In a thoughtful blog post, Le véritable scoop de «l’Evangile de la femme de Jésus»: la transformation des normes de publication académique (peer-review) (poor translation here), Claire Clivas argues that this represents an important moment in the history of peer review in the humanities:
. . . . le point le plus intéressant de cet épisode médiatique est sans doute son impact en termes de culture digitale, et la transformation qu’il annonce du système «peer-review» des articles scientifiques en sciences humaines, pilier sans faille du débat et de la promotion académique.
. . . . the most interesting point in this episode is probably its impact in terms of digital culture. It forecasts and figures the transformation of the peer-review process of scientific articles in the humanities, a strongly established point in scholarly life.The post is all worth reading. What I think makes the recent episode unique, though, is its peculiar half-way house between traditional peer review and online publication. When the discovery was announced, I was delighted to see that the draft of the article had been made available for experts alongside FAQs for the general reader.
But what makes this episode unusual is the apparent change from a firm "forthcoming" in the first published draft ("Forthcoming Harvard Theological Review 106:1, January 2013", bottom right of every page) to the more tentative "provisionally accepted" in the second published draft ("Provisionally accepted by Harvard Theological Review", bottom right of every page). I don't recall having seen anything like this before, an article at first apparently accepted and scheduled for publication and subsequently provisionally withdrawn.
What has become more common in recent years has been the publication of drafts of articles before they have been submitted to journals, something that turns the wider public into an extension of the conference audience, able to comment on, criticize and refine work in progress. I've often done that myself, but I then withdraw the article from public view at the point when I submit for peer review.
What is also becoming increasingly common is the publication on the internet of articles that are actually "in press" in the journal in question. JBL, for example, allows authors of scheduled in-press articles to pre-publish on their own websites.
I think the recent episode, on the other hand, is unprecedented in its half-way house status, between the publication of drafts of work in progress and the pre-publication of in-press work. I suspect, therefore, that this is not a transformative moment in the history of peer review and the digital humanities, but rather something quite unusual. The media spotlight and extensive coverage has surely also made this episode quite unlike any other.