Peer Review: Biblical Studies’ Own Little Sacred Cow

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To be sure, peer review has a role to play in academic biblical studies- but blind trust in the process is both foolhardy and – to be charitable- kind of stupid.  Peer reviewers aren’t perfect.  They operate with their own biases and interests as well as limitations.  One peer may love a paper whilst an equally qualified peer in another locale may loath it.  The difference lies not in the paper, essay, book, or whatever, but in the perceptions of the peer reviewer.

I’ve read utter garbage and so have you that has passed through the much vaunted ‘peer review process’.  Stupidity has appeared in every biblical studies journal that has ever existed, including JBL and CBQ and all the rest.  Meanwhile, excellent materials have been excluded because ‘peers’ found it- for whatever reason- unlikable.

In short, peer review is a crap shoot.  Nothing more.  Does it serve as sort of a first line of defense against the ignorance of dilettantism?  Sure.  But so what.  Any expert reading any journal can spot any dilettantism that slips through the cracks and appears in print.

Alongside the crap shoot nature of the peer review process, there’s fraud in them thar hills too.  And not just in the scientific community.  Perhaps you’ll recall the absurdity published by Karen King in the Harvard Theological Review after the much vaunted peer review process on that little fraudulent Jesus wife fragment… or perhaps you prefer to ignore that little bit of hooey.  The fact remains, garbage gets written and published.  Peer review can sometimes prevent it, but it can’t always.

Being ‘washed in the blood of the peer review process’ is the sacred cow of some in the guild for reasons known only to themselves.  My suspicion is that they embrace it unquestioningly because it allows them to continue to exert control as ‘insiders’ and thus to protect their ever narrowing job opportunities.  ‘Peer reviewer’ looks nice on a CV… but it’s still a sacred cow and it needs to be seen for what it is.

Even if that makes some people wince.

4 thoughts on “Peer Review: Biblical Studies’ Own Little Sacred Cow

  1. GeoffSmith 30 Jul 2015 at 12:30 pm

    Ha. Richard Baxter and Thomas Aquinas didn’t go through peer review. Of course they were churchmen, so their work doesn’t count.

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    • Jim 30 Jul 2015 at 12:36 pm

      the only ‘peer review’ calvin and luther and zwingli and augustine and jerome ever experienced was actual reading and response by the masses.

      Liked by 1 person

      • GeoffSmith 30 Jul 2015 at 12:39 pm

        The process, in reality, seems to create gatekeepers more than to make competent scholarship available.

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        • Jim 30 Jul 2015 at 12:46 pm

          it is simply another manifestation of ‘thought control’

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