Home > The New Media > Blogging, Peer Review, and Scholarly Publication

Blogging, Peer Review, and Scholarly Publication

Over at the Ancient World Bloggers Group there is a good post by Alun Salt, with a nice little swarm of comments, on “re-thinking the blog carnival”.  Blog Carnivals are coordinated discussions held at various blogs on a set topic.  He considered, in particular, the relationship between such uses of the new media and the “traditional media” of scholarly publication. 

AWBG

There seems to be at least three main issues at stake.  First and perhaps most obviously there is the vexing issue of peer review (which is both a scholarly concern (i.e. peer-review validates knowledge as a product of the community) and professional concerns (i.e. can we “get credit” for our output in blogs).  The second issue is archiving the production of blogs.  On the one hand, this has to do with making sure, in a practical sense, that the time and intellectual energy put into a blog doesn’t disappear with some massive server-side conflagration.  On the other hand, as the third issue, it means that if we think our scholarly output in a blog is intellectually useful, we need to ensure that scholars can cite a blog in a responsible way to giving the author credit where it is due and in some cases allowing author to defend any copyright he seek to enforce.  Some fields, literature and apparently law, have begun to see the citation of blogs as a reasonable scholarly practice.  This only really works if we have a commitment to stable URLs and the like so that these citations are persistent. 

These are all issues as we consider the place of “the blog” as a medium/genre with a role in the future of the scholarly world.  Some bloggers, like Shawn Graham at the Electric Archaeologist have experimented with creating a “best of the blog” book via Lulu.  At the iconic literary blog, The Valve, they regularly release books pulling together the posts from their “book events” and including comments which give the reader access to a particularly transparent kind of peer review.  Others, including Alun Salt and Tom Elliott, have explored bloggers for peer-reviewed research concept (BP3), which imprints a blog post with a stamp validating the work as having serious scholarly (i.e. peer reviewed) value and allowing it to be aggregated at the BP3 site.  Sebastian Heath has advocated Creative Commons scholarly licensing tools — both for his blog (as many others have done) and for printed scholarly works.   These are all interesting and exciting developments in the scholarly blogosphere!

My only concern, and it’s a vague one at present, is that as we push blogs toward more recognizable forms of scholarly output — books, peer reviewed works, even the various forms of copyrighting (and lefting) is that we slowly eat away at the things that make blogs distinct as a medium and a genre.  In some ways archiving, peer reviewing, printing, copyrighting all take away from the freedom of the cyber- salon.  Blogs can replicate in some ways the ephemeral character of conversations and discussions to waft thousands of miles across continents, they remain a realm where it is possible to preserve personal and scholarly anonymity (who was the Invisible Adjunct anyway?),  and, finally, blogging allows for an unported and unregulated output which encourages liminal, marginal, and obscurely combined ideas — this is to say, some blogs are worth reading because they are bad or crazy or just so odd.  Pulling the “academic” blogosphere away from the cacophonic world of the World Wide Net Web into a discernable relationship with the larger world of scholarly output will almost certainly work to undermine the unstructured quality that contributes to the medium’s vitality.  (I think this is what the late Mary Douglas meant by social transformations tending to go from low-grid to high-grid).  Of course such a move toward a more regulated and critical blogosphere will undoubtedly win committed, intelligent, bloggers and their ideas improved standing in the academic and professional world; less cynically, it will encourage more conservative colleagues to give a some of those ideas that are rattling around the blogosphere a more serious hearing.

This post, I suppose, doesn’t propose a solution to the valid and, indeed, important concerns voiced among committed bloggers.  And it should certainly not be read as a lack of interest or enthusiasm for Alun’s idea (cf. my comments on his post!), but rather meant to be an alternative critique (or the beginning of an idea or an explanation for why I don’t list my blog on my CV or post a Creative Common’s license).  In the end, I am sufficiently cynical to see my own alternative definition to how blogs fit into the larger world of scholarly production as another push toward giving blogs a higher-grid kind of existence.  (It could have been worse, of course: I was thinking last night that the Ancient World Bloggers Group might want to initiate some kind of blogging awards (kin to the Cliopatria Awards or the Open Laboratory Best Science Writing on Blogs book) which mark out certain blogs and their posts as exceptional and then produce every year a book of these posts (a kind of Best Blogs of 2008)…this would have all the irony of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and none of the Rock or the Roll).

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