Open Peer Review for the Humanities

Models for Peer Review in the Digital Age

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011 by

Permalink for this paragraph 0 NACBS 2010
Jason M. Kelly, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Models for Peer Review in the Digital Age

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Here’s the question: Is there a better model for humanities peer review that is better suited for twentieth-first century scholarship?  I think the answer is, “yes.”

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Imagine the following.  You are an author.  You submit your latest article manuscript to a journal in your field.  Your article goes online immediately as a working paper, including all necessary bibliographical data.  For two months, your paper receives constructive criticism from interested peers and reviewers.  In other words, you and the journal editor crowd-source the external review.  You have a chance to revise your paper with these comments in mind and to resubmit it.  Within a month of your resubmission, the journal’s editor gives you an answer on whether it will be published in the journal.  The time from submission to final answer — three to four months.  And, you have received input from multiple scholars in your area of specialty.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Imagine this.  You are reading an online article published by an important journal in your field.  You have discovered an error in the author’s analysis.  You go online and “tag” the location in the article.  You attach your comments, which are published immediately in the margins and include bibliographical data so that others can cite your observation.  The author responds, and others join the discussion.  The commentary enriches the original article, which continues to evolve.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 Or, imagine this.  You hope to put together an interactive website on your area of research which you think will be of interest to a wide populace.  You know that your school’s Promotion and Tenure Committee recognizes only peer-reviewed work.  So, you post your website online and register it with the Committee for Peer Review of your favorite scholarly society.  This scholarly society announces the new website to its members, and both members and reviewers are asked to comment on your website.  The Committee for Peer Review considers the responses and decides to give their imprimatur to your digital project, which has now been put through the process of peer review.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 The above are just a few examples of how new models of peer review might change what we are able to accomplish in humanities publishing.  And, just to be clear, this is not a utopian future.  The technology — even examples — exist.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 However, the new models require that we rethink the purpose of peer review and what we hope to achieve through it.  Our current system of “blind review” can certainly improve an article and help determine quality.  But, this is neither guaranteed nor is it necessarily better.  And, in fact, a crowd-sourced peer review allows an article to go through a pre-review and a post-review.  The post-review can continue scholarly dialogue and provide qualitative evidence of an article’s impact on the field far better than a citation index.

Permalink for this paragraph 0 There are ways to improve peer review, and the technology is here to make it happen.  We just need to seize the opportunity and do it.

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