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Taking a Closer Look at Open Peer Review

Open peer review—which gives anyone who’s interested a chance to weigh in on scholarly content before it’s published—just got an institutional boost. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has given New York University Press and MediaCommons a $50,000 grant to take a closer look at open, or peer-to-peer (P2P), review, the press announced today. MediaCommons is a digital scholarly network hosted by the NYU Libraries and affiliated with the Institute for the Future of the Book.

The idea of P2P review has generated a lot of interest in the humanities lately. Last year, for instance, Shakespeare Quarterly tried its first-ever open peer review experiment with a special issue on Shakespeare and new media. That went well enough that the journal decided to try it again, this time with a forthcoming issue on Shakespeare and performance.

Thanks to the Mellon money, over the next year representatives from MediaCommons and the NYU Press and libraries will meet with an advisory board of scholars and take a closer, critical look at open peer review. The group will consider four topics, the NYU Press announcement said. It will “assess the value and shortcomings of P2P review for the evaluation of scholarship.” It will create “a road map for scholars and publishers” by laying out flexible “criteria and protocols” to guide open peer review experiments across disciplines. It will look at what technology used for P2P review needs to be able to do. And it will weigh whether existing tools and online platforms are adequate to support those needs.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, a professor of media studies at Pomona College and a founding editor of MediaCommons, will help lead the Mellon-funded investigation. So will her MediaCommons colleague Avi Santo, an assistant professor of communication and theatre arts at Old Dominion University; Eric Zinner, the assistant director and editor in chief of NYU Press; and Monica McCormick, of the NYU Libraries’ Office of Digital Scholarly Publishing. They plan to convene an advisory board of six scholars, who, over the next year, will meet several times and write a report on their conclusions. “The white paper will, of course, be made available for open peer review,” the announcement said.

In an interview, Ms. Fitzpatrick said the deck would not be stacked in favor of open peer review. The advisory board will be a mix of scholars “whose work is well positioned within traditional modes of peer review and scholars who are deeply invested in these open modes of communication,” she said. “We’re interested in the scholarly conventions that peer review is imagined to serve and how open peer review might work best within those scholarly conventions.”

Part of the idea is to get a better sense of how widespread support for P2P review is and how well technology enables it. “My sense is that Mellon has seen some of the experiments that we’ve done, they’ve seen the experiments that have been done elsewhere, and they thought it was time for a rigorous and somewhat critical study of what can and can’t be done in open review,” Ms. Fitzpatrick said.

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