Thursday, August 3
I reviewed a paper/book last week that was co-authored by my (former) advisor. His/her name wasn't on it. I just heard the sound of a voice so familiar to me it could have been my mother. What really got me, though, was that none of the usual signs were there. My advisor was referenced only once, and the topic was largely outside his/her usual arena. But I have absolutely no doubt who wrote it. I know, in sort of a subconscious way, how [ pling! ] "she" strings words together. She edited my work for years, so it makes sense that I would recognize her writing. But I hear something about the sound of her voice. I could go confirm that it's her, but, after several years of anonymous reviewing, I don't bother anymore. I'm always right, and I always assumed that this happened to everyone else, too, but maybe not.

A couple years ago I "heard" the echo of a friend's voice in something I was reviewing that turned out to be written by his/her student. That bothers me, too, especially when I'm trying to be idealistic about anonymous reviews. It should have been fine! I did NOT know the author!

Review request letters usually say it's okay if you recognize the author because they need the review so badly, but it can be unsettling to me when I'm making a tough call. Plus, and this is my point, the cues to authorship don't come from the usual places, so neither I nor the authors can do anything to prevent it.

People who have "perfect pitch" describe their experience in a similar way. You play a note and they just know it's a C-sharp. They say that each note has its own quality which they instantly recognize. Some people say it's sort of, but not exactly, as though each note is a different color. I remember thinking of that when I read another friend's dissertation and kept being distracted by the character of her* writing, which was just thunderous in my head. It had a white creamy base with a fine grainy texture, like sanded grout. I know how strange that sounds, but it was BOOMING in my head, and I couldn't get away from it. Anyway, there's a voice I recognize, whether I like it or not, so she can never get a blinded review from me, and if our lives didn't turn on the outcome of these reviews, I would consider that a little bit tragic.

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* There's no point obscuring or pretending to obscure this person's gender, or race, for that matter because of the way I percieve the color and texture of her writing, which adds another layer of intrigue and possibly unwitting corruption to the process.

8 comments:

dawn said...

Part of my research is hearing those voices in anonymous writings (specifically online writing). I am looking at how people create an identity through their writings online, anonymous or not.

I hear them, too. They almost shout out and can be thunderous.

Clear said...

First Post title with a colon! We are now, truly, academics!

Clear said...

(Note also: the Wikipedia Crayola index is clearly giving an erroneous value for what Mahogany is -- see the purple splotch in the sidebar -- if anyone has a color code that is more consistent with Mahogany, let me know the HTML color code.)

thistle said...

what a lovely post- Welcome, Mahogany!

Sienna said...

Mahoganny, I see what you you mean in that it can produce certain biases in the review processes, but it's not as though those biases aren't already there, and if we weren't able to recognize linguistic styles, I think we'd all be bad writers and probably big suckers, too. (How many times have you distinguished spam or phishing mail by the writing style?)

Mahogany said...

Clear, I can't see Mahogany in the side bar. How about #662000? Or, if you want browser-safe, I'd say #660000.

Mahogany said...

Dawn, I think I recognize the woman in your photo. Is it from a tv show? So... Since you research online identities I have to ask whether your image a test (we think it's you, so we dont want to talk to you), or is it suposed to convey meaning about your identity?

Thank you, thistle. Great name, by the way. And Sienna, you have a good (reassuring) point. I guess we would all be heiresses to a Nigerian fortune, and Bill Gates would also our my best friend. Bill used to send me email almost everyday before I changed jobs. (Now I work at a university with spam filters. It's amazing!)

dawn said...

Mahogany, it's a self-portrait. In addition to my research, I'm an avid amateur photographer. I think my online identity is pretty close to who I am. Maybe that's because I've been online for over 15 years, maybe it's because I don't have anything to hide. Not sure. :-)

You might check out these hues of mahogany: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahogany_%28color%29

I realize that I'm not as anonymous as everyone else around here. In fact, I blog under my real name all over the 'net. But I hope y'all don't mind. I find the discussions fascinating and very appealing on many levels.

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