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Peer Review, Citation Practices, and Finding Scholarship

The methods that scholars use to write, evaluate, and circulate their work are all systems that should be understood as not "neutral" methods.

What is this LibGuide?

This LibGuide serves to be an introduction to the biases in systems of publication in academia. In order to critically engage with scholarship, scholars must be aware of the inherent problems within the system of academic scholarship. The guide will provide an overview to thinking about these biases in peer review, citation practices, the organization of scholarship within databases, and the language used to organize and product such scholarship. 

LibGuides serve to point Cal Poly students, faculty, and staff to resources beyond preliminary searches.

Scholar Representation by Race
This tally acknowledges the white supremacy in scholarship: the numbers indicate the racial representation of the scholars listed in this LibGuide.
Black Scholars: 4    Indigenous Scholars:  2     Latinx Scholars: 3    APID(A) Scholars: 3  White Scholars: 8

You will find this on many of our LibGuides, as a system to keep us accountable in looking at the racial diversity of the sources we provide.  These sources have been selected based upon research for the Kennedy Library's Digital Publishing Project. 

"Citations are political."

Peer review is a system to evaluate scholarship and its credibility for publication: a group of peers review the quality and nature of the work by not just the thesis, but also the voice, tone, format, and citations. This method of assessing scholarship are inherently biased because of the systems that scholars work in.
Though higher education often may be presented as a system of meritocracy, many factors, including race and class, constitute the creation of ‘the best scholarship.’ Often described as “external validation,” peer review determines the value of scholarship outside of the scholar’s immediate networks. Citation practices, the methods of who has been referenced in scholarship, are important in peer reviews because citations are how scholars point out how their work builds upon those who have come before.


Though such assessment has the guise of being objective, the idea of an objective standpoint is impossible because standards are so varied not only depending on discipline, but institution, individuals, and publication systems. It is important to remember this subjectivity, especially in regard to racial bias in these systems; because of the criteria that the scholarship is determine by, peer review often has a pattern of silencing voices that are already in the minority. 


Because scholars find scholarship, and hence their references, in databases, its important to be aware how algorithms can also be biased. Moreover, the language within databases can carry on systems of oppression. As a start, Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble has proven time and time again how “neutral” technology is actually not neutral at all - Google (and hence also Google Scholar) is a capitalistic, racist tool, with the algorithms full of biases from white, male coders. In Google Scholar, often scholars that come up first in Google Scholar are cited the most and those that come up first, like the businesses, image, and websites, are white authored. 

"Citations are political." This quote and further explanations on how publication practices continue to create “white people’s active interest in reproducing the racist status quo,” see Shantel Gabrieal Buggs, Jennifer Patrice Sims & Rory Kramer's (2020) "Rejecting White Distraction: A Critique of the White Logic and White Methods in Academic Publishing," Ethnic and Racial Studies, 43:8, 1384-1392, DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2020.1718728

These Systems Systemically Silence Voices

Understanding these biases is important: in order to work towards a more equitable scholarly landscape, we must note and work against these biases. My research focuses on a lot of racial biases, which touches upon other forms of oppression (ableism, classism, sexuality). There is certainly more to be discovered: this is just a beginning.


The following are examples, sources, and references of how scholarship has been biased in a variety of disciplines.