An Innovation in Business Ethics Scholarship

As of a couple of weeks ago, I’m now co-editor and co-publisher of an innovative new publication that aims to shake up the somewhat stodgy world of academic business-ethics publishing. The Business Ethics Journal Review (BEJR) is a cutting-edge online publication: it’s a free, open-access journal that publishes peer-reviewed commentaries on scholarly articles published in mainstream academic journals.

That may not sound all that exciting to those not firmly ensconced in the ivory tower, so let me explain why it’s worthy of note.

The business model of standard academic journals hasn’t changed in decades, perhaps centuries. The process goes like this. Scholars submit their research; editors vet it for basic adequacy, and then anonymize it and send it to other scholars for “blind review.” If the work passes muster (often after a round or two of revisions) it eventually gets published. If another scholar spots errors or confusions, he or she repeats the process, submitting a rebuttal that goes to an editor, then through the process of peer review, revision, and so on. It’s hardly a process that fosters discussion. A single back-and-forth can literally take years.

BEJR aims to change that formula radically, by leveraging the power of the internet and social media. We’re publishing online, and we’ve streamlined the review process so that we promise authors submission to publication in under 30 days. We also provide a “Comments” function on our website, so that literally anyone with an internet connection can participate in the discussion.

(An interesting aside: my co-Editor Alexei Marcoux and I have started BEJR using two laptops, some off-the-shelf software, and a consumer-grade web-hosting service. It’s taken plenty of work, but we’ve hardly broken the bank. A couple of decades ago, starting your own scholarly journal would have required taking out a second mortgage on your house.)

Broadening discussion in the realm of business ethics is no small feat. A lot of different people have an interest in business ethics, including business executives and other corporate employees, as well as consultants, activists, and academics. The problem is that although there is plenty of conversation about the topic, the conversation tends to be fragmented. Executives talk to executives and to their own employees. Activists chat amongst themselves and try to get the public interested. And academics most typically carry on isolated debates about esoteric considerations in scholarly journals that the uninitiated never dare to read. Bringing business ethics scholarship into a much more public forum holds the potential to foster real dialogue.

Of course, like anything really innovative, there’s a chance that the Business Ethics Journal Review will fall flat on its face. We’ve published half a dozen peer-reviewed commentaries so far, and our website has already seen some lively discussion, but it’s entirely possible that our initial momentum will wither, that the novelty will wear off, and that those who have expressed enthusiasm for this new format will go back to old, familiar ways.

And you know what? That’s OK. That’s what entrepreneurship is about: trying something cool, and living with the chance of failure. But for now, it’s great to be part of something that has other people saying, “Wow, what a great idea!” That’s something everyone should get the chance to experience, at least once in their lives.

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