Thursday, April 01, 2010
Interview with Frank Donoghue
Puttering about the internet on this eve of a long weekend--freed, more to the point, from the usual Thursday night labor of making sure my Friday class prep is all in order--I happened across a very interesting interview with Frank Donoghue, author of The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities. Here’s the part that really made me sit up straight and pay attention:
I’m not otherwise familiar with Harlot, self-described as “a digital meeting place for everyone interested in playful yet serious conversations about rhetoric in everyday life.” Looks interesting, though.
I hadn’t heard such a drastic “non-citation” statistic before so I’ve been trying to track down the source. In the Rhode book he refers to, the note after the “98% goes uncited” comment is to a piece by Lynne Cheney in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, which doesn’t seem solid enough (scholarly enough!) to lean on very hard. Still, the general point that we don’t even read each other has been made by others (including Stephen Greenblatt in that MLA address cited we’ve all alluded to before). Also of interest, to me at least, is the more general idea that we are caught in a perverse system that assumes and requires and rewards only certain forms (as he says, citing, I think, John Guillory, “scholarship expressed as publication"--and only of certain very fixed kinds).
I’ve got a vague sense of having heard some such statistic years ago, though it wasn’t humanities specific. The general idea was that most articles, across disciplines, don’t get “read” (which is not citation) at all, or are read only a very few times. So the 98% non-citation number seems credible to me, but it should not be taken to mean that the articles aren’t read or even used (e.g. in teaching prep).
I also remember, from way back, an article about the publication habits of MLA members. At that time only 20% of the membership had published 5 or more articles. I’d suspect that’s more less still the case, and it’s probably also the case that only, say, 1% has published 30 or more articles and one or more scholarly books. So, it’s a relatively small part of the profession that does the citing.
Do the non-publishers read the literature at all? Primary journals? Monographs? Casebooks? What are sales figures for casebooks?
And . . . judging from conferences I’ve been to, an audience of 20 or 30 is pretty good.
The “non-citation” thing is definitely true in the sciences.
In an analysis of ~32,000,000 scientific articles published between 1945 and 1988 (hard to believe there are that many), 18,000,000 were cited 1 or fewer times and 25,000,000 were cited 4 or fewer times.
Bill, reading vs citing is a good question, though my guess is that most of us rather obsessively cite everything we read/consult while working up a piece of our own.
20-30 at a conference panel seems wildly optimistic to me, though that may be because the conferences I’ve been to most recently have had very broad mandates and ridiculously crowded programs. I sweated bullets both times over papers that I ended up presenting to audiences of around 8-10 people, in one case including the other presenters. So I’m not on the conference bandwagon--also, conferences are expensive and not very ‘green.’ I’ve been wondering when we will stop touting conferences and look to other ways of networking and communicating--I dunno, say, blogging?--as new norms for exchanging ideas.
I’m with you on conferences. When it’s good, face-to-face is THE BEST. But conferences, certainly the humongous ones, aren’t very good for that. Now, video-conferencing might be nice, but that requires more bandwidth than is common in tech-laggard nations like the USA (I don’t know about Canada).
As for reading, to those who don’t publish nonetheless read the literature for course prep? I’d think books more likely than journals, but I don’t know.