The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Peer review: a quick query

July 7, 2008

I’ve written before on issues related to the state of peer review. The topic comes up frequently on many academic blogs. But having just received the final report on a manuscript I reviewed (note: not that I wrote), I feel compelled to ask the following question:

Given the ABYSMAL level of professionalism among peer reviewers, why do we continue to place so much stock in peer-reviewed publications in International Relations?

I wish I could say more about the review that sent me (yet again) over the edge, but I feel comfortable pointing out that writing ten sentences on a long, well-developed, and sophisticated paper constitutes the peer-review equivalent of gross negligence–even without a pat (and inaccurate) appeal to the history of political thought as grounds for dismissing multiple pages of argumentation in a manuscript.

On this general note, it might be cathartic if a few of our readers contributed their favorite peer-review phrases that fall into one of two categories.

First, those that should never, ever appear in a peer review, such as:”this manuscript reads like a seminar paper” or “if [concept/theory/position] means anything, it means [something other than what the author has spent many pages demonstrating]”

Second, those that require translation for a reader to understand their actual meaning, such as: “readers of [journal name] are unlikely to be interested in this manuscript” or “I will evaluate the manuscript on its own terms.”

(The former really means, of course, “I wasn’t interested in this manuscript” while the latter translates as “I will launch an external critique of the paper that ignores the author’s scope conditions.”)

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.