73

I just had a lecture from someone who has been a senior scientist (and has completed a PhD, post-doc) at a hospital for already 15 years. So I'm assuming this person is experienced in giving talks in English. However, almost one out of three words was completely unintelligible because of a very strong Spanish accent where every word gets morphed into a Spanish-English hybrid word.

I spoke to two people after the lecture and they both said they couldn't follow along because of the strong accent. The questions after the talk were also not about the lecture but about the speaker's field. My impression is that the talk was a waste of time for the two dozen people present.

Now I wonder if the speaker is aware of this problem, my guess is no and as such I feel the need to bring this to the speaker's attention. If it was me I'd very much like to know that I have a problem communicating because I feel like a lack of communication skills can be a very serious barrier to being a good scientist but I don't know if she feels the same way.

My plan is to use an anonymous email address to send this feedback, sandwiched between two compliments to avoid coming off as a negative person.

  • 8
    This answer of mine to a similar question would fit perfectly well here. One of my cleverest colleagues has an impenetrable accent. If this person has been successful despite their communication issues, it's probably worth your while for you to figure out what they have to say. – rob Oct 4 '17 at 21:05
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    I am a bilingual speaker who has a horrible accent in my second language. I've been married to a native speaker for 8 years and lived in a town which primarily speaks it for 5. Nonetheless, my accent is horrible, and I am fully aware of it and have worked on it in many different ways. For some people, and for some language combinations, this is a very time consuming and difficult process. There were times when I just gave up for a while because it was too hard. Fortunately for me, my husband, his family, and our friends have all been very patient and understanding with me. – user80866 Oct 5 '17 at 20:28
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    @stanri it sounds like you have good insight into the situation of the speaker. Given your perspective, what is your view about OP's question? – Dan Romik Oct 6 '17 at 6:56
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    @DanRomik I didn't make an answer because there are already 12 of them, and they're mostly correct. The assumption that she isn't aware of this is most likely incorrect. I just wanted to convey how difficult this can be to fix. One of my best friends is a speech therapist and she works with clients for years to fix their speech. She has taught me exercises to improve my accent (like reading books out loud, with my husband, and having him correct my pronunciation and then listening to him read the same thing), and even with her professional help it's very slow going. – user80866 Oct 6 '17 at 7:05
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    Just tell them. I am going to guess that you are from the US; compared to other western cultures, American is unusually non-confrontative. In many other cultures giving constructive criticism is entirely OK, even if you don't spend half an hour making up fake praises first. (Making it clear that you are trying to help and not just being mean is a good idea though.) As a non-native speaker who has spent a lot of time stressing over whether I am being understood, honest feedback is quite helpful. Even more so if you can give some specifics (too silent, too fast etc). – Tgr Oct 9 '17 at 0:53

13 Answers 13

53

This might be productive in a direct conversation, if you are able to establish rapport, and if you can steer the conversation in a productive direction. You could start by asking her to clarify some key point you were interested in. Stop her as soon as there's something you don't understand, and if necessary ask her to spell the word you don't understand. The goal at this point is to succeed in communicating with each other.

If you are able to accomplish that, then you could say

Thanks for clarifying that point. That is really interesting for me. I didn't understand what you said on that point during the lecture -- to tell you the truth, I was only able to get the meaning of some of what you said, and that made it hard for me to follow the arc of the presentation. I'm not very good at understanding nonstandard unfamiliar accents. So I have to rely heavily on the visual with a lot of speakers. Your slides about (topic B) helped me a lot, because they had a lot of detail.

That is a conclusion that helps the speaker move forward in a positive direction.


Additional notes.

Often one needs to crank up the belief in oneself in order to get through the PhD and other hurdles in academia. This sometimes leads one to a slightly Aspergeresque attitude of "I can find the words I need to express myself; mission accomplished; I'm not interested in how well other people are understanding me." Step one is to establish rapport.

Sometimes this rapport can result in the stronger English speaker having some influence over the other. Sometimes it results in the stronger English speaker getting tuned into the other's speech patterns better, and perhaps also developing empathy for what has led the other to his or her current state of mediocre English. This happened to me with respect to my advisor. For the most part I'm one of those people who finds horrible English, or horrible French, or horrible Spanish, excruciating, like chalk going the wrong way on a blackboard; and it continues to torment me later like a stuck song (ear worm). Once my empathy with my advisor was established, certain patterns, such as his tendency to omit words, got a lot less on my nerves.


Today I had a brainwave. If the speaker's English is that bad, the hosting department should provide an interpreter.

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    Maybe - "I'm not very good at understanding certain accents"? – camden_kid Oct 3 '17 at 15:14
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    Agreed, "nonstandard" is not a great way to describe it – neuranna Oct 3 '17 at 15:28
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    @TomJNowell Actually, OP did : see the last line of the third paragraph ("... if she feels the same way." – Arnaud D. Oct 4 '17 at 11:51
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    @TomJNowell - Thanks, but I'm rolling back because: I'd support your removal of the feminine pronouns if OP had not indicated the speaker's gender; "his or her" and "their" both being acceptable ungendered approaches, as the author of the answer, I get to choose. If you were the copyeditor and I were the journal contributor, you'd get to choose. – aparente001 Oct 4 '17 at 12:59
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    @aparente001 I had the same reaction against "nonstandard." It's not really a big deal, but I think it has a very slight moralizing overtone, since it associates "English I can understand" as "standard" and "English I can't understand" as "nonstandard." The trouble isn't whether it's normal/standard/acceptable/correct/whatever, the trouble is that you, and perhaps some other listeners, can't understand it. NBD, but I'd personally choose another word, especially when it's a touchy subject already as OP notes. – Mike Haskel Oct 4 '17 at 13:43
116

I think that your plan is based on number of possibly wrong premises. And even if they were mostly right, I doubt such a plan could have any reasonable success. Let's see my reasons.

I just had a lecture from someone who has been a senior scientist (and has completed a PhD, post-doc) at a hospital for already 15 years.So I'm assuming this person is experienced in giving talks in English.

I've met along the years many senior researchers, even native English speakers, who where definitely not experienced in giving talks, at all. If academic researchers are frequently experienced speakers because, at least, they have teaching duties, some researchers from research institutes are really "lab rats" who rarely deliver talks. To give you an example, a few years ago I was attending a poster session in a conference and I told one of the presenters (a native English speaker) that I was surprised that his work had been accepted as poster presentation and not as an oral one. He told me that it was actually accepted as oral presentation, but he asked for a poster one because he doesn't like to deliver talks.

My impression is that the talk was a waste of time for the two dozen people present.

Talks can be a waste of time for other reasons than terrible language: slides with unreadable results, talk targeted to the wrong audience etc. I certainly attended many talks that could be considered a waste of time for almost anyone in the rooms, and a large fraction of these talks were delivered by allegedly experienced speakers.

Now I wonder if the speaker is aware of this problem, my guess is no

In my experience among non-native speakers of English, most of the people is well aware of their level of English and of their pronunciation: your guess is likely wrong.

I feel the need to bring this to the speaker's attention.

Would you feel the same need if the talk were a waste of time for any other reason? And note that preparing readable slides is usually much easier than fixing pronunciation. And are you planning to do such an action for all the useless talks you will attend in your life?

I feel the need to bring this to the speaker's attention.

As I said, the speaker is probably well aware of this issue, but can you offer any solution that the speaker is not already aware of?

Improving pronunciation is not something that can be done easily, especially if one is not keen on languages. The speaker might have had good reasons for not having been able to improve pronunciation more than that. Time and money can be two of them. I don't know how many languages you speak -- you speak more than one, right? I speak Italian, my native language, English and French. My level of English is decent, but my level of French is basic. I cannot make great conversations in French, just short sentences, and sometimes I've been misunderstood (e.g., I once asked for a book called Rue des Maléfices and the clerk searched for Roue des Maléfices). I'd love to improve my French pronunciation because I spend most of my vacations there but, guess what, I really cannot find the time to do this. Or I'd like to learn German, because I have many German colleagues and I also found some nice physics book in German that I'd like to read without Google translator. Again, I cannot find enough time to learn German even at a basic level.

To conclude, don't.

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    "Would you feel the same need if the talk were a waste of time for any other reason?" I would. "And are you planning to do such an action for all the useless talks you will attend in your life?" within certain limits, yeah. In the vein of "all that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good people to stand by and do nothing" I feel that people have a moral duty to improve the world around them. – Plumpie Oct 2 '17 at 19:49
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    @Plumpie most of us (Massimo included, I'm sure) try to improve the world around them every day, I feel that's beside the point. The real question is whether your anonymous email will in fact improve the world. I think there's a significant risk that it won't, and may actually do real harm. Lots of experienced people here (who are just as moral and well-meaning as you) are telling you not to send the email. You may want to consider that they have a point, and that they have useful experience that gives them some insight into the psychology of academics with poor English. – Dan Romik Oct 2 '17 at 20:05
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    @Plumpie "all that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good people to stand by and do nothing". Do you really think that "pronunciation of English that you find difficult to follow" falls into this category? Do you really think that you are the one who can set the world to rights, and have a duty to cast out motes? – Yemon Choi Oct 2 '17 at 21:48
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    "Can you offer any solution that the speaker is not already aware of?" Strongly implied by one of OP's comments is YES: "slow down". As for leaving this feedback to people who know the speaker well, they are probably tuned in to the accent and so may not be aware that it is a problem. – user2390246 Oct 3 '17 at 8:45
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    On the contrary, improving pronunciation is (in most cases) quite easy. It just takes targeted practice which, in turn, takes a lot of time. Few people have the dedication (but some definitely should consider it). In the case described by OP it sounds like this is definitely in order but it’s not for a stranger to suggest this but rather for a close friends. – Konrad Rudolph Oct 3 '17 at 9:50
47

Don't send the email. Based on my experience, I predict that the anonymous email you are proposing to send almost certainly won't tell the speaker any information she does not already know, only something that she is either in denial about or that she is (for whatever mysterious reasons of human psychology) helpless or unwilling to do anything about. On the other hand, especially due to its anonymous nature, the email is quite likely to come across as hurtful and to cause her negative feelings such as guilt, self-loathing, low self-esteem, depression, etc., that would make her situation worse without leading to any progress towards resolving her accent/language problem.

There is a time and a place to offer people negative feedback that might help them improve, e.g., when such feedback is directly solicited from you or when you are a person whose job it is to offer such feedback. That time and place is not your current situation. So don't.

14

Being part of an international research community means, and has always meant, a) learning the lingua franca (so to speak) of the field - some of us are lucky enough to skip this step because we were born into it - and b) learning to understand the wide range of accents that the language will necessarily be spoken in, again much simpler for us native speakers.

If because of auditory disability or "tin ear" you can't understand non-native speakers, then your ability to interact in the international community will be greatly limited. You can try only talking to locals or using only written communication, but you'd be better off trying to improve your skills through practice.

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    Are you seriously blaming OP for not understanding the speaker's poor English (going so far as to insinuate that OP is suffering from a hearing disability and/or insensitivity to foreign cultures)? That is quite rude and inappropriate, and the fact that OP was himself/herself considering doing something similarly rude is no defense. -1 – Dan Romik Oct 3 '17 at 6:43
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    Well, world english is not a property of UK, US, or other countries where something similar is spoken. It is a new attempt to communicate with less friction. Subsets are important when being intersections, as they lead the way to better understanding. So, easing on what english you might be used to from where you come from, might be the way to go ;-) – Dilettant Oct 3 '17 at 7:58
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    Hi, @DanRomik ! In fact, I am. Effective communication - especially but not only international communication - requires genuine effort and practice on the part of both communicating parties. In the case of poor communication, it is much more common for both parties to be at fault. But practice can help! Best wishes. – user73076 Oct 3 '17 at 13:44
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    Although deciphering atrocious English pronunciations is indeed a skill that can be trained (learning the native language of the speaker helps), this post does not answer the question as posted. – gerrit Oct 4 '17 at 9:45
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    @dilletant Noone is saying that English is a property of UK, or US. But there's a line which separates a spoken language by a major fraction of language speakers vs one that's not. It's not about any kind of fairness. It's about integration by the means of lingua franca. If a speaker does not meet the "standards bar", he/she needs to change, not the listeners, because the communication protocol is broken on his/her side – Igor Soloydenko Oct 4 '17 at 15:49
10

It's unlikely that a non-native English speaker who often interacts with native speakers is unaware that their English is difficult to understand. Do you speak another language? How would you feel if someone sent you an anonymous email informing you that you were completely incomprehensible? Especially if you already knew that people often had trouble understanding you?

On the other hand, you are correct about communication skills. Nonetheless, it's possible for someone to communicate well during a lecture or presentation despite having a difficult accent or weak skills in the target language. You might try offering feedback about how they could improve their presentation given their current language skills, but only if you know that such feedback would be constructive and welcome.

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    "Do you speak another language? How would you feel if someone sent you an anonymous email informing you that you were completely incomprehensible? " I'd feel pretty motivated to make a change. "Especially if you already knew that people often had trouble understanding you?" I'm 95% sure she's not aware. If you're talking in a language you know you're bad in, would you talk really fast and clearly show no effort? Because usually when people try hard to speak correctly you can see they're making an effort. – Plumpie Oct 2 '17 at 19:52
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    @Plumpie It's more likely that she's perfectly aware but she has no intention of doing anything about it because she feels that her rank and expertise entitle her to that. Either way, it's safe to say that your anonymous "feedback" is not going to be well received. – Elizabeth Henning Oct 2 '17 at 21:45
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    @Plumpie I suspect that most people would feel offended and somewhat intimidated to receive anonymous criticism. At the very least, it looks creepy. – David Richerby Oct 3 '17 at 14:12
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    @ElizabethHenning If she's perfectly aware that she can't communicate properly, and is continuing to conduct lectures, then she is failing to do her job properly, and is letting down people (attendees) who depend on her. If she feels her rank and expertise means that she doesn't need to improve her communication, then she should transfer to a job that doesn't require communicating. I agree on the point that any feedback should not be anonymous. – JBentley Oct 3 '17 at 15:47
10

I agree with you that the speaker should be told. Contrary to other aspects of a talk (slides clarity, order, etc..) which are somewhat optional and left to the speaker's interest in making a good talk, intelligibility of the speech is a minimum requirement. Not taking care of this is probably hurting them badly.

Last time I attended in a very similar situation one of the more senior speakers approached the unintelligible speaker and flat out told them : "Do you know it's very hard to understand you when you speak"?. I was there and made a little joke to lighten up the comment and we walked away but the speaker most likely got the message.

So, there's one way. If you do not have the seniority required to give unrequested advices in person tho, your suggestion seems fine to me. Send an anonymous email explaining that you had a very hard time understanding the talk. Just make sure you are passing out the right message, that you are trying to make them aware of what you felt was a big issue making communication difficult and not shaming them for it.

As to what people have said in other answers :

1) the speaker might be aware of the issue, but not of its severity. This might give them the push they need to act on it. 2) there's plenty of free and little time consuming ways of improving pronunciation (movies, pre practicing talks, YouTube videos, slowing down when speaking ) 3) I don't think you are 'shaming' the , no one asks for British English in academia and accents are usually never questioned..as long as they can reasonably be understood

  • As I pointed out on someone else's answer: the speaker mentioned by the OP is female – Yemon Choi Oct 3 '17 at 19:45
  • Thanks, didn't notice when reading from phone. Fixed. – Three Diag Oct 3 '17 at 20:13
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    I do not assume bad faith. The speaker might well be aware and have a thousand reasons for not being able to tackle this. I just think a polite and non-snarky email need not offend and might prove motivational and informative. As a foreigner English language speaker in Academia I do believe this is a problem. I've been to several seminars where the speaker was almost unintelligible. I have not followed the rest of the discussion on comments, so I don't speculate on the author of the question either. – Three Diag Oct 5 '17 at 6:58
  • +1 You hit the nail on the head with "reasonably understood". There's nothing wrong with a foreign accent as long as they're understandable. I've heard Scottish people who speak English with such a thick accent that they're almost impossible to understand, and that's their native language! (Besides which, personally I'd be happy if someone told me my attempts at foreign languages weren't very good if they were prepared to tell me what words I need to get better at pronouncing.) – Pharap Oct 6 '17 at 11:24
10

No, unless you are explicitly asked. You could simply look arrogant, the speaker could hate you, and the speaker's supporters could also feel resentful. Your reputation could suffer, or at least I don't see how it would grow. Moreover, criticizing the person is not your job, and anonymous feedback takes your time.

If you think you lost time while listening because of the accent, you might bring this to the attention to the host of the person or to the session chair. It's the job of the session chair, the host, the mentor, or the supervisor to provide criticism and feedback to the speaker. If you really wish to, talk to these folks personally and utmost politely; don't leave any written trail.

9

Contrary to the majority of opinions here, as a non-native speaker, I would say that an anonymous email would be helpful. It won't give you any brownie points, and may hurt the speaker's feeling, but it will be helpful to the person regardless. In general, we already give one another too few honest feedbacks out of politeness -- anything in the other direction would be a valuable change.

The most popular answer here asks: "Would you give the feedback if it were about any issue other than English?" I concede that it's not the norm to do so, but it doesn't mean that such a feedback wouldn't be helpful. Indeed, my advisor gives me feedback on the structure of my talk, its graphs, and its typos -- why not my English as well? (In fact, he does comment on when I need to slow down or fix a grammatical mistake).

The speaker may be aware that he has an issue with language, but he may not realize the extent of the problem. There's a chance that the feedback may help, and it sure can't hurt, so why not?

Granted, since you do not play the advisor role to the speaker, I would absolutely advise against a direct conversation. Most likely, it'll make the speaker feel resentful towards you, no matter how helpful your advice is. (Such is regrettably human nature). But an anonymous email would work perfectly well.

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    Your advisor gives you feedback because he is your advisor. The OP seems to be in a completely different relationship to the speaker who is the subject of his/her post, and this makes all the difference to whether his/her actions are either appropriate or helpful – Yemon Choi Oct 3 '17 at 7:25
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    @MassimoOrtolano I absolutely agree that, as a rule, advisors offer these kinds of feedbacks and strangers don't. I'd like to probe further why do we follow this rule? I find that by not giving feedback as often, we all rob one another of opportunities for improving. There's the legitimate concern of people reacting poorly to unprompted feedback -- hence my suggestion of an anonymous email. – Heisenberg Oct 3 '17 at 14:42
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    Why do people who want to offer anonymous feedback think that they are actually in the right? – Yemon Choi Oct 3 '17 at 19:39
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    The fact is that not just OP, but multiple people at the talk find it difficult to understand the speaker. The speaker may not know this fact, hence by just mentioning this fact alone, the OP is potentially being helpful. The OP does not have to offer other advice regarding how to improve the pronunciation, which I admit is much less clearly right or wrong. – Heisenberg Oct 3 '17 at 21:55
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    Anonymous feedback is for students fearing repercussions and trolls. If you are going to say something "potentially sensitive", stand behind it, specially if the recipient is not your boss. – Davidmh Oct 4 '17 at 13:05
6

If your advice is not successfully actionable in the short-term, it may not be considered that constructive by the recipient.

So no, do not send her that feedback.

That being said, ask the organizers of the event (or the faculty in charge) to provide transcripts of the talk in advance the next time around, especially if there is any doubt about the ability of their speakers to speak English clearly.

Do not ask for the slides. The slides are designed to be incomplete (and for good reasons). What you must ask for is the transcript. And by transcript, I do not mean that the speaker should read her own transcript while giving her presentation. Reading a script, while making it sound natural, is extremely difficult.

Ideally, the speaker's own notes (the one she has on the podium) should only of consist of a few keywords and key topics that the speaker doesn't want to forget to mention during her lecture. It should not contain full sentences, let alone paragraphs. So in that sense, the lecture shouldn't match the transcript perfectly. But even when it doesn't match the lecture perfectly, a transcript for a speaker, members of the audience do not understand, can still be very useful.

Providing a transcript in advance may not be what you're used to in your academic field, but it is possible and it's actually a pretty standard practice if someone does a presentation in front of journalists (even when the speaker is a native English speaker). For journalists, supplying a transcript in advance helps catch mistakes before they get reprinted, whether the speaker makes the mistake when speaking or whether the journalist makes the mistake when quoting the spoken words of the speaker.

From the point of view of the organizers, that will require pre-screening potential speakers, by previewing previous talks, or if that's not possible, by talking to the potential speakers directly. This is also a standard practice in some Academic circles, whether the screening process is made obvious or not.

Furthermore, as a non-native English speaker myself with a pretty strong French accent, I'm suggesting that whoever does that pre-screening is a non-native English colleague with an obvious accent himself/herself.

And instead of simply rejecting a talk because the speaker has too strong of an accent, a good pre-screener should still encourage the speaker to still speak at the event, but to supply a transcript in advance at the very least (in addition to any tentative improvement to his accent or delivery), and if that transcript is not possible by a specific deadline, to reject that talk for that event.

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    "ask the organizers of the event (or the faculty in charge) to provide transcripts of the talk in advance the next time around" Is this something that happens? Surely that would be difficult or impossible to provide. Personally, I deliberately don't write down a script of what I'm going to say in a talk, and even if I did, I doubt I would stick to it very closely. I don't think I'm unusual in that regard. – user2390246 Oct 3 '17 at 8:35
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    How is it not actionable? something not actionable would be 'you suck' whereas providing a specific point that can be improved provides a clear path forward. – Plumpie Oct 3 '17 at 9:02
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    Asking for a transcript seems like a good idea, but lying about a disability is not. – mattdm Oct 3 '17 at 9:31
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    "What you must ask for [in advance] is the transcript." The what? Talks (with the exception of some fields) aren't delivered from a script. There is no stenographer. There is no transcript. – David Richerby Oct 3 '17 at 10:14
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    Requesting a transcript is still completely infeasible. – David Richerby Oct 5 '17 at 22:07
2

I agree with the commenters that as a listener to the presentation you should probably avoid commenting on the lecturer's clarity (eg because of poor English) unless you are in very friendly and constructive terms with her.

However, I think you could still politely tell her that the presentation was interesting but you couldn't follow perfectly given the poor sound/background noise, and so you would like to receive a copy of the slideset. Then you could suggest to make the slides more self-explanatory.

Your question is more interesting however from the viewpoint of moderators or scientific committee member. In such a case, they have the explicit responsibility to the audience that lectures are clear and understandable. Otherwise, what would be the point of inviting people to lecture at all? Most importantly, a genuinely constructive feedback will be important for the lecturer himself, to avoid future embarassments.

A simple suggestion for anyone with language difficulties is to create/modify a slideset by adding as many self-explanatory phrases as possible. This creates redundancies for a competent lecturer, but saves a poor one. Eventually, such a slideset will only leave the room for poor pronunciation, but all key messages will be firmly delivered.

1

Some people either make no effort, or have strong difficulties polishing their strong accent. It might depend on the original language. For the English/American native, some people with Roman background language (as I do) fall in this category.

The state of energy of the person can play a role too: when one is sick, stressed or tired, efforts can be difficult. When I give a lecture in English, I notice that after one hour my natural accent begins to show up.

I agree that university authorities are more responsible for the add value of a lecture. Yet, if you tell them, the impact on how they will translate the issue to the lecturer might be far different, from not taking care to harsher remarks.

As your motivation stands between these two extreme options, I would avoid a written comment, perhaps even more with an anonymous email. But that might be a cultural thing; I'd prefer a direct talk, face to face if possible, in the line of your planned email, for instance to check whether the problem is the same in individual talk: thank the person, ask for the slides, pointing that due to accent-related misunderstandings, you might have lost key aspects of the talk.

1

People often resent unsolicited feedback because the person giving it doesn't recognize that truly empathetic feedback requires effort on the part of the person giving it. Constructive feedback must give a path forward for the person to correct the problem.

I would try this strategy: Purchase Mastering the American Accent for this person, and make a nice inscription:

I truly enjoyed your recent presentation, and I felt disheartened that I was unable to understand much of it. Your research is relevant to mine, and fundamentally important, so I was hoping we could find a way to improve communication. I am available any time to help you with American pronunciation and accent-if you so desire.

Sign it with your real name.

If in fact you do not care about learning from this person, then leave the issue alone.

-5

Yes, you might want to send the email. I think it will have good and productive effect overall, and help the speaker further in her career a lot. Such criticism, though very unpleasant and even hurtful to hear at first, opens the opportunity to self-improvement. Your act thus shows that you do care for the speaker. Much more than a person who simply wants to minimize his or her in-comfort, shy away from confrontation and leave the speaker alone and deserted without knowing that secretly the community ignores and disdain her.

As for the fact that the email is anonymous, something that have alerted many commenters here, I disagree with the overall opinion. Academia is full of anonymous feedback, most of which has the potential to be much more hurtful and cardinal than a somewhat amusing email about one's accent. I'm sure the speaker got many harsh and brutal rejections through anonymous peer review, throughout her career, and she's not going to break down because some guy decided to write an anonymous email, peculiar as it sounds. Indeed, academia itself has reserved the right for people "not to stand behind their own opinions" and ideas, so that they feel protected to speak freely, through endless forms of anonymous feedback (reviews and student's feedback, to name a few).

  • 4
    Academia is full of solicited anonymous feedback. Anonymous, unsolicited, critical emails feel threatening and aggressive. Why does the email have to be anonymous at all? – David Richerby Oct 7 '17 at 18:48
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    @DavidRicherby, actually almost none of the anonymous feedback in the academia is solicited by the person the feedback is about. When students give anonymous feedback in my classes, I'm not soliciting this. It's an administrator decision. The same with other feedback. So your point is moot. Academia is full of anonymous feedback solicited mostly by third parties who wish to regulate and even punish you based on the feedback. A rejection by a journal or a sanction against you due to a negative feedback is more "aggressive" than an email about accent that has nor repercussions. – Dilworth Oct 9 '17 at 7:25
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    When you give a class, you know that the admins will be soliciting anonymous feedback from the students; depending on institutional policies, it might even be you who hands out the forms and asks the students to fill them in. When you submit a paper, you know the editors will be soliciting feedback and passing it to you anonymously. All of this is solicited by someone and expected by the person who receives the feedback. So, no, my point isn't remotely moot. And I've never heard of an "aggressive" rejection letter. – David Richerby Oct 9 '17 at 8:26
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    No. The fact that you are aware that someone forces you to accept anonymous feedback, in order for you to keep your job, puts the feedback you get as a lecturer precisely in the same ethical status as an anonymous email about one's accent. If at all, students feedback is more daunting as it has consequence on your job security. Also, every rejection is a form of an aggressive action, by definition. And if you didn't get an aggressively written review, well, then I'd say you're lucky. – Dilworth Oct 9 '17 at 10:27
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    I'm sorry, but there is no moral equivalency whatsoever between allowing students and peer reviewers to make anonymous feedback and sending anonymous nastygrams about somebody's accent. Note, in particular, that student feedback is anonymous to prevent retribution (the teacher is in a direct position of power over their students) and peer review is only anonymous to the ultimate recipient but the editor knows exactly who the reviewers are. Individual reviews might, unfortunately, be aggressive but the editor's decision is not. If your employer is aggressive in handling feedback on your... – David Richerby Oct 9 '17 at 10:33

protected by ff524 Oct 2 '17 at 21:07

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