Could the hallowed academic tradition of peer review get tossed? The New York Times raised the question Monday, examining attempts to update peer review for the digital era. Humanities scholars who challenge "the monopoly that peer review has on admission to career-making journals," Patricia Cohen writes, "argue that in an era of digital media there is a better way to assess the quality of work. Instead of relying on a few experts selected by leading publications, they advocate using the Internet to expose scholarly thinking to the swift collective judgment of a much broader interested audience."

Cohen recounts the experiment of The Shakespeare Quarterly, which "posted four essays not yet accepted for publication" and then invited "a core group of experts ... to post their signed comments on the Web site MediaCommons ... Others could add their thoughts as well, after registering with their own names." The editors then went in and made their final picks on what to run in the printed journal.

Will this catch on? It's possible such methods won't "replace peer review" but rather add to them. Still, Cohen identifies one "daunting obstacle" to changing anything about the process:

Peer-review publishing is the path to a job and tenure, and no would-be professor wants to be the academic canary in the coal mine.