Blind Review of Academic Papers Unconstitutional

Detrimental to National Competitiveness

October 8, 2010

Sankarshan Acharya
Pro-Prosperity.Com and Citizens for Development

Blind review of manuscripts by academic journals is unconstitutional and detrimental to national competitiveness

Academic journals should be utterly independent.  They should be fountains of truths discovered through research.  They should accordingly devise their operating procedures for accepting and rejecting research.  They may, for example, predetermine whether or not to publish an article through formal reviews or no review at all. 

This memo argues that an open review process (with the reviewers’ identities disclosed to authors) will not only achieve such journalistic mission, but also enhance national competitiveness and protect intellectual property rights of authors according to the constitution.        

This memo shows that the prevailing blind review process (of not disclosing the identity of the reviewers to the author of the paper being considered by a journal) is the reason for why none of the top journals in finance and economics accepted a paper foreseeing the financial crisis of 2008, let alone proposing preemptive policies to avert it.  The top journals have received, but rejected, papers that presaged the crisis and proposed preemptive policies to circumvent the crisis. 

The financial calamity of 2008 has been officially christened as Great Recession.  But it is far more catastrophic than a severe recession.  It has wiped out twenty to forty trillions of dollars of accumulated wealth.  It has raised unemployment dramatically, despite the injection of four trillion dollars to the economy.  The underemployment has accentuated more severely.  Most jobs that have been lost appear to be the high paying jobs.  People have lost their savings and dignity.  If the Federal Reserve segregated the net-worth data for the bottom 98-99% of the households (exclusive of nonprofit charities) it would perhaps show a very grim picture for most American households. 

It is mindboggling how top academic journals failed to publish research that foresaw the crisis and proposed optimal preemptive policies, some of which have been enacted in the new Financial Regulatory Bill passed in July 2010.  What is the systemic cause for such a terrible miss?  It is the process of blind review of papers submitted to journals.  This memo shows that blind review is unconstitutional and detrimental to national competitiveness, while the open review is constitutional and will enhance national competitiveness. 

When a paper is submitted to a journal for publication, the journal editor picks reviewers, but does not disclose their identities to the author.  Journals often require submission of papers without authors’ names and affiliations.  But omitting an author’s name or affiliation from a paper does not blind the reviewers about the author’s identity if the paper is widely circulated or if the theme of research is widely known to have originated from a specific author.  The blind review process is thus effectively one-sided for widely circulated or known manuscripts with the author’s identity known to the reviewers, but not the vice versa. 

Blind review or open review is immaterial for rejection of research with no new ideas or discoveries or for new ideas that have little impact on society.  But for papers with valuable new ideas or discoveries of significance to a nation, the blind review process can be unconstitutional and detrimental to national competitiveness:

  1. Consider an original author who submits to a journal his paper with new ideas and discoveries that challenge the published research.  If the journal follows a blind review, the reviewers can rewrite the research with different wordings and presentations under a new title and publish the same in their name in a different top journal in which they have sway, as the original author waits haplessly in limbo.  Such usurpation of intellectual property (potential source of wealth) of an original author is unconstitutional.  After the original paper is rejected by a top journal, the news spreads among the small coterie of potential blind reviewers at top journals as the hapless original author sulks and panics about his job.  Unless the blind reviewers are personally related or sympathetic to the original author, they will not likely accept the original paper, even if the research conveys profound ideas and discoveries, as long as they see an opportunity of preemptively publishing the ideas on their own names.   The original author thus forfeits the opportunity to publish his research in a top journal, and if he succeeds, his research becomes outdated with little value accruing from his intellectual property.  The academy of economics and finance imbibes enhancement of self net-worth.  So, no original author can garner sympathy without enhancing the net-worth of the reviewers. The original author can even have retorts from blind reviewers:  why has the author failed to cite the already published papers based on usurped ideas? Even if the original author accedes to the unseemly demands, the reviewers will not recommend for publication of the original paper if their net-worth cannot be increased further.  Sensing controversy, the journal takes a path of least resistance, i.e., to reject the original paper turned stale due to unconstitutional usurpation.  Journal editors rarely resolve controversies by acting against their chosen reviewers.  If the original author ever succeeds in publishing his paper, he will have willy-nilly shared credit for his original ideas due to delayed and forced citations of papers plagiarized from his original research. 
  2. The only way the original author can stay off the quagmire of unconstitutional usurpation of his intellectual property is to accede to co-authorship with more established authors before submitting to blind review.  The co-authorship is a more professional usurpation of intellectual property from an original author.  The original author has no option but to share the fruits of his labor to avoid a total usurpation of his research in the solo-authored blind review process.  
  3. The current blind review process is thus unconstitutional.   
  4. The ideas and discoveries of research by an original author may be very valuable to a nation, but their publicity may undermine a few vested interests.  This may arise in two scenarios:  The established reviewers have either (i) missed these ideas and discoveries or (ii) been lured by vested interests to not publicize such research.  Blind reviewers will optimally reject such research because acceptance will undermine their status and wealth.  Blind reviewers face no adverse consequence due to a rejection of such research because the original author cannot identity them to blow the whistle.
  5. The blind review process can, thus, suppress research of great national value.  Suppression of such research can lead to financial catastrophes in which trillions of dollars of wealth is wiped out and millions of jobs are lost, and the national competitiveness and prosperity are decimated.  This outcome is unacceptable to a nation.  A nation should, therefore, adopt a policy for open review of manuscripts.

To enhance competitiveness and to preclude unconstitutional usurpation of intellectual property rights of authors, a nation should thus mandate open review of academic papers. 

Top journals cannot escape by claiming that their reviewers fear about disclosure of their identities to the authors of papers being reviewed by them.  Such reviewers cannot credibly be intellectual leaders that a top journal must have on its board.  How can someone be a leader is he is afraid of disclosing his identity to his followers?  Writing a frivolous blind review without remaining answerable to any grave fallout that such review may beget to the reviewer’s journal, profession and nation is pure cowardice, not leadership.  The blind review is thus a serious weakness in the modus operandi of journals.  This weakness is grave because it has resulted in no published paper, in any top journal of economics or finance, which foresaw the crisis and presaged optimal policies to avert the crisis.  In an open review process, the reviewer cannot easily concoct a frivolous or specious review, especially, on nationally important research, just to protect his turf, because his shenanigans can potentially be publicized for his pillory. 

Only when journals have a tacit norm to reject research that does not serve the vested interests (notwithstanding its value to the nation), will the editors concoct specious reviews, often by graduate students.  Only obeisance to vested interests can prompt journals to have a blind review to reject even nationally important research with impunity.  Blind review can make all journals blind, at once, when the national competitiveness has eroded irreparably and the vested interests have faced the crunch.  

Blind review may protect the identity of specific reviewers.  But it begets a systemic risk that can expose (a) the reviewers as a group, (b) their journals, (c) their profession, and (d) their nation.  Blind review is just like a surreptitiously adopted bank regulatory rule that protects individual bankers until all the banks flounder at the same time, as they did in 2008.  The top journal rankings can thus become as useless as tottering prominent banks.

An open review process will not only enhance the independence, integrity and credibility of academic journals. Open review can also enhance national competitiveness and protect the constitutionally guaranteed intellectual property rights of authors.

Sankarshan Acharya