In my previous post, I argued that people who pursue double-blind peer review have an idealized “LEGO block” view of scientific research. Research papers are “pure” units of knowledge and who wrote them is irrelevant.
Let us take this LEGO block view to its ultimate conclusion.
If science is pure industry, producing standardized elementsâ€”called research papers, why should papers be signed as if they were pieces of art? The signature is obviously irrelevant. Nobody cares who made a given LEGO block. Thus, I propose we omit names from research papers. It should not change anything, and it will be fairer.
Indeed, why not have anonymous papers all the way? Journals could publish articles without ever telling us who they are from. We would ignore, for example, which papers were written by Einstein or Turing. How is that relevant? How does it help us to appreciate a given paper to know it was written by Turing?
What would we do for conferences? Because papers are standard units, people could attend conferences and be assigned a paper, any paper, to present. Presenting your own work is a bit too egotistical anyhow.
Of course, for recruiting or promotion purposes, we would need to be able to map research papers to individuals. But, because papers are standard units, all you care about is the number of papers and related statistics. Thus, an academic c.v. would not list research papers, but instead provide a key that could be used to retrieve productivity statistics.
Of course, this is not, even at a first approximation, how science works. Science is more art than industry. That is why we put our names on research papers. It does matter that it is Turing that wrote a given paper. It helps us understand the paper better to know its author, its date and its context. When I receive a paper to review, I try to see how the authors work, what their biases are.
Research papers present a view of the world. But like Plato’s cave, this view is fundamentally incomplete. If a paper report the results from some experiments they conducted, the paper is not these experiments: it is only a view on these experiments. It is necessarily a biased view. Do you know what the biases of these particular authors are?
Let us be candid here. When reviewing research papers, there is no such thing as objectivity. Some papers are interesting to the reviewer, some aren’t. What makes it interesting has to do with whether the world view presented is compatible with the reviewer’s world view. And because different individuals have (or should have) different world views, it does matter who wrote the paper even if we omit names. It helps me to find your paper interesting if I can put myself in your shoes, get to know who you are. An anonymous paper is far more likely to be boring to me, because it is hard to have empathy for the authors.
Some days, we all wish it did not matter who we are. Can’t people just look at our work on its own? You can get your wish by becoming a bureaucrat or a factory worker. Science is for people who want to see their name in print, people who want to build their reputation and cater to their inflated ego. In short, good science is interesting.