The putative explanation generally given for this use of the term “blind” is that this is a form of refereeing in which the reviewers cannot “see” the name(s) of the author or authors. Not seeing is blindness. Right? Wrong. That is not what is really going on here. What is actually going on is that blindness is being metaphorically equated with not knowing, with not having knowledge, or not having knowledge of something: blindness is not knowing, blindness is ignorance, blind people cannot be knowers.
Having read this, I sat here at my desk pondering that. Ultimately, I'm of two minds. On the one hand, I can totally understand her frustration. On the other, though, that's what the word means. The problem, here, seems to be that the word, blind, has quite a few definitions, only one of which is "sightless". In fact, "sightless" is one of the most recent meanings. The word originally meant "difficult to discern" or "confused". The word was later applied to people who can't see with their eyes.
So, in a sense, Shelley is half right. A "blind study" is not just one in which sight is prevented- it's one in which the identity of the writer is "difficult to discern". It's not a metaphoric shift, though- it's from the original (and continued) use of the word. If anything, the metaphoric shift was made when the word was first applied to people.
Still, this leaves me unsure of what to think. I mean, what's the right course of action here? It's not like I'm unfamiliar with the idea that words have power- they have tremendous power. And, I'm familiar with the prejudices that she describes. I've witnessed the ways that people treat my blind aunt, and how offensive people can be to someone with visual impairment.
Even so, my initial feeling is that, while I understand with her analysis, I don't necessarily agree with it, because the word has never stopped meaning those things. There are plenty of words that have shifted over time- nobody would seriously use "gay" to mean "happy" anymore. At some point, the use of "gay" to mean "homosexual" became the norm, and the other definition faded from use, but that's not really the same thing that happened with "blind". It's not that the meaning shifted from "confused" or "difficult to discern" and started meaning "sightless"- it's meant both of those things for around four hundred years.
It got me thinking about the use of the term "right" to mean "opposite of left" as well as "correct." Couldn't someone who is left-handed reason that "left" equals "wrong"?
As it turns out, they could, and they wouldn't be far off, in terms of origins. Since we've been using "right" in the sense of "opposite of left" for almost nine hundred years, though, does that change things? Does the fact that the origin of the word was offensive change the fact that we've got nine centuries of usage?
I don't know.
I don't think that we're going to stop using "right" and "left" as points of directional reference any time soon, and I don't really think we need to. I'd bet that most people don't even know the origin of the word "left", so that's probably not a problem, anyway. Does the fact that "blind" didn't start off as a word describing people matter in regards to how we should view he word? Does the fact the it's still used in the original sense, as well as a word to describe people, matter?
As it stands, I'm inclined to try to be understanding of the critique, but respectfully disagree. I think I can understand where Shelley is coming from, and I understand her reasoning, but, right now, I'm not sure that I can agree with what she's saying. I have to admit, though, that this is leaving me feeling sort of guilty. I certainly don't like the idea of using words that might hurt someone or that might offend someone, but... well... eh, I don't know.