First ‘Monument to an Anonymous Peer Reviewer’

A Monument to an Anonymous Peer Reviewer – believed to be the world’s first – has been unveiled at top Russian institution the National Research University Higher School of Economics or HSE in Moscow.

Two Nobel Prize winners supported a crowdfunding campaign that attracted researchers from across the world and enabled a “useless piece of concrete” to be transformed into an artwork, HSE reported on its website.

Eric Maskin, 2007 Nobel laureate in economics, said anonymous researchers were the “unsung heroes of science”. Andre Geim, 2010 Nobel laureate in physics, described reviewers’ contributions to science thus: Dubito ergo sum – ‘I doubt, therefore I am’.

Russia’s Deputy Minister of Education and Science Lyudmila Ogorodova attended the official opening ceremony on 26 May along with some 100 guests, many of whom wore masks in a show of support for reviewer anonymity.

A concrete block in the courtyard of HSE’s Institute of Education had been “a lasting image of the World War II era”, HSE said. It was something of an eyesore.

Last summer, “the institute’s staff came up with the idea of turning it into a piece of art”. A monument to an anonymous peer reviewer was the brainchild of Igor Chirikov, director of the Centre of Sociology of Higher Education – his suggestion garnered most votes in an internal survey.

“Peer reviewing is a matter of love and hate,” said Chirikov. Getting negative reviews for papers was painful. The role of reviewers was “often undervalued and unrewarding” but was important for research development, making sure that “our results are precise, incontestable and not accidental”.

He said he wanted the monument to stress the impact of reviewers on research, but with irony “so as to motivate researchers who don’t always get positive reviews”.

The monument is a large concrete dice with sides that display the kinds of opinions reviewers give to articles, such as ‘accept’ or ‘minor changes’. Each side of the cube is outlined by titles of papers by researchers who donated US$60 or more towards the monument.

At the unveiling, Chirikov urged scholars with papers under review to rub the upper side of the monument “for luck” while also saying the word “accept” out loud.

HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov spoke about the importance being able to laugh – or at least smile – at yourself. During a time of transition and global science, the demands of academia were very high.

“We can either keep on self-chastising and lamenting about how hard it is, or we can smile and go forward. We are definitely on the side of the second option.”