only protect the quality of the research, they also protect researchers
from unfiltered content,” he says. “If you take research seriously, it needs
to be vetted by qualified experts before it’s put out as being ready for
A former editor of two international journals, Dr. Harnad would like
to see more journals adopt the practice of open peer commentary. In this
model, articles that have been vetted through the classical peer-review
process and published are subsequently posted online and open for com-
ment. This, Dr. Harnad says, can be an important supplement to closed
review and can mitigate some of its drawbacks.
Whatever the pros and cons, open review represents an important
“philosophical change” in the history of peer review and, in particular, in
the definition of a peer, says Kathleen Fitzpatrick, professor of media
studies at Pomona College in Claremont, California, and author of
Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology and the Future of the Academy. In
modern times, a peer has been someone with the necessary credentials to
make evaluative judgments about a colleague’s research. In the social net-
working age, the role of the peer is being supplanted by that of the com-
munity, says Dr. Fitzpatrick, who’s leading a study on open peer review
funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The difficulty is that with so much more being published, the number
of manuscripts can easily outstrip the ability of reviewers to evaluate them.
The system, to be sustainable, may need some type of “pay to play system”
in which authors would commit to reviewing a certain number of papers
in order to publish within a community, she says.
What ultimately will decide the fate of open review is whether it can
provide the same degree of quality assurance on a sustained basis that the
classical model delivers. Dr. Siemens, at UVic’s Electronic Textual Cultures
Lab, notes that peer review has continually evolved and has adapted to meet
the needs of diverse fields of study. Making the leap to the electronic age
seems the next logical step. That’s not to say that the traditional blind
review will fall by the wayside, but the next generation of scholars, those
who are at ease with social media and open technologies, will be more
inclined to give it a try. “Ultimately,” he predicts, “that’s the direction
Rosanna Tamburri, based in Toronto, is a freelance journalist who primarily covers postsecondary education.
ROOTS OF PEER REVIEW
Peer review is believed to date back to
the mid-18th century when the Royal
Society of London created a “Committee
of Papers” to oversee the review of articles
in its journal, Philosophical Transactions.
The process we use now came along much
later. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century
that academic journals like Science adopt-
ed the formal, blind peer-review process
still in use today. In a single-blind review,
the manuscript’s author doesn’t know
who the reviewers are. In a double-blind
review, the identity of the author and
reviewers are both concealed.