By Mark Moberg
Editor, Human Organization
University of South Alabama
As I write this, the final issue of Human Organization for 2011 (v. 71, no. 4) has gone to proofs and should be delivered on time to subscribers. The issue embraces the diverse approaches and topics of the applied social sciences that readers have come to expect over the years. Among our forthcoming articles are the 2011 Malinowski Award lecture presented in Seattle by Salomón Nahmad (in both the original Spanish version and an English translation prepared by Martha Rees), as well as pieces addressing applied archaeology, farmer cooperatives, immigration policy, ecotourism, commercial fishing, and health. Human Organization now has a Facebook page which we in the editorial office are using to preview forthcoming articles and issues.
At the conclusion of my first year as journal editor, I have found the job to be most rewarding but also challenging in ways that I had not initially anticipated. By far the most frustrating aspect of the editorship is the process of soliciting peer reviews of manuscript submissions. On average, only about one in four requests results in an actual review, meaning that between eight and 12 potential reviewers must be contacted before I have secured enough readers’ reports to make an editorial decision. This is by far the leading reason for prolonged turnaround time, in some instances leading to the unhappy result that authors withdraw their papers in order to submit them elsewhere. Unfortunately, Human Organization has been deprived of some potentially stimulating and provocative scholarship as a result.
While it seems that all academics are eager to see their work in print, fewer are willing to commit the time and effort needed to ensure that the peer review process remains viable and timely. As authors, we’ve all been in that frustrating position of seeing our article or book manuscripts languishing in a liminal, unpublished state for want of reviews. For those of us who are tenured, our inability to get a prompt publication decision can be maddening, but for junior faculty such delays can amount to matters of life and death where promotion and tenure are concerned. Tempting as it is to blame potential readers for their reluctance to review, I think that it really points to the contradictory and inconsistent reward structure under which academics work. My institution (the University of South Alabama) is probably fairly typical in weighting publication and research as 40 percent of our merit evaluations for raises and promotion, while service—which would include peer review—is valued at just 10 percent. Needless to say, academics respond as any rational actor would to such incommensurate incentives; when potential readers inform me that they don’t have the time to read and comment on a manuscript, what in effect many are indicating is that they have little incentive to diminish their time commitments elsewhere.
In the long term, I hope that some of us might have a frank discussion in our departments and colleges about re-evaluating how professional service is weighted so that peer review operates seamlessly. This might involve either increasing the value of service or shifting review activities into the category of publication and research. The latter seems like a logical solution, given that it is because of a scholar’s reputation in research and publication that he or she is approached as a reviewer in the first place. In the short term, what I hope to accomplish with this brief contribution to SfAA News is to bring this issue to the attention of fellow SfAA members, and to gently urge potential reviewers to accept our invitations to review for Human Organization. I realize that reviewing pays few dividends for career advancement or promotion; without it, however, the timely dissemination of our scholarship becomes all that more difficult to achieve.