An argument against academic e-/self-publishing

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education arguing about the dangers of humanities academics self-publishing their research (or maybe it’s just about e-publishing: it’s not really clear):

http://chronicle.com/article/How-Not-to-Reform-Humanities/130675/

Argues that pre-publication peer-review through publishers’ stables of experts is the only way to assess quality; and that we shouldn’t water down dissertations (not sure exactly how this is related); and that the sciences won’t take the humanities seriously if we e-publish. Actually he conflates the process of e-publishing with revising the dissertation process, arguing that a watered-down dissertation won’t be taken seriously by the sciences – I suppose these are arguments being made by the same people, but they are hardly dependent on one another. He starts by saying that e-publishing isn’t as rigorous, but then turns to the sciences as authority for whether to reform the humanities dissertation or not. But if the sciences should be our model for academic research (wait, why should they again?), maybe we should worry about not e-publishing, given the extent to which scientific research is published online these days. Confused.

Needless to say, there are already a few comments. Old Guard vs. Young Turks, or Defenders of Academic Standards vs. Lazy Young ‘uns who don’t understand how the world works? The debate continues!

Still working on my own take, which becomes more ambivalent the more I think about it. So my eventual post will probably be framed in terms of “The things that would be required for digital self-publishing to work for an academic historian today.”

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3 responses to “An argument against academic e-/self-publishing”

  1. Erik Lund says :

    Shorter Olsen: “When they came and made researchers read books, I did nothing, because I had tenure. When they came and made advisors read their students’s dissertations, I did nothing, because I was an administrator. When they came to make me read stuff on the interwebs, there was no-one to help me, because they all thought I was a prat.”

  2. Erik Lund says :

    ‘Olson.’ On a more serious note, the problem of the nine-year PhD is notoriously a long standing red herring. The problem of academic productivity is anything but. Social signalling of research quality through peer review and dissertation defences has the function of reducing the amount of work a scholar has to do to keep abreast of their field. The corollary is too notorious to point out twice in one paragraph.

    The implication, however, is not. Journals and dissertations are both in danger of fading away into electronic irrelevance. This means that fewer and fewer works of scholarly value are attached to social signals of their value. Which means that people like Olson have to do less and less scholarly work.

    Speaking from a compartment of my brain that I try to keep separate from my own malicious envy, I don’t see a compelling problem with that. It’s not like academic incomes are keeping pace, or that people like Olson are not still teaching. But it might be decorous for someone who isn’t engaged in online scholarship not to wave a hand at some study/random opinion somewhere that says that all that interwebs stuff rots the brain, and so no-one should pay any attention to it and isn’ t it time for the kitchen to roll out the desert tray?*

    *Except that they’re actually doing something at the Unseen University.

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