Mieke Bal: Let’s Abolish The Peer-Review System

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In this short commentary, Mieke Bal sets out her ten objections to the peer-review system in academic publishing.

When the academy turned “neo-liberal” world-wide, rules were established that have become a “system”, no longer debatable. No consultation, no trial period, revision, or reconsidering. Rules rule, overruling people. One of those rules is the unquestioned system that all respectable, serious academic journals and book series have to obey the requirement to have all submissions for publication “peer-reviewed”. This seemed a good idea at the beginning – to get feedback to optimize quality – but became problematic when generalized into a rule. It has become a term, even part of ordinary language, and I have had it thrown at me many times in totally wrong contexts. I would like to offer no fewer than ten arguments, intricately related yet distinguishable, that make the peer-review system (PRS) highly problematic, and, in my view, ready for abolition. Only when the rule is reregulated – stripped of its rule-character – can alternatives be considered that preserve the positive aspects but eliminate the ten objections I am highlighting here.

The peer-review system is deeply wrong, firstly, because it entails a heavy burden on scholars who should spend the little time they have to do their own work. Their available research and writing time is under pressure by all the new rules anyway, which increase the administrative workload uselessly. As a result, only the less active and less brilliant scholars will be willing to do this, and this has consequences for the quality of the reviews. Sometimes the colleagues who take the job on do make the sacrifice and offer excellent criticism, helpful for the author. But many times, the critique is superficial and routine. I can’t blame this on the reviewers, who get no credit whatsoever for this labour.

A second drawback is that the procedure and its formalism and duration win over quality discussions involving the coherence and originality of a journal issue, collective volume, or book series. This situation diminishes the quality of the end product, which can become meagre, incoherent, and belated in terms of both the subject, if this is contemporary, and other scholarship.

Read more: http://mediatheoryjournal.org/mieke-bal-lets-abolish-the-peer-review-system/

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