Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Doing away with formal peer review

The New York Times considers some efforts to do away with peer review and marshall the connectedness of the web.
The most pressing intellectual issue in the next decade is this tension between the insular, specialized world of expert scholarship and the open and free-wheeling exchange of information on the Web. “And academia ... is caught in the middle.”
I think making work publicly available online is Very Good (I do some of that myself). But doing away with peer review is a Bad Idea.

Peer review is a barrier to entry -- and that's a good thing. It's a sort of curated, walled garden of approved content. When I am working firmly within my area of expertise, I am comfortable evaluating the quality and representativeness of the papers I read. But sometimes -- more often than I would like -- I find myself well outside my area of expertise, and without a good sense of the lay of the land. Essay reviews and general resources like the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy are helpful, but peer reviewed journals are key. Someone with expertise has okayed that content. Peer review is a proxy for knowing I'm not wasting my time.

If peer review is to be done away with, something else must replace it. If curation can be crowdsourced on the internet, I'm for it -- I'm certainly not fond of waiting for referee reports. But moderated internet comments like these ones simply won't do.

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