Lectures

The Invention of Peer Review

Photo by Robert CudmorePhoto by Robert CudmoreLecture by Alex Csiszar, Assistant Professor, Department of the History of Science, Harvard University

Introduced and moderated by Ann Blair, senior advisor to the humanities program, Academic Ventures, Radcliffe Institute and Harvard College Professor and Henry Charles Lea Professor of History in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Commentary by Michèle Lamont, Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies and Professor of Sociology and African and African American Studies, Harvard University

Editorial peer review has been called the lynchpin of modern science, while at the same time perceived failures in its functioning have been viewed as threatening the objectivity and authority of the enterprise. But just what are those functions, and what have they been in the past? This talk uncovers the forgotten past of peer review beginning in the 19th century, when British natural philosophers began to cobble together the customs and norms that would serve as the blueprint for 20th-century practice. Peer review did not arise from the purely internal demands of scientific groups for more dependable and objective means of separating good science from bad. Rather, it came about in the context of broader shifts in political culture, as British natural philosophers looked to renovate the public standing of their enterprise.

Alex Csiszar researches the history of scientific authorship, publishing, and information-management practices during the 19th century. He is currently completing a book on the origins of the modern scientific journal in France and Britain, which asks how a more or less unified format coalesced out of a plethora of sundry periodical genres to become the crucial institution through which to demarcate who was and who was not a scientist and what could and could not count as authoritative knowledge. He founded the Book History Writers Group at Harvard and was a resident at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin in spring 2012. Csiszar earned his PhD in the history of science from Harvard University in 2010, and he has an MA in English from Stanford University and a BSc in honors physics and mathematics from the University of British Columbia.

Lecture is free and open to the public. Doors open at 4:45 pm, and lecture begins at 5 pm. A reception will follow the lecture.