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Friday, December 19, 2014

Mission Creep of Peer review

Composer / musicologist Kyle Gann on Peer Review
A quotation is an ornament to a piece of writing when the quoted phrase is so striking and memorable that the author couldn’t have come up with anything as evocative himself. But if I can state an idea clearly (and little academic writing is as readable as mine), why would it carry more authority if put into a sentence I stole from another writer? If what I say is false, and its falsity has been demonstrated in a previous publication, then I should be told to do my homework. But if what I say is demonstrably true, what does it matter whether someone else has said it before? We are not medieval monks, that we fear to record the fact in front of us unless we can find a citation for it in Aristotle.


Anonymous said...

Does this have to do with cross or (new word) postdiciplinarity? I notice people doing it when they are referring to common knowledge that is new to them. "Jonathan Mayhew points out that FGL is a major Spanish poet." And this gets past peer review and editors because they are also not aware that this is not an obscure fact and you are not its discoverer. Do you think?

Vance Maverick said...

Not in Gann's example, which is musicologists writing about Ives, creating mosaics of prior texts by musicologists on Ives.

Situating one's work in a discipline and a conversation is good, but it's weird rhetoric to let that dominate what one says.

el curioso impertinente said...

There are at least two things going on here. Gann talks about other scholars (who don't agree with him) obstructing his work by objecting to his lack of citation. OK. But much peer review has to do with work produced by scholars who have put in less than 100% effort, and think they're saying something new, whereas in fact it's been said before. This is academic laziness. Not OK.

The other thing is a kind of sophistry in Gann's argument. He writes: "But if what I say is demonstrably true, what does it matter whether someone else has said it before?" But is he talking about commonly-known facts, or analysis, or insights, or personal interpretations, or conjectural theories? In some cases it does matter if someone's said it before, and failure to acknowledge this, in a world where ever more stuff is being written, is a growing problem.

Jonathan said...

A conjectural theory would not be "demonstrably true." Obviously there's a certain margin for making obvious observations without checking to see if any critic has made them before. It depends on the distinctiveness of the proposition, too. That Ives uses a certain chord, vs. that he is influenced by Gregorian chant in a very interesting way that nobody has ever noticed. If you're making the latter claim, you should make sure nobody's said it.