What We Do When the News Isn't Good: Part 2
As noted last month, sometimes Choice reviews are negative. This past year, for example, we published 142 reviews of works that were “not recommended” and another 296 reviews with an “optional” rating. Together, these were a very small slice of the 7,264 reviews Choice published in 2011, less than 2 percent in the case of the not recommended titles. These are fairly typical percentages and pretty much what one would expect from a publication whose main goal is to tell folks about the “good stuff.”
It is, of course, one thing for Choice to publish a negative review and quite another to be on the receiving end. Authors, it is fair to say, sometimes find it difficult to accept a negative assessment of their work in Choice as proof of a particularly well-conducted review process. We know because they are not hesitant to tell us.
Letters, we get letters, not to mention e-mails and an occasional phone call, from authors whose work has been reviewed negatively in Choice. The tone of these communications varies greatly, but most are relatively clear and measured responses to what is, inevitably, an extremely disappointing outcome from an author’s perspective.
Inevitably too, such letters come with a request for remedial action. Leaving aside one notable demand for the immediate dismissal of both the responsible Choice subject editor and the Choice editor and publisher, the more common requests include publication of a correction notice, a published apology from the reviewer (or Choice), publication of a new review by a different reviewer, and retraction of the current review, or some combination thereof. Whatever the request, all such missives, or complaint letters as they are known in-house, are handled in the same manner. Complaint letters, we have a process for that.
At the core of that process is a standard offer we extend to all complaint letter authors, the opportunity to prepare a written response to the review for publication in the “Letters” section of Choice. That offer is simultaneously extended to the reviewer, who is offered the opportunity to prepare a similar letter responding to the author’s complaint, again for publication in the “Letters” section. If both parties agree and follow through, the two letters are published simultaneously. If the reviewer declines the invitation to respond, the author’s letter appears solo.
This process, which has been in place for many years, has proven itself over time. It affords both parties the opportunity to make their case without retracting the original review or otherwise expunging it from the scholarly record, something that, so far as the current staff can tell, has never been done at Choice. For our reviewers, it offers an opportunity to defend or amend their earlier work. While seldom their first preference, it seems to represent an acceptable second choice for most authors. And for our readers, it offers a continuation of the dialogue initiated by the original review. For that, to our way of thinking, is what a Choice review represents, not the end but rather the beginning of a much larger conversation, one in which we are honored to participate.—IER