Monday, August 23, 2010

Web Peer Review

I’m surprised and disappointed that we missed this opportunity when the Shakespeare Quarterly took to the web for peer review. They posted four essays not yet accepted for publication, and then … oh, a “core group of experts” were invited to comment.   

I thought for a minute there that it was actually a big step in the right direction, but now I’m not so sure.


JM said...

They also accepted and considered over 350 comments not from a core group of experts. Some were actually accepted and considered in the steps toward tenure and/or promotion. Seems like someone's really serious about incorporating the process into the Internet scheme of things.

So I'm a little confused about what, in your opinion Duane, would be ideal, or a "...step in the right direction" when it comes to peer review and publication.

Duane said...

Hi J,

I guess it was late because I totally missed the bit about outside comments. As for steps in the right direction, I guess I'm a little surprised, disappointed and jealous that somehow this completely escaped our attention. I'm not trying to claim that Shakespeare Geek has become the center of the online Shakespeare world, but I do spend some time actively seeking this stuff out, so for it to completely escape my notice I have to think that they weren't trying all that hard to get the word out. All they need to do is google "Shakespeare blog" and they'll find us - BardBlog, BardFilm, Mr. Shakespeare, myself...

What I think it comes down to, and I think this is where the ISC was going last week, is whose opinion really counts? If you're going to "open it up", then does that imply opening it up to anybody with a Reply button? Or must credentials enter into it? And, assuming so, what credentials must one have? Do prominent Shakespeare blogs have any? If you still need to be an established academic, then is it really opening anything up at all?

p-e-s said...

I have often wondered why, say, an English professor's opinion of Anna Karenina is worth $80k+ and mine $0. I don't buy "experience" as a valid reason.

Duane said...

Independently of context? It's not. The movie critic may hate the movie, but you may love it.

But what if the question were whether Anna Karenina was one of Tolstoy's better works? Or whether there were similar themes explored in that one and War & Peace? I could see where, in such a case, somebody who's spent a full time career gathering as much info as possible on the subject would be in a better position to comment than someone who'd simply read them once, for pleasure.

That gets back to my 'where do they draw the line' question. Many of the people that hang out here, for example, are very up to speed with their Shakespeare. We are not casual readers. But most of us aren't full time researchers, either. So what would we need to do for our opinions to have any weight?

JM said...

I think we have to be very careful not to confuse 'taste' and 'opinion' with 'experience'. Especially when selecting a surgeon, for example. :)

There are experts in every field, and their expertise has everything to do with experience. Experience = knowledge =expertise. Otherwise, the root words of expert and experience would be something else, no?

Ren du Braque said...

Hi, as I've written before, I'm in the trenches; I'm so far in the trenches that I can't see myself joining this opening-things-up thing. But I do have a dog in the why-can't-I-have-an-opinion-fight. I suppose that if the public is encouraged to participate it will learn and be drawn to Shakespeare. That's a good thing.

On the other hand, there are a number of non-experts who think of themselves as experts. Armed with only a big ego, a little post-modernism and Foucault they assert whatever comes to mind. For instance, Claudius is innocent, Shakespeare is an absolutist puritan (he was Catholic), Shakespeare is only popular because he's a faddish fashion among pointy-headed bores, etc.

You've covered that ground probably already, but what really frightens me is when this degree of authority is so bent out of shape that it becomes completely relative. For instance, on a Diane Reim show where Diane, some reporter from Slate, and a French literature professor were discussing what W. could learn from the Stranger, Diane and Slate both displayed their literary expertise and declared that Meursault was just mentally ill. If he had some prozac everything would be fine. End of story. The poor professor of literature had the horrible task of asserting the intentions of Camus and then he tried to construct a thoughtful interpretation of the book in the gale force storm of over-simplicity.

When I heard this I was stunned. No wonder the news is junk.

We need our literature professors. Guys that know something can only gain credibility after a long hard struggle with the material and until they've clearly understood what's going on. The way I see it is that those that know something without the degree are like me at work. I know more than most people here so they pay me to do this stuff, but there are people who know more and could do it better if they weren't so busy. I work hard to gain people's trust. If I'm wrong, it hurts, but I have to dust myself off and get it right... When I'm right, I have the warm fuzzy feeling that I was able to do my job, advance my point of view, convince someone else...

If I have a role regarding Shakespeare, it's the same thing. When someone says, Shakespeare's an absolutist, then I will try to figure out what in the world that person is up to. In general, (here's my second thesis) sometimes being wrong about Shakespeare is more fun than having and maintaining credibility.

As far as who gets what credibility, I defer to the professors. If I'm confused by Shakespeare I look up Harold Bloom's opinion. When I get home or in the trenches, it's really up to me.