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Announcement: a website to discuss blind peer review process,

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  • Rob Waring
    Ron Sheen asked me to post this. Its aim is to discuss the peer bling review system in applied linguistics and language teaching. R ... Would you mind posting
    Message 1 of 5 , Jan 18, 2004
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      Announcement: a website to discuss blind peer review proce
      Ron Sheen asked me to post this. Its aim is to discuss the peer bling review system in applied linguistics and language teaching.



      Would you mind posting this message below announcing the opening of my weblog site called Articlereview.
      Opening of weblog site: Articlereview.
      The problems created by the blind peer review process as practised by
      prominent applied linguistics journals are well-known but little discussed
      openly in the literature.   In fact, so little that that no article devoted
      to those ills has, to my knowledge, been published in those same journals.
      The reason for this absence is self-evident.   Any article on the subject
      will necessarily entail the discussion of examples of the process in action
      and, almost certainly, of cases where the process has putatively resulted in
      the unjustified rejection of an article.  As this will inevitably result in
      a critique of the process as applied in the journal to which the article is
      submitted or in other journals, no editors will countenance its publication.
      However, not all fields are so shy of self-criticism.  De Beaugrande (see
      below), for example, cites Peters, Douglas, Stephen Ceci, et al. 1982.
      Peer-review practices of psychological journals: The fate of published
      articles, submitted again. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 5/2, 187-255.

      It is not my intention here to discuss the various ills of the process.  For
      such a discussion, readers are invited to access Robert De Beaugrande's
      article, "Peer Review" available on his website.  The crucial point to be
      made here is the following: the history of applied linguistics as practised
      in issues concerning foreign and second language teaching is not one which
      inspires confidence in its influence in promoting more effective language
      teaching.  One has only to bring to mind doctrinaire principles it has
      supported and then abandoned and of the tired but relevant cliché of "the
      baby and the bathwater" to find support for this contention.  The inevitable
      conclusion to draw from this is that articles have either been published or
      rejected on grounds which would not withstand scrutiny based on
      empirically-verifiable criteria.

      One the fundamental problems of the blind peer review process results from
      the lack of transparency and accountability therein.  Thus, one does not
      know the identity of the reviewers; nor can one hope to oblige them, through
      the editors, to provide an explanation and justification of their decisions
      on the contentious issues.  This lack results in a veil of secrecy
      concealing much of what occurs between those who submit articles, the
      reviewers and the editors.

      This  is not to say that the process does not always work effectively.
      There are certainly many cases where articles have either been rightfully
      published or rejected.   At the same time, however, given what has been said
      above concerning the history of applied linguists and given the inevitable
      errors which reviewers may commit, it is certain that some articles have
      been unjustifiably rejected.

      This brings me to the purpose of this post.  It is to announce the creation
      of a website for the discussion of this issue.  More specifically, it is to
      offer a website which enables anyone to discuss the pros and cons of both
      published and rejected articles.  Even more specifically, it is to invite
      authors of rejected articles to make available to the readership those same
      articles, the comments of the reviewers, any relevant correspondence between
      the author and the editor(s) and the arguments the authors wish to advance
      to critique the grounds for rejection.  Those authors would do so, however,
      on the assumption that they are making themselves, their articles and
      arguments susceptible to criticism and this because it may well transpire
      that contributors to the discussions may  agree with the rejection.

      Authors should also realise that this website's purpose is NOT to provide a
      means of "journal-bashing" or the unchallenged expression of "sour grapes".
      It is to provide a transparent and accountable discussion of the grounds on
      which were based the rejection of an article.

      To start the ball rolling, I will offer as "a guinea pig" all the necessary
      documentation surrounding the rejection of an article I submitted to TESOL
      Quarterly's Brief Reports last July.   In my view, this case will be a good
      illustration of the ills of the blind peer review process as anyone who
      cares to visit the website can discover.  At the same time, however, I hope
      that contributors will feel free to hold my arguments up to scrutiny and,
      should they find them wanting,  say so.

      Here is a brief review of facts of that case.   The article is entitled: "An
      examination of the validity of the principles incidental learning and
      developmental sequences".  These two principles have become tenets of the
      "focus on form" movement which has preoccupied many applied linguists for
      the last fifteen years or so.  Those tenets basically contend that exposure
      to understood language use in the classroom will result in incidental
      learning without pedagogical intervention and that that learning will result
      in learners' passing through development sequences on the way to
      acquisition.  Unfortunately, however, even though these claims have now
      become part of contempoary wisdom, there is a dearth of empirical evidence
      to support them derived from the necessary longitudinal and/or
      cross-sectional studies.

      On the other hand, the submitted article in question derives data from a
      cross-sectional study covering eight years of elementary and secondary
      learning of English in the Quebec school system using a strong communicative
      approach (no systematic teaching of grammar allowed) and demonstrates that
      contrary to published claims concerning the acquisition of third person
      interrogatives, the vast majority of learners in the initial stages acquire
      non-native forms (e.g., "Where your father work?") and continue to use them
      until the end (and beyond) of their secondary schooling thus demonstrating
      in such cases an absence of incidental learning following the initial stages
      and a failure to pass through subsequent developmental sequences.

      This article was rejected on the basis of various seriously erroneous claims
      contained in the summary of the reviewers' reports as provided by the two
      co-editors of the TQ Brief Reports section.  In spite of my providing
      textual proof of the erroneous nature of these claims, the co-editors
      refused to address the issue and forwarded my appeal to the Chief Editor
      who, though initially agreeing to entertain the appeal, supported the
      rejection without even reading the reports of the reviewers and without
      demonstrating any flaws in the arguments supporting the appeal.
      Subsequently, I have made numerous requests to be sent those reports but
      have failed to get even a commitment from the editors concerned to send them
      to me.  I am now in the process of appealing to a higher TQ body to which I
      was referred by the Chief Editor.  However, in spite of sending to it
      several letters including an official appeal, I have so far received no

      In my view, it is such cases which need to be held up to scrutiny in order
      to bring about a more transparent and accountable approach to the review of
      submitted manuscripts.  I should add, however, that I have no illusions
      about the potential of the proposed website.  Any informed discussion of the
      relevant documentation concerning a rejected article will require investing
      a good deal of time which many contributors may not be prepared to do.   The
      website may not, therefore, serve the purpose for which it is intended.
      Nevertheless, it is worth making the effort even if it only results in
      failure.  At the very least, it will permit rejected authors to put on some
      sort of public record what they see as the facts of their cases.

      The weblog site is called "Articlereview" and may be accessed by going to
      the following url:

      If you would like to offer comments, click on 'comments' and follow the
      on-screen directions.   However, whatever you wish to post, it is important
      to bear in mind that the purpose of the site is to promote academic argument
      and respect for the norms of such discourse.

      If you would like to post directly onto the weblog, rather than just making
      a comment, email your contribution to this address:
      articlereview.3437@...  Avoid using formatting in your email as the
      weblog program might not be able to read this and could reject your post.
      Also, note that emails sent to the above address will  instantly appear on
      the weblog for all to see.

      Rob Waring

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