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Open Peer Review in the Humanities – Scholarly Kitchen (Seth Denbo | March 2020)0

Posted by Admin in on March 13, 2020

Editor’s Note:  Today’s post is by Seth Denbo, Director of Scholarly Communication and Digital Initiatives at the American Historical Association.

Open peer review hasn’t caught on in the humanities. Nearly ten years ago, a few notable experiments attracted the attention of the New York Times. The “Web Alternative to the Venerable Peer Review,” as the headline in the print edition on August 24, 2010 dubbed it, was presented as an innovation that would revolutionize the way scholars evaluated each other’s work. Breathlessly excited about the potential of web-based open review for “generating discussion, improving works in progress, and sharing information rapidly,” the Times contrasted this with what was presented as the purely “up-or-down judgment” of customary review practices. Openness was said to be central to the attractiveness of these new forms of peer review.

Flash forward to the present, and little widespread change in humanities peer review has occurred. Many articles on peer review have pointed out that the systematic practices we think of as central to scholarship and scholarly communication evolved as recently as the mid-20th century. Melinda Baldwin has written on how peer review did not come to be seen as necessary for scholarly legitimacy until the Cold War. Ben Schmidt has shown that the phrase “peer review” doesn’t enter the lexicon until the 1970s. Despite the relative recent emergence of systematic practices, peer review is central to scholarship. And, within a range of different ways of organizing review and masking the identity of author, reviewer, or both, a more-or-less closed process still dominates in humanities journals and book publishing. These long-standing practices still seem to provide editors with the evaluation they require to maintain quality and the feedback that assists authors in improving their work. Alex Lichtenstein, editor of the American Historical Review (AHR), recently wrote “as an editor I especially value the developmental as well as evaluative role” provided by the current double-blind peer review practices and structures that he directs as editor.

Despite his commitment to double-blind review, Lichtenstein is overseeing the AHR’s first foray into experimenting with open review. “History Can be Open Source: Democratic Dreams and the Rise of Digital History” by Joseph L. Locke and Ben Wright is currently posted on for an open, public comment period that will run until early April. In parallel, the editors have invited several reviewers to submit more traditional peer reports. Those reviewers have been given the option of anonymity, but their reviews will be public.

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Friday afternoon’s funny – Paper archives0

Posted by Admin in on March 13, 2020

Cartoon by Don Mayne
Full-size image for printing (right mouse click and save file)

The amount of paperwork generated by some human research (not just clinical trials) and research ethics review is no joke.  If your institution is still on paper records you should carefully consider the shift to an electronic approach.

When medical information comes from Nazi atrocities (Papers: Susan E Mackinnon | January 2020)0

Posted by Admin in on March 10, 2020

The nerve surgeon Susan Mackinnon discovered that an old but precise textbook she relied on was created by a Viennese anatomist who had dissected Hitler’s victims to produce his detailed illustrations. Should we still be using the illustrations, she asks

I first met the Atlas of Topographical and Applied Human Anatomy1 in 1982, when I was 32, during my hand fellowship at the Curtis National Hand Center in Baltimore. The atlas became my dissection partner during the many long hours spent in the anatomy laboratory at Johns Hopkins Hospital and later at the University of Toronto.


Also see:
Response to Medical information from Nazi atrocities transgresses the Nuremberg Code by Simon Gordon, Thomas Kadas, Peter Lantos and Afsana Safa


For several years, I knew the Pernkopf atlas (named after its author, Eduard Pernkopf, chair of anatomy and president of the University of Vienna) only as a unique and valued piece of science and art. However, in the late 1980s, I came across essays by Gerald Weissman, an Austrian born US physician-scientist at New York University, and David Williams, a medical illustrator of Purdue University, Indiana, exposing the origin of my dissection partner,23 calling it the “atlas of the Shoah,” derived during the Holocaust.

Once I, a gentile, came to know the truth of its origin, my attitude changed. I secured the atlas in my operative room locker, with printed copies of Weissman’s and Williams’s essays slipped into the atlas as a marker to anyone who might use it and a warning to “enter with caution.”

However, having already spent many years with the atlas, still the most detailed anatomy book I’ve ever seen, I continued to feel the need to refer to it occasionally for the sake of improving my patients’ surgical outcomes. Several times a month, while operating, I would struggle with the anatomical nuances of nerve pathways. The atlas showed me the way—an exact and safe surgical approach to the …

Mackinnon, S. E. (2020) When medical information comes from Nazi atrocities BMJ 368:l7075

How Academic Science Gave Its Soul to the Publishing Industry – Issues in Science and Technology (Mark Neff | January 2020)0

Posted by Admin in on March 9, 2020

Self-governance of science was supposed to mean freedom of inquiry, but it also ended up serving the business model of scientific publishers while undermining the goals of science policy.

America’s globally preeminent university research enterprise is constructed on two bedrock principles of self-governance. The first is autonomy: academic scientists should be left free to determine their own research agendas. The second is internal accountability: the quality of academic science is best assessed by academic scientists. The commitment to scientific self-governance carries with it a policy requirement as well: support for research will mostly have to come from the federal government; companies will never make the necessary investments in undirected research because they cannot capture the economic benefits for themselves.

Regular readers of the material we post to the Resource Library already know how we feel about the issues and struggle described in this great article, but these are points that cannot be repeated too often.

The origin story of how this arrangement came about is a familiar one. During World War II, civilian scientists and engineers developed pivotal innovations that contributed to the allied victory. Their work was funded, overseen, and coordinated by the US Office of Scientific Research and Development, directed by Vannevar Bush, formerly the president of the Carnegie Institution for Science and a dean of engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Closely administered for relevance in advancing the war effort, wartime research and development activities were managed in a manner antithetical to contemporary ideals of scientific self-governance. Following the war, Bush made a pitch in his now famous report Science, The Endless Frontier that to secure social and economic benefits in the postwar period, including more and better paying jobs, more productive agriculture, and innovative industrial products desired by consumers, “the flow of scientific knowledge must be both continuous and substantial.” To achieve this knowledge flow he felt that the government should provide generous funding for the scientific community, as it had during the war.

But counter to the coordinated wartime R&D effort he had headed, Bush insisted that scientists must be allowed to work “on subjects of their own choice, in the manner dictated by their curiosity for the exploration of the unknown.” Such curiosity-driven basic science would yield essential but unpredictable benefits at unknowable points downstream, he argued, and was an essential prerequisite for solving social problems. The quality of a proposed research project could not therefore be judged by its potential benefits to society—those were unforeseeable. Scientists would judge scientific merit according to their own internal criteria.

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Neff, Mark W. “How Academic Science Gave Its Soul to the Publishing Industry.” Issues in Science and Technology 36, no. 2 (Winter 2020): 35–43.