What does the ‘J’ in ‘PeerJ’ stand for?

It’s a question that comes up frequently. Usually we follow with a joke that “Peer” is just “Peter” with the T missing, and ‘J’ is for Jason. That’s a good soundbite, but as it happens, there’s a deeper explanation.

We often hear how the concept of the “journal” is dated, or dead even. With the advent of the Internet and unlimited space for articles and seamless distribution, indeed, the journal as a physical medium is no longer strictly necessary to communicate research findings. Yet, we still cling to the idea of what the journal represents.

The journal represents a belief shared by a majority of the academic community that what is being presented has undergone some sort of rigor to meet a level of standard. This was borne out of a tradition dating back centuries. Had the Internet existed 300 years ago, we wouldn’t have such sentimental feeling towards the journal as we do today; rather, those sentiments would be toward whatever representation of science developed over 300 years of having the Internet. 

Hence, the journal, whether logical or not, carries sentimental weight that connects us to the past. And we tend to the think of the past in many situations as the ground truth; again it doesn’t matter whether that is indeed true or not. The past seems magical and pure. Our logic though tells us that the days of the journal have past, and the journal or article of the future is something else. 

The ‘J’ in PeerJ is what links us to our past heritage of the journal concept. We are not quite in the future, and so we can’t completely do away with the journal for its cherished idealism just yet. The ‘J’ makes us more comfortable in this transitory state, whether we realize that or admit to it. It represents both change, and that tie to tradition. The journal is dead, but it’s nice to hold on to it for a little while.