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From Manuscript Evaluation to Article Valuation: The Changing Technologies of Journal Peer Review

Abstract

Born in the 17th century, journal peer review is an extremely diverse technology, constantly torn between two often incompatible goals: the validation of manuscripts conceived as a collective industrial-like reproducible process performed to assert scientific statements, and the dissemination of articles considered as a means to spur scientific discussion, raising controversies, and civically challenging a state of knowledge. Such a situation is particularly conducive to clarifying the processes of valuation and evaluation in journal peer review. In this article, such processes are considered as specific tests in order to emphasize the uncertain properties of pre-tests manuscripts. On the one hand, evaluation tests are examined at the core of the validation of manuscripts, such as defining the coordination of judging instances (editor-in-chief, editorial committee, outside reviewers) or controlling the modalities of inter-knowledge between reviewers and authors. They are also studied regarding the dissemination of articles, notably through the contemporary conception of a continuing evaluation test termed “post publication peer review”. On the other hand, valuation tests are both part of the validation of manuscripts, such as the weighting of different judgments of the same manuscript and the tensions that these hierarchies cause, and of the dissemination of articles, such as attention metrics recording the uses of articles. The conclusion sketches out how the articulation of these different tests has recently empowered readers as a new key judging instance for dissemination and for validation, potentially transforming the definition of peers, and thus the whole process of journal peer review.

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Notes

  1. “The establishment of matters of fact in Boyle’s experimental programme utilized three technologies: a material technology embedded in the construction and operation of the air-pump ; a literary technology by means of which the phenomena produced by the pump were made known to those who were not direct witnesses ; and a social technology that incorporated the conventions of experimental philosophers should use in dealing with each other and considering knowledge-claims” (1985:  25).

  2. Ernest Hart, editor-in-chief of the BMJ speaking to the American Association of Medical Editors in 1893 (cited by Burnham 1990: 1325).

  3. For example, in 1965 this period was extended from 9 to 17 months for journals published by the American Psychological Association (1965).

  4. Interview with one of the seven associate editors of a medical journal (carried out on the 06.12.2012).

  5. Bornmann (2011) has shown that the Mertonian tradition never considers reviewers as coauthors of the manuscript, while european constructionist traditions have insisted on their actual role in rewriting manuscripts, whether directly or via authors themselves.

  6. Interview with the editor-in-chief of a journal dedicated to gender studies (carried out on 26.10.2013).

  7. As a result, the number of articles withdrawn after publication has increased exponentially over the last ten years (Van Noorden 2011).

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Acknowledgments

The authors are grateful to Daniel Céfaï, Bénédicte Zimmermann, and three anonymous referees for their thoughtful comments and very helpful suggestions on a previous version of this text. We also thank Chris Hinton for his translating assistance.

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Pontille, D., Torny, D. From Manuscript Evaluation to Article Valuation: The Changing Technologies of Journal Peer Review. Hum Stud 38, 57–79 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10746-014-9335-z

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Keywords

  • Anonymity
  • Academic journals
  • Evaluation
  • Peer review
  • Valuation studies