, but it should only be a part of the process. It is time to acknowledge our responsibility to take proactive steps to eliminate inequality and inequality in academic publications. Going beyond blind review is a step in that direction.

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