Guest Post: More Babies in that Bathwater

Today we feature a guest post, a critique of American History Now from my esteemed colleague Zachary Schrag.

I love my iconoclastic colleagues, but oh, how they provoke me!

First, Hacking the Academy comes out. Then Dan Cohen gives a talk for Open Access Week. Then Mike O’Malley announces his plans for American History Now. (Not to mention Mills’s attack on the five-page paper.)

These folks seem to want to destroy the current system of scholarly communication in history, or at least change it beyond recognition. They are quite correct to point out real problems with the status quo, most notably book and journal prices that deny easy access to scholarship to anyone not affiliated with a university, and publishing conventions that leave few choices for stories best told in more than 10,000 but less than 70,000 words.

But just as city planners who aimed at the slums ended up demolishing irreplaceable achievements of architecture, so do my colleagues risk destroying what’s good about the structures we have inherited.

Back in March, Mike invited our saner colleague, Matt Karush, to argue that “it would be a mistake to design a new system on the basis of an exaggerated critique of the old one.” Matt defended traditional journals on the grounds that they provided important quality control and credentialling for tenure and promotion.

I agree with Matt’s eloquent post, but it does not directly address the related issues raised last week by Dan and Mike: the role of money, and the role of the editor. So I would like to add to three points to Matt’s observations about what we might want to preserve in the current system of scholarly journals by emphasizing the importance of a good editor.

•1. Editors improve manuscripts

Mike claims not to believe this. He writes,

Talking with a friend about peer review, it occurred to me that the stuff which has been most influential in my intellectual life, the stuff that’s been most profound and useful, is profound and useful in ways that have nothing at all to do with peer review. Was Foucault’s Discipline and Punish peer reviewed?

I wouldn’t know; I don’t read Foucault. I read and teach and love books whose authors have tested some of their ideas as journal articles and whose books have passed through peer review at university or trade presses. I work with colleagues who–as Mike well knows–credit the peer review process for helping their own work. I treasure the thanks I have received from authors whose work I refereed or edited.

 And, most of all, I think back to my first scholarly publication, an article in Technology and Culture. Turning that piece from a seminar paper into a journal article meant wrestling with the thoughtful yet conflicting demands of three or four anonymous referees and the editor, the maginificent John Staudenmaier.

By the time I was done, I had learned lessons about research and writing that I still apply today, and which I try to teach my students. (Most important: know your villain. Even in the finished article, I didn’t get inside of Mayor Hylan’s head as much as I should have, but I did a lot better than at the start.) If today I get less intense criticism when I go through peer review, it’s because T&C taught me so much about how to get it right before submission.

Working with Staudenmaier on that piece was one of the most valuable experiences of my graduate education, and I had a superb graduate education. And I don’t think my experience is all that unusual.

•2. Editors make filtering work

Theodore Sturgeon claimed that ninety percent of everything is crud.” As a referee, I have found that only seventy percent of what I am sent is crud; apparently there’s a screening process doing some good work. But that’s still a lot of crud.

Mike and Dan know this, but they think “the crowd” will do the crudraking for them. I have my doubts. As social psychologists have shown, we suffer from a “bystander effect“: the more people there are to witness something bad, the less likely anyone is to intervene. Conversely, if someone is singled out in a request for help, they are apt to respond.

Trashing a cruddy manuscript isn’t fun, so the easiest response to a bad or troubled piece of writing is to ignore it. This may be why the crowd does not always respond when needed; I was one of only two academic historians in Virginia who took the time to read the revised drafts of some notoriously problematic elementary school textbooks. (Think of the children!) It can take a good journal editor to persuade reviewers to read the crud and tell the harsh truth. Indeed, am writing this response to some pretty offensive statements only because Mike asked me to. (And no, my usual referee comments are not as snarky as this. I’m trying to match the general aporia of this blog.

Mike seems to want to replace the process of editor-solicited comments with comments that are unsolicited. I fear he will get extremes of praise and spite, but not the tough, fair critiques that authors most need.

Worse still, Mike’s imagined unsolicited comments will be public and non-anonymous, the last a requirement to discourage “nasty” remarks. But taking the nasty out of an honest review of crud–i.e., burying one’s true opinions in pleasantries–means that reviewing will be more work, not less. And, for that matter, it will mean more work for the author, who now must distinguish between honest praise for a manuscript and the lies and jest added mostly to avoid earning the reviewer a reputation as a meanie.

•3. Editors cost money

In his talk, Dan showed a check for 87 cents and claimed it represented typical royalties for a historian’s work. Maybe that’s true for books, but it is a misleading figure for a talk about journals.


Consider the History of Science Society’s current want ad for an editor

The History of Science Society expects to be able to support the editing of Isis by providing funding for the salaries of a Managing Editor, a Manuscript Editor, for office supplies, and for part of the course release for the Book Review Editor. The Editor’s institution, in turn, is expected to support the Isis editorial office to a significant degree.

There are no numbers here, but clearly editing Isis is an expensive proposition, with salaries for a managing editor and manuscript editor, course releases for the book editor and–presumably–editor, and funds for office supplies and perhaps graduate assistants. While the editor’s university must contribute significantly, the HSS membership and institutional subscription income is apparently enough to cover a good chunk of the operation. I’m guessing that’s more than 87 cents.

If that money disappears under an open-access model, journals will need to 1) raise funds some other way, 2) sweat labor out of editors who will do the same work but without the same compensation in cash or course releases, or 3) relax standards.

As I understand it, PressForward is doing all three. Some money is coming in from the Sloan Foundation, editors are not getting course releases, and–faced with the impossibility of editing a journal in the traditional way given such scarce resources–editors are not going to do the hard work of manuscript editing and review.

We can see this in Mike’s evolving plans for his new journal, American History Now. In March, Mike described a version of online academic editing as involving “exactly the same process [as used by today’s journals], with all the same credentialing and standards and depth of scholarship, except that the peer review is visible.” Now he’s imagining a journal with No editors, no designated formal ‘peers,’ no boards of review.” Instead of “exactly the same process,” he will offer not at all the same process.

None of this is to say that the current model is ideal or even sustainable. I am sure there are tweaks we can imagine, such as opening access to scholarly journal articles after an interval sufficient to discourage major libraries from dropping their subscriptions, lowering per-article charges to something a real person might pay, or adding discussion forums to the online versions of journal articles.

Moreover, I expect American History Now and other PressForward projects to be exciting, innovative, inspiring, provocative, and occasionally infuriating. In other words, something like this blog.

But they will best be all of those things if they can draw from a steady flow of solid, peer-reviewed scholarship published elsewhere. I suspect the real function of projects like PressForward will be to supplement, rather than replace, traditional journals. Databases and sites such as Historical Abstracts, America: History and Life, H-Net, and new publishers’ ventures like offer ways to find and discuss peer-reviewed scholarship, but they don’t produce it themselves.

Thus, I don’t see why Dan and Mike must begin new, exciting projects by disparaging others’ scholarly achievement or seeking to diminish the job of journal editor to match a treasury impoverished by open access. As I tell my grad students, you can stand one someone’s shoulders without stepping on his neck. I hope that my colleagues will take a closer look at the tremendous contribution today’s editors make to our profession, and the resources that make that contribution possible.


  • Zach,

    On the issue of honesty and civility in a public peer review, I don’t see those as being in conflict. One can honestly review in public and be civil. And, there are some meanies out there. If a scholar is not being generous in tone (not necessarily in analysis) then perhaps they should be called out in public. We are professionals after all.

    Have you read through any of the comments in Writing History in the Digital Age? There is definitely some civil discussion generated and it isn’t fraught with pleasantries.

    I also want to comment on American History Now and Press Forward. (Disclosure: I’m not working on these projects even though I do work at CHNM.) Currently there aren’t history journals that accept short articles or that publish open-ended, in-process research articles. As Mike notes, we all have little bits of research on discreet topics that would be great to publish but there isn’t a great place to share it, or we would like feedback on it in a timely manner. Additionally, if a American historian is interested in publishing in an open-access journal there are virtually no options available at this time.

    Blogs are great platforms for writing and sharing, and American History Now can be a means for pushing those mini-articles out to a larger audience, while giving the author feedback and critiques to improve the article–perhaps for publication at a later date in another medium.

    These publications are experimental and are not going to bring down Oxford University Press. Who knows how well they will be received. But, there seems to be room for other types of open-access, peer-reviewed publications in the history world.

  • I have to agree with Sheila on this. There’s no reason that peer review can’t be honest and civl and there’s every reason it should be. Part of my interest in making peer review public is precisely and intertest in constructing modes of historical writing that can exist in public and do good in public–to make history and history writing more engaged in the public sphere

  • Rosemarie Zagarri wrote:

    I share Zach’s views. Of course peer review can be civil and honest. Zach’s point, as I read his piece, is that crowd-sourced critiques will have a tendency to be polarized, written by those who are either very critical or very enthusiastic about a particular piece of scholarship. (As we all know, this is exactly what happens on Rate My Professor.)And I really can’t imagine many people taking the time and care to do a rigorous analysis of a piece of scholarly writing unless they have some kind of investment-personal or professional–in the issue. Most historical writing does not address issues of interest to the larger public and need not do so. It’s the difference between the theoretical and applied sciences.

  • For the life of me I fail to see why you think the readership for an online academic journal in American history would look anything like the user base for “rate my professor!” Other than being more or less in English and online, they have really nothing in common.

    Take a look at Steve Barnes’ Russian History blog here. (

    Does it look ANYTHING like “rate my professor?”

    What exactly is your personal or professional investment in writing a peer review now? How would it be different if someone asked you to write one for an online journal?

  • Thanks to Zach for pointing out the evolution in Mike’s vision, from “exactly the same process” to a “no editors” system, which puzzled me, and perhaps others who are following CHNM’s PressForward.

    But I’m not entirely convinced by Zach’s claim that “Editors improve manuscripts.” Reading more closely, he primarily credits “the peer review process” for improving the quality of historical writing, and secondly, one highly influential journal editor, who clearly played an important role in helping him sort out the conflicting demands of the peer reviewers.

    A more persuasive argument might be that “Peers improve manuscripts,” with editors playing a valuable role in facilitating this process. In Writing History in the Digital Age, co-editor Kristen Nawrotzki and I have tried to harness some of this energy by designing a hybrid peer review model, drawing largely on Rowe & Fitzpatrick’s experience with Shakespeare Quarterly. Our manuscript, which began as a collection of nearly thirty essays, is currently under open review by two groups: a small team of experts contracted by the University of Michigan Press and general audiences who visit our web-book and voluntarily offer their input. As volume editors, we set up the process, offer our feedback, and make decisions about what to include, but the process depends primarily on the collaboration of peer reviewers.

    We all appreciate CHNM’s innovative spirit, but perhaps the PressForward initiative might consider a range of hybrid editorial models between poles of traditional peer review versus a no-editor system.

  • I don’t have time for a full comment on this, so some quick thoughts. The main point I would make is that in my talk I tried to give a complete picture of the costs and values of the entire scholarly communication process, while Zach has myopically focused on the most obvious part, and the one with the greatest direct costs: editorial. I think that’s a huge mistake.

    Anyway, to focus on the editorial process: Over the past 30 years, virtually all scientific, not anecdotal, studies of blind peer review as a mechanism for effective filtering have shown an extraordinarily high degree of randomness in acceptance and rejection that is the opposite of the positive anecdotal experience described by Zach. I hear stories like Zach’s a great deal, but of course there is a strong survivorship bias in such stories, among other problems (also: people with bad experiences with editors tend not to talk about it).

    As an editor of JAMA put it, “If [journal] peer review was a drug it would never be allowed onto the market,” because it has a surprisingly low correlation with long-term importance or perceived quality. Most of the critical peer review occurs before a paper is even submitted to journal editors (as the APS rep noted at our OA talk, because scholars send each other drafts or give talks that are critiqued), or after a paper is published, as the scholarly community assesses it over time.

    Having a great editor is indeed a wonderful thing, and I have no doubt that Zach had a good experience and learned much; but having a bad editor is a dreadful thing, and you can find journals that suffer from an editor’s selection biases, which hurts a field and individual scholars. Perhaps PressForward will fail, but I think it’s worth exploring other systems that filter for quality while leaving the judgment of the filterers open for judgment itself. And leave more open scholarship on the web in the process without transferring $1 billion in profit to scholarly publishers each year (which they get from our free labor).

    I should note (given Rosie’s comment) that what I’m doing right now is in-kind labor that’s 1) part of scholarly debate; 2) on my own time because I’m interested in the subject (and I happily comment in more nuanced ways on many other blogs); 3) not going to be sold back to the university by a publisher; 4) easily linked to and easily found by others on the web; and many other virtues that are strongly related to the core values of scholarly communication. I think we’re selling scholars short if we think that the only way that our colleagues can comment and critique in-depth is under the strictures of the current system.

  • Another quick note: Nowhere in the plan for PressForward do we say that there will be no editors. I’m not sure where that misconception came from. What we’ve said we’re doing is providing a modular platform that allows for multiple kinds of editorial workflows, ranging from (yes) perhaps purely algorithmic (e.g., for organizations that just want some “top news” to be disseminated and don’t have someone to run it) to various forms of human filtering, including modes that look fairly traditional (e.g., some of the PressForward journals have editorial boards).

    In general, I’m bothered by Zach’s “stepping on the neck”; we’ve even said that we can imagine a world with a marriage of tradition outlets and PressForward “live” outlets. Please see my introduction to PressForward for a better perspective than what it has been reduced to here.

  • Thanks, Zach and Rosie. We need your skepticism. However, I think Dan’s last point is the most important one. I don’t think we’re aiming to kill or replace entirely traditional modes of scholarly communication. PressForward is designed to provide space for innovation and experimentation (sometimes radical, sometimes incremental) free of institutional and business pressures. Success can take one of two forms. In some cases, we hope to establish lasting outlets for quality scholarship to stand alongside traditional outlets. There’s no reason American History Now and the Journal of American History can’t live or even work together. In other cases, our particular products will be short-lived, but may pioneer new technologies, new editorial workflows, new labor arrangements, and new business models that can be adopted or adapted by other, even more traditional publications. Our THATCamp “unconference” series, another experiment in reforming scholarly communication, provides a good analogy: far from killing the traditional scholarly conference, THATCamp is now an official part of the AHA annual meeting, a way for AHA to bring some much needed interactivity, spontaneity, and diversity of voices to its program.

    We certainly don’t want to inflict the kind of violence the modernist program sometimes inflicted on urban landscapes in the 20th century. At the same time there was *plenty* in the 19th century city that needed changing. Everybody agrees the existing system of scholarly communication can be improved and that new technologies present new opportunities. I don’t think we want to live idly with the current inadequacies and inequalities of scholarly communication any more than we want to live in 19th century cities.

  • One last point, in response to Jack, who advised PressForward to “con­sider a range of hybrid edi­to­r­ial mod­els between poles of tra­di­tional peer review ver­sus a no-editor system.”

    In fact, that’s exactly what we’re doing. Each of our prototype journals will employ a different submission/identification process, a different set of peer-review mechanisms, a different combination of tools, and a different editorial process. Proceedings of THATCamp, for example, is going to have a fairly traditional editorial process, roughly parallel to that of an edited volume, but the things it publishes will include some unconventional products (blog posts, collaborative Google Docs, Twitter threads). This is truly experimental work, a rare thing in the humanities and even rarer in the brutal business of scholarly publishing. For this opportunity we have the Sloan Foundation—which more commonly funds the experimental sciences—to thank. Sloan funding has provided the opportunity for us to iterate, to fail, and, in doing so, to identify the things and combinations of things that may work more broadly. These results will be written up in a set of white papers for conversation and comment.

  • I’m largely in agreement with the argument that a superb editor is invaluable, but I think we also all know that that particular editor is most often found not at the press but rather on a conference panel, in a department meeting, or next to me in bed (sorry, not available for outside work).

    Since I don’t have much to add to the area of human resources, let me tackle instead the issue of money, which seems to have become conflated here with traditional modes of scholarly publication. Yet the simple fact of the matter is that “open access” doesn’t have to mean “no money” any more than “open source” does in the software world. Beyond PressForward, there are a variety of potentially viable models emerging now, such as OpenEdition (, run by RR/CHNM friend Marin Dacos.

    OpenEdition’s business model essentially boils down to giving the content away for free but selling the medium, that is to say the nicely formatted PDFs or Kindle- and iPad-friendly versions that most researchers prefer. If institutions are willing to subscribe to OpenEdition to provide these formats to their users, then the content remains freely available worldwide in HTML form while OpenEdition then kicks back subscription money to the participating journals.

    PressForward clearly involves a more radical restructuring of the upstream publication process through a reimagining of peer review, but that doesn’t automatically mean that we’re all living in a fantasy world where money won’t exist and talented staff can’t be paid.

  • Thanks to everyone for these comments.

    @ Mike. I agree that Steve’s Gulag Boss posts are awesome. Please note that they benefit from an editor, designated formal peers, and a board of review at the blog level, plus earlier editorial work by Oxford UP, which published the book itself.

    @ Jack Dougherty. I have no problem with the formulation, “‘Peers improve manuscripts,” with editors playing a valuable role in facilitating this process,” except that it would have wrecked the parallel construction of my subheads. More seriously, my point is that the editor’s role is not merely valuable, but also very time-consuming. For one-off projects, like an edited book or the special issue of a journal, a scholar may be willing to take the needed time away from his or her own research. (I have.) But committing to producing around a hundred articles (and declining many more) in a five-year term as editor of a quarterly journal is something else. I haven’t heard from the PressForward folks how many hours over how many years they expect their editors to devote, or what compensation in time or cash they will receive.

    @ Dan. I am glad to learn that “no editors” is not part of the official PressForward program. The quotation is from Mike’s October 26 post, “PressForward and American History Now.” True, he used the word “might,” and he may not be speaking for the PressForward enterprise. Perhaps such slipperiness results from the absence of editorial controls.

    Your own hostility to editors–or at least, to well-funded editorial offices–was more implied than stated in your talk, and I am glad that you have made it more explicit here. I don’t know what “scientific, not anecdotal, studies of blind peer review” you refer to, but I will go ahead and say that in fifteen years, I have worked with a lot of editors in one capacity or another, and I have yet to meet a bad one. So that’s a 100% sample. I’ve met good editors who made what I thought were bad decisions. I’ve made changes that I thought weakened my writing to satisfy good editors whose sense of the language differed from mine. I just had a manuscript rejected by a good editor who had a different vision for the journal in question. And I have yet to meet Staudenmaier’s equal. But I haven’t met a bad editor. Can you point me to some studies of historians’ satisfaction with their editors? And where do you stand on managing editors, copy editors, book review editors, and graduate assistants? Do you their work is unnecessary or overpaid?

    I do think the real issue is money. Yes, some scholarly publishers are profitable, and I would like to see some of the inefficiency squeezed out of the system. But that’s like complaining about waste in federal spending when it’s the transfer payments that make up the bulk of the budget. In scholarly history publishing as it now exists, we see large transfer payments from research libraries to editorial staffs of the sort described in the Isis ad. In other words, transfers from readers to editors. You did not mention these in your talk, and I still don’t know where you stand on them. (@ Sheila: Are you sure Dan doesn’t want to bring down Oxford?)

    And another word on Steve’s Gulag Boss reviews. Again, great stuff, but the current quarterly issue of Slavic Review features 50 book reviews plus five “featured reviews.” So I think it’s a false comparison to ask (as you tweeted) if one would rather have a traditional review in a journal or six timely comments by leading scholars on the Russian History Blog. Of course the latter is better, but very few book authors can hope for such attention. And to scale up his operation to more than four books a week, I would think Steve would need a course release or two. Who will pay for that?

    @ Sean. I would love to read some proposals for a sustainable business model for PressForward, especially if they involve paying talented staff.

  • This reads like every critique of Wikipedia that explained why, without the professional standards and paid editors of Britannica, the project was doomed to an obvious failure. And yet, even as early as 2005, the quality of both publications was found to be equivalent.

    I predict that American History Now will follow a similar curve: the first few years will be rocky, critics will point to a few hilarious examples of quality control problems and declare the experiment failed; and then, within 5-10 years, it (or something like it) will have practically replaced the status quo completely, with only institutional inertia preventing the wholesale destruction of journals.

    As I see it, this is a new, more efficient technology stepping in to replace an aging and inefficient one. To be sure, not *everything* about the new system will be an improvement, but then, we still drive automobiles now rather than ride horses even though horses have the wisdom not to let you ride them off a cliff. The other advantages are just too substantial.

  • This seems to me to put it exactly right. Nicely put

  • Rosemarie Zagarri wrote:

    Tech-savvy historians tend to underestimate how resistant most working historians are to the the kind of changes they are proposing. The Wikipedia comparison is not apt. Historians don’t read–or publish–exclusively to disseminate information. Rob Townsend’s article in the AHA Perspectives for Nov. 2010 demonstrates the existence, not surprisingly, of big generational differences in receptivity to digital publications. What transcends generations, though, is a resistance to digital publication unless it brings the same kind of prestige and reputation as print. Only if the print option collapses completely (i.e., becomes financially impossible to sustain) will online publications garner the same prestige as print within the next decade. (I will say, though, that I won’t hazard any guesses about what will happen in a more extended time frame.)

  • You couldn’t have predicted Wikipedia by taking a survey of working encyclopedia editors, or Linux by taking a survey of working UNIX workstation resellers. I think it’s equally silly to try to predict the success of a disruptive replacement for the existing journal structure by asking the people who write in existing journals what they think. They may write for reasons of prestige, but does the general public, or our society, really care whether they can accrue prestige or not? Research and discussion and the advancement of knowledge can all take place without anyone getting rewarded for it with any particular ceremony.

  • I think in the digital journals, “silly” should be filed under “unhelpful criticism.”

  • Rosemarie Zagarri wrote:

    How is it “silly to try to predict the success of a disruptive replacement for the existing journal structure”? I think the results may or may not reflect what actually happens, but it’s hardly “silly” to take into account what “the people who write in existing journals” think. Many of them, after all, will be the ones that the new online journals need to enlist as both readers and authors. And many of those people occupy the positions of power that determine whether what gets published in those new formats “counts” in terms of the reward structure within the scholarly disciplines. What you all should be thinking about is how you can convince the scholarly establishment that such publications represent a legitimate and valuable means of disseminating scholarship. And just counting “hits” isn’t going to do it.

  • It seems to me that good scholarship, if one can find it, will be recognizable because it is, well, good. The scholarly communities with interests in a given area will know something is good by reading it. They’ll cite it, and others will then read it and use it for its use value. We already do this. I don’t really care if an interesting piece of scholarship is published in a “prestigious” journal or by a “prestigious” press, as long as the work is interesting. And, if we’re all honest, we know that a lot of good work is left behind in the current regime by a minefield of x factors that have nothing to do with the quality or utility of a work.

    Outsourcing quality control is in the interest of tenure committees and job search committees who aren’t vested in a given area of scholarship. And that may be a legitimate aspect of academic publishing. But of course, rejection rates for top tier journals are exceptionally high — in some cases I’ve heard like 93%. Is that 93% of rejected work really not good? I doubt it. The need for such strict filtering is abrogated by the information economy of the internet.

  • Rosemarie Zagarri wrote:

    One other thought: the issue here is not whether new online formats represent a great means of exchanging ideas. They are. The deeper question is whether there will be any vetting process for quality. And without vetting, the new online journals and book platforms will simply become the online version of a vanity press.

  • I keep saying that there will be, but it won’t be exactly the same process as used in the “journal of ossified 19th century practice.”

  • […] Can be More than One My esteemed col­league Zachary Schrag’s guest post reminded me of the cable TV sta­ple High­lander, in which immor­tal char­ac­ters bat­tle each […]

  • Zach, your argument seems to me to be very similar to the argument Pete Townshend makes about Itunes

  • […] begins with open publication on the web and that leads to successive layers of review. Contrary to the concerns of critics, this far from a stream of unvetted […]

  • Rosemarie Zagarri wrote:

    I find this commentator’s remarks thoughtful and useful. However, like a lot of pro-digital sentiment expressed here, there seems to be a deep ideological resentment toward academic hierarchies embedded therein. As far as I know, no one is forced to work within the academy. Why such resentment?

  • What disturbs me is the talk of removing that hierarchy when the foundation of digital history IS a hierarchy. To anyone not in the DH “circle,” trying to embrace digital history is an uphill battle. The only difference is, now technological ability is part of who floats to the top.
    I support digital history and the many positive aspects discussed in this post and the comments. But it’s “magical” qualities, to me, don’t exist.

  • Interesting question with regards to Foucault and peer review. More generally, do Continental presses peer review at all? My sense is no. It seems like many of these depend on the editor’s sole yes or no, based on her or his own opinion of the text.

    I’m not sure that Anglophone publishing protocols exist on the Continent, and this is what has made French theory writing so fertile. The manuscript to publication time frame is much shorter than the glacial pace with US academic presses. Hence material can be cutting edge, since it can go more quickly from informal debate to printed public sphere.

  • […] to write and argue more effectively has recently been considered by the historian Zachary Schrag in a blog piece worthy of consideration. If you’re in the anthro business long enough, you’re likely to be burned by […]

  • […] colleague Zach Schrag wrote a guest post on Mike O’Malley’s blog two weeks ago with some significant criticisms of what we are […]

  • I’ve written a long response to this post on my blog: “What Will Happen to Developmental Editing?

  • […] for this paragraph 0 Follow the healthy debate between Zachary Schrag and Dan Cohen on the “developmental editing” of scholarly work in traditional journals […]

  • Nabeel Siddiqui wrote:

    I figured that I would place a student’s perspective on these issues in case they may be helpful to others. This is actually something that would be impossible, in my opinion, without an open forum such as this—of course, others may find that the perspective is unwanted in the first place and a student has little to offer for a broader discussion of academic editorial processes. Still, I am interested in the issue and would like a little clarity on what this means for future academics.

    The idea that Wikipedia seems to be more accurate than Britannica, from what I can tell, emerged from a small article in Nature, which was then dramatically praised by all wanting to embrace wikis. The research only used forty two entries and Britannica claimed that the errors in Wikipedia’s entries were of a more dramatic nature. Moving forward with an open model, there seems to be an idea that there would remain a small group providing an editorial process. Wikipedia has employed a similar model and currently has around fifteen hundred administrators that have gained an increasing amount of power as the site grew.

    The reason I mentioned this is because it begs the question if any of this is really new or a dramatic shift away from traditional scholarly work. Few, I believe have argued for a completely open model and simply allowing an open model of scholars gets to an old Theseus paradox. It seems that scholarship is moving online with a small group of scholars still left in charge of the editorial process. The creation of a wiki or online model simply brings the editorial process into a more public space. Wikipedia provides something that didn’t already exist in the Web 1.0 technologies: a way for information to be peer reviewed. In scholarly literature, however, this is already present. The idea that a paradigm shift is occurring where the information is then online presupposes that scholars do not have a peer review process that is anonymous through the double blind peer review. Will PressForward be providing a similar system for future scholars? Will their be anonymity and if so, is this much different from adding the amount of editorials in a traditional model? If not, does this actually impede scholars from commenting and editing online? With names given, will the issues present in open peer review also exist?

    For scholars, the issue really becomes then if they are more willing to allow open access to journals. It is a much older debate and although I know that many in the digital humanities have stated they are not doing anything new. A profession like history that is modeled on a praising of the past and tradition still seems to be hesitant to change. The narrative may need, at least for a while, to be altered to provide a better idea of what exactly is being broken down and what is being build. More specifically, I think that digital humanists may be able to better move forward and achieve their overall goals if they stressed the openness of scholarly information rather than a breakdown of a traditional editorial processes.

  • […] view such “distant reading” as superficial. Others, like the historian Zachary Schrag, grouse that Mr. Cohen’s publishing experiments risk destroying what’s valuable about […]

  • […] with open publication on the web and that leads to successive layers of review. Contrary to the concerns of critics, this is far from a stream of unvetted […]

  • […] to a recent exchange in the blog, The Aporetic between blog owner Mike O’Malley and Zachary Schrag about the forthcoming American History Now (a new kind of professional journal), as an example […]

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