Academic publishing – what’s the point?

I had a message today saying that an article (The distance from isolation) I submitted to the journal Computers and Education has been published. Good news one might have thought, except check the date it was submitted – November 2004. That’s three years to publish an article (admittedly it was available online a year after submission). Now, it’s a good article and all that, but it’s hardly current. For a start I address three technologies, but web 2.0 doesn’t get a mention since the phrase hadn’t been coined then. If I was writing it now, this would certainly form the crux of my argument (which thankfully has held up reasonably well).

Not all journals take this long to publish, but it does make you wonder what is the point of journal publication? In a classic example of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, it seems that the function of journals is now to feed the Research Assessment Exercise. Initially the RAE used publications as an indication of the quality of research. Now it is the justification for the journals themselves. I learn a lot more from blogs now than I do journals, and I have also noticed that since keeping a blog I have published fewer ‘proper’ articles. Surely journals can’t survive when they a) cost a lot of money, b) are out of date and c) don’t facilitate the type of engaging debate you find in the blogosphere.

I know people will put down the marker of quality here, but I think a blog posting does undergo a form of peer review – if you post something stupid you can bet someone will tell you. And there are a host of metrics that indicate the quality of a blog, such as your technorati authority (mine remains doggedly low).

I’ve had some discussions with people at the OU about whether we should start encouraging and recognising blogging as an academic activity. I would like to see this,  but I don’t want the RAE or the OU to start formalising the process, since this will stifle it. The moral here seems to be that formal metrics kill creativity. From a career perspective it is best to have a high ranking in the former, but for your own devlopment (and ultimately the health of the organisation), you want to be in the creativity camp.

3 Comments

  1. Ouch! Three years!
    I touch on some of the same points in this posting from my blog, “A Comparison of Blogging and Journal Peer Review” (http://www.ddmcd.com/comparison.html).
    I agree with you to be wary of attaching too much formalism to a blog based process, though.
    Let me know if you would like to chat about this.

  2. Martin says:

    Hi Dennis
    thanks for the link – your article is more considered than mine. I’m kind of caught in a quandry with blogs – I want to promote them as an essential part of the academic process, but at the same time I don’t want them to be stifled by codes of practice, formal measures of quality etc. It’s a bit like finding an unspoilt holiday location – you really want to recommend it to everyone, but you don’t want everyone rushing there and spoiling it.
    Martin

  3. Maybe one approach would be to resist attempts to standardize them, resists development of codes of ethics, and resist application of a formal review process to blogs. At the same time, their use could be used as evidence that the academic or researcher is serious about communicating with others about research? Or ther use could be encouraged as one way to communicate with the public (see: http://www.ddmcd.com/sustainability.html).

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