For over a decade, I have been asked to serve as a referee for new research submitted for publication. I don’t always agree to referee things, especially if there is a conflict of interest or I don’t feel confident appraising it. Still, I get regularly asked, and I have agreed, to review for many archaeology journals (regional, national, international) and occasionally for history and anthropology journals.
Now the idea of refereeing work submitted for publication is to ensure quality and accuracy. It is also commonplace that the referees’ identities are kept ANONYMOUS. The idea is that this stops things getting personal and ensures freedom for the referee to say what they think about the work regardless of who it is. I sometimes waive anonymity but not always. I am not saying this is a perfect way of doing things, but I respect the advantages this system offers. No scholar, no matter how well-known they are, is entitled to be published and we should all be subject to peer-review. There are a few archaeologists I know who avidly avoid peer-review, but I say that this is to their massive disadvantage and reflects in their work.
None of this refereeing is paid work in itself, but I see it as part of my job in broader terms. It helps me to learn about the latest research. I also do it because we all need to help each other in appraising our work as a global community of researchers. I also share a sense of professional duty of ensuring that the best gets published while mediocrity gets a slap in the chops but the opportunity to rectify its errors. Also, I believe that really crap work should get consigned to the archaeological Pit of Sarlacc (Return of the Jedi reference here for those of you confused by this point).
I have put a lot of work, as most academics do, into appraising, helping and providing useful insights to help foster excellence and identify flaws of argumentation, theory, method and data.
I should say that, of course, none of us are perfect researchers and that while I have had work go through peer-review without a hitch, I also regularly get a slap in the chops from referees and sometimes my work too gets sent to the Pit of Sarlacc, sometimes for good reason, a few times I feel unfairly. Now I hate getting criticised. It makes me fume, gnash my teeth and gnaw the carpet, but it is essential. The system isn’t perfect, I know my work is far from perfect, but it is the best we have and I have benefitted from it enormously.
And of course the flipside is true. As an editor of books and journals, I rely on the goodwill, expertise and judgement of a vast range of knowledgeable individuals worldwide to advise me as editor about the qualities of submissions and to advise authors on errors in their work or ways they might improve their work. I am simply staggered by the goodwill, hard work, careful consideration and rapid turnaround offered by archaeologists and heritage professionals in this regard, whether they are unemployed, under-employed, free-lance or work for archaeological units, museums, the government or at universities. Everyone sees it as important.
Unsurprisingly, most authors realise that ‘peer review’ isn’t simply a ‘hurdle’ for them to get through, it is an integral part of publishing high-quality work. Referees are not censors, and only a few old nutters seem to take it upon themselves to treat being a referee in this way. Good referees should be constructive, critical and challenging yet fair. Referees don’t always get it right and opinions vary, but the result of multiple referees’ comments together can massively enrich the quality of the work produced.
So most authors realise that it doesn’t matter whether they know the person’s name or not, if an idea or suggestion comes from a referee and makes a significant contribution to the final result of their publication, they DESERVE AN ACKNOWLEDGEMENT!
Now sometimes the format of the article means that abrupt acknowledgements are essential. Sometimes referees may have helped, but not significantly. Still, if major inputs have been made by referees, they deserve a mention and anonymity makes no difference – REFEREES KNOW WHO THEY ARE AND WILL KNOW WHEN AUTHORS ARE GIVEN THEM DUE CREDIT AND RECOGNITION FOR THEIR GUIDANCE AND SUGGESTIONS.
Now as an editor, I haven’t and cannot enforced this. But I am surprised by how some authors don’t think it necessary to acknowledge referees’ input. Moreover, because I queried this issue with one journal’s editorial committee when two journal articles I peer-reviewed for the same journal were both published without any acknowledgement of referees’ input, they told me only NAMED REFEREES could be acknowledged. Bollocks!
I concede that enforcing acknowledgement sections of papers is really not worth the time of editors, and authors may sometimes feel referees don’t deserve acknowledgement, I don’t think this is good enough.
I can only say this to authors and editors alike: if referees – anonymous or named – have given new ideas, helpful suggestions, or simply saved both author and editor from academic inaccuracy or stupidity, please make sure that they get acknowledged. If you don’t, the Pit of Sarlacc is always hungry and takes particular relish in consuming ungrateful sods.