Academic Peer review according to Michelle Lamont: The findings

by Jennifer Eve Appleton

Lamont wanted to “open the Black Box of peer review” giving authors of the work being evaluated a better understanding of what happens when the fruits of their labour are being scrutinized. She says, “I also want the older, established scholars — the gate keepers — to think hard and think again about the limits of what they are doing, particularly when they define ‘what is exciting’ as ‘what most looks like me (or my work).’ ”

During her study she also tried to discover whether “excellence” is defined in the same way by different academics, the quality that peer review theoretically should promote. Ultimately in her book Lamont states that she is not convinced it exists.

“I think excellence means nothing,I think you have to give the criteria. Typically it’s originality, feasibility, and also the social and intellectual significance. There is nothing wrong with those definitions per se, but people shouldn’t pretend they equate with some scientific measure of excellence, as other criteria could be used as well.”

The results of Lamonts study showed that the most frequent flaw that was encountered was that of professors being slightly biased in that they favoured work that has elements which they are personally interested in. Lamont says, ‘“People define what is exciting as what speaks to their own personal interest, and their own research.”

The book depicts scholarly peer review with academic panels looking to review a stack of papers and decide for example which authors will get their funding proposals granted. ‘How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment’ could shine shine light on the way a scientists mind works when reading their peers work and what inspires them to cite different papers.

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