Peer Review Challenges

Peer review is generally understood as the effort of scholars within a similar discipline or area of research to critique and evaluate a given contribution from others within that same domain. As the academy grows and as publishing models evolve, new forms of peer review are emerging that challenge the conventional wisdom of what meaningful critique looks like and who can and should engage in such discussions.

Double-blind peer review has been widely used to eliminate bias on the part of both reviewers and authors. The ability to ensure blind, unbiased reviews, however, can be a major challenge, particularly in small research communities where the subject matter of a proposed publication may be a clear sign of authorship.

Additionally, new publication genres, such as in the digital humanities, and new types of contributors, such as data set creators, often require reviewers with new kinds of skills, who can provide valuable critiques of scholarship that does not adhere to traditional book or journal formats.

Open Access and Peer Review

There is a common misconception that open access journals are not peer reviewed. It is important to separate assumptions about peer review from business models. The question of  whether or not a journal charges readers for access or authors to publish has no bearing on its ability to support authentic peer review practices.

New Peer Review Models

The digital environment has encouraged the development of more widely available and sophisticated tools for handling manuscripts through stages of review and consideration. Scholars looking for new ways to engage their colleagues at various points in the knowledge creation process have many possibilities:

  • Prepublication peer review: Articles are first submitted to a community of peers, who can correspond with the author (and each other). Such papers, often called preprints, can later be submitted to a journal for a more traditional peer review and publishing process. In some disciplines, these early papers are of greater interest than a final published version, though the latter is often still critical for formal tenure and review processes. Examples:
  • Open and/or postpublication peer review: In contrast to blinded reviews, in which the author and reviewers ideally remain unknown to each other and reviews are seen only by editors and authors, open peer review treats the process as a public conversation. An author’s ideas are available online and readers are invited to publicly post their comments, which in turn can, if the author chooses, shape future versions of the work. Examples:
  • High volume peer review: “Mega-journals” that publish hundreds of articles each year focus, by necessity, on scale. In this model, a single editor or an editorial team manages the light review of a submission and potentially (but not necessarily) delegates a more detailed review to an independently managed community of reviewers. The goal of this mode of review is to determine the basic validity of the contribution, not its uniqueness or impact. Examples:
  • Independent peer review: There is increasing interest in disentangling potentially discrete publication processes and exploring the actual costs involved in providing these services. Peer review is the most obvious of these, and independent services are emerging to provide authors with a peer review process independent of a particular journal. Reviews can thus be conducted that are portable and can be reliably verified by the journal interested in the submission. Examples: