|the FB conversation|
In some kind of invented ideality, we'd all be friends. If we could all be friends of Facebook, that'd be one weird realization of the semantic web utopia, or more accurately, heterotopia. About two seconds after that realization, it would begin to fail epically, for the obvious reasons.
Since we all can't be friends on Facebook, what happens? Professionally, for medievalists, and all sorts of other academics, all kinds of impromptu conversations that begin casually often cant in unexpectedly valuable directions. And there they usually stay, in Facebook's not-quite-private-not-really-public liminal state. In this blog and in his "Blogging the Middle Ages" chapter for the vastly entertaining Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog, our own JJC wrestles with exactly what the relationship is between new digital frenemies Facebook and what can now, already, be called the "traditional" blog. Will so much of the new electronic orality once buzzing around in public fora cloister now in semi-private spaces? Certainly, I expect, just as other professional conversations will remain in selective email exchanges, Skype calls, conference sessions and good old face-to-face meetings.
The beauty of digital media, as Henry Jenkins points out, is its urging for convergence. The moment one event happens in ones and zeroes, it has the opportunity to happen in another. A few days ago, I FB’d a link to a New York Times article on new models of digital peer reviewing for scholarship, which discusses the recent Shakespeare Quarterly experiment (also discussed here at ITM), as well as the "Becoming Media" issue of Postmedieval that Jen Boyle and I are editing. A robust conversation quickly developed between Richard Burt, Eileen Joy and Karl Steel, with a bit from myself - and rapidly had little to do with the rest of my FB life, principally concerned as it is right now with whether my wife and I are actually going to be able to buy this amazing house in South Orange, NJ, my second life as a roller derby referee, and the joy that is my two-year old daughter, Hazel.
So I brought the conversation to ITM. Here it is, because it has grown to a point where it demands more voices and a broader public. And this, perhaps, is the hybrid model we can think about more - using private social networks, when warranted, as springboards over to the public blog. It is in some way, no different than the process by which we develop scholarship all the time: the thought that comes to the conversation, the conversation that comes to the writing, the writing which comes to the synthesis, the research, the argument, with all the recursive loops along the way. The topic is also deliciously meta, as the open review and comment of scholarly ideas is exactly what was going on in the FB conversation, and what happens here at ITM all the time. So have at it, friends.
(If you click on the image above you can enlarge it, but many people will have a hard time reading it all the same. I'm therefore posting the exchange below -- JJC)
Martin Foys "The quarterly’s experiment has so far inspired at least one other journal — Postmedieval — to plan a similar trial for next year." - this is the issue Jen Boyle and I are editing; we we're interviewed, but didn't rate a sound byte, I guess ;(
Eileen A. Joy Martin: I think there's still a 2nd article coming on new media + digital publishing, so don't cry . . . yet!
The Internet is calling into question one of academia’s sacred rites: the peer- reviewed journal article.
Richard Burt An interesting article. I just forwarded a link to a Shakespeare listserv. But I think it is no accident it came out in August (the slowest month of the annual news cycyle) I question the (hyperbolic?) claims that "radical" shifts are happe...ning because of new (digital) media. Robert Darnton suggested putting various drafts of a dissertation online back around 1996 (in NYRB). that never happened. Now we have the reviewing process exposed in a single issue of SQ. But it is still peer reviewed. Rowe asked people in the field to participate in the comments. (I declined, on two occasions, out of disinterest.) But does anyone who reads SQ, accessible only through subscription or libraries, really care about the comments from non-specialists from space flights? Will anyone read this genetic, pre-publication material that usually drops away from publications like booster rockets do? To what end? Won't people just cite the published articles as they have before? More crucially, there seems something fraudulent about the SQ "experiment." I stress "seems" here, but I do also say "fraudulent" have to wonder if the fix was not in before the essays were officially accepted. None were rejected. How likely is that? The revision process of SQ's essays resembles the process of publication--contract with readers' reports, author responds, author turns in a revised mss to the press (which the editor does not actually look at to check to see if any changes have been made). The difference is that SQ now has a kind of dead blogging trail of the revision process of a faux peer-reviewed process. Did the academics who were invited by Rowe to comment really say all that they thought? Or did they censor themselves since their comments could be read by anyone, instead of just by members of the editorial board, as is usually the case? Letters of recommendation without student waivers aren't taken seriously, right?
As for the author, would you really want to have 350 people commenting on your essay as you were revising it? Would you seriously respond to all of the comments? How critical, in every sense of the word, are these comments? Do they really rise to the status of criticism? Might it not be better to proceed with the customary dialogic standards already in place (the author if an article is already engaged in dialogue with other critics)? Can anyone explain to me the value of this experiment? Or why anyone should want to adopt it? Speed seems to be the only stated advantage, but in fact, nothing is sped up in the SQ publication process. The journal will still publish in the same quarterly way it did before. But why can't we go at our own pace? Is there a NEED to go faster when we already use email and can send our written work to people who will give us useful feedback before and after we we submit it? And why would editors want to give non-specialists as much authority as non-specialists? What does the editor do, then? Accept essays by plebiscite? Authors understand themselves to be competing for Academic idol? Martin? Please help me out here.
Richard Burt Here's another concern: “our crowd sourcing.” Is crowding a good thing when it comes to the publication process? Isn't the reason academic books have such small print runs (500 to 1,000 copies) that they do not have mass appeal (however much we wish they did)? Are we not each other's fit audiences, though few? We few, we happy few?
Karl Steel the size of a crowd is relative. For peer review, 5's a crowd. How many eyes typically see an article before it goes to press? The author; the journal's editor; two peer reviewers (maybe two). And that's it. Even if only 10 or so qualified and interested people look at the prepublication material, commenting on the sections they know best, we're in territory of 'crowd.'
Martin Foys @ Richard: early days, remediation, digital incunable, blah blah blah, time still needed for all this to shake out :) BUT - as editor on this, one thing we are excited about is how all the contributors will be more easily plugged into all the other contributions, should they desire. This is something much rarer, and logistically obdurate, in traditional modes of publishing.
Richard Burt Karl, Yes, "the size of a crowd is relative. For peer review, 5's a crowd." But my basic questions stand: Who benefits from the crowd of five or more? The author? if so, why don't editors require even more peer reviewed reports? The rea...der of the published and still peer reviewed publication? I don't see the point of publishing pre-publication material. Unless you want to make a sort of DVD edition with a "making of" extra / appendix. Is there a logic to the current pre-production, production, post-production publication process? I don't see the logic of altering it. The statements about peer-review being bad in the NY Times struck as being entirely fabricated. I have heard of no actual case where peer reviewing per se has been a scandal. I'm just sayin': it ain't broke, so why fix it?
You wrote: "This is something much rarer, and logistically obdurate, in traditional modes of publishing." I think the rarity is a good thing. There is no limit to the number of readers an author can send his pre-published mss to (in theory). WHy not let the author determine who reads it before it is ready to be published? We already know how the process works. So why publish what usually gets flushed? I just don't get it. Sorry.
Martin Foys Ah, Richard - I was writing there specifically to the idea of all contributors (not any reader) having easy access to all other essays in an issue, and being able to revise in discourse as the process moves forward. Not necessarily *the* model that one needs to have in all academic publishing, but I do think one worth exploring in these early-ish days of born-digital scholarship
Eileen A. Joy @Richard: there are all sorts of ways in which the traditional anonymous, double-blind peer review process does not work well. It may not have caused any large "scandals," as you call them, but that does not mean that it is not a system in... some need of reform. I also think there is immense value, for all sorts of reasons, in having a more transparent review process, regardless of what eventually gets "flushed" or not. Scholarship IS a process, not just an endless series of supposedly static "products," and I think we should take better account of that.
Karl Steel "if so, why don't editors require even more peer reviewed reports? "
briefly, time: more reader wrangling would lead to even longer review times for submissions, which would be deadly for pre-tenure proffies. Whereas an online prepublicatio...n open comment period could, I think, speed things up compared to the the status quo.
Richard Burt Martin,
Now I get you. Contributors to same issue makes sense. I think that process has already ben informally in place for years, however, when it comes to editing book anthologies (contributors are often asked to read and refer to other e...ssays in the volume as they are relevant).
I'm all for new media publishing possibilities and for reforms that improve the quality of whatever gets published (in codex form and in digital form). But I still don't see what is so bad about the peer review system as presently constituted or why it is need of reform. Can you say more? I agree that publishing is a process, but the "product" is also part of a process: books get forgotten and many are never even read). So everything gets flushed at some point. The bad publication to be used as toilet paper analogy goes back to Ben Jonson (who cribbed it from Martial) and then gets picked up again with the Augustans (Swift and Pope both use it). So much of what gets published even when peer reviewed isn't worth reading. In my experience, pretty much everything gets published somewhere even that means a mss starts at Princeton UP and ends up at Duquenes UP. Adding more comments to the pre-published publication to come seems to be to gather more moss, to shift metaphoric gears, rather than make things more transparent. And what counts as discursive transparency, anyway? Isn't transparency a phantasm, part of the academic imaginary (which of course traverses the academic symbolic)? All I care about is the product and the process of responding to it with another product, and so on. Can you tell me what the value of creating a new intraprocess is and why adding it is a desirable reform rather than more junk? All I care about is the product and the process of responding to it with another product, and so on.
I have no investment in the peer review status quo. As I said above, I just don't see what the problems with it are (the ones mentioned in the NY TImes article seemed totally bogus to me).
Richard Burt Karl,
Why is speed a value when we do not produce (supposedly) assembly line products? Isn't speed a word administrators like? How will things be sped up if the journal is published the same number of times a year with the same number of p...ages? Won't the backlog just get longer?
Martin Foys Karl, Eileen, Richard - any objections to moving this convo wholesale to "In the Middle"? Jeffrey and I would love to break this discussion open to a larger audience . . .