One of the wickedly fun things about anonymous, academic peer review is what I have come to think of as the reviewer confessional. More than a few times I’ve submitted conference proposals or academic articles that somehow are taken very personally by the nameless reviewer on the other end, who then makes a sort of confessional digression from the actual review of my work.
Often this looks like someone taking something way too personally. For one of my articles, I remember something to the effect of, “Well, I would never personally want to learn how to write code…” Which is strange to me. When I review other’s research, I’d never write “Well, I would never personally want to…” followed by some component part of the research, or even some ancillary detail. What difference does it make? And yet still—that my work would be taken so personally, to the point that anonymous reviewers feel the need to defend themselves, or somehow say that my research is good for everyone else, but really just not applicable to the reviewer him/herself: that’s fascinating.
So I suppose I wasn’t surprised when this happened with a workshop I proposed for Computers and Writing 2012 that, like most of the things I propose for conferences, is a bit of a stretch. Titled “End-to-End Agile Web Application Development from Basically Nothing,” it’s a day-long workshop that hits both the front- and back-end of web application development in a whirlwind introduction to everything from version control to HTML5 to Node.js.
As I rhetorically (sort of) asked in the body of the proposal, “Is this a tall order for a day’s work(shop)? Absolutely. But the goal here is to provide participants with a full, end-to-end overview of the art of web application development, and make, by demonstration and example, the argument that we need to invite more of our computers and writing colleagues to work in these areas.”
Anyway, so as to the moment of confession from one of the reviewers. He/she remarked, “Personally, I would not be best served from this kind of workshop since I do not really have the freedom to use any CMS I want or house applications or programs on my office computer, but I also believe that many in the field can benefit from this type of workshop.”
I want to weep for this reviewer. First, because the reviewer has so little control over the computing resources that, presumably, surround his/her teaching and research. That’s just sad. But second, I weep because of the defeatism here. In that second clause, it’s other people in the field who can benefit. Not the reviewer, who (presumably) cannot possibly be served by (meaning, what? learn something?) this workshop because of a heavy-handed set of campus IT policies, or something.
Perhaps I’m reading way too much into this one-off confessional quote (the reviewer did recommend acceptance of the workshop, and indeed the workshop was officially accepted), but the implication here—I don’t control my own stuff, I can’t make my own choices and so therefore, I don’t have to learn this, but perhaps others do—is one that I find really troubling. And it’s also the kind of statement that perhaps only can be aired under the cloak of anonymity, particularly in an area like computers and writing.