Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Scholars Test Web Alternative to Peer Review; New York Times, 8/24/10

Patricia Cohen, New York Times; Scholars Test Web Alternative to Peer Review:

"“What we’re experiencing now is the most important transformation in our reading and writing tools since the invention of movable type,” said Katherine Rowe, a Renaissance specialist and media historian at Bryn Mawr College. “The way scholarly exchange is moving is radical, and we need to think about what it means for our fields.”

That transformation was behind the recent decision by the prestigious 60-year-old Shakespeare Quarterly to embark on an uncharacteristic experiment in the forthcoming fall issue — one that will make it, Ms. Rowe says, the first traditional humanities journal to open its reviewing to the World Wide Web...

Today a small vanguard of digitally adept scholars is rethinking how knowledge is understood and judged by inviting online readers to comment on books in progress, compiling journals from blog posts and sometimes successfully petitioning their universities to grant promotions and tenure on the basis of non-peer-reviewed projects...

“Knowledge is not democratic,” said Michèle Lamont, a Harvard sociologist who analyzes peer review in her 2009 book, “How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment.” Evaluating originality and intellectual significance, she said, can be done only by those who are expert in a field.

At the same time she noted that the Web is already having an incalculable effect on academia, especially among younger professors...

“There is an ethical imperative to share information,” said Mr. Cohen, who regularly posts his work online, where he said thousands read it. Engaging people in different disciplines and from outside academia has made his scholarship better, he said.

To Mr. Cohen, the most pressing intellectual issue in the next decade is this tension between the insular, specialized world of expert scholarship and the open and free-wheeling exchange of information on the Web. “And academia,” he said, “is caught in the middle.”


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