Peer review – a review of its future

A very large and potentially significant report: Peer Review in Academic Promotion and Publishing: Its meaning, locus and future has just been published by the Center for Studies in Higher Education at UC Berkeley.  Here are two extracts from the abstract:

The challenges of assessing the current and future state of peer review are exacerbated by pressing questions of how the significant costs of high-quality scholarly publishing can be borne in the face of calls for alternative, usually university-based and open access, publishing models for both journals and books. There is additionally the insidious and destructive “trickle down” of tenure and promotion requirements from elite research universities to less competitive and non-research-intensive institutions. The entire system is further stressed by the mounting—and often unrealistic—government pressure on scholars in developed and emerging economies alike to publish their research in the most select peer-reviewed outlets, ostensibly to determine the distribution of government funds (via research assessment exercises) and/or to meet national imperatives to achieve research distinction internationally. The global effect is a growing glut of low-quality publications that strains the efficient and effective practice of peer review, a practice that is, itself, primarily subsidized by universities in the form of faculty salaries. Library budgets and preservation services for this expansion of peer-reviewed publication have run out. Faculty time spent on peer review, in all of its guises, is being exhausted.


This report includes (1) an overview of the state of peer review in the Academy at large, (2) a set of recommendations for moving forward, (3) a proposed research agenda to examine in depth the effects of academic status-seeking on the entire academic enterprise, (4) proceedings from the workshop on the four topics noted above, and (5) four substantial and broadly conceived background papers on the workshop topics, with associated literature reviews. The document explores, in particular, the tightly intertwined phenomena of peer review in publication and academic promotion, the values and associated costs to the Academy of the current system, experimental forms of peer review in various disciplinary areas, the effects of scholarly practices on the publishing system, and the possibilities and real costs of creating alternative loci for peer review and publishing that link scholarly societies, libraries, institutional repositories, and university presses. We also explore the motivations and ingredients of successful open access resolutions that are directed at peer-reviewed article-length material. In doing so, this report suggests that creating a wider array of institutionally acceptable and cost-effective alternatives to peer reviewing and publishing scholarly work could maintain the quality of academic peer review, support greater research productivity, reduce the explosive growth of low-quality publications, increase the purchasing power of cash-strapped libraries, better support the free flow and preservation of ideas, and relieve the burden on overtaxed faculty of conducting too much peer review.


This topic is something that concerns all of our journals, editors, authors and of course reviewers.  There certainly seems to be a correlation between the academic career track and the pressure to publish which may indeed be causing more and more papers to be submitted for publication.  For the time being there appears to be no acceptable alternative to traditional peer review whether for a traditional or an open access journal.  But there is no doubt that more attention is being paid to peer review and its impact on the academy.  The UK Government recently launched its own investigation into peer review .  The brief is to investigate the operation and effectiveness of the peer review process used to examine and validate scientific results and papers prior to publication.  It will likely be some months before this study delivers its report.

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