Digital Scholarship and Peer Review– The Question of Where…

I was writing a reply to Mills Kelly’s most recent post, and realized that my reply was long enough to constitute its own post. I suppose this is exactly what trackbacks are for.

The whole pre-press peer review process is based on a different model of the economy of publishing. Review after the fact can be better used online, where we have the ability to keep everything in a perpetual beta. (And I’d argue that there’s a difference between the feedback of blog comments– which one commenter aptly likened to responses at a conference panel– and an actual critical review, like one finds at the ends of most scholarly journals.)

But this brings one to the question of how post-publication review could best be disseminated, etc. More scholarly, critical reviews of online scholarship are definitely a must, but where would they best be published? To put them in traditional print journals gives some name-brand credibility and authority, which online scholarship could definitely use. But publishing reviews in such journals closes off the dialogical potentials of digital scholarship.

Blogs published by individual scholars would seem a good vehicle, but there are many scholars who might be capable of producing great critical review pieces who don’t have the time or the inclination to maintain a blog, to foster the audience that grants individual blogs status, etc.

And then there’s the option of online journals, which might resist some of the problems of the previously-mentioned formats, but bring up a lot of their own issues. Many (most?) are too new to have built up a sufficient academic cache, especially among those resistant to digital scholarship. Many online journals don’t benefit from being indexed in subscription-based journal databases, like JSTOR, rendering them invisible to less-net-savvy scholars. Moreover, the ability of an online journal to be responsive, dynamic, and dialogical– the very advantages they possess when compared to print journals– pose a further question: when would these things really be done? Some of the advantages of review articles– that they’re relatively quick and easy to write, for example, and thus good CV-fodder for newer scholars building their publication lists– would be lost if one had to perpetually update, constantly adjusting a review to the most recent revisions of the site’s content or design.

No answer is ideal. Perhaps best answer would be a new model, some format not yet in existence. Barring that, maybe we should think about how best to use all three in tandem. The AHA’s Perspectives has both an online and a print presence. Magazines and journals like that could serve as a good bridge, giving the prestige of print with the capacity for online revision.