To follow up on the recent discussion about evaluating digital scholarship, Gena Zuroski pointed me to this very thoughtful essay about peer-review by Laura Stevens as Editor of the Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature. Stevens weighs the crowd-sourcing experiment of Shakespeare Quarterly against maintaining a double-blind review process, and wonders whether it is even possible for identities to remain hidden when so much scholarship is previewed one way or another before it ever reaches “published” status.
On balance, Stevens decides that the type of scholarship and the mission of the journal demand that they stick to the current format.
The virtues of open feedback are great, but having viewed well over a thousand readers’ reports in my tenure as editor, I am convinced that most readers provide a more forthcoming assessment of our submissions when their identities are not disclosed to the authors. Such feedback of course can be difficult to read—we all have our stories to tell of stinging reports on our own work—but on the other hand we cannot dismiss the positive comments of anonymous readers as flattery, and that must always be a worry when the authors and readers are aware of each others’ identities. In sum, I feel that more would be lost than gained if Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature abandoned anonymous review in favor of open approaches. I may contemplate setting up an open, online review for a single article or small collection of submissions in the future, as a way of fostering this relatively new mode of scholarly interaction. For now, though, this journal is sticking with the traditional, confidential mode of peer review.
Change at any level, in any form, is always difficult in academic settings, because of the presumption that an innovation will create more problems than the status quo. And this is probably as it should be, considering the importance of academic culture for preserving and transmitting what otherwise would not get preserved in a money-driven, presentist economic environment.
What reflective pieces like Stevens’ essay demonstrate, however, is that maintaining the status quo is itself problematic in all sorts of ways, involving its own complications, and demanding its own cost/benefit analysis, such as the one that Stevens provides here.
PS: I should also mention that Stevens also announces that EMOB’s own Anna Battigelli is joining the TSWL board. Congratulation, Anna.