Comparing Peer-review Across Disciplines

So far, for 2017, I have published 4 peer-reviewed articles, linking a variety of disciplines: history, economic history, philosophy of history, and law.  I’ve noticed a clear difference in the peer-review standards across disciplines and journals.

My article on the linguistic evolution of the term “The Bill of Rights” called  “How the First Ten Amendments Became Known as the Bill of Rights”  was an invited contribution through Georgetown Law School, where I presented the article in a special Seminar on the Bill of Rights in the fall of 2016. The commentators at that seminar gave me good suggestions for how to revise the article, but there were no blind peer-reviewers at the journal who sent me comments. Instead, the Georgetown Journal of Law and Public Policy, like most law journals, I am told, leaves the content of the articles up to the authors, and focuses instead on getting all of the footnotes correct. Law review editors, it seems, have a lot of pull in deciding what gets accepted into the journal. It is a market-like structure, in which scholars are attempting to publish their articles in the highest rated law journals, and can submit these articles to multiple journals at the same time. The author’s incentive is to write clear, well-cited studies that appeal to law students who run the journal.

I also published a history article in the top history journal in the Netherlands.  Titled “A Dutch Confederate: Charles Liernur Defends Slavery in America“, I first submitted the article to the journal BMGN: Low Countries Review in the spring of 2015. I waited 10 months for reviewers to return comments, and was pleased to learn that the article was accepted  on the first round. I had edits to make however, and a correspondence with the editor lasted another full year before the article was in the hands of the copy-editor. The editorial team was friendly and helpful, and while they were also fairly efficient, they were thorough beyond measure. The length of this peer-review process affirmed my statement that a historian’s CV is a reflection of what they were two years ago. The journal limits its articles to 8,000 words, which is relatively short for historians. I had originally prepared it at 12,000 words, so cutting was painful.

My article “Why historians have failed to recognize Misess Theory and History” has been published in the Review of Austrian Economics, in a special issue that I helped put together:   To read it click here: http://rdcu.be/tc7o  Feel free to share the link.  The peer-review process here was quick and efficient. I received no comments from any reviewers. I had minimal edits from the copy-editor. Most of all, the copy-editing was concerned with getting the citation format correct.

My article on “McCloskey and the Dutch: Capitalist Rhetoric and the Economic History of Holland ” is out now in the Journal of Private Enterprise. Like the previous journal, I received no comments from peer reviewers and the copy-editors were mostly concerned with the citations.

I am left with a few observations: I imagine that top journals in economics and law are more rigorous and thorough, with rounds of peer-review. But from my anecdotal experience, articles in history journals face greater constraints. History articles are 10,000 words on average, while economics articles can be much shorter. Law articles tend to be very long, but most of it is footnoting and literature review. The turnaround time for econ publications tends be very quick. Law articles go through serious copy-editing, but they are always published within a year of submission.

The takeaway for historians is this: if you want to publish more; if you need to hit a certain number of publications (with less concern for quality) for tenure review or other promotion, try to publish in other disciplines. You can publish shorter articles more quickly with less effort put into revision and editing.

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