Adopt identity in peer review
&ball; Physics 14, 137
An inclusive, diverse and equitable peer review system must recognize and embrace the identity of the actors involved – authors, referees and editors – and not expect an individual to offer a ‘void point of view’. go “.
“What do we want? Evidence-based science! When do we want it? After peer review!” This unusual chant – often heard at “March for Science” events held around the world since 2017 – Expressed the high regard the protesters had for peer review as the gold standard for research certification. As a longtime editor of Physical examination letters  and as a philosopher doing research on peer review, I think peer review is an indispensable part of the scientific process. However, peer review could certainly be made more diverse, fair and inclusive. I argue that achieving such a goal requires embracing the identities of all the actors involved while letting go of the unrealistic expectation that any one of them can offer a perfectly objective view.
The role of identity was at the center of Peer Review Week 2021 (see Research News: Reviewing Peer Review), which brought together people and organizations involved in scholarly publishing. In the context of peer review, identity is often seen as a factor to be corrected, with the idea that the review should be as little contaminated as possible by subjectivity. This attitude is, in my opinion, unrealistic and unproductive. University research is a social process in which participants bring with them their identity and perspectives. Rather than treating these perspectives as unwanted biases, we should take advantage of the strength that a multiplication of perspectives can bring.
Currently, editors are exploring peer review strategies that broadly fall into two categories. One focuses on confidentiality, strategically using anonymity to gain the frankness of reviewers and protect authors from bias. The second defends openness, avoiding anonymity and instead sharing the identities and reports of referees, in an effort to prevent bad actors from hiding in the dark. These two strategies, although seemingly opposed, are employed for the same reason: to make the evaluation process objective either by eliminating the personality of the evaluators or by holding the evaluators to account, in the hope that they pass. from a subjective vision to a “vision from nowhere” . These efforts fuel a narrative of objectivity as delocalized, universal, and purely rational. Rather, its opposite, subjectivity, is generally described as situated, personal, and subject to emotions and prejudices. .
I contend that the myth of objectivity that underlies both approaches is an illusion. Plus, it’s dangerous, as it discourages looking for a variety of perspectives. This limitation has clearly hampered scientific progress. For example, in primatology, a male-dominated research community found patriarchal family structures reflecting Victorian family values in the great apes – a vision that was dismantled as more women entered the field. . .
What we need instead is a more realistic view of the scientific personality and a new sense of objectivity. I am not proposing to give up objectivity entirely; science, after all, rests on the notion of a shared outside world about which we can communicate meaningful things to each other. But a new vision of objectivity can be constructed following the ideas of the philosopher of science Helen Longino. For her, science is the interactive process of exposing scientific results to transformative criticism from value-sharing practitioners. This process elevates individual results to accumulated knowledge. Importantly, she notes that in order to be successful, this transformative criticism must come from a variety of perspectives, all of which must come from people who have an equal share of intellectual authority. .
This notion of transformative criticism offers scientists a way to develop a new sense of objectivity that is informed by the community, shifting the attention of individuals to collective interactions. It also suggests courses of action. Journals, for example, should strive for a more diverse participation by expanding their pools of reviewers and encouraging submissions from a wider range of authors. However, by the time the article arrives in the journal, opportunities for effective change have already been missed. We need an attitude adjustment to be stimulated from the early stages of academic career formation, through discussions and activities that promote the value of a diversity of perspectives instead of the mirage of objectivity. To truly address inequalities in peer review, we need to recognize that it does not start and end with the submission and publication of a manuscript, but also includes stages such as funding the project, discussion of hypotheses and methods, post-publication reception of the work, and development of new research based on it. Stimulating such profound changes in attitude towards peer review requires action at the earliest stages of academic career formation, through discussions and activities that value diversity of perspectives rather than the mirage of objectivity.
This holistic view of peer review, in which objectivity stems from the multiplication of perspectives, holds the key to better peer review of journals.
- Editor’s Note: Both Physical examination letters and Physics are published by the American Physical Society.
- For a discussion of this sense of objectivity, see, e.g., T. Nagel, The view from nowhere (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1989), p. 14-17[Amazon][WorldCat].
- EA Lloyd, “Objectivity and the Double Standard for Feminist Epistemologies”, Synthesis 104, 351 (1995).
- DJ Haraway, “Primatology is Politics in Other Means”, PSA: Proceedings of the biennial meeting of the Association for the Philosophy of Sciences, Flight. 1984 (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1984), p. 489-524.
- HE Longino, Science as social knowledge: values and objectivity in scientific research (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1990)[Amazon][WorldCat].