Conference theme

Scientific Communication and Gatekeeping in Academia in the 21st Century

In order to further research and education, the scientific community depends on guardian angels and gatekeepers. While their aims, roles and functions differ, they are both crucial to the quality and legitimacy of the scientific community, its institutions and performance. The research units Studies in Educational Philosophy and Educational Policy (STEP) at Uppsala University and KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Engineering Education Policy and Management welcome you to Uppsala, Sweden on the 24th and 25th of May. We aim to theorize and compare practices of scientific communication and gatekeeping, more specifically the specific academic evaluation system known as peer review.

The roots of the gatekeeper can be found in the assessment practices of reviewers and editors of scholarly journals in deciding on the acceptability of papers submitted for publication. From the outset, the qualifications of the judges of scientific quality were stressed. Only peers with recognized scholarly standing in the field were acknowledged as experts. Over time, the peer review practice of scientific communication evolved, became institutionalized and migrated to other contexts.

During the last decades, higher education institutions worldwide have also experienced the emergence and manifestations of the quality movement in terms of reviews, audits and evaluations of research units and educational programs. This movement is part of different but interrelated processes such as massification, marketization and managerialism at higher education institutions. Competition, comparison and ranking stand out as keywords, and peer review as the specific method to identify quality. Through organizations at international, national and institutional levels a variety of technologies have been introduced to identify, measure and compare the performance of higher education institutions.

Moreover, peer review regulates both entrance into and exit from doctoral education. In addition, processes of recruitment include peer reviewers’ assessments and rankings of applicants’ merits. Often, reviewers are expected to assess not only scientific skills but also educational skills and at times administrative and leadership competencies. In many higher education institutions, peer review is the foundation of the possibility of tenure as well as promotion to higher positions. In other words, peer review is a cornerstone of the academic career system.

Similarly, peers are at the centre of international and national systems of research funding and the allocation of scarce resources. As members of panels and boards, peers take part in processes determining research grants, post-doctoral grants and awards of various kinds. Put differently, peer review in the research funding process is a significant factor in the decision not only for who gets the opportunity to conduct research, but also regarding which ideas and what kinds of scientific knowledge will be furthered.