Peer reviewers: the unsung heroes of the academy

September 17, 2019

Written by guest blogger David Dyzenhaus.

As editor of the University of Toronto Law Journal, I follow my predecessors in taking the peer review process very seriously.

Finding reviewers is often difficult. While the reward people get is the knowledge that they are making a significant contribution to scholarship, there is no real public acknowledgement of their contribution and, given that the request comes when there are always many more pressing tasks, it is both hard to get people to agree to review and then often hard to get them to deliver. Editors spend a lot of time being pesky nags!

Still, I am continually heartened by the fact that people do agree to do this task, that often leaders in their field are willing to help, and that for the most part a lot of work goes into providing a full and fair report. Indeed, it is almost a rule of thumb that the more accomplished the academic, and the more busy they are, the more willing they are to review because they, more than their less accomplished colleagues, value the discipline of responding to criticism and challenge because they know that this is the only process that we have for truly improving the quality of our work.

I am also heartened by the fact that most authors value the process. Occasionally, when I reject a paper after it has been revised once or even twice in light of the reports, the author will write to me to thank me and the reviewers for the advice which they can follow even though the paper when revised once more will have to be submitted elsewhere. As a pretty well established academic, who publishes mostly in collections that come out of conferences to which I have been invited, I know just how hard it is to get a paper to the same level as I would have achieved had I had the benefit of a peer review process. One has to prevail on colleagues and/or hire graduate research assistants in order to try to simulate what one can expect from the anonymous peer review process.

David Dyzenhaus is a University Professor of Law and Philosophy at the University of Toronto, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. In 2017-18 he was a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.

He is the author of:  Hard Cases in Wicked Legal Systems: South African Law in the Perspective of Legal Philosophy (now in its second edition); The Constitution of Law: Legality in a Time of Emergency; Legality and Legitimacy: Carl Schmitt, Hans Kelsen, and Hermann Heller in Weimar; and Judging the Judges, Judging Ourselves: Truth, Reconciliation and the Apartheid Legal Order. He is editor of the University of Toronto Law Journal and co-editor of the series Cambridge Studies in Constitutional Law.

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