This question is spurred by a comment Will H. made on the uses of peer review in academic journals (over here: http://scholasticahq.com/conversation/questions/what-s-the-real-deal-with-personally-re-posting-and-distributing-published-copyrighted-articles) . 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that one of its functions is to be a venue for debate through the review process of the majority of articles that they do not publish.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!