Mankind has a fascination with the concept that blindness equates to fairness. Since 1543, when Hans Gieng brought forth the first blindfolded representation of Justitia in his statue that resides on the Fountain of Justice in Berne, mankind has perpetuated the idea that blindness equates to justice and objectivity. Why? Because blindness works. Blindness is impartial. It is “fair.”
Anyone familiar with the world of literary journals is sure to have heard a dirty rumor at one point or another that a particular journal will only publish things by friends of the staff, or that the staff will only publish well known authors, or that the staff will only publish men, or that the staff will only etc… etc… etc…
In many cases, the journals around which these rumors circle are surprised when they do research (or look at research that is provided to them such as in the case of the VIDA counts*) that proves there is a legitimate basis for these rumors. In the case of literary journals, an example of this is the extreme bias towards male writers, wherein some publications had less than a quarter of their pieces written by female writers. Many times, biases manifest themselves in non-overt ways, such as submissions being considered more carefully, grammatical errors being overlooked, or even the writing style being judged more harshly. It doesn’t even have to be a conscious decision to favor pieces, but when someone is not blind to who is submitting, judgments can even be made from a name (take NBER’s research into name bias in hiring as an example wherein a simple change of name resulted in a 50% decreased callback rate**).
That’s where blind submissions come in. Blind submission review is the process that Grub Street uses for all of its submissions. A blind submission is, at its core, a judgment on strictly the qualities of a piece. In Grub Street, the staff are organized into groups based on genre. When a piece is submitted, all identifying information is stripped from the piece and then submitted to the appropriate genre team for consideration. At no point are any of the staff members within a genre group provided with the names of the writers or artists. That information only comes to light after the decision has been made to publish. This way, only the traits of the piece are considered. If a piece is well-structured, coherent, and above all, enticing, it will be published. Judgment is blind to all else, and therefore, is objective. Because none of the staff are given the opportunity for latent biases to manifest, a submission is considered solely on the merits found on the page and not for any external notions.
*VIDA is an organization that raises attention to contemporary women’s writing. One of the ways VIDA does this is by publishing the male to female ratio of many journals. More information can be found here: http://www.vidaweb.org
** http://www.nber.org/digest/sep03/w9873.html - NBER’s Study
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