The Academic Peer Review Process in a Nutshell
March 24, 2012
The peer review process is an integral part of academics. Professors are told to “publish or perish” and they must do so in highly regarded peer review journals to demonstrate the importance of their work. In order to get published in one of these prestigious journals they must make their way through a grueling gauntlet called the peer review process that looks something like this:
1. Read through a complicated set of instructions for authors and conform to unique and obscure formatting requirements that resemble the awful “Turabian” guidelines that keep hundreds of thousands of students from completing their thesis on time each year. [I wonder what the cost of Turabian is to annual GDP?]
2. Submit your article in the proper format to the journal editor. At this point you can add the article to your CV but you have to say “submitted” as part of the citation.
3. Wait several months for a reply.
4. Receive a set of reviews from 3 established academics who are familiar with the topic area and deemed qualified to judge your work. Note that if you have material that represents a true breakthrough idea it is almost certain to be a rejection of the work of one of the three reviewers. So, your submission will be torn to shreds by at least one reviewer and you will be asked to revise in such a way that the reviewers will maintain their standing in the research community as the leading voices on the topic. At this point you can say “in revision” instead of “submitted” on your CV.
5. Revise your paper so that your interesting idea is no longer recognizable under the weight of hundreds of citations to the reviewers previous work and to any other now irrelevant scholars who were once mentors to the reviewers. Also, you will need to remove all graphics with color so no one can really understand any of your data analysis, results or examples. Finally, it would be good to eliminate any big-picture thinking and focus on the most modest conclusion that can be made using jargon that makes it inaccessible to anyone outside the field.
6. Wait another several months for a reply.
7. Your article has been accepted but they want you to make additional revisions based on criticism about inconsequential language from an assistant editor who doesn’t really know anything about your topic and may not speak English as a first language. But don’t forget they play a critical role in ensuring that the article is legible only to those with doctorates with no marketable skills outside academia. Also, several new articles have been published since you originally submitted the article – how could you have failed to mention these in your lit review?
8. Submit the final version of your article and send in a huge check to cover the journals expenses for printing color images. Wait, don’t the publishing companies charge libraries a ridiculous amount of money for the journals? Why should low-paid grad students and assistant professors have to pay their own printing costs? Shhhh. Don’t talk about that and don’t mention how much money these journals charge. They are an important cog, I mean component, in the engine that obscures, I mean creates, knowledge for the benefit of society. You can now update your CV to show that the article is “in press”.
9. Wait for several more months.
10. Your article is published and you can now remove the words “in press” from the publication listed on your CV. The publication generates significant interest – meaning more than 10 people read it – and you are asked to speak at a conference on the topic. Unfortunately, during the lengthy review process your laptop became obsolete as did the software program you used for data analysis. This makes it difficult to create new examples that will be easier for your audience to understand. Plus you need to publish more articles so you’ve been too busy trying to figure out author submission guidelines to actually think about your research. Consequently, your Power Point slides are clumsy and difficult to understand, your talk drones on without making any sense and you raise more questions than answers because it’s too risky to make bold statements. In other words, you fit right in and you’re on your way to becoming a tenured professor. Congratulations!