I personally know a few authors who have received negative book reviews that, in their opinion, were not just negative but in some way(s) below an "appropriate scholarly standard." Now, presumably, no one likes to receive a negative review--and in some cases one may simply be upset at receiving one. Some book reviews, however, arguably are below an appropriate scholarly standard--for instance, by simply stating the reviewer's opinions/biases without much, or any, argumentation in support of their negative assertions. I have read reviews like this recently, where a reviewer boldly states, "This book is bad in respect X", but without any further justification for why anyone should actually believe the book is bad at X.
Now, of course, one way to respond to this issue is to simply trust readers--trust them, that is, to tell the difference between conscientious, well-reasoned reviews and less conscientious, poorly reasoned ones. And indeed, I've seen cases of this online--cases where someone shares a poorly reasoned book review on social media, and everyone basically agrees it is a terrible review.
Still, given the stakes involved--given that poor reviews could potentially undermine a person's case for tenure or promotion, not to mention their perception in the discipline--several questions come to my mind:
1. Do journal/book review editors hold reviews to basic scholarly/philosophical standards? If not, should they?
I'm not in the position of answering the empirical question here, and so would be grateful if people in a position to know were to chime in. Whatever the case, it seems to me the normative question is clearer: editors should insist on basic standards of scholarship/argumentation in reviews. For an academic discipline to have intellectual integrity--for it to be based on ideas and arguments, rather than mere opinion, biases, etc.--it seems to me that published work, particularly published evaluations of others' work, be held to basic standards of argumentation. In the case of book reviews, this means that instead of merely asserting, "The book is bad in respect X", the reviewer should be expected to argue that the work is deficient in that respect, showing readers precisely how the book goes astray.
Of course, book reviews typically have strict word limits, and so there is the question of how much in the way of argumentation can be given. Still, it seems to me that actual argumentation should be expected, and that reviewers should have to decide which critiques are both important and can substantiated in a brief review.
2. Is there any element of "peer-review" when it comes to book reviews? Should there be?
Although I don't think it would probably be feasible to actually send out book reviews to reviewers, it seems to me that a book review editor should take a role in reading reviews to make sure that they satisfy the basic standards of argumentation mentioned above--and that if a review editor reads a review and sees that it does not give a good faith attempt to justify its critiques, they should probably send it back to the reviewer asking for revisions to substantiate the reviewer's claims.
3. Are book authors involved in the review process before publication? Should they be
I once had a negative review I wrote sent out to the author before publication, and while I was a bit taken aback by the experience (I wasn't aware at the time that sometimes book reviews are sent to authors before publication), it actually did end up helping me out in revising the review, enabling me to make what I take to be a more accurate critique. So, I am a bit uncertain on this one. On the one hand, it runs the risk of authors putting undue pressure on reviewers to soften up negative reviews. On the other hand, bringing authors into the fold might lead to better, more conscientious reviews--enabling authors to clear up misreadings, etc., before a negative review is finished and published.
4. Do journal editors set aside space for author responses? Should they?
I've seen more than a few authors respond to negative book reviews on their own websites, on academia.edu, and elsewhere. But, given that journals tend to be the primary place people go to read articles, book reviews, etc., it seems to me that there should probably be some opportunity for authors to respond. Such an opportunity should of course, I think, be a conditional one: one conditional upon some kind of peer-review for the response--a process to ensure that authors actually have to argue effectively that the initial review was seriously deficient.
Anyway, these are really just questions I have, more than anything else. They're not a critique or meant to be any sort of complaint about the current book review system. They're simply some questions, and thoughts, that arose in my mind in response to some recent reviews I've come across.
I'm curious to hear what everyone thinks!