27th April

under wraps that I sabotaged your publishing aspirations." These are weak justifications.

Often editorial boards have to act as the arbiters in this play of personal grudges and tainted judgement. Editors are in the unenviable position of having to decide how much of the brutal detail in the referee's report to disclose. The best try to protect the sometimes fragile confidence of scholars by filtering out their worse excesses. These difficult editorial dilemmas might easily be avoided if the system were more transparent. Anonymity has provided a mask behind which petty jealousies, envy, spitefulness, rivalry and intellectual sectarianism has flourished.

My strength of feeling on this issue was sealed when a senior professor of sociology sent me his comments on an article I'd written with John Solomos and Tim Crabbe that he'd refereed. In a scribbled note he explained the he "didn't believe in anonymous reviewing". It has to be said that his comments were fairly trenchant, but I respected him all the more because he did not hide behind the referee's privilege of secrecy. He made me realise that anonymous reviewing is a bankrupt and indefensible practice.

Now when I write a review of applications or a paper I follow his example, and send my comments directly to its author(s), and I would encourage others to do so. I've heard it said this would make it harder to find reviewers, particularly for journal submissions.


But I think we have to have more backbone. Such transparency might even make reviewing more careful and thoughtful. This problem doesn't end with deciding the fate of grant applications and journal submissions; the lack of accountability in criticism is a symptom of a wider syndrome.

Our intellectual culture is sadly lacking an ethics of measured critique. Cheap and vituperative asides creep into the best academic writing. As a result, argument can degenerate all too quickly into name-calling. Years of scholarly endeavour can be dismissed with a few cutting sentences aimed only to bolster their author's credentials and authenticity.

This has produced a situation in which appearing to be a harsh critic - and in teaching the equivalent is being a tough marker - is a prised attribute and evidence of a truly "pumped up" brain. This is little more than a form of intellectual machismo - which can be embraced equally by women and men - so that substantive disagreement becomes almost a sideshow. My view is simple. If the critics do not have the integrity to be accountable for the content of their assessments, they shouldn't put fingers to keyboard.

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SPRING - 2010

28 April