A lot of academic “research” may barely count as research by many definitions

Miriam Burstein has an interesting post on “(Un)intentional scholarship,” which is about the relationship of blogs and other online media to what “counts” in universities. As she says, “Mark Sample defines scholarship thus: ‘a creative or intellectual act becomes scholarship when it is public and circulates in a community of peers that evaluates and builds upon it.'”

By this definition, however, as Mark Bauerlein shows in “The Research Bust,” many peer-reviewed articles in English Lit are barely research: no one “builds upon it,” or the vast majority of “it,” through citations. If that’s true, then we really do need to re-define what counts as “scholarship.”

I’m not likely to be part of that “we,” because there are simply too few jobs in academia to justify trying to get one, but the disjunction between what counts—peer-reviewed articles—and what people actually read—very rarely peer-reviewed articles—speaks to the way academic intellectual life has gotten out-of-whack: the stuff that should be rewarded isn’t, and the stuff that is being rewarded is often irrelevant by academic intellectual life’s own standards.

EDIT: A friend wrote to say that he doesn’t envy the deans who will have to decide the academic merit of blogs. It’s a fair point: the collective “we” don’t have a good way of doing so now. But I’m optimistic because peer review does such a lousy job of deciding academic merit now. People are getting jobs-for-life for writing books that almost no one reads, on subjects no one cares about. I perceive the problems of awarding academic credit for blogs, but those problems can’t be worse than the current problems in academic credit.

In the humanities, most people implicitly treat work as unimportant by delaying its appearance. Peer reviewers are notoriously slow, and articles can pile up for years in publication limbo. Important work needs to reach the world now. That so few academic humanities journals strive to reach this ideal shows what many humanities professors really think about the importance of what they’re doing. I don’t meant to have science envy, but scientists now post important findings to arVix.org and wait for the peer-reviewers to catch up. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the sciences have developed this dissemination mechanism, while the humanists retain rigid status hierarchies and disdain “officially” publishing work that has already appeared on blogs.

2 responses

  1. Pingback: A lot of academic “research” may barely count as research by many definitions

  2. Pingback: A simple solution to peer review problems « The Story's Story

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