Thursday, May 17, 2012

RBL Innovation: Scholarly Rejoinders to Reviews

Ever had a book review that you would like to issue a rejoinder to?  It's almost always been the policy of journals not to allow a right of reply to authors who feel that they have been hard-done-by in a book review.  But now the SBL Review of Biblical Literature is allowing authors their right to reply in its blog.

The blog format enables authors to add their thoughts on their reviewers in the "comments" and the regular RBL newsletter has begun to draw attention to these.

It will be interesting to see how this develops.  I can imagine someone offering a right humdinger of a response if they feel they have been treated unfairly.  Will this make reviewers more careful to be as fair and accurate as possible?  Will it make them more restrained, their tone more civil?

I must admit to mixed feelings about this.  On one level, it could help to hold reviewers to account.  But on the other hand, it is part of the academic experience to learn to cope with reviews of your work with which you may disagree.  I wonder if the ease of a blog-comment response will encourage too many authors to respond too quickly and too negatively to critiques of their work that may -- on reflection -- help them.

Moreover, sometimes discretion is the better part of valour.  If you have an unfair review, it's sometimes better not to respond.  Knee-jerk responses all too often end up looking petty, pompous or self-indulgent.


Plong42 said...

I just noticed this new "feature" as well, and would point out that the response by Brian Abasciano is indeed a "humdinger." I think this is a good idea for purposes of clarification, the Dalrymple response is an example of this. But you are correct that allowing a "blog" style response is opening the door for pyrotechnics. Do you know if only the reviewed author has the opportunity to respond, or can any member?

Stephen C. Carlson said...

It is an interesting development, but I'm not sure the blog format at a different place in the web, with comments mixed in from others (unless moderated otherwise?), would seem to encourage authors to respond except in egregious cases.

Patrick G. McCullough said...

Given the, um, blandness of the blog itself (just a list of titles reviewed with no real content), I can't really see it catching on much. The blog has been around for awhile, but I haven't had much use to visit. If scholars do speak up in comments, it will certainly make things more interesting. It would be nice to have more conversation than simply reviewed authors giving rejoinders. As far as rejoinders go, though, they should have a policy like I have with my students--wait 24 hours after receiving my feedback before contacting me with concerns.

Tim Bulkeley said...

I think this is a really intersting development, not so much the location, as the blog seems hardly visited, but the idea. Whether on a journal site or on their personal blog etc. authors now clearly have the "right of reply" and are increasingly beginning to take it up.

That's understandable from an author's perspective every reviewer "misses the point" on some things. What we will need to learn are a new set of social skills. Too intemperate a response or any response at all that seems "wrong" (nitpicking, ad hominem etc...) will presumably lower the writer's standing as a person.

Up to now this social aspect of scholarship has been by an large confined to conferences, now it is slowly entering everyday life. Interesting times :)

Targuman said...

Of course I am not alone in using my own blog as a locus for responding to reviewers. For example,

What makes this different is that RBL is a "publication" (of course we all question what that means today) and there is a kind of sanctioning that occurs by their hosting the comments and replies. So far there seem to be very few authors replying on the RBL blog, Dalrymple is one of just a few exceptions, and he notes a character limit in terms of responses.

I imagine that SBL is trying to capture more of the discussion that is already going on amongst the blogs but I do think that is the primary venue.

Kevin Wong said...

Regarding the lack of civility, wouldn't the editors be partially responsible for that deficiency? They are supposed to be the referees to ensure the proper tone, one of being critical of a colleague's work without sounding like a jerk about it.