|The Welcoming Rio Classics Dept.|
Mid-week consisted of a mad dash to Rio de Janeiro to an enormous congress on disputes and face-offs in antiquity. It seemed an unlikely topic for the most well-balanced bunch of people I have encountered for ages: Laughing over Dinner in Antiquity would have been a more apt theme. Not that I didn’t get challenged by a couple of shrewd critics after my lecture. But I love this part of my job—open disagreement, expressed with civility, between people brave enough to attach their identities to their views.
|Anonymous Peer Reviewers|
Academia’s Sacred Cow is Anonymous Peer Review, or secret reports/ references read behind closed doors. This creaky system means academics are all repeatedly stabbed in the back by masked assassins when their article is rejected by a journal, or their grant/promotion application rubbished. The result is completely unnecessary paranoia and toxic bad feeling when they speculate (often incorrectly) on the identity of the incognito saboteur. In a small subject like Classics it also means that you have inevitably been covertly coshed by a close colleague, a former lover, or someone envious of you.
|Prof. Paul Cartledge|
My belief that APR is damaging and obsolete was reinforced at the second conference of the week, a celebration of my role model and hero Paul Cartledge, retiring Leventis Professor of Greek Culture at Cambridge. His successor Tim Whitmarsh gave a dazzling keynote, on an ancient Greek called Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who even 2,000 years ago knew all about Peer Review (although this was NOT what Prof. Whitmarsh was arguing--what follows is my personal response). Dionysius described the five types of professional opponents who criticised his work:
1) Inveterate nit-pickers.
2) People ignorant of the material under discussion.
3) People whose criticisms depended on unverified rumour and assumptions.
4) Malicious personal enemies who want to damage him.
5) People in an opposing ideological camp who will automatically oppose everything he says.
Anonymous Peer Reviewers who today sabotage other academics’ work fall into precisely Dionysius’ categories. I would add only one further: the egomaniac who complains the author hasn’t cited their own scholarship, however irrelevant.
I NEVER write a review or reference I would not be happy to see made public with my name on the bottom. I just don’t see that anonymity is helpful. Why not stick papers, CVs etc. up freely online and invite (non-anonymised) comments? If people are ashamed to have their views made public, in what universe is it professional to express them? My other great discovery this week, for my Classics & Class project, has been Mary Bridges Adams, a working-class classicist turned activist who in July 1915 complained about a critic who signed himself simply N.D. and constantly attacked her in print. She wrote in the Cotton Factory Times,
Let me beg of my opponents to reveal their identity. I hope N.D. will set the others an example, and let me know precisely who he is. Being a Welsh-woman I do not shrink from a fight, but I like to see ‘my foe-man’s face.’
I suspect Bridges Adams got the last phrase from the Iliad, where warriors with integrity like Achilles would not dream of attacking someone like a coward, anonymously, and there is a special term for proper, non-anonymised combat. And although I am not Welsh I couldn’t agree with her more.