Saturday, December 1, 2007
One of the ways of improving quality control is to ask experts in the field. I understand that both the Harvard Law Review and the Yale Law Journal are already asking for experts outside of their schools for opinions. Lo those many years ago when I was an editor we asked our faculty for advice on articles we were thinking about. And at the Alabama Law Review we never accept an article without having at least one faculty member read it--though I am often the person doing the reading and since my expertise is limited to a few areas, that sometimes means that I'm reviewing articles in areas in which I have no particular knowledge of the literature or even the key questions.
I hope that in addition to using the experts to judge the quality of a piece, the journals will also communicate the evaluations to the authors. That gives the authors one of the key benefits of peer review: feedback.
I'm not sure how that practice is working out and I'd be most interested in hearing. The journals rely on the generosity of faculty at other schools. I suppose that journals at Harvard and Yale can rely pretty heavily on other faculty, because those faculty may want to curry favor with the editors. Whether the Alabama Law Review--to take one journal near my heart--could get away with asking for quick turnarounds from faculty elsewhere is an important question. And how often you could go to the well is another one. But at least for our nation's most elite journals, I think that asking for outsiders' opinions is an improvement.
Endnote: While looking for a public domain image of a board of experts, scientists, whatever, to illustrate this post, I came across the lovely image of nineteenth century Haverford College faculty in their library--and that led to this cool link, to Haverford College's 1836 library catalog.
Alfred L. Brophy
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