The Debate: The Value of Peer Review, Accreditation, and the Battle for Academia

The title is a bit long-winded for this post.  As with all my posts recently, this will have to be kept short. I have been tied up with editing work for book projects, school work, and attempting to maintain some semblance of a life through it all.  As a result, my blogging has suffered.

However, the title does illuminate the issues currently under (heated) debate, in academia, relating to Biblical and Theological studies.  On the one hand, there are those who foresee (or hope to see) the fall of the “Industry of Accreditation” and a change in the process of Peer Review.  Jim West recent wrote an article for Bible and Interpretation about the problems associated with Accreditation and Robert Cargill wrote on the change he sees coming regarding the process of Peer Review.

Hector Avalos came to the rescue of accreditation and, in response to Cargill, J. Edward Wright sought to defend the process of Peer Review.  As someone who has undergone a shift in perspective on these subjects over the past few years, I would have to side with Avalos and Wright who, I believe, make a compelling and reasoned argument for their positions.  However, Cargill and West both open up the debate at the right time.  The internet has made it incredibly easy for individuals to pass along false or inaccurate information about a variety of subjects which are concerned with the field of Biblical Studies.  As someone who has risen above that horizon myself (before I finally recognized the folly of my actions), I can attest to the challenges posed to academia today; challenges which are represented by both the media and the convergence culture in which we live.   While I believe in the value of accreditation and Peer Review, I also accept that convergence will ultimately change the way the current process is undertaken from within the academe.

This debate is the starting point, I believe, for a discussion that needed to happen.  I can only hope some good comes from it.  After all, biblioblogging has, itself, become a part of modern academia; whose to say that at some point, in the future, one won’t see biblioblogs appearing in said Peer Reviewed journals?  As much as that thought troubles me, it may be an imminent part of our future.


2 Responses

  1. from;

    A recent article by Thomas Verenna broached the subject of peer review in the field of NT studies. Here are some of my thoughts.

    First off, I have been arguing for a long time to roll religion departments and/or theology departments into history departments. I think that religion departments evolved from old time theology departments, but more importantly they evolved from a world view that accepted much of church dogma. Only in the 1800s it seems did really serious work in the science of NT studies seem to get underway. But today, religion departments house two kinds of people. those that are doing historical research on the history of Christianity, and those that wish to gain a veneer of academic respectability, but are really promoting supernaturalism in the guise of academics. What I mean by that is that many in the NT field are really doing the work of priests or ministers trying to promote supernaturalism. University scholarship should not be about this. And unfortunately since so many in the field are really promoting supernaturalism, the actual history gets the short end of the stick.

    It would seem to me that if NT history was in the history department, when a paper is written you would not just have NT people reviewing it, but you would have others that major in say the French revolution, American constitutional history, and other history fields look for obvious flaws in the historical methodology and assumptions that would help to catch much of the lazy peer reviewing that has crept into the NT history field.
    With regards to peer review and journals in general.

    I think that existing journals will attempt to hang on, but I think their days are numbered. Historically journals accumulated, organized, and then distributed the writings of those in the field. In the past this was a paper intensive, and publishing intensive task. Today, all of that can be done away with. You, me, and Peter can all have blogs which are really simply our notebooks of writings. If I want to share any particular writing of mine I simply submit the URL to any blog aggregator. Let’s be clear, the term “blog” is a very bad term. A blog (web log) is simply a collection of web pages. Generally shown from newest to oldest with teasers and methods for navigating between pages. In reality the better general term is “website”. The NY Times is a blog. Often people talk about “those crazy bloggers” or they talk about “blogs” as if they are fringe. In reality, a blog or a web site is only as credible as the person that writes or edits it. But, the website or blog allows any scholar or laymen to write an essay, and have it able to be read by anyone, at zero cost.

    So, in the future each scholar or laymen will have a web site. They may have sections for notes, and sections for formal journal articles, all different kinds of sections on their websites.

    But the Journal industry will change. If a scholar wants to submit a theory they will simply provide the Journal with the URL of the particular page on their web site they wish to submit. The function of journals will simply gather and then provide a list of URLs so that others can read those essays.

    A mechanism like the old BBS or Forum system will be developed too. So that people can comment, or peer review these submitted articles, and even have threaded conversations on the article.

    They key will be identification. When a person wants to submit or comment in the forums, their profile will be attached. So yo can see that this article was submitted by “Dr. X”, “that got his degree in X1” “at university X2” and currently teaches the following courses at the following university”.

    There may be journals that allow submissions only by people with masters degrees, or only doctorates, or some that allow laymen to submit. But all the articles, and the comments/peer review will have the profile attached so you can see the credentials of the essay writer and the commenter.

    Now, as I understand it historically peer review occurred BEFORE publication. And in reality it occurred because paper space in journals was limited, and it was a way to get a sanity check before the cost of publishing and mailing was undertaken. In the future peer review will happen AFTER submission, since collection and distribution is now virtually free. This will prevent ideas from being screened out due to bias.

    Let’s say you have an online journal that is only available for submission by people with doctorates in the field. Anyone who’s profile shows they have a doctorate will be able to submit an article. It will instantly be available to all to read, even the general public. Then the essay will begin to be commented on. And each commenter whether simply a public person or another doctor in the field will be able to comment, point out flaws, etc…

    New ideas that stand up to the post publication critiques will rise toward acceptance in the field. Those in which obvious flaws are pointed out will die. It will be the concept of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”. A market place of ideas, being sorted through by a large market place with the cream rising, and the crap being dropped.

    Currently journals really preclude the public by their access and cost. Many journals are ridiculously priced to read. This will all go away because places like wordpress and blogspot have shown that virtually anyone can be published and read. There is virtually no distribution cost except that of the internet infrastructure.

    There will be an opportunity for some to create journals that have better reputations than others. But the industry will have a great deal more input than it does now.

    Let me give an example. There is a professor of Classics named Earl Doherty that has put forth an idea of how Jesus is a legendary creation. I have seen a number of scholars in the field say they do not even have to address his views, since they have not been published in a NT journal. To me, this is ridiculas. These same scholars will address the most recent Dan Brown novel, or will comment on Anne Rice joining or leaving Catholicism, but they will not address Earl Doherty’s views. I think this is an example of gaming the system.

    In the new world, Earl’s idea will be addressed, because it will be available to be read on some journal, and then others will begin to comment on them. And as more people comment on them, other will also. If the ideas are faulty, the faults will be found and pointed out. But if faults are not found, these ideas will then be incorporated into NT scholarship.

    It is a brave new world, and it scares many people.

    But it is bound to come.


  2. Thank you for your thoughts Rich, I agree with alot of what you say. I’m interested too when you say ‘I have seen a number of scholars in the field say they do not even have to address his [Doherty’s] views, since they have not been published in a NT journal’. I have argued for a long time that authors like Doherty, need and deserve to be addressed. Not to do so is anti academic and basically a hindrance to the advancement of knowledge. I have persuaded someone to engage them finally and he is currently writing and researching for a book, engaging with the major contributors to this area of christian origins. We would be very greatful if you could tell us who you have seen (read?) dismissing Doherty for this reason. This is a problem in scholarship and they too need to be addressed.

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