This is my third and final post in a (rather impromptu) mini-series on academic journals and their place in the 21st century landscape. You may want to read my previous two posts here and here before reading this one?
To find a new enlightening and inspiring idea (as distinct from finding a recipe for getting safely through the peer-built barricade), browsing through thousands of journal pages is all too often called for. With my tongue in one cheek only, I’d suggest that were our Palaeolithic ancestors to discover the peer-review dredger, we would still be sitting in caves… (Zygmunt Bauman)
In my previous posts on academic journals I’ve compared them unfavourably – either explicitly or implicitly – with the kind of informal ‘peer review’ that happens through blogs and social media. Some commenters have assumed that this means that, like Bauman (see above) I’m completely against peer review. I’m not.
Peer review is valuable. In fact, it’s so important we need a (re)new(ed) academic ecosystem to protect it.
I’m all for new systems such as hypothes.is which provides an open, distributed peer review layer for the web. Although I don’t want to go into it in too much depth here, academia is one of the few unreformed areas with outdated power structures and glass ceilings.
As Stephen Thomas pointed out in the comments to my previous post, academic journals have, and still do, play an important role in both establishing precedent and providing a quality filter. This is important (most of the time).
But, as Dan Meyer pointed out in the quotation making up the bulk of my first post in this series, it’s the edifice that’s built upon the academic journal system that’s problematic:
The incentive seems strange to me… I don’t understand this brass ring I’m chasing. (Dan Meyer)
This academic edifice is built upon other perceived ‘advantages’ of academic journals, including:
Dissemination of work
Contact with others inside and outside field
Academics, unfortunately, have ended up inventing a stick with which they can be beaten. In the UK, the Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a crude instrument looking a research outputs. Career progression (and therefore status) depends upon disseminating work in journals that are, all too often, closed and paywalled.
Part of the answer, I agree, comes through academic journals becoming open access. That’s a step in the right direction (even if it does smack a little of Henry Ford’s ‘faster horses‘). Going further, something more like Alan Cann’s experiments around open peer review could work. But, realistically, we need something a bit more radical.
How can we save peer review whilst democratising and reforming higher education?
I leave you with the words of Frances Bell, who commented on my previous post:
What I suspect is that more research needs to be done on how, for example. scholarly societies can support research, scholarship and practice in a digital age. (Frances Bell)
Until the late seventeenth century, communication between scholars depended heavily on personal contact and attending meetings arranged by the early learned societies (e.g. the Royal Society). As the membership of these societies increased, more people could not attend the meetings and so the Proceedings, usually circulated as a record of the last meeting became a place to publish papers that had not been presented at the meetings at all and moved towards what we now recognise as scholarly journals. (Wells, 1999)
So journals are a replacement for personal contact.
Are they good for anything else? Brown (1997) cites the following:
distributed (many copies are stored in many places)
scholars trust and understand the system
journals have prestige built up over many years
portable and easy to read
Which of the above benefits either (a) cannot, or (b) are not currently able to be replicated by another system?
Some would argue that an important difference between (for example) a blog post and a journal article is that the latter has been formally peer reviewed.
However, as even the editor of The Lancet points out:
The mistake, of course, is to have thought that peer review was any more than a crude means of discovering the acceptability — not the validity — of a new finding. Editors and scientists alike insist on the pivotal importance of peer review. We portray peer review to the public as a quasi-sacred process that helps to make science our most objective truth teller. But we know that the system of peer review is biased, unjust, unaccountable, incomplete, easily fixed, often insulting, usually ignorant, occasionally foolish, and frequently wrong. (Horton, 2000)
Just how big do the cracks in the ivory tower have to get before the whole edifice tumbles?
Odlyzko (September 1997) points out that there was an “extensive resistance to print by scholars” in Gutenberg’s time which included calls to ban the new technology because only trash was getting into print and books were not as durable as parchment. The reaction to the Web of today’s scholars has largely echoed the reaction of scholars to the printing press in the 15th century. (Well, 1999)
Is the only reason we persist with journals and their articles is because they provide a convenient means to weigh the pig?
Today’s a big day in my life. This afternoon I’m heading to Durham to hand in what I’ve been calling on Twitter the #neverendingthesis. That hashtag, of course, is more-than-slightly disingenuous given that I’m submitting it almost two years early. At first, the #neverendingthesis thing was just a bit of fun. However, as I came closer and closer to submitting it I realised that I was feeling what George Lucas must have been feeling when he said, “A movie is never finished, only abandoned”. Making my thesis available online in a wiki format will allow me to tinker in the months and years to come.
Up to this point, and ever since I started writing it, my thesis has been available at dougbelshaw.com/thesis. That now redirects to neverendingthesis.com where you can download a Word or PDF version of my thesis in the form I will be submitting today. I don’t believe that anyone ‘owns’ ideas and, as such, am waiving all claims to copyright. Just like this blog, my thesis: What is ‘digital literacy’? A Pragmatic investigation is available under a CC0 license.
I won’t use this space to thank people as I do that in the thesis itself. If you’re interested in the journey I’ve taken over the last four years whilst I’ve been working on my thesis, I’d encourage you to check out the Preface and Appendix 3. Re-reading the Preface in particular made me well up a little last night…
What am I going to do with my spare time now? I’ve been in formal education for 26 years!
Please note that this will be last of these posts for this year. I’ll be back in 2011 [why?]
Offline this week I learned that there’s literally two types of people in the world (Dweck was correct!), that ‘female festive frenzy’ is now a term in general use, and that brandy hot chocolate is almost always better without the chocolate… :-p
Dropbox is now available for Teams. Looks like a good deal for small businesses, although I think they’ve missed a trick by not also targetting education. This would be awesome for educational institutions!
[T]here is a class of random walks called Lévy flights, which include occasional long-distance jumps. The distribution of step sizes is described by a power law, which means that there are steps of all sizes and no well-defined “average” step size, at least for one class of Lévy flights. They have been observed in various natural settings, most famously in the search strategy of certain animals when food is scarce. For example, hungry sharks will typically scour back and forth over small areas, but if the search is fruitless, they will intermittently “jump” to new, far-off areas . “People have also [studied] Lévy flights in stock prices, epidemics, and small world networks,” says Ajay Gopinathan, from the University of California, Merced.
Check out the Top 10 Weird New Animals according to National Geographic. These have all been discovered in 2010. The Sneezing Snub-nosed Monkey looks interesting. Shame the only known example was shot and eaten…
In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. (George Orwell)
In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. (Albert Camus)
The people who matter will recognise who you are. (Alan Cohen)
Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun. (Mary Lou Cook)
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
Offline this week I learned to fly direct and take only carry-on luggage where possible, that the UK is ridiculously underprepared for snow compared to other European countries, and that thrash metal isn’t as bad as you’d think… :-p
Offline this week I learned to buy more bags of winter grit than I think I need, to do exercise even when it’s too slippery to go running outside, and that a bad seated posture can give you headaches. 😮
Offline this week I learned that large beanbags offer the most comfortable typing position ever, not to drink cheap red wine, and that the seats by the Chinese books in Newcastle City Library are almost always vacant… 😉
Offline this week I learned that Twitter is often a quicker and easier place to sell things than eBay, that eagerly pulling decals off a car will can also remove the paintwork, and more than I could ever summarize in one blog post (or indeed the introduction to one) at Interesting North… 🙂
Offline this week I learned that fireworks displays involve a lot of standing around for brief moments of semi-pleasure, that iPads really are ‘magical’, and not to jinx yourself by stating that you’re “the only one in the family who hasn’t been ill” 😮
Offline this week I learned that exercise is a good preventer of illness, that charity workers and trick-or-treaters are glorified beggars, and that toddlers don’t get clocks going back to GMT. At all. :p