Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Trial by Wiki: the Future of Peer Review?

An interesting article in the New York Times a couple of days ago, which reported on a trial by the Shakespeare Quarterly to see if there was any mileage in opening up the reviewing of articles to the great unwashed web-using public.

The journal posted four articles on their website and invited comments. 41 people joined in, leaving 350 comments. The revised essays were then reviewed by the editors, who made the final decision as to whether to include them in the printed journal.

Whilst I don't think there's going to be a rush by other journals to follow suit, let alone super-cautious funders, it does raise an interesting point. Peer review is a tried and trusted method that allows selected reviewers, whose expertise and knowledge has been validated, the veil of anonymity to comment intelligently on articles or proposals. However, it's creaking and bureaucratic, slow and expensive, and seems out of step with the quick, cheap and egalitarian world of the web. Is there a way of getting the best of both?

For now, maybe not, but the Shakespeare Quarterly should be applauded for making a move to explore the possibilties offered by new technology. I wonder if the results of their experiment differed vastly from the results they would have got under peer review? When I worked at the AHRC it was often easy for us officers to guess which applications had a chance of success, even before they'd been sent out for peer review.

So good luck to those seeking to challenge the old system. The web offers a great opportunity to improve the way things are currently done. Just be mindful of any babies swimming in the bathwater...

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