Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

A Comparison of Blogging and Journal Peer Review

A Comparison of Blogging and Journal Peer Review

By Dennis D. McDonald

Note: a companion piece to this post is available here: More Comparisons of Journal Peer Review and Blogging

It's interesting to compare and contrast the rough-and-tumble publishing experience that is the blogosphere with the formalized system of peer review that has existed with scholarly journals for many years.

In the journal peer review system authors submit manuscripts that are assigned by editors to (usually) anonymous reviewers who recommend acceptance, rejection, or revision. Comments and decisions are collected by the editor and returned to the author who then decides how to proceed. The more popular or important the journal, the more manuscripts it receives, and as a corollary to that, the more rejection that are made. The intended end result: published articles represent high quality work and are actually improved through the review and revision process.

This process has always generated some controversy, partly because of the anonymous nature of the reviews, and partly because page space in high-prestige scholarly journals is limited and it's impossible to accept 100% of submitted manuscripts. Many rejected manuscripts are subsequently submitted to second-and third-tier journals and are eventually published, but the prestige and reputation accorded to publishing in a top tier journal is not earned, and this translates into impacts on decisions on academic tenure, promotions, and funding in the cut-throat business of academic research, publishing, and career advancement.

An article in February 2006's The Scientist by Alison McCook titled Is Peer Review Broken? reviews the commonly stated complaints about the journal peer reviewing process, including:

  • There is too much demand for high-status journals
  • Bad stuff sometimes gets through the system
  • Good stuff sometimes gets rejected
  • Some people try to game the system by getting friendly with the editors

A quick spin around the web will tell you that there are a lot of complaints about the process and that some scientists have set up alternative systems to publish and distribute research papers outside the formal peer review process. (This is nothing new; pre-prints of articles and prior release of findings via conference presentation have been common practices for many years as well.) Other journals are experimenting with a more open process where, instead of secretive and anonymous reviewing, manuscripts are published openly and reviewers are asked to openly submit comments.

As I said above, it's interesting to compare this with the blogosphere, where just about anything goes. In the blogosphere, anyone can be a publisher and, if you want, you can totally ignore whatever anyone else says about what you publish.

In reality, however, we in the blogosphere know thatthings aren't as laissez-faire and wild-west as some would have you believe. Blogging stars ("A-Listers") have evolved, authors sweat over their Technorati statistics, and ranking and rating systems such as Digg are watched very very closely by some. A mention on page one of Techmeme or Techcrunch will send some bloggers into paroxysms of euphoria.

So despite theseeming differences between the world or journal peer reviewing and the world of the blogosphere, there actually are some similarities:

  • Prestige and reputation, even though measured differently in the two communities, are important motivators.
  • Bloggers crave incoming links; journal article authors crave published citations to their journal articles.
  • Secondary publishing is important to both communities. For journals, abstracting and indexing services provided indexing vie structured and unstructured indexing vocabularies. For bloggers, listing in services such as Technorati or is critical.
  • Both "communities" rely on the actions of individuals behaving as members of a variety of different but intersecting social networks.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting there is a moral equivalency between the blogger tossing off a quick comment on an event of the day and the young scientist sweating over a research report based on months of arduous field work that could make or break her career (she thinks) depending on where it gets published.

I am saying, though, that there is an underlying similarity to the two systems that has less to do with what is being published than with the role that social networks play in the process of creation, publishing, and distribution.

There are examples of each of these two "communities" borrowing from the other, and that's good. Examples are concerns expressed by some bloggers about ethics and disclosure, and adoption of more open reviewing processes by journal publishers. I think this cross fertilization is a good thing and should be encouraged.


I should note that at one time I had more than a passing familiarity with the journal publishing process. One of my first jobs outside graduate school was with a company doing contract research for the National Science Foundation (NSF) on applications of computer networking to journal publishing. Also, I was fortunate to get my own Ph.D. research funded by the NSF to study the decision processes of how cancer researchers and astrophysicists selected the journals in which to publish their research.

Even though I have veered far from academia in the intervening years and have witnessed the rise of the Internet, Google, and social networking and media, I am still quite amazed at how familiar these publishing processes still are.

I believe this familiarity is based on the underlying social nature of how we communicate and obtain recognition for our thoughts and actions. Technology may have speeded things up tremendously and destroyed barriers associated with time and distance, but people still like to connect with others whom they know or respect.

Copyright (c) 2007 by Dennis D. McDonald

Update on 2007-08-01 23:04 by Dennis D. McDonald

The following external links are related to the above article:


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