Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Blog Comments and Peer Review Go Head-to-Head

The Chronicle reports on an experiment that attempts to answer the question "What if scholarly books were peer reviewed by anonymous blog comments rather than by traditional, selected peer reviewers."

Noah Wardrip-Fruin, an assistant professor of communication at the University of California at San Diego, came up with the idea while talking with his editor at MIT press about peer reviewers for the book he was finishing entitled Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies. He is also getting assistance from the Committee on Research of UC San Diego's Academic Senate and UCSD's Software Studies initiative.

The experiment will provide a side-by-side comparison of reviewing old school peer review with versus new school blogging, being referred to as "blog-based peer review." The experiment is making use of the academic blog Grand Text Auto, which attracts readers from the video-game industry and hard-core video-game players. The manuscript will also run through the traditional peer-review process.

Each day a new chunk of his draft will be added to the blog over a 10 week period, and readers are invited and encouraged to comment. Wardrip-Fruin expects the blog-based review to be more helpful than the traditional peer review because of the variety of voices contributing. He states:
Blogging has already changed how I work as a scholar and creator of digital media. Reading blogs started out as a way to keep up with the field between conferences — and I soon realized that blogs also contain raw research, early results, and other useful information that never gets presented at conferences....I'm excited to take the blog/manuscript relationship to the next level, through an open peer review of the manuscript on the blog.

MIT Press' Doug Sery doesn't know how this general peer review is going to help, except maybe to catch small errors that have slipped through the cracks. He bets that the blog reviews might merely spark flame wars or other unhelpful arguments about minor points. One has to chuckle Cliff Lynch's quote in the Chronicle article: "If, God help you, you're writing about current religious or political issues, you're going to get a lot of people with agendas who aren't interested in having a rational discussion. Some of them are just psychos." Sphere: Related Content

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