The Future of Peer Review: Publication and the Humanities

gnovis is wrapping up the peer review process for our Fall 2010 issue. Is there a place for alternative forms of peer review in the humanities?

Red pen on textThe digital form has changed the publication process. gnovis itself is an online journal that promotes digital scholarship, and journals across disciplines have opted to publish online-only. In the sciences, new publishing technology has altered the the process by which papers are published.

Peer review is as old as the oldest scientific journal, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. But even the world’s first peer-reviewed journal is moving toward open publishing, a movement that aims to break down paywalls for readers and make the system by which researchers share data and communicate with each other more dynamic and efficient.

Another piece of the open access movement takes a look at how an open approach can enable a more public way for scholars to comment and lend feedback on research. An alternative to traditional, double-blind peer review is a mixed model adopted by Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics and other journals, in which designated reviewers pre-screen a paper, which is then published and opened to public comment.

Open peer review, though, has only barely caught on in the humanities. In July of this year, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on “the first time a traditional humanities journal has tried out a version of crowd-sourcing in lieu of double-blind review” (see Leading Humanities Journal Debuts ‘Open’ Peer Review, and Likes It, July 26, 2010,). While the article doesn’t point out the relative success of public peer review by some scientific journals, opening up the process has not been without its pitfalls. An article published last month in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) One, itself an open-access journal, found that author-recommended reviewers tended to be more biased than editor-recommended reviewers in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics’ peer review process. This breaks the assumption that public peer review is more transparent, and therefore more objective. New models can’t erase old forms of bias, and the authors concluded that all peer review models should be continuously evaluated to maintain integrity and quality.

Without redrawing old humanities vs. sciences lines in the sand, what are the disciplinary differences that shape the future of peer review? How have the respective disciplines used technology to further rapid advancements and online collaboration?

Perhaps blogging and other forms of online discourse already give humanities scholars a dynamic place to engage with research in a way that a more public peer review system would.  Could these existing spaces become a framework for a future peer review model?


Allison Bland

Allison is a former CCT student and Blog Manager for gnovis. At McGill University, she studied the intersections between science and society through multidisciplinary studies in cultural studies, history and philosophy of science, and social studies of medicine. Since graduation, she has been working in the nonprofit world and applying social media to science advocacy and health communications. Allison is looking ahead to a career in science writing on the web, and in the meantime, you will find her blogging about open access data and publishing, science and health communication, and feminist approaches to technology in society. Connect with Allison on Twitter, where she tweets about science and health 2.0 topics.