This entry is the outcome of a tour through all the conversations of the Peer Review Page which were present on a specific weekend. It started with a call for volunteers (from the View at H2G2), who were willing to share their experiences and feelings in going through the Peer Review process.
There were 355 conversations present, the majority of which fallen asleep for several weeks, and 37 (that is, 11%) which consisted only of the author's initial announcement after the third day running. I had three announcements running there myself, two of which were part of those 37, and the third was sleeping. The aim of this undertaking was to find out whether this was a single fate, or whether there was anything common to these conversations, and what researchers' feelings were.
Submission vs. Submission
In submitting an entry to the Peer Review, you give away a piece of yourself, and you offer it to the criticism of an anonymous amount of others. You reveal a vulnerability because you don't know who is out there, and whether there's a Real Life Guru to proof you all wrong. Non-native english speakers have a second hurdle to overcome and perhaps expose another vulnerability. People who can't stand this don't write, nor announce an entry in the first place, that's not the point.
Apart from hoping to gain a place on the H2G2 front page with all the fame and glory of it, by posting an entry on the PR one more or less
- wants the thrill of a discussion
- seeks the acknowledgement of others
- looks out for a good debate
- or just wants to pass this step as quickly as possible.
Sending the announcement means in other words 'After doing what I deemed necessary, here I am, out in the open, ready to take it. Now go ahead folks, and may I ask you to have mercy'. A lot of announcements conveyed this meaning even in the wording, not only between the lines. There are others who asked for feedback along the lines of 'Tell me what you think, and how badly I suck. I'm dying to know'.
Reactions to Feedback
Receiving comments, positive or negative, is just what was wanted (or expected, respectively), and marks the intermediate goal.
Reactions to Positive Feedback...
... were positive all the way through!
Reactions to Negative Feedback...
... fall into some separate categories:
There's a type of researchers who
- wrote an entry in 1st person
- were kindly advised to rewrite it into neutral (3rd person) style
- and went fishing
My guess is that, since writing in 1st person means expressing one's own opinion or experience, such writing cannot possibly be attacked or proven wrong, ie: it renders the writer invulnerable. These researchers simply didn't want to give away their safety, and retired. Another explanation is that the authors wanted to remain in the focus of the article, which is not what the Guide wants1.
Other researchers may be characterized like this:
- failed to see the need for research
- recognized this as unpaid work
- were seeking fame and fun, not fame and working fun, on h2g2
- and went fishing
There's also a group of researchers which I'd describe like that:
- never read handbooks and guidelines
- mistook h2g2 for a chat forum, where all those people shown as being online can instantly see the posting
- and consequently took the first hour of silence as rejection of a) the entry as such, or b) themselves as a person
- and went fishing
And of course, there's a lot of researchers who take it up and amend their entries
Reactions to Missing Feedback
Any feedback (positive or negative) shows that somebody spent a bit of his time reading the article, followed the thoughts of the author, made up their own thoughts (perhaps went out for research), took the burden of returning to the PR page, and spent another bit of their time to type in a comment. It is an act of expressing recognition and esteem (and be it only to tell the author where he was wrong).
Concluding from my own experience and the remarks of 'forgotten' authors, receiving no comments is taken as:
- the denial of achieving intermediate and final goals
- extended exposure of said vulnerability
- the expression, by the community as a whole, of disregard or disdain
- having committed a fault so unspeakable that nobody wants to be so impolite and point it out
- being deliberately held in a position of insecurity.
'Angst' is a good word to summarize these feelings.
Consequently, this sends one into a vicious circle of questions like:
'what have I done wrong', 'is it really sooo bad', 'why does nobody recognize me', 'I put in all that work, what's my fault', 'whom did I offend', 'are there only blind ignorants around here' etc.
In few cases the announcement was repeated or updated, which shows a more die-hard or hard-boiled nature
Otherwise, the consequences are:
- perception of disregard is countered by returning the favour, ie: retirement (from writing or from h2g2 completely)
- prolonged exposure of vulnerability / insecurity is also put to an end by retirement
and so on; once a researcher has entered this vicious circle, disdain and retirement seem to be the only escape.
Now compare this to the h2g2 motto of 'share and enjoy'.
Of course, I cannot quote researchers who left in silence.
One researcher left with the remark:
I'll take your silence as "fraid not, bugger off"
Quoting a researcher in reply to the first comment that eventually was received:
My dearest [...]: Thank you generous sir, thank you! I feel so ... validated! I'm very new to this community, screwed up repeated trying to post my article, and was deeply wounded by the interest it very clearly failed to stir! Actually, I thought perhaps I annoyed readers by accidently posting the same thing three times, and I don't have clue one who [typo, = on how] I managed that feat.
Quoting another researcher in the same situation:
Gee, it's replies like this that make the week-long wait worth while. I'm really glad that you enjoyed it so much, and I think I'll make a biographical entry on [...]. I'm really thankful that I finally not only got a reply, but a positive one.
*Flies away while humming REM's "Man On the Moon"*
Wasting resources is a common occurrence when they are in plenty supply and come for free or at a fixed price (depending on your whereabouts, just think of local phone calls, freshwater supply, 'eat all you can', or internet flat rates).
Now, H2G2 wants to cover life, the earth, and everything. H2G2 relies on researchers as the resource, and they come for free (do they really?). Entries on everything require the widest possible variety of knowledge and experience to be cast into entries. If, in the long run, only hard-boiled writers remain active then the community (ie: all of us) is wasting a huge portion of possible resources. Nobody can hold researchers who don't find their entertainment in researching and writing entries. But everybody can take part in holding those who do, and who deserve feedback. Feedback is the price of this resource. Researchers literally 'feed' on it! Lacking food for too long is called -- starvation.
Dear fellow researchers, and especially newcomers, if you really want to enjoy the glory of seeing your masterpiece on the h2g2 front page, knowing about the procedures will help you over some time of silence.
You can chat on H2G2, but H2G2 is not a chat group in the usual sense. The same way you don't instantly see anybody else's postings to the PR, so do they. Peer Review is peer review and not Scout Review. And if you don't trawl through the PR, why do you expect others to do so?
Proportions of time-scale on the Peer Review page are even different to any virtual pubs here. My estimate was that, on an average, the PR receives 1-2 postings per hour. Given some 350 conversations there, this means an average of 7-15 days for comments per entry, if postings were evenly distributed. So, a week of silence between any two postings to a thread is just average and nothing to be bothered. Two weeks of silence is not disdain, it is just lacking one or two comments behind average!
Advertising an entry (putting name and A-number behind your name) may or may not speed things up. Don't be bothered if this doesn't help either.
Disregarding the writing guidelines would have gained you a reply from a scout only in the days before the h2g2 Writing Workshop and the Sin Bin came into being. And 'floating up' a conversation is surely something to be discussed.
[Amended Sep24, 2001]: On the other side, if you as the auther push up the thread then it's only a positive sign that you haven't resigned yet, still are pursuing the matter and demanding 'food'. Yes, do it!
No feedback is the worst of all ways of feedback.
Vice versa: Any visible feedback is better than none.
And knowing how things work can help to sustain periods of silence.
If you are annoyed by extended silence, remember to 'share and enjoy'. This means: look out for some poor peer who shares your fate, grant them a bit of your time, and leave them a feedback to enjoy, and wait for them to return the favour. To make things a little easier, put a link into your entry, pointing to its PR thread.
[Credits go to Archangel Galaxy Babe]
How about making the Peer Review your starting point on h2g2, and reviewing one (or more ) entries each time you log in?
Looking back over this study, I realize that lots of it was written in 1st person (I was seeking safety, of course). But anyway: here I am, out in the open, ready to take it. Now go ahead folks, and may I ask you to have mercy.
<whisper> any comments? </whisper>