Overview of Peer Review Practices in the SSH.
Peer review is an important method of research evaluation, and it seems that the only adequate way to evaluate SSH research involves some form of peer review. Even if bibliometrics and other quantitative ways of evaluation may provide information on some aspects of SSH research like productivity and publication strategies of research units, metrics-based indicators should be used with caution in SSH due to low coverage of SSH fields in the standard publication databases and a mismatch between dimensions of quality as defined by peers and standard bibliometric indicators. Still, peer review faces many issues and challenges. This report identifies the challenges particularly relevant for the SSH, such as different and thus often conflicting research paradigms or epistemological styles of reviewers and applicants or authors; difficulty in many SSH disciplines to define and evaluate research methodology compared to STEM disciplines; the lack of the idea of linear progress and a much longer time span necessary to evaluate academic impact of publications; the diversity of publication outputs and specific importance of books or monographs; the importance of local languages; challenges related to recent developments in research and its evaluation related to growing interdisciplinarity and the Open Science agenda. To this, the general challenges of peer review are added, such as the risk of gender bias, conservative bias, workload for all parties involved.
The report concludes that peer review fulfils different functions and that peer review practices not only need to acknowledge different disciplinary particularities but also their evaluative context. Rather than playing metrics and peer review off against each other, the focus should be on their optimal use and combination within different evaluation situations. This is especially important when it concerns the SSH because the disciplines falling under this umbrella term share the concurrency of different paradigms and a context-dependent, sometimes interpretative mode of knowledge generation and the use of a wide range of dissemination channels. This leads to a particular challenge regarding the burden of reviewers because SSH disciplines often act in a local context in national languages and include small disciplinary communities.
The SSH disciplines should develop their own ways to adequately evaluate their research, and peer review takes an important part in that. The past has shown that automatically copying evaluation procedures from STEM disciplines did not always work out well. However, the SSH community is well resourced to analyse and remediate the current tensions in research policies between funders’ expectations of societal impact and the value of academic autonomy, between the ambition of mainstreaming of SSH research and the care for specific SSH methods and practices, and not least the threatened legitimacy of science in the post-factual society. The task of the SSH community should not only be to defend the integrity of scholarly disciplines, but to contribute to the development of new practices of research assessments that may build bridges between different communities of researchers and between the world of research and society at large.