How Does Peer Review Work for Books in the Academic Discipline of History?

I know how peer review works for journal articles in Philosophy–author sends in a paper, editor sends it out to a relevant professional philosopher, that reviewer says whether to publish or not (or revise etc) and that’s the decision.

I don’t really know how peer review works for books, though. If someone has written a book in History (i.e. the academic discipline) and the book is said to be “peer reviewed,” does that mean one reviewer took a look at it, or several, or what?

Specifically, I’m wondering what it amounts to that this book is peer reviewed.

I don’t know that particular book, but it depends. Books like this may have a varying degree of fact checking depending on the preferences of the author and editor. An anonymous peer review such as what one expects in an academic journal would be unusual IME.
Edited, book-sized collections of separately-written chapters are in between. I have a chapter in one such book. The editor said he would send chapters out for peer review if he felt it warranted. AFAIK he did not with mine. It was a review article, so no new science was presented.

Please pardon the reading comprehension fail. You specifically asked about history, of which I have little knowledge.

I was under the impression that books are never peer-reviewed. Only journal articles are.

Peer review is not mentioned in that link. Why do you think it was?

The author advertises it as such (ctrl-F it), and this NT historian anticipated it as such about a year ago.

And digging just a bit deeper, from this site:

Oh dammit, I have read that before, and completely forgot about.

My apologies everyone.

I think we first need to agree on a definition of “peer reviewed”. If I submit a paper to a physics journal, they send the paper to physicists of their choosing. The Jesus text was read/reviewed by people the author chose. Big difference.

True, although I always recommend reviewers. And the chemistry journal editors I know often stick to the submitted list.

Indeed. And it seems to me the author did so mainly in order to be able to make that claim.

I think what the OP is really asking is, and certainly the question that would be foremost in my mind, is how do we know a book like this is credible. And the answer, in brief, is that we don’t. Ruken and Exapno Mapcase both raise relevant points in that there is no predetermined peer review process for books as there is for papers submitted to journals, which usually means none at all. Publication by a reputable house like a major university press generally indicates that the author meets some reasonable threshold of credentials and competence, but no more than that (especially if the author – as sometimes happens – ventures outside his field of primary competence).

I was curious about this book only because it’s an area of casual interest to me, having read Reza Aslan’s “Zealot”, an impressive work which is diametrically at odds with Carrier’s book. What I think can be fairly said is that Aslan is a qualified Biblical scholar while Carrier is not, and that Aslan wrote a scholarly book based on 20 years of research while Carrier seems motivated by his background as a crusading atheist. There are some comments on the book here.

I did some Googling and I can’t find any evidence that Sheffield-Phoenix ever requires peer review for any of its books. It does for a journal that it publishes and those are the only hits that come up outside of Carrier’s book.

My supposition is that Carrier made a special effort because of the nature of the book, solely to be able to preempt the expected criticism.

In the comments section to the linked blog entry, Carrier is intimating (I think, if I’m reading it correctly) that what occured with this book is like that–he recommended reviewers to the publisher, and the publisher took at least some of those recommendations.

Carrier won’t say who the reviewers are, but characterizes them as “major NT scholars.”

But it’s not clear if there was any decision made by the reviewers and publisher together, or whether all the substantive conversation was between Carrier and the reviewers.

The whole thing is fishy as hell. I think it’s fair to say that something as outlandishly contentious as the claims that Carrier is making, if submitted as a journal paper, would receive far more scrutiny than a couple of reviewers of the author’s own choosing. Garbage papers that expose peer review failures are not beloved by editorial boards.

I should mention, BTW, that Reza Aslan is hardly taking a conventional Christian stance on the subject, either, arguing as he does that Jesus was much more a political revolutionary than a religious figure, and has been much criticized for it by religious factions. The preposterousness of Carrier’s thesis is that he never existed at all.

I could write a paper touting my ear candling techniques and submit it along with reviewers of my choosing. Just sayin.

I have done peer reviewing of philosophy/cognitive science books (monographs) for publishers, sometimes on a detailed book proposal/outline, and, in one case, on a complete manuscript (which I strongly recommended should be rejected, incidentally). Unlike reviewing for journals (which I have also done) I was paid a small fee.

I think when we are talking about edited volumes of essays, rather than monographs, the publishers rely on the volume’s editors to ensure academic quality. The essays will generally be by authors specifically invited by the editors. It is not as rigorous a process as the peer review used by journals, but there is still quality control by the editors (who will themselves have to have convinced the publishers that they have a sufficiently good reputation to be able to do the job and produce a salable book). Probably book editors do sometimes send out contributions for external peer review also.

I expect it works the same way, more or less, for academic history, although the fact that many historical monographs are written for a relatively wide audience, not just academics, may make a difference, such that more ordinary considerations of marketability to a popular audience come into play. I would not be at all surprised if quite a bit of academically unsound history gets published, because the publisher think it will sell, perhaps because its takes an extreme position, or flatters certain political prejudices. This is not going to happen so much in most other academic fields, where the demarcation between the professional and the popular literature is usually much clearer.

I emailed the publisher, as follows:

and got this reply:

I prefer the frank, honest, “fuck off” reply.

So let’s summarize:

[li]Richard Carrier has written a book that contradicts virtually all existing scholarship on the subject[/li]
[li]He claims it was peer reviewed by two reviewers that he selected, but he refuses to say who they are[/li]
[li]The publisher assures everyone that the book was peer reviewed, but refuses to describe the process or provide any further information[/li][/ul]
Does that about cover it?

Yes. But Carrier makes good arguments though. :wink: