Carnegie Mellon University

From communalism to crowdsourcing: How values shape peer review at scientific journals

Author: Necia Kay Werner
Degree: Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Carnegie Mellon University, 2011

In rhetorical theory and criticism, values have been shown to function in discourse as powerful rhetorical resources; by invoking abstract concepts that the audience deems inherently virtuous and praiseworthy (or, in contrast, repugnant and blameworthy), and situating these concepts within an argumentative framework, the rhetor can marshal shared values in the service of championing a new idea, or moving the audience to act. This dissertation employs rhetorical and discourse analytic methods to investigate the role that values play in shaping peer review policies at scientific journals during moments of controversy and change. Three case studies in the history of peer review spotlight moments in which editorial policies and rhetorical exigencies collide, resulting in discourse that praises or blames particular policies. Case one investigates formative moments at the Philosophical Transactions that allowed new policies to emerge, including review by committee and written reviews. Case two analyzes editorial responses to a controversial and landmark peer review study that suggested referees at psychology journals are biased and that blind review should be adopted. Case three considers a digital native journal that pioneered an early model of open or "crowdsourced" review. In each of these cases, editors' arguments are mined for the values evinced in support of preferences for one peer review policy over another. Results suggest the following: 1) personal, social, and scientific values all play a role in the defense or rejection of particular peer review policies; 2) editorial decision makers do not necessarily share these values; 3) many of the values that are considered part and parcel of contemporary science (for example, the idea of communalism, which prizes open communication over secrecy) were at one time nascent values that had to be argued for, and; 4) when viewed diachronically in arguments across time, the meanings of epistemic values are stretched and refined to fit new rhetorical contexts. This dissertation contributes to current discussions about values in science by illustrating the ways in which both epistemic and non-epistemic values shape the policies that govern scientific publishing. Additionally, it invites readers to consider an expanded view of the rhetorical function of values in argumentative discourse by acknowledging the ways in which they are provisional, emergent, and responsive to the rhetorical situations in which they are invoked.