Crowdsourcing Peer Review and a Response
Mike O’Malley’s provocative essay, “Googling Peer Review,” raises interesting questions about the shift from an era of scarcity of information to an era of abundance of information that affect both scholars and information professionals.
Earlier I argued that the era of scarcity in evidence was coming to a close, because so much previously hard to get material now exists online. Maybe it’s time for the era of scarcity in peer review to end as well. We ought to be able to rethink peer review in ways that make it more effective and less “clubby.” (O’Malley)
He is not the first to suggest that peer review might be re-conceived in a digital context. Kathleen Fitzpatrick, who has been a leader in exploring “open peer review,” has posted a thoughtful response to O’Malley’s essay:
It’s gratifying to see other scholars getting interested in these wacky ideas about reinventing scholarly publishing that I’ve been pushing for over the last several years. In particular, the entry of scholars who are relatively new to the digital into these discussions confirms my sense that we’re at a tipping point of sorts, in which these new modes, while still experimental, are beginning to produce enough curiosity in mainstream academic circles that they’re no longer automatically dismissed out of hand.
All that said, I do feel the need to introduce a few words of caution into these discussions, because the business of open peer review isn’t quite as straightforward as simply throwing open the gates and letting Google do its thing…. (Fitzpatrick)
Mike O’Malley continues the conversation:
Peer review has not only served us badly: it’s cost academics more and more cultural authority. The general public, having more sources available online, is less willing to trust experts, and sees peer review as akin to the monkeys in Kipling’s Jungle Book: “We all say so, and so it must be true.”
Kathleen Fitzpatrick made an excellent post on peer review. I highly recommend it as a deeper and more nuanced take than my earlier polemical version.
Fitzpatrick explains more about what Google does, and how unclear Google is about how it ranks pages: since peer review is central to promotion and tenure and career evaluation, it’s doubly problematic that Google hides its methods. She adds that talking about open sourcing peer review it won’t produce people willing to do the hard work. She’s right on all points.
But I still think a case can be made for ignoring a specifically academic audience for peer review, just ignoring it, and entering academic work in the general internet fray. Here’s why.