Back to the Future: (Re)turning from Peer Review to Peer Engagement

by Rebecca Kennison


  • Scholarly communication — with the exception of traditional (e.g., blind and double-blind) peer review — prizes the open exchange of ideas.
  • The aim of peer review should be engagement, not judgment.
  • Reviews that improve the quality of a work and thus advance the field are not merely service to the community, but contributions to existing scholarship, and need to be rewarded accordingly; an open and transparent review process is the first step in enabling such reviews to be properly recognized.


What is the real purpose of peer review? And is that purpose immutable?

These questions lie at the heart of the debates about peer review and its value in academic publishing. Who should be considered peers — and are they the ones actually doing the review? Is the purpose of that review to improve the work — or to evaluate and judge it? If the goal is to improve the work, why does the review need to be anonymous, as who needs to be protected in an exchange of ideas between equals? And should not that important peer-to-peer work be publicly acknowledged and explicitly rewarded? For that to happen, there must be a shift in the philosophy that underpins peer review and its attendant practices, one that replaces peer judgment with peer engagement as the primary value of these peer exchanges.


Learned societies were created for the purpose of facilitating scholarly engagement with others who shared similar interests, and journals arose as a forum to allow wider discussion of ideas and discoveries, enabled by editors who were also members of those communities and who acted as moderators of the discussion. What we now commonly understand to be “peer review” as a standard practice in academic publishing — in which discussants have become referees — is comparatively recent. In sports, the role of a referee is not …

NOTE: Despite my best efforts to negotiate a better licensing agreement, I failed. This is the entirety of the text of the final peer-reviewed version of my article that I am permitted share publicly until January 8, 2018. I have done so here under terms of fair use. Should you wish to read the full article — and I hope you do! — I would be delighted to e-mail a copy to you. Please simply send me a request.

This Opinion Piece (DOI: 10.1002/leap.1001) originally appeared in January 2016 as an Early View (the online version of record published before inclusion in an issue) in the journal Learned Publishing as part of a special issue on peer review. Subscribers to Learned Publishing can access the full issue on the Wiley Online site.