Running Heads

From the editors of Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications at Wipf and Stock Publishers

Peer Review

One of the issues I am repeatedly asked about is peer review (hereafter, PR) of manuscripts (viz. sending manuscripts out to specialists in the field for evaluation prior to publishing). My impression from speaking with both scholars and administrators about this is that there are several misconceptions about PR.

1. What publishers routinely send manuscripts out for PR?

Many scholars and administrators I have spoken with simply assume that most publishers routinely send manuscripts out for PR. That is a serious misconception. PR is primarily practiced by university presses. There are a couple of reasons for this. a) It is an expensive process to pay outside readers for their detailed evaluations. Many U.S. academic publishers consider 500 to  1,500 projects per year, so this would be an enormous expense. Traditionally, many university presses have received major funding/underwriting from their universities, so they could take on this added expense. This funding has been seriously affected by the current economic downturn. 2) The editors at most U.S. university presses do not have graduate degrees in the field/s they are editing. Often one editor has to cover 4 or 5 major disciplines. Commercial publishing houses in religion (whether for profit [e.g., Eerdmans] or not-for-profit [e.g., Westminster John Knox]) very rarely send manuscripts out for PR. They generally only do so when a disagreement in the editorial board arises or they want the project and are not sure of the quality of the work.

2. What are the advantages of PR?

PR can be at least a small advantage to scholars as they are either trying to get their first position or get tenure and promotion. They may also get detailed feedback from a specialist to help improve their work or spot problem areas.

3. What are the disadvantages of PR?

One of the major disadvantages of PR is the length of time it may take. A friend of mine who works for a university press tells me that it can often add 12 to 18 months to the publishing process. Getting the manuscript back from a busy scholar/reviewer who is being paid a few hundred dollars is sometimes a very difficult process. This is clearly a problem for both the author and the publisher. The other disadvantage for the publisher is how will these costs be covered?

I would be very interested in hearing readers’ experiences with PR, and what they would add to my perspectives.


  1. Peter Admirand

    July 17, 2012 at 5:47 am

    Many thanks, K.C., for this thoughtful (and controversial) post. In the PR process of my articles and books, I have had such a range of responses that it often seems to be luck (and a crap shoot). The same work can be lauded by one esteemed reviewer using nearly every superlative word in the dictionary, gushing with praise, while another reviewer of the same work cruelly trashes and dismisses it, often focusing more on his or her agenda than the work itself.

    Sadly, anonymous reviewers often can leave their (heartless) hearts on their sleeves and use their anonymity to say and imply things one presumes they never would do so if named. In fact, great ecumenical and intra-Catholic dialogue could be advanced if one reminded reviewers of the ethics of reviewing. By all means, critique and judge, correct and suggest, but there is a living person behind those words. And as a reviewer, one may also be misinformed, mistaken, or guilty of misreading.

    Pragmatically, it seems more economical and useful to hire very good editors who know their fields and to trust those editors on the majority of projects. PR has its place but should not be overly relied upon or used. Of course, most of us involved on both ends of the process would rarely admit that because we like to think our own opinions and ideas are sacrosanct, orthodox, unblemished, and right.

  2. I’d second the remarks above. Except, national reviews of research in many places e.g. UK, NZ, Australia assess the research “quality” of either individual scholars or departments and funding and reputation are somewhat dependent on these reviews. At least in NZ this process evaluates “peer reviewed” work consistently higher than “merely” editorially reviewed work. Peer review is one of the great traditions of scholarship and also one of it’s current great banes. Perhaps as electronic media become more widespread and the formats develop more useful measures like citation indices may become useful in fields like ours, and eventually replace “peer review” as we currently know it… In the near future such less haphazard evaluation could resolve the issue…

  3. Martin J Sallberg

    February 28, 2014 at 7:23 am

    One very efficient way to postpublication review articles would be by creating a database with reviews that have already refuted claims, so that critics can postpublication review by posting links to those articles wherever the refuted nonsense arguments crop up (no need to write the refutation as a new comment each time). New refutations can constantly be added to the database, including refutations that expose flaws in previous refutations.

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