Library Issues

Preaching to the choir

This latest post from Jeff Pomerantz is just briliant. In it, he discusses the oft-repeated falsehood that in order for writing to be of value it must be edited/peer reviewed/go through the “publication” process. In regards to the above claim, he says:

Let me be totally blunt: that argument was crap then & it’s crap now. The medium is irrelevant; the speed is irrelevant; the delivery mechanism is irrelevant. I could conduct peer review by passenger pigeon & still come up with a lousy result. The quality of thinking is what is important, and frankly I’d go so far as to say, the only thing that’s important. The quality of thinking by the author, by the reviewer, and by the reader. If the author is Jayson Blair, for example, the writing isn’t going to be worthwhile no matter how well-edited it is. If the reviewer is lazy, they won’t catch errors or make good suggestions to improve the manuscript.

Bravo! I’ve been saying the same thing for years now…one of the issues that I confronted with my Master’s Paper was just that…what is “publication”? Does self-publication negate the value of academic work? To claim that good writing MUST be edited is simply short sighted and wrong. Too many people in positions of power in academia seem to fall prey to this fallacy, including many, many librarians.

Peer review will not save you, people. Yes, it’s a good thing. Yes, it’s useful. Yes, it improves the quality of materials. But would you really suggest that there’s no writing that’s good without it? In the whole world? No, no reasonable person would say that. Is there lots of crummy writing out there? Yes, of course there is. Is there crummy writing out there that’s been through an editorial process? Yes, of course there is. Is there quality writing out there that has not been through an editorial process? Yes, OF COURSE there is.

Makes me wish that I had gotten to know Dr. Pomerantz better while I was at UNC. There are a great number of things tied up in this line of thought…academic scholarship is about to undergo some radical changes: more self-publication, less formalized peer-review, more “after the fact” review (ie, commentary rather than pre-pub edits), university rather than publishing house level archival, and much much more. I for one can’t wait.

One reply on “Preaching to the choir”

Aw shucks, Jason, I’m touched. Posts like that one are of course the reason I named my blog as I did.

In all seriousness though, I think you’re absolutely right, & academic peer review will be seriously altered in the next 20 years or so. (Change comes slowly to the academy.) Peer review is still useful, as a filter if not always as quality control. But given the tectonic rate of journal publication, & the fact that peer review has essentially been replicated online, it seems to me that the only thing that’s preventing academics from abandoning journal publication entirely is institutional pressure.

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