Friday, July 27, 2007

Peer review threatened by online academic publishing

I couldn't help but smile over Andrew Leonard's Weekly World News-inspired headline on Salon yesterday:


This posting on his "How the World Works" blog covered the shutting down of the Weekly World News, and an article by economist Glenn Ellison about the future of peer review in academic writing and publishing.

The issue is over economists who are short-cutting the rigors of traditional academic publication by posting their papers online, for public consumption.

Ellison, Leonard writes, has compiled "data indicating that top economists are responsible for a shrinking share of the articles published in the best journals. And while this might be good for promoting public access to the latest in economic thought, it's bad, suggests Ellison, for the time-honored academic practice of validating the merit of new research through rigorously mediated peer-review."

While there's no question that peer review is essential to assuring the accuracy and soundness of academic research, the practice tended to centralize scholarly authority in a limited number of "elite" journals. If prominent academics bypass the journals by sharing their work online, the privileged status of the journals (and of the universities publishing them) is diminished.

This diminution of privilege begins to level the playing field between institutions of higher learning, since professors at "non elite" schools can now have electronic access to the data and other resources once physically confined to the major research centers.

And in an online world where space and location can't erect barriers to collaboration, “an up-and-coming new-growth-theory theorist at the University of Florida can coauthor a paper with a Stanford or Harvard or Chicago professor without having to move across the country."

Leonard refers to this new development as "the democratization of education." It's also a serious threat to the major research institutions that subsist lagely by commodifying knowledge.

No comments: