In the comments section of our newest "How can we help you?" post, a reader writes:
I'm wondering if anyone can give advice on how to hide your paper from Googling by referees. I have recently noticed that my website gets a huge spike in traffic right after I submit a paper--even to a triple-blind journal. (Of course, at any journal, the googler may just be the editor, which is not as bad as it being the referees.) Plus, there's all this independent testimony that it's a common practice.
Anyway, I think the problem is very acute for those of us on the market (as I will be in the fall). Think of all the places a job candidate will have a paper's info:(1) under a research tab on the website, (2) in an "Under Review" section on one's CV, which is on one's website, (3) in a research statement or dissertation abstract, which is on one's website (even if the titles aren't there, often a candidate will describe his/her papers there--and that will show up when someone Googles phrases from the paper).
I'm finding it hard to scrub not only titles but even paper descriptions from all those places. Any advice?
This is a really excellent query. I too have repeatedly had the experience the reader mentions here -- of people searching for my paper's title and visiting my website or academia.edu page immediately after submitting it to journals. And I've heard many other people I know report similar experiences. What can be done to prevent it?
Frankly, I'm not sure what can be done besides the things the reader mentions (i.e. completely scrubbing it from one's website, CV, research statement, changing its title before submitting it, etc.). But, first, I'm not even sure that would work--as a curious reviewer could very well input a few key terms from a paper and ascertain who you are. For example, several of my papers that I believe were searched developed concepts (e.g. a Rawlsian "nonideal original position", a "libertarian compatibilist" theory of free will) that could have easily led someone to my website, even had I scrubbed the title. Call me paranoid, but I think it's entirely plausible that a reviewer who would take the time to unethically search a paper's title might also search a key word or two! Should an author then scrub every trace of their papers from their online presence--viz. the research statement, etc.?
This brings me to my second concern: why should the burden be on authors to make sure that their stuff is unsearchable online? As the reader above notes, philosophers--particularly early-career people on the job-market--can have very good reasons to want their work, research statements, etc., to be available for people to view. As long as an author doesn't go out of their way to compromise anonymized review (which I have also repeatedly seen, by the way, as when people announce their paper's title on facebook as they send it out for review), why should the burden fall on them to make sure their work is unsearchable?
Which brings me to my final point, which is that I suspect that this is mostly a wild goose-chase/fool's errand. In the current online era, anonymized review is plausibly compromised routinely in at least a half-dozen ways--typically in ways that plausibly advantage authors at well-placed institutions over authors who are less well professionally placed. Apologies to the reader if this harangue sort of changes the subject momentarily, as they are looking for advice on what they can do--but I guess my point is that I don't think they can solve the relevant problem(s). The problems here are systemic, fundamentally embedded in the anachronistic "anonymized review" process that, in a digital era, neither is nor plausibly can be consistently and truly anonymized. There are simply too many ways today that anonymized review can be compromised that we are better off not putting author's in the reader's predicament to begin with. There are other non-anonymized peer-review models that have been demonstrated to work in other fields which impose none of these quandaries upon authors.
In any case, my (rather disappointing) answer to the author's query is (A) the suggestions they give in their comment (e.g. scrubbing one's website, changing the paper's title) are probably the best they can do, but (B) those solutions are probably both insufficient to actually preserve anonymized review and unreasonable to impose upon authors--which is just a verbose way of saying: I don't think there are any good answers to the author's quandary under our prevailing "anonymized" review model.
But perhaps I'm way off base. What do you all think?