It’s Peer Review Week! This annual week-long event aims to celebrate the value of peer review among academic publishers, associations, institutions, researchers, and more. This year’s theme is Peer Review and The Future of Publishing. As academic publishing navigates a period of rapid change with new technologies (such as ChatGPT and the like) and business models, the importance of the act of peer review remains largely unchanged. In this post, we discuss the value of peer review with Natalie B. Dohrmann, co-editor of the Penn journal the Jewish Quarterly Review.
Tell us about the importance of peer review in the publication process for JQR. What role does peer review play in producing the final article?
Dohrmann: It is the simple truth that without peer review there would be no JQR. We are deeply invested in rigorous peer review and, as a general history journal, we rely heavily on experts in a wide range of disciplines and eras to vet and improve the scholarship that comes through our doors. Beyond simply helping us make decisions, the evaluations function as active interlocutors in the revision process—even the most polished pieces submitted to the journal are better having gone through peer review.
What challenges does JQR encounter in regard to peer review?
Dohrmann: JQR did a gender audit of how we work some years ago and among our findings was that we used far more male scholars than female in peer review. We have righted that since, but while this gender equity in peer review is vital for the field, this has also moved even more work onto the desks of senior female scholars, especially in fields where there is a strong gender imbalance to start with. Given that women as a rule bear heavier loads of unpaid service across the system, this is a tension we have not resolved.
A more general challenge is maintaining rigorous peer review (we ideally seek 3 readers per essay) while not overtaxing our readers.
Has the peer review landscape changed over the course of your editorship?
Dohrmann: It is a venerable and highly effective institution, and has, in its basics, changed very little in my 20 years here.
What is something you wish people understood about peer review?
Dohrmann: Peer review claims as its right a huge font of invisible, unremunerated labor. We try hard at JQR to acknowledge this and make sure our peer reviewers feel appreciated. The process is a critical piece of the machinery of scholarship, and many may not appreciate the care and work that our reviewers invest in the work of anonymous strangers every day.
Another thing worth underscoring is the role played by the editor in mediating between reviewer and author—helping sometimes disparate directives from evaluators add up to constructive feedback for revision.
Natalie Dohrmann is Adjunct Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Penn. Dohrmann is currently the Associate Director of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies and a co-editor of the Jewish Quarterly Review. She has previously written about “The Peaks, Valleys, Perils, and Rewards of Peer Review” (Part I and Part II). Dohrmann has also spoken about Demystifying Peer Review in a video available on YouTube.