Tuesday, May 08, 2007
“Nowadays publication in a refereed journal is just a prize – a credential for academics in support of employment, tenure and merit pay increases. Originally journals were supposed to be a vehicle for making the results of one’s research available to peers for discussion and collaboration, a way to make work that would earlier have been done through professional correspondence available to more people. Lots of us, pushed to show ‘productivity’, don’t work on issues we regard as worthwhile and publish the results to advance work in the field – we pick fields in which it will be easy to publish and select issues to work on in the interest of ‘getting publications’. Even ass-backwarder, instead of being valued because they make scholarly work more readily available, journals are valued because the print medium restricts the amount of work that can be made publicly available, so that a publication ‘counts’.
“Blogs, and more broadly online publication, advance research done for its own sake rather than as a credential for professional advancement.”
I was under the impression that something very like this was said when academic culture moved from the monograph to the technical “paper” in the 19th Century. Monographs were authoritative, accredited statements of the author’s professional ability and intellectual power; journal articles were what one did to let one’s colleagues in on a few secrets of what one was up to, a kind of sneak peek. Little throw-away things half as an excuse to hang out and chat in the Big City and revisit old long-standinng grudges. Something you (at best) used as the basis of your forthcoming treatise. Or if you were playing fast and loose with academic standards of propriety and self-promotion, compiled with some editing into a book of essays for the lay public. Fiske, Huxley, the sort of fellow who gives lectures to housewives.
In one sense, today’s academic journal culture is a testament to the success of northwestern European publishers’ marketing prowess. Seems to me they played the old guard of the 18C against the young fast highly-networked turks of the latter 19C.
Maybe I’m wrong about that, though.
Where are these people who “don’t work on issues we regard as worthwhile”? I’ve never met anyone, in departments where I’ve studied or worked, or at conferences, or in blogs, who seemed less than committed to their research. Does anyone have any actual evidence for this statement? Not expressions of scepticism about the value of someone else’s work, but statements by a researcher that s/he doesn’t really regard his/her work as worthwhile but is just doing it to make up the requirements because it’s ‘easy’?