Preliminary Thoughts on Peer Review

Kathleen Fitzpatrick in Planned Obsolescence, dates the advent of peer review as far back as 1752 to the Royal Society of London’s journal, Philosophical Transactions, and possibly even earlier to the establishment of scholarly book publishing in the 17th century – required for royal licensure to legally print and sell a text (20-21). But, in fact, it may go back even earlier considering Horace’s Art of Poetry written around 13 BCE, where he wrote that when crafting a manuscript, in order to assure accuracy of structure and substance, one should “pray submit it first to Maecius the critic, to your father, to me” since “the unpublished may be cancelled; but a word once uttered can never be recalled” (Ars 388-389). Virgil, too, read his works to Augustus, required for the emperor’s “licensure” before publication. In essence, peer review is not new.  Peer review was altered after the technology of xeroxing became prevalent in the late 1950’s assuring wider dispersal of manuscripts to experts and a greater quality of accuracy, which seemed to garner, then, a kind of professional yet “closed” approval.

Today, peer review among all disciplines throughout the academy, is again being altered because of the internet allowing for open-access publication of articles and their subsequent reviews.  Although open-access allows for greater authenticity because of wider collaboration, Fitzpatrick highlights some of the biases still held within the traditional “closed” peer review system such as the control or “gate-keeping” of information by prestigious institutions and their editorial boards which often reject articles of merit if not written by a name-carrying “credentialed” scholar. Fitzpatrick cites Chris Anderson’s take on peer review that in the internet age “everyman more than of professional of equal rank” can knowledgeably contribute to a discipline because ultimately any review will have to stand up to community scrutiny (32-33) because reviewers, too, will be reviewed in the process. I believe the open-access peer review mechanism being developed at the multidisciplinary academic journal, Philica, is a good example of a transparent peer review process and serves as a future model for the peer review process because it publishes articles before peer review and the impact of a review depends on the reviewer’s other reviews.  This allows for the constant exchange of ideas and the transparency of changing and challenged opinions which becomes an important component of the article.

 

 

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