The World Politics Review Editorial Process — An Alternative To Peer Review

Library Resources | Hampton Stephens| October 02, 2017

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Hampton Stephens, World Politics Review founder, outlines WPR’s editorial approach, which is an alternative to peer review but results in deep, analytical, timely content.

We are often asked by potential customers if World Politics Review® (WPR) is a peer-reviewed publication. When our answer is no, questions immediately follow about the methods we use to ensure the integrity of the information we publish. So, in this blog post I’d like to take a few minutes to explain how we view peer review at WPR, and what we do to maximize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages of WPR’s editorial process.

WPR’s goal is to provide analytical quality and depth that matches that of a traditional scholarly journal, with frequency and breadth demanded by a complex, fast-changing world, and our editorial process is meant to serve this goal. 

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Traditionally, librarians draw a distinction between “scholarly” and “popular” literature, and an implication of that distinction is that scholarly literature is most useful in an academic setting. Furthermore, a traditional hallmark of scholarly literature is that it is peer reviewed. So, if one accepts the premises that scholarly literature is usually peer reviewed and that scholarly literature is most useful in an academic setting, it’s not a far leap to conclude that non-peer-reviewed literature isn’t very useful in an academic setting.

With due respect to tradition, there are significant reasons not to accept this conclusion.

First of all, peer review is not appropriate for all kinds of academic literature. Peer review is most useful and appropriate as a means to validate primary research, or information that is gathered, usually by the authors themselves, directly from primary sources. In the context of primary research, peer review is “designed to prevent dissemination of irrelevant findings, unwarranted claims, unacceptable interpretations and personal views,” as this primer from California State University puts it.

Certainly, primary research plays an important role in advancing the state of knowledge in a given discipline, particularly in the sciences. But academic work isn’t only about new findings, it is also about understanding, debating and reconsidering existing knowledge, which is where secondary sources and secondary research come in. For example, few would deny that books play an important role in academic work, and yet almost all books draw on secondary research that is not peer reviewed.

WPR does not publish the kind of primary research that needs to be validated by peer review. While WPR analysts sometimes draw on primary sources, for the most part they consider and interpret existing knowledge in new ways.

In addition, part of what sets WPR apart from traditional scholarly journals on international affairs is that it operates on a very rapid editorial timeframe. The timeliness of WPR’s analysis makes it particularly useful for understanding new events and issues on the international stage, but also makes peer review impractical because that process takes so much time.

For example, one WPR contributor who also writes for peer-reviewed journals told me that an article about China they penned and submitted to a well-known scholarly journal on international affairs was finally published almost two years after submission. By the time of publication, some of the information contained in the article had been rendered irrelevant or incorrect due to changing circumstances on the ground, perhaps unsurprising for a country like China, where the pace of change in recent years has been very rapid. By contrast, WPR’s editorial process usually takes no more than a week from the time an author submits an analysis to publication. This much speedier editorial process allows WPR to publish very timely analyses on current events and issues, a quality that readers find to be helpful in a fast-changing world.

The example I often use to illustrate the utility and necessity of timeliness is the very rapid rise of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, in the Middle East. Prior to June 2014, very few people had ever heard of a group called ISIS. Less than a year later, this group controlled half of the territory of Syria and Iraq. During this period of the initial rise of ISIS, WPR published 65 separate articles on the group. Traditional scholarly journals, published just four to six times a year, and with their very long editorial lead times necessitated by peer review, were unable to get close to this level of timely coverage.

So, without the peer review process, how does WPR ensure the integrity of what we publish? We review and validate our articles in a process similar to the process used by the best journalistic publications. That is, our team of editors, who are well-versed in both the international issues we cover and in editorial best practices, evaluates the credentials of each contributor and reviews and fact-checks their writing prior to publication. A short bio indicating the credentials of the author or authors is published at the bottom of each WPR article, and users can also click on the name of any author or editor on our website to link to their author page, where in most cases a longer bio is published.

WPR’s goal is to provide analytical quality and depth that matches that of a traditional scholarly journal, with frequency and breadth demanded by a complex, fast-changing world, and our editorial process is meant to serve this goal.

It should also be noted that a significant number and proportion of WPR articles are written by peer-reviewed authors, even if WPR itself is not peer reviewed. For our contributing writers who are academics themselves, WPR represents a channel for the dissemination of their research to achieve impact beyond the academy. As a result of our rigorous editorial process, WPR subscribers can have confidence in the quality and validity of what we publish, and feel comfortable using it both inside and outside the classroom.

Outside of the classroom, WPR’s up-to-date analysis provides academics with a useful and accessible means to support and contextualize their own primary research in related disciplines.

For example, an academic affiliated with a university in the United Kingdom is studying the post-conflict transition to peace in Colombia through the lens of cultural expression. She told us that she has found useful information in WPR about political developments in the country that are relevant to her research. She mentioned as examples an article on the implications of Colombia's peace process for women and another on the LGBT community. This information provides critical context for her work, which itself will be peer reviewed.

Inside the classroom, professors frequently use both peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed resources like WPR in their teaching. Robert Looney, a distinguished professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, teaches courses in international economics, energy security, Latin American political economy and Middle East political economy. He told me that the timeliness of WPR makes it particularly useful in the classroom.

“I try to keep these classes as contemporary as possible, and I have found WPR articles extremely valuable in highlighting new relevant developments around the globe that I would otherwise miss during busy times,” he said. “In this regard, WPR pieces save me a considerable amount of time. I have found a tremendous amount of objectivity in WPR essays, and they raise issues that easily lend themselves to class discussion.”

Looney, who has also written for WPR, went on to say that, in his experience, WPR’s editorial review process does not differ much from that of peer-reviewed journals he has written for. “I have published several hundred peer-review papers, and find little difference in the process between them and my experience with [Senior Editor] Freddy [Deknatel] at WPR. Freddy fact checks to assure my statements can be backed up and are accurate. He often makes valuable suggestions to include points I have overlooked. So WPR articles differ considerably from those often found in various sites on the Internet.”

At WPR, we take very seriously our responsibility to ensure the quality and integrity of what we publish. As assaults on the very notion of objective truth become all too frequent in the culture at large, it’s important for academia to be a bulwark against these trends. We also know, however, that peer review isn’t the only way to uphold very high editorial standards, especially given the nature of what we publish and how it is used by our academic readers. I would love to hear the thoughts of EBSCOpost readers on this subject, and how publications like WPR can better gain the confidence of academic librarians and their patrons. If you have comments, please send them to info@worldpoliticsreview.com.

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Hampton Stephens

Hampton Stephens is the founder and publisher of World Politics Review, which he started with the intention of helping to create a better discourse about foreign affairs and international relations in the U.S. and around the world. Hampton has worked as a reporter covering Washington, a managing editor and a freelance writer, and has appeared as a talking head on military and foreign affairs topics for PBS, Voice of America, and other outlets. He has a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master's in Statecraft and World Politics from the Institute of World Politics in Washington D.C.

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