I’m going to grab my fiddle while people are setting fires and ignore the whole Finch Report Open Access bomb that’s blowing up right now.* Suffice it to say, I need to finish reading all of it (I don’t do journals right now, so only about thirty pages are of more than academic interest to bookies like me) before I act like I have something intelligent and novel to say about it—but, worry not, I will talk about it.**
Instead, let’s talk about something that’s tangential to the whole Finch Report/Open Access debate: the institution of peer review. Yes, a lot of people aren’t too keen on it (“why are we paying for this, again?”), but for those of us who publish things, it’s important. Sure, it’s the gold standard, sure, it’s an assurance of quality—but for us, if it doesn’t pass peer review, we don’t have to waste good money publishing it.
I think I’ve mentioned once or twice that publishing is the most ethical scam ever invented? Part of why the scam works is that the interest of academic publishers and our readers align so nicely. Academics want good books with sound scholarship, and we want to publish books academics want to buy—and if the process we use to make sure our books can be sold to our audience also makes them look better, so be it. It’s not every field in which the mere fact it’s been before a test market makes the product look better than everything else for sale.
But, sad to say, Bossman and I can’t do peer review ourselves—or, really, I can’t do it myself (why else would you have overeducated interns hanging around but to read things you don’t want to?). We need other people to do it, people who are, well, peers of the person writing for us. Most of the time, academic peers are professors. Professors are infamous for being the most absent-minded people on the face of planet Earth. Absent-minded people don’t always return reviews on time, pay attention to directions, or even remember that what they agreed to do for you still exists, despite your constant prompting. Never mind the fact that you want this book published so you can sell it; never mind that you’ve got an author asking increasingly desperate and pointed questions about when they’re going to hear back about their book; never mind that we’re offering you a rather hefty bounty in books to finish the durn thing already. Oh no, sometimes it takes six months to get a two-page review back just because you have to find a few sets of new reviewers.
So please. If you’re asked to do peer review for anyone, please, actually do it. When the intern starts sending you increasingly frantic and/or grumpy e-mails, have the courtesy to respond to at least one of them, even if it’s just to say you’re taking off to New Zealand for the next semester. Yes, we both realize that the “six weeks” we give you can sometimes be a bit flexible, but our authors are on the tenure clock and would really prefer you not to cause them to get fired.