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Peer Review, Scholarship, and Blogs

The conversation continues on the relationship between blogging and published scholarship. Increasingly, the central issue tends to be peer review.  Blogs are not peer reviewed; academic publications are. This dichotomy is important and represents the core generic difference between working papers and the final publications of result.  Unfortunately, these ideas have been twisted somehow (and I fear that scholars in the humanities have been responsible for this) to mean that only peer reviewed works have value and blogs and other informal types of “correspondence” (in the broadest sense) are not valuable, a waste of precious academic time and creativity, and, at very worst, a contribution of the glut of uncritical opinion that clutters the internet and threatens to crowd out careful, reasoned, thought.  (For more on these perspectives see here.)

Just this week, Michael O’Malley wrote a provocative blog post on the value of peer review entitled Googling Peer Review, Part Two on his Aporetic Blog.  He suggests that good or unorthodox work does not necessarily benefit from peer review and, in some case, might be good and unorthodox despite the peer review process.

I am not sufficiently brilliant to write good and unorthodox works.  At the same time, I am not completely sold in the universal value of peer review. While I’ll be the first to admit that peer review has significantly helped several of my published articles, I’ll also concede that most of the central ideas in my articles were unaffected by peer review (well, except those ideas that died in the peer review process, never to be heard from again!).  Most of the critiques offered by various peer reviewers focused on the clarity of our argument, provided references that we had overlooked, or identified different implications for our conclusions.  These were all helpful and meaningful contributions to our work, but ultimately none of these reviews changed the basic content of our contributions.

I’ll admit that the argument that I am making here comes on the heels of a particularly pleasant and uncontroversial peer review process for an article that, at its core, is little more than a glorified archaeological site report.  But it may be that this kind of article is the least deserving of peer review.  The formal publication of the article slowed down the circulation of information to colleagues and added little significant academic value to the basic results of our field work.  In fact, peer review strengthened our interpretative conclusions, but hardly made them unassailable.

So at least some of the issue is not peer review per se, but the nature of genre in academic writing.  As O’Malley’s post points out many of the most significant works of scholarship in the last 70 years were not peer reviewed in a traditional sense (and the same could also be said of  many of the least significant works as well).  The works identified by O’Malley tend to occupy unconventional academic genres which are least likely to benefit from traditional peer review; even today works like M. Foucault’s Discipline and Punish upset traditional disciplinary critiques, and E. P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class stands apart from nearly any work of history writing up until that time (or since).  In a more modest way, data driven archaeological reports fit into this category as well.  There is little that a peer review can provide a scholar aside from reminders of archaeological conventions and advanced copy editing.

To prove my point, I can offer as a case study a recent publication of mine.  Over the past two years, I blogged most of the content that appeared ultimately in our peer reviewed publication that appeared this past week.  I’ve appended a copy of our final article at end of this blogpost.  Of course, some of the final product reflects the hard work of the Hesperia editorial team who in many ways serve as another level of peer review because nearly all of them are practicing archaeologists with advanced graduate training the field. So, I am fudging a bit with this example.

Here are links to my various blog posts, conference papers, and working papers that led up to the final publication our work.  These received no formal peer review:

July 20, 2008: The Corinthian Countryside: The Site of Ano Vayia
July 23, 2008: New Research on the Corinthian Countryside: Vayia Microregion
August 5, 2008: The Corinthian Countryside: Distributional Data from the Site of Ano Vayia
August 12, 2008: The Corinthian Countryside: The Lychnari Tower
August 19, 2008: The Corinthian Countryside: The Passes of the Eastern Corinthia
August 25, 2008: The Corinthian Countryside: Classical Vayia
September 1, 2008: The Corinthian Countryside: History and Archaeology
September 8, 2008: The Corinthian Countryside: Some More Contemporary Thoughts
January 12, 2009: Three New Sites in the Eastern Corinthia (W. Caraher and D. Pettegrew)
July 27, 2009: Viewsheds in the Eastern Corinthia
August 10, 2009: Working Paper: Towers and Foritfication at Vayia in the Southeast Corinthia (Caraher, Pettegrew, S. James)

The final publication:

Caraher Pettegrew James VayiaOffprint 2010 http://d1.scribdassets.com/ScribdViewer.swf?document_id=42994192&access_key=key-2wh8n3ocguqb9va13k&page=1&viewMode=list

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