Thought Leadership
In this era of “fake news,” when many don’t trust what they read, the need for verifiable, evidence-based scholarship is at an all-time high.

Amherst College Press is already a pioneer in making scholarly publications freely available to the public—it’s an open-access press whose motto is “Free Thought.” Now it’s leading an effort to standardize one of the hallmarks of trustworthy scholarship: peer review.

The Open Society Foundations recently awarded AC Press a $33,000 grant to host a conference on scholarly publishing. That conference, organized jointly with The MIT Press, took place in January in Cambridge, Mass., with more than 30 participants. It was the first event of a group called Peer Review Transparency, which is now working to draft unified standards for peer review, and a system by which readers are notified of work that meets this standard.

Over the next month, the group plans to contact university presses and scholarly societies to invite them to this voluntary effort.

Participating presses would share a standard marker for scholarly writing, certifying that the scholarship in the publication meets the stated criteria, in much the same way that food labeling assures that your milk is fresh or your chicken is kosher.

“It’s like an underwriter’s laboratory seal,” says Mark Edington, director of AC Press.

Edington’s interest in peer review standards dates to 2013, when he joined the College as the first director of the new press. “Open access,” he acknowledges, “is widely seen as lesser in quality or rigor,” even though all AC Press books are peer-reviewed. “There is no logical connection whatsoever between the business model of open access and the review quality, but we realized pretty early on that we’ve got to address this reputation issue head-on.”

Edington hopes that standard markers will make it obvious when a press does not do enough peer review. To put it another way: an effort by AC Press to define itself in the competitive market has resulted in setting a standard that may actually change the market. B.S.