Opening post: Peer Review Week

Catherine Cocks's picture

Welcome to the inaugural posts of Feeding the Elephant, a forum for conversations about scholarly communications in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. We begin by looking at one of the elements that makes academic publishing distinctive: peer review. Scholars who want to have their research taken seriously by their discipline have to publish it in a peer-reviewed form, whether that’s a journal article or a monograph or something else. 

Also September 16-20 is Peer Review Week! How many of you knew that? If you didn’t know, that may be because the five-year-old annual celebration came out of the STEM fields and primarily addresses the concerns of scholars and publishers in those disciplines. Scientists feel peer review in their disciplines is broken: It’s exploitative (scholars do it for free for journals earning the publishers large profits); it’s exhausting (too many requests for reviews); it’s failing its purpose (not detecting fraud or errors); and it’s hindering innovative ideas from reaching the scientific community. 

Do scholars, journal editors, and publishers in the arts, humanities, and social sciences share those criticisms? Do they—we—have other concerns about peer review? Here are some of ours: Is peer review changing to keep up with new digital platforms, open access publications and publishers, and new research questions and methods? How is peer review responding to the painfully slow diversification of the people employed as professors, editors, librarians, and others involved in the academic enterprise? How is peer review responding to the ongoing casualization of academic labor? Do the conventional forms of peer review—single-blind and double-blind—need to be replaced or augmented by open review or some other alternative? What does a “good” peer review—in the sense of constructive and helpful—look like?

We invited people who are grappling with these questions and others to tell us what they’re up to, and we took a look at some of the scholarship on the state of peer review, why it matters, and how we might reconsider our own practices in this realm. In the posts to come later this month, we offer a variety of perspectives on the questions listed here. We hope you will join this conversation or carry it into your own networks. We hope you’ll challenge us with the questions that didn’t occur to us and offer your advice on how to do peer review better.