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Vaguely Organised Musings on the Value of Blogging for the Academy and Academics

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Over at Monkey Cage, Andrew Gelman has an excellent piece on how post-publication peer-review works (and doesn’t) in the blogosphere. One of the central themes (to me) is how complacency can be part of the process. This, of course is not limited to the post-publication phase of research dissemination and consumption. Any academic here can tell you stories of referee reports that lacked a clear understanding of one’s manuscript to the point where it seemed possible that the report was the result of a skim job. Likewise, while I’ve been told by my superiors up the British university chain of command that I spend too much time on accepting and writing such reports[*], there have been times when four or five have stacked up in my queue that I know that there have been more than one where I did not feel as though I was as thorough as I might have been.

The Gelman piece reminded me of a post of Rob’s from earlier this year. I agree in the main with Rob’s arguments, with one caveat that applies to both the political scientist as blogger as well as post-publication peer review writ large: the blogosphere is ephemeral. Whereas a journal article (both print and most e-journals) is tangible, replete with an ISSN identity, what I’m writing right now isn’t. A blog post isn’t as fleeting as a tweet (unless you’re, say, Anthony Weiner), it is less concrete than a publication. This caveat applies independently to the Gelman and Farley posts, as the subject of each serves a different purpose, but ultimately it serves as a minor limitation to both.

Given this, I agree with what Rob wrote all those months ago:

Core argument is this: Sides treats blogging (and what I tend to think of as associated “public intellectual” activities) as adjunct to a successful political science career.  I, on the other hand, think that we should take seriously the possibility that these activities should become the main course of a successful career in political science (and other fields).

Save that I don’t think “public intellectual activities” should replace publication, but co-exist on a relatively equal level. As one who does a bit of media (it pays to have my accent in the Southwest of England. Well, it doesn’t pay cash money, but you know), I’d place blogging above media appearances; a five minute interview is more ephemeral than this very post (for better or worse). I’ve turned the process around a bit; in a few months I have a paper (which coincidentally cites Gelman) coming out in a solid third-tier journal that began life right here as a post on LGM.

However, if we really want to make this stick in terms of professional currency, we need some sort of institutionalisation of output. It could be as simple as unique ISSN numbers for various blogs, better indexing of authors / posts, etc. I don’t have many answers on this Sunday afternoon, but these are a start. For the vast majority of blogs an ISSN serves little more than vanity, but for academia it’s subtly different. In the United Kingdom, with our slavish, methodical accounting of research output via the RAE/REF, an ISSN/ISBN is requisite for credibility.  EDIT: I honestly don’t know how prevalent this is in the academic blogosphere, if it exists at all.

[*] Indeed, if I don’t have the time to do a credible job, I’ve been known to let a manuscript slide into perilous delinquency. There’s at least one from earlier this summer that might match this description.

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