Friday, July 25, 2014

Reforming Law Reviews I: On Blind Review

I see that there are some good posts on reforming law reviews up at the Business Law Prof Blog here and here.

Myself, I don’t think blind submission would have much effect on changing outcomes.  But I do think that all journals should adopt blind submission in order to increase the appearance of fairness.  I’ve served as a referee for a number of peer-reviewed journals that rely on blind submission.  I think in essentially every case that I either knew who the author(s) of the papers I was reviewing were or that I quickly found out who the author(s) were as an unavoidable result of the few minutes of background research I typically do to assess the uniqueness of the contributions of the pieces I review.  Tax is a small enough field, and we generally post papers in publically available fora and/or present papers at conferences well before submitting for publication.

I favor blind review not because I think it will significantly change outcomes, but rather because I think the small costs of blind review are greatly exceeded by increasing the appearance of fairness.  That law reviews ask for authors’ CVs is just plain distasteful, in my consideration.  It is undoubtedly difficult to evaluate scholarship on its quality, factoring out the biases generated by knowledge about the author.  But journal editors should at least try.  I’ve heard many stories that suggest that law review editors sometimes make decisions based on letterhead, CVs, and author reputation.  Yuck!

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Thanks for this post, David. I also have served as a reviewer and have figured out who the authors were. Law students, however, generally are not as familiar with the literature and they are getting articles from all areas of law.

Posted by: Haskell Murray | Jul 25, 2014 12:37:19 PM

Good point, Haskell. Still, I imagine that students who do any background research as part of evaluating submissions will often discover who the author is through doing so.

Posted by: David Gamage | Jul 25, 2014 1:03:10 PM

Won't students make better decisions if they know about the authors? I think maybe they're being rational in asking for author info. If I were allowed to edit a physics journal, I'd be panicky about accepting some crank's article, especially if I wasn't allowed to ask for referee reports, and I'd probably just look up where the author had published in the past and make my decision on that basis.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Jul 28, 2014 9:21:58 PM

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