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Book refereeing and journal refereeing

On Wed, 23 Jan 2008, Sandy Thatcher wrote:

"Books are not peer-reviewed." That's an astonishing statement. Every book published by every university press that is a member of the Association of American University Presses has to be peer-reviewed because the guidelines of the AAUP require that member presses maintain such a practice as a condition of membership. Any scholar with a book published by a university press would most certainly list it under "peer-reviewed publications."

It may not be universally true that books published by commercial publishers are peer-reviewed, simply because no such peer-review practice is mandated for them as it is for university presses. But I know that many commercial publishers do conduct some type of peer review also (though perhaps with more of a focus on identifying viable markets than on the niceties of scholarship). Others representing such publishers on this list can speak for their own houses.

P.S. Notice that I said "published" rather than "distributed." Not all books distributed by presses are necessarily peer reviewed by the press distributing them--as the recent imbroglio surrounding Michigan's distribution of a book from Pluto Press vividly demonstrated.
I've just responded to Jim O'Donnell's comment on this off-list. Because of the phase-lag, I hadn't seen Sandy's follow-up posting. So now I might as well post my off-list reply on-list! Chrs, Stevan

Subject: Off list

Date: Wed, 23 Jan 2008 21:44:27 EST
From: James J. O'Donnell <provost -- georgetown.edu>
To: liblicense-l -- lists.yale.edu
Subject: books

Stevan Harnad wrote:

Yes, all Green OA self-archiving mandates should specify that they apply to articles published in peer-reviewed journals and peer-reviewed congress proceedings, to be clear that they do not apply to books. But academics know this. Books are vetted for publishability, but they are not peer-reviewed. In an academic CV, one does not list one's books under "peer-reviewed publications."
I will save Sandy Thatcher, seasoned and admired university press publisher, from the burden of defending his honorable profession and say that the assertion that "Books . . . are not peer-reviewed" is wild, ludicrous, and entirely untrue. There are surely book-publishing outlets that have weaker peer review standards than others, just as there are journals likewise, but the standard of peer review on reputable university press books is very high.

Jim O'Donnell
Georgetown U.
Hi Jim,

I won't reply on list, because I think it's all a tempest in a teapot.

I think it is incontestably a fact (rather than an opinion) that in research assessment, peer-reviewed publications are treated as a separate category in most if not all disciplines.

This does not mean that they are "better" than books; it is not a slur on books, or on more book-based disciplines.

And whereas I do agree with you that both journal peer review and vetting can be (and are) done with varying degrees of rigor, I do not believe that the kind of page by page tooth-comb scrutiny that is given by the referees of the most rigorously refereed journals is matched by the referees of book manuscripts. There may be some exceptions, but they are that: exceptions. Whereas for the top peer-reviewed journals, that sort of close scrutiny -- and, I might add, substantial revision rate and even more substantial rejection rate -- is the rule, rather than the exception.

This too is not an aspersion on either books or book refereeing. Journal articles are short presentations of original findings, requiring minute quality control of a sort that would be prohibitively time-consuming for book-scale writing.

(Having said that, I would add that journal peer review is not all it could or ought to be in many cases. The system is not quite broken, but shaky, probably because of overload, and insufficient recognition for doing a conscientious job as a reviewer, given the demands it makes on one's time. Ditto for book refereeing. (The "fees" are risible for the amount of time spent refereeing a book.) Only post-hoc, published book reviews give sufficient satisfaction and credit for the effort invested.)

But the point of the exchange was not the relative merits of books and articles anyway, but whether or not books are or should be subsumed under self-archiving mandates.

(And my own view was that they cannot and should not be, because most book authors still don't want to give away their books free online, hence including them within the scope of a self-archiving mandate either invites non-compliance with the mandate or non-consensus on its adoption in the first place. I personally support, strongly, the self-archiving of scholarly monographs too, but I would not be ready to impose that on authors who feel otherwise. There is absolutely no homologous obstacle in the case of peer-reviewed journal articles: All authors would want OA for their articles -- if they weren't (groundlessly) worried about copyright, or the degree of time and effort required to self-archive. Hence the need for university and funder mandates -- natural extensions of their existing "publish or perish" mandates.)

Chrs, Stevan