The Functions of Academic Publishing

Posted by Bijan Warner, community karma 153

This question is spurred by a comment Will H. made on the uses of peer review in academic journals (over here: . Will (and I hope I’m being fair here) states that the main uses of peer review are filtering out low quality research and helping authors make minor changes. I would add that peer review fulfills many other functions. As an example within sociology, The American Journal of Sociology explicitly recognizes that one of its functions is to be a venue for debate through the review process of the majority of articles that they do not publish. Here is the relevant passage from their official description:

“Although AJS publishes a very small percentage of the papers submitted to it, a double-blind review process is available to all qualified submissions, making the journal a center for exchange and debate "behind" the printed page and contributing to the robustness of social science research in general.”

Thus peer review is not only about what gets published, but about sustaining a conversation, improving science, etc., etc. In my own research on the history of the social sciences I have tried to study this other function. For one project, I read through 20 years of the front matter for every issue of an interdisciplinary journal (as a side note, this was very time consuming because the physical copies were in long-term storage, and the online database I used to access digital copies was VERY slow after I submitted a few requests. If only there were a better way…). I wanted to see how the composition of the editorial board shifted over time, and who played prominent roles at different times. This in turn led me to examine correspondence between scholars who are not normally associated with each other. The whole process revealed fascinating interdisciplinary connections and influences that are totally invisible if you look only at citations. While I could not study the peer review process directly, I could see how decisions were made at the editorial board that influenced the peer review process.

So (finally) to my question: what other functions do you see with peer review and with academic publication in general? How might these functions be transformed through changes in technology?

Thoughts and speculations are welcome. Thanks!


over 10 years ago


Abdessamad MOUZOUNE, community karma 125

Bijan Warner : “Thus peer review is not only about what gets published, but about sustaining a conversation, improving science, etc., etc.”

I can understand elegant ways to reject papers when some well known journals uses subjective reasons such us unending debate “behind” unprinted papers. More objective analysis of the peer review process are led by some researchers such as this one from the perspective of sociology of science theories. Since you permitted speculations and noting that debate behind unprinted papers without clearly defined means encourages more obscure peer review process, I would like to adhere to your statement I quoted here above: I imagine that this is the idea behind the current Scholastica’s approach. AFAIK, it’s the unique publishing platform that offers a clear conversation way that can sustain clear debate even during peer review process if necessary. Am I wrong?

over 10 years ago
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Will Hauser, community karma 227

Bijan, I think you are being fair and I'm glad my comment sparked some critical thinking on your part.  I think you raise a valid point - that the reviewer-reviewee exchanges offer some degree of education through dialogue.  As I think about this more, I suppose these interactions are one mechanism whereby informal professional mores and even folkways are transmitted and reinforced.  If nothing else the reviewee might learn what sort of topical material is appropriate for the journal and what the expectations are for the sophistication of the methods, quality of the data [relative to the purpose of the paper], and novelty of the topic.

 Unfortunately, I think it would be difficult if not impossible to quantify this effect - so I wish you luck if that is your goal.  As an aside, in looking at the editorial boards over time, I wonder if some sort of social networks analysis would be useful - stuff like what D. Wayne Osgood is doing. 

If we assume that your point is valid, and I think we should, then we also have another argument for why each reviewer's remarks should be made known to the other reviewers.

As to how technology might change all this, I think Abdessamad is spot on - perhaps we should watch Scholastica and see.


over 10 years ago
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