Final Thoughts on Israel and Palestine

by Freddie deBoer

Activists Hold Palestinian Solidarity March And Rally

I want to put my discussion of Israel to bed for the week, as some emailers are complaining that I’m “fixated” on the issue. I’m writing about Israel and Palestine a lot in part because I’m getting the most emails on that question.

Many people who have written wonder, with various degrees of indignation, why I don’t perform the typical preemptive apologetics that so often come with criticism of Israel. Why don’t I take time to balance my complaints about Israel by mentioning all the bad things about Hamas? Where are my explicit denunciations of anti-Semitism? Why don’t I come out and say whether Israel should be wiped off the map? I don’t do these things for two reasons. One, because I think it’s in the best interest of everyone– including those committed to the defense of Israel’s government and policies– to return normalcy to this debate. On what other issue am I expected to explicitly disclaim attitudes that I don’t believe and haven’t mentioned? No, it’s true: I’m not anti-Semitic, I don’t think Jews secretly run the world, I don’t believe in Islamic governance either, and I don’t want Israel “wiped from the map.” But when did I suggest such a thing? Acting as if this issue has to be treated with kid gloves in a way that is wholly unique in American politics does no favors to either side of this debate. I have been counseled many times in my life to avoid this specific issue because of the potential professional consequences. I appreciate that people are talking out of a desire to help, and situations like that of Steven Salaita and Norman Finkelstein demonstrate the sense in this advice. But to not engage out of fear of the  consequences exacerbates the problem, and incidentally plays into the hands of anti-Semitic tropes. My country spends billions of dollars and an enormous amount of diplomatic capital on Israel, that makes Israel my business, so let’s hash it out. We are adults. We are capable of arguing as adults. So let’s just argue the way we usually do.

I also don’t seek balance because I don’t pretend that there is equality of blame in this issue. Many smart, decent people I know treat this issue with a “plague on both houses” attitude, talking about a “cycle of violence,” or “ancient grudges.” They speak as though this issue is so polarized and so complex that we can’t make meaningful judgments. I find that, frankly, bullshit. I’m not usually a big fan of Max Fisher’s work, but he had this perfectly right: the occupation is wrong, it is the problem, and Israel is to blame. Israel has been illegally and immorally occupying the Palestinian territories for almost 50 years. And Israel has the ability to end it. The Israeli government could unilaterally withdraw from the territories and leave the Palestinians to build their own state, or they could fully incorporate Palestinians into a  new unified Israeli-Palestinian state that recognized total and  complete political and social equality between all people. If you find those ideas radical, consider that they are merely what basic liberal democracy requires. I am completely agnostic on the notion of one state or two, but I know that what our most basic political ideals require is a world where we have achieved perfect political equality between Arabs and Jews. Israel is capable of creating such a world. Palestinians are not.

For those who fear Israel’s annihilation, I would say that while your fear is understandable, given the facts, it is not rational. No one disputes that Israel’s military capacity is incredible for such a small nation, and that’s true even setting aside its secret nuclear arsenal. The Western world is totally committed to the defense of the modern Israeli state. The United States would go to war to defend Israel’s right to exist. NATO is committed to Israel and the UN, for all its criticisms of Israel, would support an American defense of Israel. We’re talking about a commitment to defend Israel with nearly limitless military power. Do the Palestinians enjoy any such equivalent protection? Yes, you are entitled to consider the sweep of history when you think about Israel’s future, but you are also required to consider facts. And the facts tell us that the people who should truly fear annihilation are the Palestinians. They are the ones who are existentially threatened. They are a nation of refugees. They are a people without a state. To insist on this reality isn’t extremism. It’s just taking an honest look at the world around you.

What American defenders of Israel must recognize is that it is Israel’s diplomatic isolation that threatens it in the long term, not Hamas’s rockets. And the occupation will always isolate Israel, because the occupation is wrong. Some emailers have suggested that anti-Semitism is behind all of Israel’s international critics. To which I say, really? Criticism of Israel from South America is all anti-Semitism? From Western Europe? From sub-Saharan Africa? Did tens of thousands of South Africans march in protest of Israel’s assault on Gaza because of  anti-Semitism? America’s protection is powerful, but it is not limitless, and its hegemony is slowly crumbling. In the next century, Israel must secure its future not through the blessing of a superpower but by earning the reputation of a moral nation. That cannot occur while Palestine is occupied.

And more than securing Israel’s security, ending the occupation is a matter of securing Israel’s soul. What strikes me most about interacting with Americans on this issue, even political and informed Americans, is how many don’t fully comprehend the rise in ultra-conservatism and ethno-nationalism in Israel. People don’t want to think of Israel as that kind of country, and so they shut their ears to it. Yet the evidence grows every day; Netanyahu’s cabinet is virulently extreme, the fringe right-wing parties grow more powerful, the racism and bigotry of the street protests more and more explicit and unafraid. Look, just today, we learn that the Israeli government is targeting the family of Mohammed Abu Khder, the 16 year old Palestinian who was burned to death by Israeli terrorists. This is the type of ugliness, of nastiness, that is seeping into the firmament of Israeli society. This is what journalists like Gideon Levy and Max Blumenthal have been investigating in their work, and this is why they are considered so dangerous: because they threaten to expose to progressive people the reality of the growing reactionary nature of Israel’s internal politics.

50 years from now, and 100, there will still be Jews and there will still be Palestinians in this region. The question is, what form will their relationship take? Will an independent Palestine have been given complete self-determination and diplomatic recognition, a two state solution? Will it be a unified state that recognizes the complete equality of all of its citizens, regardless of their ethnicity or religion, a one state solution? Or will Israel continue to be an apartheid state, brutalizing a stateless people? The latter is the possibility that most threatens Israel’s future, make no mistake. And so the question is what future we, as a nation that subsidizes the occupation in every way imaginable, are willing to argue for, and how long we are willing to ignore what’s staring us in the face.

(Photo: A demonstrator prepares to march across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest against Israel’s continued military campaign in Gaza on August 20, 2014 in New York City. By Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Palestinians Live What Israelis Fear

by Freddie deBoer

Funeral of eight Palestinians from the al-Louh family in Gaza

The emails filling my box about Israel function as a remarkable document. They are a record of seemingly reasonable people who have completely lost track of basic moral reasoning. And that represents itself nowhere more consistently or powerfully than here: treating what could possibly happen to Israelis as more important than what already is happening to Palestinians. It’s such a profoundly bizarre way to think, that only this maddening issue could bring it about.

“Hamas denies Israel’s right to exist!”

Indeed– and Israel not only denies Palestine’s right to exist, it has achieved the denial of a Palestinian state in fact. What kind of broken moral calculus could cause someone to think that being told your existing state should not exist is the same as not having a state of your own?

“Israelis will become second class citizens!”

Arab Israelis already are second class citizens, and Palestinians in the territories no citizens at all. They are denied freedom of movement, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly. They are systematically discriminated against for jobs, especially in government. They lack adequate representation in government. Their leaders are kicked out of Knesset meetings for questioning the IDF. Racist, ultra-nationalist mobs marched through their streets, chanting “death to Arabs!” Their weddings to Jews are the subject of vicious protests. They live side-by-side with racist teenagers who unashamedly trumpet ethnic warfare. They must live in a society where men like Avigdor Lieberman, an explicit racist and literal fascist, serves in a position of power and prominence. Where Meir Kahane is memorialized by groups receiving state funds, where the JDL’s thugs march, where Lehava preaches against miscegenation. A society where the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset openly calls for ethnic cleansing. Palestinians live in a society where a tiny fraction of government funding is spent on their communities or their people. Where human rights organizations like B’Tselem are oppressed by the state. Where they have to endure Kafkaesque application processes to prevent their homes from being bulldozed, if they are given that opportunity at all. Where they live under fear of reactionary, fundamentalist Orthodox settlers who call for death to the Palestinian race.

“Israel is diplomatically isolated unfairly!”

Palestine is diplomatically isolated in a way Israel cannot imagine. The United States uses its veto power to unilaterally deny even the possibility of full membership status for Palestine in the United Nations. The US has used its foreign aid programs and incredible diplomatic leverage to marginalize Palestine and protect Israel. Israel enjoys the protection of the most diplomatically powerful country on earth; Palestine cannot even claw out formal recognition of its borders.

“Israelis will be rounded up and put into camps!”

Palestinians are already in camps, open-air prison camps like Gaza, tiny, beleaguered cantons that lack access to drinkable water or transportation infrastructure, blockaded from receiving food and essential supplies, prevented from fishing their own waters, their movements harshly restricted, forced to go through humiliating and threatening checkpoints to get to work. They travel in segregated buses. They are frequently denied access to Eastern Jerusalem, the center of Palestinian commercial and cultural  life. They endure constant calls for “Greater Israel,” the call for ethnic cleansing to establish a unitary ethno-nationalist state. They live in unrecognized villages in the Negev and the North which the Israel state provides no services for. They, unlike Israeli Jews, have no “right to return.” They endured the Nakba.

“Israelis will be killed by terrorist violence!”

Palestinians are killed by terrorist violence. They are subject to spasms of outrageous violence, as the IDF kills them by the hundreds with bombs, tanks, and guns. The vast majority are civilians, many children. Their homes are destroyed, their neighborhoods demolished, their entire villages wiped out. Their hospitals and schools and universities and places of worship are bombed by Israel. Palestinians are subject to routine violence and degradation from IDF troops, who make light of this fact on social media. They are at risk from right-wing Israeli mobs who attack them at their protests and deny them their rights to protest. Their nonviolent protesters are thrown into prison. Their homes are bulldozed out of revenge.

Do I need to go on?

Everything that defenders of Israel insist will happen if Palestinians gain power, Palestinians are now enduring, or worse. Every humanitarian disaster that you imagine will occur with the creation of a Palestinian state is happening now. It’s just happening to the people of Palestine. And so this is the question for my many, many critical emailers: why do you shed more tears for what you imagine might happen to Israel than for what is happening to Palestinians?

Israel is one of the safest countries in the Middle East. Its people enjoy prosperity and security. The most powerful country on earth protects and enables it no matter what its behavior. In every meaningful sense– in terms of  physical security, in terms of functioning government and democracy, in terms of human and political rights, in terms of economics and employment, in terms of respect and protection for culture and religion, in terms of life expectancy and health, in terms of education and happiness, in terms of pure self-determination– Israel is one of the most well-off nations on earth, and Palestine, one of the most beleaguered. So then why calls for the defense of Israel so outnumber calls for the defense of Palestine? The only answer that makes sense is this: the belief, whether subconscious or knowing, that an Israeli life is worth more than a Palestinian life. That is the enduring, tacit, obvious belief that underlies this entire discussion, the thing people think but do not say.

(Photo: Palestinians stand over the bodies of eight Palestinians from the al-Louh family, who were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit their house, during a funeral in Deir al-Balah town of Gaza City on August 20, 2014. Eight members of the same family, including three young brothers and a pregnant woman, were killed early Wednesday by an Israeli strike in the town of Deir al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip. By Mohammed Talatene/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Give ’em Enough Rope

by Freddie deBoer

There’s a movement afoot among  writers whose work has appeared at Thought Catalog, the tween slambook of the grown-up internet. These writers are trying to have their work pulled from Thought Catalog not because the site is a disgrace but rather because ape-faced racist Gavin McInness wrote a piece justifying transphobia there.

Now, I have no problem with people trying to get their work removed from Thought Catalog. Lord knows, if there was anything on that website under my byline, I’d be working like to hell to get it pulled, transphobia or no. You don’t want to associate with McInness, I get that. But I think that we should all consider: this is the perfect example of why we shouldn’t censor and don’t need to. Go ahead and Google around or plop the link to his piece into Twitter. The large majority of the reactions he’s gotten have been some combination of anger or ridicule. His argument hasn’t gotten any traction. On the contrary: it’s gotten a lot of people talking about transphobia and how mainstream it can still be. His piece has been undone by the reaction to it. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. If we were to forbid him from expressing his opinions, we wouldn’t know how dopey he and they are.

Now Thought Catalog has pulled a pretty phony move, plastering a big disclaimer on front of their article. (After counting those sweet troll bait clicks, natch.) You can supposedly click through but I’m not able to load the actual piece that way, and had to consult a cached version. That strikes me as a weenie move; you published it, you got the attention, now leave it up for people to laugh at. And again, it’s unnecessary. I mean, this Tweet demolishes McIness in a way that’s far more effective and far more cutting than deleting his piece ever could:


Is Edward Snowden the World’s Dumbest Spy?, Ctd

by Freddie deBoer

Lots of reader objections on this one:

On Snowden’s motives and capabilities:

“I do know that he’s in Russia because he’s been trapped there by our government, and that if he’s a spy, he’s gotta be the world’s worst.”

Well, you’re half right. Snowden is in Russia because that’s where he chose to go, one day after his passport was revoked. I respect the whistle-blower argument, but Snowden did much more than leak evidence of crimes and overreach by the NSA. He took those documents and fled. Unlike Chelsea Manning, who seems to have far more personal integrity than Snowden, he did not remain here to face the consequences of his actions. If he truly believed he was doing a service for the country, or the world, and was not in flagrant violation of oaths he took, he should have stood his ground here in the US, or at the very least on neutral soil, NOT left to be succored by avowed international enemies of the US.

And his actions have shown that at the very least, he is extremely naive about international relations.

Any information that was on any digital device he took with him on his route to Sheremetyevo via Hong Kong was almost certainly compromised. If they were not (doubtful),  just how secure and careful have Greenwald and others who have access to those documents been in the intervening year? Surely you don’t think it is a coincidence that Aeroflot just happened to be willing to convey him to Moscow on a cancelled passport, do you? Putin loves having Snowden there to irritate the US, and has been playing him like a violin for over a year. Did you watch that pandering April  interview that Snowden claimed later was an attempt to catch Putin in a lie? If that was his aim, he has totally misunderstood both Putin and the nature of the personality cult he has been assiduously building in Russia. As events in Ukraine have shown, Putin *doesn’t care* if the West thinks (or knows) that he’s lying, and most Russians won’t believe the biased Western media even if presented with clear evidence. The West already suspected (and now knows) that Putin is an opportunist with no respect for international law or sanctions if they get in the way of what he wants. Snowden is just one more convenient tool in his arsenal of catspaws to use against what he considers to be a hostile coalition of Western powers.

I am not yet willing to brand Snowden an out-and-out traitor, but his actions are not nearly as blameless as you seem to think. He has repeatedly tried to trade off of information he stole from the NSA to secure asylum with several different governments. If he really wanted to expose US malfeasance while still protected US security interests, he should have left for neutral territory well before leaking any documents, established himself and submitted an asylum claim, THEN started leaking. Instead, his clumsy attempts at whistleblowing and evading responsibility for the same have resulted in him being in the power of an enemy state with no regard for world stability if it stands in the way of their interests.

Snowden’s own words: “I blew the whistle on the NSA’s surveillance practices not because I believed that the United States was uniquely at fault, but because I believe that mass surveillance of innocents – the construction of enormous, state-run surveillance time machines that can turn back the clock on the most intimate details of our lives – is a threat to all people, everywhere, no matter who runs them.” Snowden doesn’t just think the NSA overstepped its legal bounds in surveilling US citizens; he doesn’t think the NSA should be spying on *anyone at all*, and neither should anybody else. Well, that’s fucking great, but that’s just. not. reality. It is this kind of attitude that lead to Sec of State Henry Stimson shutting down the American Black Chamber and dismissing much of its staff without a pension or NDA after World War I. The key figure behind the chamber, Herbert Yardley, went on to write his own expose of their activities, mostly out of financial need, but likely also out of pique. I still have more respect for Yardley and his motivations than I do for Snowden.

The NSA’s own commentary on Yardley’s memoir: “Yardley, with no civil service status or retirement benefits, found himself unemployed just as the stock market was collapsing and the Great Depression beginning. He left Queens and returned to his hometown of Worthington, Indiana, where he began writing what was to become the most famous book in the history of cryptology. There had never been anything like it. In today’s terms, it was as if an NSA employee had publicly revealed the complete communications intelligence operations of the Agency for the past twelve years-all its techniques and major successes, its organizational structure and budget-and had, for good measure, included actual intercepts, decrypts, and translations of the communications not only of our adversaries but of our allies as well.”

I’ll just say, briefly: I wish Chelsea Manning had escaped the way Snowden has. I see nothing noble about her being stuck in a cage for the next several decades.

Digital Breaks, or “Breaks”

by Freddie deBoer


Exactly a year ago, David Roberts of Grist announced that he was taking an internet break, and would return on Labor Day of 2014. Roberts wrote at the time

I am burnt the fuck out.

I spend each day responding to an incoming torrent of tweets and emails. I file, I bookmark, I link, I forward, I snark and snark and snark. All day long. Then, at night, after my family’s gone to bed and the torrent has finally slowed to a trickle and I can think for more than 30 seconds at a stretch, I try to write longer, more considered pieces.

I enjoy every part of this: I enjoy sharing zingers with Twitter all day; I enjoy writing long, wonky posts at night. But the lifestyle has its drawbacks. I don’t get enough sleep, ever. I don’t have any hobbies. I’m always at work. Other than hanging out with my family, it’s pretty much all I do — stand at a computer, immersing myself in the news cycle, taking the occasional hour out to read long PDFs. I’m never disconnected.

It’s doing things to my brain.

So he elected to take a break from internet life. He’s not the first. Disconnecting from the internet has become a little genre onto its own. The most well-known of these disconnections, and the most emblematic, is that of The Verge‘s Paul Miller. And it’s emblematic precisely because of what Miller says didn’t happen– he didn’t get wiser, he didn’t get healthier. He writes,

One year ago I left the internet. I thought it was making me unproductive. I thought it lacked meaning. I thought it was “corrupting my soul.”

It’s a been a year now since I “surfed the web” or “checked my email” or “liked” anything with a figurative rather than literal thumbs up. I’ve managed to stay disconnected, just like I planned. I’m internet free.

And now I’m supposed to tell you how it solved all my problems. I’m supposed to be enlightened. I’m supposed to be more “real,” now. More perfect.

But instead it’s 8PM and I just woke up. I slept all day, woke with eight voicemails on my phone from friends and coworkers. I went to my coffee shop to consume dinner, the Knicks game, my two newspapers, and a copy of The New Yorker. And now I’m watching Toy Story while I glance occasionally at the blinking cursor in this text document, willing it to write itself, willing it to generate the epiphanies my life has failed to produce.

I didn’t want to meet this Paul at the tail end of my yearlong journey.

This, in my experience, is typical of people who have disconnected: they come back to report that in fact their online selves are more real and more fulfilling, and that really it was their doubts and dissatisfaction with the internet that had been misguided. Some go so far as to say that disconnecting is not actually possible. Miller cites Nathan Jurgensen, who has built a theory of pathology for those who advocate disconnecting. The message is clear: you can take your break, but there is no escape.

Miller is part of what I’ve called, in the past, the internet’s immune system. It’s a facet of online culture whereby even the mildest criticism of digital life attracts reflexive, defensive argument, even though the entire weight of capitalism pushes us to spend more and more time in that digital space. Alan Jacobs recently wrote about this weird fantasy world where Luddites are more  powerful than enthusiastic technologists, saying “Where you and I live, of course, technology companies are among the largest and most powerful in the world, our media are utterly saturated with the prophetic utterances of their high priests, and people continually seek high-tech solutions to every imaginable problem, from obesity to road rage to poor reading scores in our schools.” One of my favorite bloggers, Michael Sacasas, has written at length about the odd way in which one of the most powerful economic and cultural forces in the world has come to be defended as if  were a powerless underdog. Jurgensen acquits his arguments well, but I always am left wondering: where, exactly, is this perception of threat coming from? From a small handful of people who have disconnected from the internet, in comparison to the millions who spend most of their waking lives online?  It’s strange.

I will 100% cop to the fact that I am one of those IRL fetishists that Jurgensen derides. Because for me– for me– the internet is fun and useful but not nearly as moving or important as real life. And I think that, for most people, meeting someone face to face, enjoying their physical presence, is not replicable digitally. But that’s just my perception, and I have no interest in spreading that Gospel. Like Alan, I would like it if online triumphalism was not rendered compulsory by its avatars. What I want to say to others is that if you want to disconnect, you need to really disconnect– you can’t spend your offline time thinking about your old online self. When I read Miller’s piece, it’s unclear to me whether he ever went all the way in his disconnection. Of course the experience will disappoint you if you go offline but keep your online state of mind.

So that’s the real question for Roberts. Were I a betting man, I’d say he comes back and says something similar to Miller– it was cool, I lost some weight, played with my kids, but it wasn’t really a big deal and I better appreciate how the internet makes us “social” now. But the deeper issue is whether he’ll come back having spent that year thinking of all the funny stuff he’d be saying or cool stuff he’d be learning if he were online. If that’s the case, I’m afraid there’s no way disconnecting could ever have satisfied him.

(Photo by Michael Herfort)

Israel Has Been Singled Out By Israel’s Defenders, Ctd

by Freddie deBoer

Tensions Remain High At Israeli Gaza Border

Continuing the conversation about our culpability in Israel’s actions, this email sums up a lot of reader sentiment:

Your explanation is valid as far as Americans go, since they provide so much financial and more importantly, diplomatic, support to Israel.  That’s not true for people in other countries.  As just one example, let’s look at the civilian casualties and other atrocities in Syria, which are orders of magnitude greater than those caused by Israel.  Did the Latin American countries who recalled their ambassadors from Israel to protest civilian casualties in Gaza similarly recall their ambassadors from Syria?  Have there been any mass protest demonstrations at Syrian embassies in Europe? We can look at other recent atrocities and find similar absences of outrage around the world, yet consciences everywhere seem to miraculously awaken when Israel is involved.

I am a supporter of Israel as a country, but not of many of the policies of its government.  Many of Israel’s actions in the West Bank are not only immoral and illegal (and illegal under Israeli law, yet they go unpunished), they are also stupid and self-defeating. Far from asking to end to criticisms of Israel, I join in many of them, provided they are based on an informed understanding of the situation. Too often they are not – people see some footage of civilian casualties, read some blog posts, and are suddenly instant experts on the Middle East.  I expect people who offer an opinion to know what they are talking about.  When I hear mischaracterizations (or disregard) of Hamas’ ultimate aims, ignorance of the chronology and reasons for Israel’s blockade of Gaza, wholesale swallowing of Hamas’ propaganda re civilian vs. military casualty figures, and most infuriating of all, minimization of the threat of invasion/terror tunnels and the effect of thousands of rockets used exclusively against civilian targets in Israel, I don’t see much reason to value their opinions.

Here is the fundamental question we’re considering: is Israel the same as other countries? Or is it different from other countries? The answer from my critics seems to switch depending on which would be more useful for defending Israel at that moment.

Though many have complained that I use terms like “killing children,” no credible source doubts that Israel has killed hundreds of civilians in Gaza in this most recent campaign, or that many of them have been children. Instead, we are still to defend Israel despite that fact because Israel is different, because it is the only democracy in the region and a more moral nation than the ones we identify as bad actors. And yet here we have this emailer defending Israel because it is better than Syria. That hardly seems like living up to the standard of the region’s only democracy. “Better than the Assad regime” does not strike me as a particularly enthusiastic endorsement.

So which is it? Are we required to support Israel because it is a more advanced, democratic, moral nation? Or are we expected to hold it to an identical standard as Assad’s Syria? You can’t have it both ways. If you think Israel exists on a higher moral plane than its neighbors, then you have to insist that it act morally. For all of the many ways in which Israel’s democracy has been undermined by the rise of ultra-nationalists and ethnic supremacists in the past decades, it remains subject to democratic review in a way that Syria’s regime simply doesn’t. Israel could become a freer and more just nation through loud and committed democratic engagement, but that can’t happen if we excuse all of its bad deeds in the name of defending it.

(Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

Can Double-Blind Peer Review Be Reformed?, Ctd

by Freddie deBoer

Lots and lots of great reader responses to my post on peer review. Here’s a sample. Many readers ding me, correctly, for over-generalizing: much of academic peer review is not double-blind.

Interesting post, and thanks for the link to the Rossman piece. I don’t have a great story for you on peer review, but wanted to add that most natural science journals actually use single-blind. This may be changing, for example this article which also provides some support for my assertion.


I am a senior academic, so I have been on both sides of the peer review process, and I have counseled younger colleagues who have voiced complaints similar to those outlined by deBoer. Although some of the problems mentioned are insoluble, others could be remedied or at least reduced by clearer policies on the part of professional associations within various disciplines and academic journals.  These include:

1. The professional associations should establish and publicize standards governing professional conduct in undertaking and completing reviews. There may be no way to enforce these standards directly, but publicizing them might be helpful, in part in helping editors call wayward and/or tardy reviewers to account. The associations could also collect and publicize data on the period from submission to publication for various journals. These data might inform authors of what journals to seek out and which to avoid.

2. Academic journals should set a deadline for the completion of reviews, communicated to the authors and to the reviewers ahead of time. Six weeks seems a reasonable period to me, but I am not wedded to that. If the reviewer cannot guarantee a review within the prescribed period, another reviewer should be selected. Reviewers who fail to meet their obligations should not be asked by the journal to review future articles, and journal editors should be proactive in pressuring tardy reviewers. Those submitting articles should be free, after three months without a response from a journal, to submit his/her work to another journal as well.

3. Using the same reviewers for the “revise and resubmit” review as for the original review, so that new objections/concerns are less likely to be raised.  The reviewers should be asked simply as to whether the problems they identified have been adequately addressed or not, and a final determination should be made.  Multiple “revise and resubmits” should not occur. If the author’s work doesn’t merit publication after he/she has had a chance to revise it, the author should be told so (and be free to submit to another journal).

Similar thoughts:

Necessary background: I’m a research meteorologist, almost 21 years past my Ph.D.  I don’t have as many peer-reviewed papers published as anyone would like me to have but the ones I do have appear in 5 different journals published by the American Meteorological Society (AMS), 2 published by the American Geophysical Union (AGU), and another published by the European Geosciences Union (EGU).  Over the years I have served as a reviewer for most of the journals in which I’ve published, and for at least 1 AGU journal in which I have not yet published.  The AMS or the AGU are usually the primary professional society with which U.S. based meteorologists who are not forecasters are affiliated.  (The National Weather Association (NWA) is often the primary for forecasters.). …

I would take serious issue with your statement that “Peer review, at the vast majority of credible journals, is built on a double blind system.”  I have never run into a double-blind review system, either as a writer or a reviewer.  I do not think I have ever heard a colleague talk about being part of one, either.  So this may be very seriously field-specific.  The AMS & AGU journals have, to the best of my knowledge, very high credibility in the meteorology, atmospheric sciences, oceanographic, and related fields. I’ll leave exploration of metrics to you, if you’re interested; all that matters to me is the opinion of my colleagues & “bosses”.  I believe that I have heard of trouble with some editors once one starts getting into topics related to climate change, but as it’s well outside my direct experience I’d prefer to leave it at that.  I’d refer you to the blogs of Prof. Roger Pielke, Jr. or Prof. Judith Curry if you want to explore that further.

You have my sympathies! I just got a paper published after 4 revisions.  Round 1 came back, and we (thought we) revised reasonably based on the comments & concerns; we certainly took them seriously.  Round 2 came back; Reviewer 1 felt we’d blown off his comments, so insisted more forcefully and with more detail, while Reviewer 2 was satisfied.  We did a lot more work and rewrote.  Round 3 came back; Reviewer 1 was satisfied, but Reviewer 2 no longer believed us!  We did a lot more work and rewrote.  Round 4 came back; Reviewers 1 & 2 were now satisfied, and Reviewer 3 (who had been a supportive but rigorous presence throughout) had a few more suggestions and questions.  So we rewrote a little bit more, and finally were done.

Throughout this process we had the same non-anonymous editor, who was patient and understanding and did an awful lot of work IMO.  I’ve definitely had other editors go the extra mile, too.  (And some who weren’t so diligent, but <shrug> not everybody can be excellent at everything.)  With the AMS journals, you always know who your editor is, and I think editors may even stay with “open” papers after their term as editor ends.  That openness makes a big difference, I’m sure.  My most recent experiences with an AGU journal also involved anonymous reviewers but a known editor.  Furthermore, you *always* know what Reviewer 1 told you to do, what Reviewer 2 told you to do, and what the Editor told you to do.


I guess the norms of peer review differ somewhat by discipline. I’ve been writing papers for biomedical journals for a little over a decade now, and reviewing regularly for nearly as long, and the norm for me has been single-blind review: the reviewers know the authors, but not the other way around. I can only think of one journal for whom I’ve reviewed that was double blind.

Anyway, this may seem hopelessly idealistic, but the standard to which I hold myself when reviewing is really quite simple: I pretend it isn’t blinded at all. I don’t write anything in a review that I wouldn’t sign my name to and be willing to have published, nor anything I wouldn’t say to the authors in person at a conference, in a lab meeting, or over a beer. More importantly than keeping things civil, professional, and non-petty (though that is all very important!) it forces me to make sure that I have my own facts straight and that I can back whatever I say up.

As to my experience of being reviewed while it has been generally fair and constructive for me, it is very clear that my own standards are not universally applied.

Personally, I think doing away with anonymity in peer review altogether would be preferable.

Still another:

I’m a Ph.D candidate and I read your post, nodding my head along the whole time. In my limited experience, the process of peer-review (the depth of review, critique, and the ultimate decision to approve or project) is highly variable. You’ll get two reviews and one will ask for minor changes and the other reviewer will want the entire paper re-written so as to incorporate a topic you don’t even mention (“how could you not mention NGOs?”) “Well because this paper 1) isn’t about NGOs and 2) NGOs don’t apply here and 3) we don’t have the expertise to study or comment on NGOs”.

But for me, the time factor and the accessibility factor are the much bigger issues. Six months to two years to get something published. An adaptive institution this is not. As I’m writing, Ghostbusters (1984) is on TV and Egon just said “print is dead.” I laugh every time. I’m aware there are alternative outlets to traditional publication, but until we have a movement of young academics willing to challenge the norm, or academic institutions with the foresight to change the rules of the game, what are we supposed to do. I know I’m trying to get my stuff into regular ole high-ranked traditional journals. And what about when you have to settle for a lower-tiered journal. It still counts, but is anybody reading it?

More to come.