My post on “academic editing 2.0” generated some heat in the comments, and some misunderstandings. What I was proposing is actually really conservative, and aimed at preserving and strengthening the profession. Among the gamut of digital possibilities it would have to be counted as timid, modest and cautious. Let me try to be more clear.
Imagine you spend three years researching a topic, and send the article that results to the AHR. Instead of the editor saying “this is interesting, I’m going to send it to Profs. X, Y, and Z for review,” the editor would instead say “this is interesting, I’m going to post it on the AHR web site and solicit initial reviews from Profs X, Y, and Z.” The three reviewers would then post their responses. They could be anonymous, as now, or maybe not.
It’s exactly the same process, with all the same credentialing and standards and depth of scholarship, except that the peer review is visible. By making it visible, you broaden the discussion and you gain authority.
Right now, non-practiti0ners distrust and disregard peer review because it seems like a private club of people who only talk to each other–which is kind of what it is. If you make peer review open, you make it clear how historical argument is grounded, and how it’s revised–on other words, you make the things which make a profession a profession MORE clear. You strengthen the profession, not weaken it.
What I’m imagining here would be vetted by the editor–the editor would function like a moderator. I would open the review up to interested persons, and allow them to comment, but I’d have the editor moderate those comments, for civility and value.
The advantage to the three initial reviewers would be that their work does not go unrecognized–instead of vanishing, it would form part of an ongoing discussion/argument about meaning and evidence. It would “count” in a way that doing a peer review now does not “count,” because it’d be visible and public.
Let me stress again that in this model, the editor is still exercising discretion about what gets posted–he/she is not posted every submission, only the ones he/she likes. This is not a proposal for every single paper being posted. You still have hierarchy, in that the editor is choosing who he thinks is worthy of comments, both the initial three reviewers and the subsequent discussants.
This model preserves depth in scholarship, and it preserves peer review, and it preserves hierarchy. But it makes peer review a much more productive and fertile field.
There are lots of other possibilities. There are other forms of publication possible, other ways to imagine peer review. I’d like to offer this as a very modest and limited way of making what we do more interesting, more lively, and more rewarding.