Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

Editorial

Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

Editorial

Article excerpt

'Peer review is death to originality': thus the Director of the National Gallery, Nicholas Penny, opined at a conference last year. Although this may not have reverberated as loudly as some other obiter dicta, it is an interesting proposition and one to be considered, particularly in the new age of digital publishing, self-publishing, Creative Commons and peer review as part of grant applications and preferment. It was this last that Penny had most in mind. I am particularly interested because twice in the last year I have had senior and distinguished figures, when approached as reviewers in their known specialisms, ask for their anonymity to be waived. As the Journal operates a double-blind review, this involved asking contributors whether or not they wished to know who one of their reviewers was, while not revealing who they themselves were. So, in two cases last year we operated a single-blind review.

One of the objectors to the blind-review process clearly felt that elements of spite could enter in, if for example new arguments undermine existing nostrums. I do not believe I have in ten years encountered instances of this, though in search of balance I have on occasion asked for a third review. This same reviewer suggested it was not peer review itself that was at fault, but the anonymity of it, and that authors should be given the opportunity, not to select their own reviewers, but to reject anyone who they felt would be implicitly hostile. An analogy here might be the jury selection process in court. It's worth debating.

I believe the process, properly conducted, is both positive and essential. The author gains the privilege of advice from at least two fellow scholars, which might improve presentation, broaden bibliographic reference and even save the contributor from making a fool of him or herself. It should never be taken as neat criticism, but as benign and constructive.

If I have had any doubts about the system it is that occasionally a scholar deeply immersed in his or her subject might say: 'but we know all that ...' Yes, and they might. But if not published, it remains in their head. This is tough on young and inexperienced scholars. Again, and very occasionally, a species of academic fundamentalism enters in, in terms of gender politics, for example, and like all fundamentalisms this does not encourage the spirit of academic enquiry. …

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