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The real “scoop” of the so-called Jesus’ Wife Gospel: the transformation of the peer-review process

Whatever the so-called “Jesus’ Wife Gospel” is authentic or not, the media marketing around this fragment has the advantage of making more visible the presence of women in Ancient Christianities and speaking to a wide audience about some Gnostic texts such as the Gospel of Philip. This is of benefit in itself.

But the authentic “scoop” of this announcement stands at another level: in an article written by Jeanna Bryner in LiveScience, on the 19th of October, we learn that the Harvard Theological Review renounces to publish Karen King’s article in in the  January 2013 issue, a draft of which is available online. As I suggested in another blog, the most interesting point of this episode is probably its impact in terms of digital culture. It forecasts and figures the transformation of the peer-review process of the scientific articles in Humanities, a strongly established point in the scholarly life.

The withdrawal of the article by HTR raised diverse reactions, as J. Bryner informs us: Andrew Bernhard, an Oxford university graduate, considers that it is an historical moment in the academic process, with a moove to more transparence and openess in the peer-review process. Hershel Shanks (Biblical Archeogical Society) considers this withdrawing as a «shame» and something «coward», whereas Robert Bagnall waits prudently for the more recent analysis of the document.

We have here an interesting example of the turning-point announced by Kathleen Fitzpatrick in her excellent book Planned Obsolescence. Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, available online: «I want to suggest that the time has come for us to consider whether, really, we might all be better served by separating the question of credentialing from the publishing process, by allowing everything through the gate, and by designing a post-publication peer review process taht focuses on how a scholarly text should be received rather than whether it should be out there in the first place».

Karen King’s article’s draft leads to such a transformation. First, it mentions some opinions of the peer-reviewers of the article, something unusual and new. Secondly, it is now reviewed by a number of other scholars on diverse websites, including this one. What is missing here is the centralisation and the moderation of the debate. As I told in my preceding blog, the Harvard Divinity School did not dare to propose also a blog / forum of discussion, kind of a first «post-publication peer-review » process of the draft article. It should have been done, it should be done, rather than to count of an old mode of publication in a journal.

A historical point of view is here required: at the 17th century, the scientific journals emerged, because they were because they were a more appropriate means of quickly diffusing opinions. In the English speaking world, the «Philosophical Transactions» have begun to s to disseminate widely scientific articles from 1662. In the French speaking world, as Dominique Vinck reminds (Hermès 57, 2010), the «Journal des Savants» succeded in 1665 to the informal network of scientific letters, held by Father Mersenne with 200 scholars in Europe.

It is almost evident to assert today that we are facing a similar turn. The quality of the scientific exchanges requires now the transformation of the academic literary production. As Kathleen Fitzpatrick proposes it, one has now to dissociate the moment of the publication from this one of the credentialing. One needs an efficient post-publication peer-review process, with the moderation of the opinions of the best scholars in the field.

If we go in that direction, we will only realize what Charles S. Pierce discribed several decades ago:«The very origin of the conception of reality shows that this conception essentially involves the notion of a COMMUNITY, without definite limits, and capable of an indefinite increase of knowledge. And so those two series of cognitions – the real and the unreal – consist of those which, at a time sufficiently future, the community will always continue to reaffirm; and of those which, under the same conditions, will ever after be denied» (Peirce, The Essential Peirce, vol. 1, Houser et alii (ed.), p. 52).

Claire Clivaz

Claire Clivaz is Head of Digital Enhanced Learning at the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (VITAL-IT, Lausanne, CH) and belongs to an interdisciplinary team that started the Digital Humanities in Switzerland since 2011. She is also a member of the LADHUL (www.unil.ch/ladhul). This blog assumes to developp opinions and discussions on all the events and problematics around the Digital Humanities, particularly in the French speaking aerea.

Claire Clivaz est Head of Digital Enhanced Learning à l’Institut Suisse de Bioinformatique (Lausanne, CH) et appartient à une équipe interdisciplinaire qui a lancé les Humanités Digitales en Suisse depuis 2011. Elle est membre du Ladhul (www.unil.ch/ladhul). Ce blog se propose de présenter et développer des sujets de discussions sur les événements et problématiques touchant aux Humanités Digitales, notamment dans l’ère linguistique et culturelle francophone.

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