Friday, December 17, 2010

Academic Publishing

I have recently caught myself in a sacrilegous thought that I like blogging more than academic publishing. I'm one of those academics who live to publish. As much as I love teaching, for me it simply cannot compete with the delights of doing research. I'm not criticizing those of my colleagues who favor teaching, of course. They have a right to their different priorities. I, however, privilege research over teaching every single time. So discovering that there is an activity I like more than publishing my research is very novel to me.

There are several reasons blogging is better than academic publishing. One thing is immediacy. You don't have to wait for a year for the article to be evaluated and then for another year for it to come out. Often, by the time the article appears in print, it has lost its relevance because you have done many new things since then. Another reason why I prefer blogging is the feedback. I get to share my ideas with intelligent, well-informed people who respond, argue and point out deficiencies in my arguments. With academic publishing, you never know if anybody even read your article, and if they did, what their response was. Academic publishing often feels like talking to yourself, which doesn't make the process very attractive.

There is also the whole peer review thing which is supposed to guarantee the high quality of publications. Unfortunately, peer review often fails to ensure that low quality articles are rejected while good pieces of research are published. The so-called blind review is never truly blind. Frequently, peer review only serves to weed out articles that are saying something genuinely new as opposed to those pieces that rehash accepted platitudes.

I believe that the whole process of academic publishing should be transformed. Our professional association (the MLA) could, for example, create a website where academics who are members of the association could publish their articles freely. There would be a comment section where people could begin a dialogue about the publication. This would make it easy to follow one's favorite academics and see what is happening in one's area of research right now (as opposed to 2 years ago when the article was actually written.) Some people say that this kind of open publishing will produce a lot of inferior research. My question to them is: so what? There is a lot of crappy stuff being published every day. It is our jobs as specialists in our field to know whether a piece is good or not. Besides, I believe that this way of disseminating research will be so transparent that people will think twice before submitting a shitty article to a professional academic website. Today, one can always send in a low-quality article to an obscure print journal and hope that nobody sees it. With open publishing, though, one's colleagues and one's students will be able to find every unfortunate word one has ever published as soon as it comes out.

My non-academic readers might ask why a system that sounds so great doesn't exist already. The only reason why academics go through the boring and useless peer review process only to place their article somewhere where no one will ever see it is that this is the only way to have a publication that will "count." We all have our tenure, retention review, and merit review requirements. These requirements are either created or very closely monitored by corporate ignoramuses posing as college administrators. Such people only understand numbers, rules, restrictions, etc. Anything that is free and open (such as the academic publishing process I'm advocating here) terrifies them. As a result, the only publications of mine that will count toward my requirements are the ones that are strictly codified by these unintelligent people.

Of course, I'd much rather share the fruits of my research in an open access format. This would allow me to receive massive, intelligent feedback. Unfortunately, I can't do that. I have to abide by the silly rules maintained by backward, conservative people who are governed by numbers instead of ideas.

When will we start taking the academia back from these ignoramuses and making it more convenient for us?


ej said...

I absolutely love this idea, as I indicated on my own blog not long ago. Among the problems you listed with academic publishing, I would add that publishers often charge ridiculous rates for their journals. And this is all the more outrageous given that the writing and reviewing process are done (without compensation) by academics. Given the budget problems universities are going through these days, it would be great if they didn't have to spend thousands or tens of thousands per journal subscription.

Clarissa said...

It's true about the prices. And still many older academics somehow believe that if a journal chooses to adopt the on-line format to cut costs, it somehow becomes less prestigious and respectable. All academic publishing will move on-line within the next 5 years, in my opinion. So what's the point of despising on-line journals?

Pen said...

I love this idea, but I would like to add that for students, especially those that may not yet be enrolled in college, academic articles can be difficult to find. A student in a college-level course needs to have access to current research, as well. We can't always rely on news articles relating to such subjects, because they never tell the whole story. I can't tell you how many times I've tried to do research--even on something published as early as 1946--and was only able to gather basic information. Having such information at hand for high school students may also serve to increase their interest in a given subject, because they can get new information right away, as opposed to months or years after the fact.

The only problem with the proposed method is claim. Right now, it's all too easy to claim someone else's work as one's own. Your method could result in more tension between academics performing research on the same things. Or perhaps that might result in more than one person getting proper credit?

Pagan Topologist said...

I tried to post a comment here while I was away visiting my mother last week, but she has no internet access, and the verification words would not show up on the public library's free access computers. I have no idea why.

I agree with you wholeheartedly. The entire peer review process has been corrupted and problematic for a long time, and the for-profit journals are making it much worse. I think that sidestepping them in such a manner as you propose is really important and will be a great benefit to the academic community generally when it comes about.

Some journals charge thousands of dollars for a subscription, yet they pay nothing for the information they publish. They seem to exist simply to gouge money out of the university libraries and make it impossible for anyone not on a faculty to get access to scholarship at all. This stranglehold on publication and sharing of information needs to be undercut, and your plan is the best one I have heard.

I have one colleague at the Californis State University System who lost all access to his university's library when he retired, making it impossible for him to continue his mathematical research.

Clarissa said...

It makes me beyond happy to know that people keep reading the blog even when they go away for holidays.

At my current department, we automatically grant the emeritus status to all our colleagues who retire just to save their library privileges.

Maybe I should initiate this new trend in academic publishing by posting in open access my research that is deemed to be too controversial to be publishable.