South Carolina Tries Peer Review

The South Carolina Law Review is launching a pilot program where submitted articles are evaluated by peer reviewers who are knowledgeable about the article’s subject matter. This is terrific news: peer review will help improve the quality of published articles, and will increase the likelihood that published pieces are genuinely novel contributions to the scholarly literature. Peer review is the norm in most other scholarly disciplines; when I describe the current process of article selection to colleagues in other fields, they’re horrified, amused, or both. Peer review will help us as authors and as readers, and SC is to be commended for this effort. I hope it goes beyond a pilot…

2 Responses to “South Carolina Tries Peer Review”

  1. I just want to know how they’re getting faculty to do it. I’d love to do something like that, but it is hard to get faculty to give us the time of day, much less the time for peer review.

    (Tangentially: I absolutely can’t believe how miserably bad most of the papers we get are. Of course, the dangerous ones are the ones that look good on the surface but say nothing of substance- we get a lot of those too. In my field, I can spot these, but it is hard to imagine average journalers picking those up in most situations.)

  2. The only way that peer review will work in the long term is that we’ll need a shift in professional norms among law profs. In most fields, serving as a peer reviewer is both something of an honor (it means you’re expert enough to evaluate the work of others) and also part of one’s participation in a scholarly community. Law profs will probably treat peer review as a waste of time until two things happen.

    First, law schools will need to consider it explicitly as part of the “service” component that is one of the things by which promotion and tenure is judged. This is a pretty easy fix.

    Second, law publishing will probably need to change. It’s just too hard to read and comment on 70-page papers. This should happen partly as a result of the shift to peer review: there’s no longer a need to tell student editors about how the law in your area works or why this piece engages an active scholarly debate. (Peer reviewers know both of these things automatically.) But authors will have to become more concise and focused in their arguments. Hopefully, as empirical legal analysis spreads, this will help as well.

    As for bad papers: there are too many papers out there. The submission process isn’t a particularly rational one, with spectacular information failures on all sides. I don’t know how to make this better, but I’d love to see some experimentation on this front.