History of scientific peer review

Editorial peer review is known implicitly to scholars of all contemporary academic disciplines because it is a mechanism by which professional status and reputation are secured through publication and also because it is the indirect means by which new knowledge is presumably vetted according to impartial research standards. There is now a wealth of contemporary literature that complains about the drawbacks or outright failings of the peer review process in scientific publication, which indicates the usefulness of understanding its earliest origins and development.

Although aspects of the history of scientific publishing have been addressed—such as the advent of journal publication itself and the development of the research article as a genre—the history of the editorial peer review process has not been comprehensively examined to date. It is a difficult subject to consider at any point in its development because it has always been a relatively concealed process. It appears that many scholars assume that the Royal Society of London can be credited with having instantiated the practice in an attempt to satisfy the same needs, perceptions, and motivations that inform more contemporary publication oversight. Yet the different characters of the two most distinct and influential scientific societies on the European continent and British Islands during the centuries in which editorial peer review was in its pre-professional stages gave rise to networking structures and communication practices that were not homogeneous or synchronous with one another.

It is the purpose of this presentation to suggest the most appropriate contexts for the study of the early evolution of editorial peer review in the sciences, namely its origins in France and England during the mid-seventeenth century. There is enough evidence to suggest that the sociological and rhetorical epistemologies that have come to undergird the value placed upon editorial peer review actually originated in Paris rather than London.

History of Editorial Peer Review in Scientific Journals: Factors Influencing Publication in French and English Scientific Society, 1665-1830 was presented by Stacy Wykle on April 3rd, 2014.

Stacy Wykle is a doctoral student at GSLIS, and is an advisee of Prof. Alistair Black.

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