MediaCommons paper up in commentable form 03.30.2007, 1:12 PM
posted by ben vershbow
We've just put up a version of a talk Kathleen Fitzpatrick has been giving over the past few months describing the genesis of MediaCommons and its goals for reinventing the peer review process. The paper is in CommentPress -- unfortunately not the new version, which we're still working on (revised estimated release late April), it's more or less the same build we used for the Iraq Study Group Report. The exciting thing here is that the form of the paper, constructed to solicit reader feedback directly alongside the text, actually enacts its content: radically transparent peer-to-peer review, scholars talking in the open, shepherding the development each other's work. As of this writing there are already 21 comments posted in the page margins by members of the editorial board (fresh off of last weekend's retreat) and one or two others. This is an important first step toward what will hopefully become a routine practice in the MediaCommons community.
In less than an hour, Kathleen will be delivering the talk, drawing on some of the comments, at this event at the University of Rochester. Kathleen also briefly introduced the paper yesterday on the MediaCommons blog and posed an interesting question that came out of the weekend's discussion about whether we should actually be calling this group the "editorial board." Some interesting discussion ensued. Also check at this: "A First Stab at Some General Principles".
bowerbird on March 30, 2007 3:37 PM:
monographs? tenure? pre-publication peer review?
what good does it do to move to the 21st century
if you're dragging along such antiquated concepts?
best of luck, but to my mind, rethinking means rethinking.
Gary Frost on March 31, 2007 1:41 PM:
Here is a threshold: Does this deployed and intermingled editorial activity increase scholarly product? It is often mentioned that digital communications will increase productivity. Is that assured in the smaller enclave of schoarly research and publication? Is efficiency a misplaced cultural or economic agenda applied here? Do scholar participants donate more, rather than less, time to the Media Commons methods of manuscript review?
It could be an advantage to suggest, up-front, that any increase in intellectual labor induced by this new environment of scholarly rigor is actually an attribute and an allure.
Karen Lofstrom on March 31, 2007 11:16 PM:
I have an antiquated 17" monitor, and all the comments on the Mediacommons paper are truncated on the right side. I can't scroll over to read them either. Someone with a wider monitor designed the layout and didn't check it on a smaller one. (I can't read all of this preview page either!)
More and more websites assume a 19" or larger monitor, so I'll have to upgrade soon. Still, it would be kind to make the discussion available to those of us limping in the rear of the vanguard of progress.
bob stein on April 1, 2007 9:13 AM:
institutions of higher education are steeped in traditions which are not going to be discarded or transformed easily. at the meeting described in ben's post we talked about how words such as "publish" or "editorial board" actually constrain thinking. realizing that is a key step in re-thinking. i've got a lot of confidence in the terrific group that Kathleen and Avi have assembled to shepherd MediaCommons through its early stages. Bowerbird, rather than carping from the sidelinesk why not join the process and add your comments to Kathleen's "paper" directly.
bowerbird on April 1, 2007 6:08 PM:
um... i will apologize in advance for responding
if that was just an april-fools comment you made,
but it seems like it was made in all seriousness.
first of all, i'm not "carping".
and i'm not doing anything "from the sidelines".
(but it's interesting that you would characterize
this comment section in that manner, i'd think.)
anyway, i've been through this drill too many times.
i spent a lot of time -- too much -- evangelizing
word-processing to people who _insisted_ they
preferred writing longhand on a yellow pad, and
that they enjoyed typing things on a typewriter.
when they eventually came around, it was because
of the reality of the situation, _not_ my arguments.
i spent a lot of time -- too much -- evangelizing
e-mail to people who _insisted_ they _preferred_
to receive "real" letters in their physical mailbox,
written in the delicate handwriting of loved ones.
again, it wasn't my persuasiveness bringing them
around, it was that they couldn't ignore the reality.
so i ain't wasting my time -- none! -- evangelizing
electronic-journals to people who will _insist_ that
the stodgy traditions of the past need to be upheld.
i did that 20 years ago. i'm working for 2027 now.
the reality of the situation will convince them soon,
no matter how much or how little energy you expend.
as kathleen notes in her paper (or document, or
whatever you want to call it), there are _already_
snickers (and even out-loud laughs) coming from
younger members of the audience when speakers ask,
"am i supposed to feel better about this 'project muse'
article because there's a printed copy of it somewhere?"
the simple fact of the matter is that a scholar who waits
to be informed by _print_ these days is out of the loop.
and with publication lag sometimes running to years,
they are so far out-of-the-loop it is simply laughable.
and if some institution is so backward that they would
deny tenure to some young professor who had made
significant contributions to the field simply because
she made her mark online instead of in the journals,
then some other more-enlightened institution will
offer her tenure instead, and she will be lucky she
was rescued from the old school by the new school.
in 10 years, when everybody has shifted attitudes,
we will all look back at kathleen's paper and laugh
that y'all felt you had to make such obvious points.
my goodness, kathleen wrote with breathless prose
on the utility of a citation index for the humanities
-- imagine! tracking citations _forward_ in time! --
to the extent that i felt i was in some bad time-warp.
luckily, she finally mentioned that the social sciences
had long ago proven the value of this bold innovation.
(seriously, the humanities haven't picked this up yet?)
and pre-publication peer review? boil it all down and
the _original_ impetus was "publication is expensive".
if you can only make public a limited amount of stuff,
then it makes sense to make sure it's the _best_ stuff.
but making stuff public is no longer expensive at all,
so there's no need to _try_ and sort out the "best" stuff
-- which, truth be told, we weren't all that good at --
when we can instead let it all become public and then
gauge -- in the long term -- which is _really_ "best".
the long-tail isn't just limited to the commercial sphere;
indeed, it will obtain its best focus in the realm of ideas.
so even if the insiders succeed in keeping an idea out of
the journals for a specific discipline, they cannot keep it
from being put up on some website and becoming known,
not like they could control and obscure it in the old days.
"gatekeepers" on the ground mean absolutely nothing in
an age of guided missiles. let them pontificate on their
importance, and mislead themselves as to their powers...
so, no, bob, i don't have time or energy for this nonsense.
but, you know, if you're willing to deal with neanderthals
so backward, then hey, i wish you the best of luck with it.
sebastian mary on April 2, 2007 7:32 AM:
Writing large groups of people off as 'backward' doesn't really help anything. Thinking constructive change through and putting those ideas into practice does. And it doesn't matter if someone else thought of it as well - if it's a good and worthwhile change then mass adoption is what's desirable, not the trivial business of whether it's ever happened before.
On that front I applaud the MediaCommons gang for taking an approach to academic publication that, while it may have been looked at before, is clearly not very widespread and which will hopefully bring some of the benefits (open discussion, 'wisdom of crowds' filtering of ideas, peer review etc) bowerbird describes.
I have to say, though, that my vision of the next ten years is not quite as rosy as bowerbird's. Looming oil crises, an ever-increasingly urgent need for alternative sources of energy, geopolitical and cultural shifts will play their counterpoint to bowerbird's apparently linear and somewhat Victorian notion of 'progress', as an ever-upward trajectory from which it is always possible to sneer at those who went before as 'neanderthal' or 'backward'.
In this environment I would argue that any technology concerned with easing the conversations of academics would do well to consider what 'future-proofing' means. And I'd argue further that this means both embracing any technologies which make academic research and discussion easier, and also considering how and where these conversations might be archived offline. Just in case the lights do go out in the next ten years, and those 'neanderthals' still clinging to their 'backward' practices of print publication turn out to be the only ones with anything left to read.
gary Frost on April 2, 2007 11:18 AM:
Mary offers some very suggestive comments.
In a movie version of "War of the Worlds" there is a cut to a newspaper front page. This was a standard noir device for captioning. But the lock up of the lines and presswork is visibly crude...a sign of momentous societal collapse to any readership in the mid 20th century. Think about it the apocalypse has occurred and you can read about it.
Now the apocalypse is less visible, but more dire. Slightly disturbing browser drawing errors, slightly longer pauses to complete a link, slightly more time expended in search de-selections and deletions. These symptoms relate to legibility and the immediacy of meaning. The fanned inspection of a print book is taken for granted until you request the same navigational immediacy on the screen. And persistence is an issue...and not just the bridging of time, but the authentication of an unmodified text across time and the authentication by default without immense cost of migration forward. With curation of digital media a continuous string of "yes" decisions must never be interrupted by a single "no" or even by a single period of disregard.
And remember that the Gnostic Gospels found 16 centuries later were sequestered exactly because they were suppressed heresies. Ideological suppression or even inadvertent censorship can be much more effective with screen deliveries.
bowerbird on April 2, 2007 12:44 PM:
> Writing large groups of people off as
> 'backward' doesn't really help anything.
don't let colorful language sway you unnecessarily.
if you look at what i said, other than the flavor,
you'll see that i suggested that one can _assume_
that the neanderthals will all come around, even
_without_ convincing, so the work should _begin_
from that perspective, not try to bring it about.
as for paper "backup", i think it's _crucial_ to an
electronic imprint to _regularly_ dump to paper.
but likewise, i'm not gonna spend any of my energy
making that argument to the media commons folk,
because they'll come to that realization on their own.
the reality of the situation will assert itself clearly.
if you cut to the quick here, you'll see that i was
talking about how i will spend _my_ time, and i am
really the only person who can make that decision.
i'm not trying to tell you how you should spend yours.
sally on April 2, 2007 4:34 PM:
I've been reading this thread alongside a flurry of writing over at printculture where their blog gang has marshaled together to respond to former NEH dep chair Thomas Mallon's list of pleas to academics today. He doesn't seem to see academics as neanderthals at all, but as ADD inducing techno-lefts.
Two of his pleas include:
2. How can current undergraduate instruction in the humanities, mired as it is in jargon and political faddishness, hope to inspire at least a portion of the most gifted students to enter academic life rather than, say, business school or TV production?"
5. How can the contemplative mind survive in the multitasking, ADD-inducing world of digitization? Are we willing to face the downside of this great electronic boon? Do we really want students reading electronic texts of the classics that are festooned with more links than a Wikipedia entry? Aren't a few moments of quiet bafflement preferable to an endless steeplechase across Web page after Web page?
Interesting that the same bogus dem. of "most gifted students" who are, at least to Mallon, opting for careers in tv media and business (both heavily reliant on technology and virtualization) over careers in academics/humanities, should within the same list also retreat out of the wiki-jungle to a baffled, paper halcyon.
Not that it's easy to take seriously, I think Mallon's list goes far to illustrate (albeit unintentionally) the difficulties in *upgrading* the humanities in institutions. Much of the resistance is top heavy, and unfortunately those who control the funding/legislation are not necessarily aware of or interested in what happens in the classroom today. Trickling up takes time, especially with this gravity. It's neat to see that MediaCommons attempts at that.
sebastian mary on April 3, 2007 7:13 AM:
bowerbird wrote: don't let colorful language sway you unnecessarily.
If you spent more time studying the humanities rather than merely looking down your nose at the 'neanderthal' technologies of its devotees, you might notice that how something is said has throughout most of Western history been considered just as important as what is said. It's only the last three hundred years of 'rationalism' that have enabled people to deploy inflammatory language and at the same time appropriate the self-styled 'objective' centre of debate. A practice, incidentally, which goes impeccably with unexamined and triumphalist narratives of linear technological 'progress'.
Sally's comment is interesting though. She notes the paradoxical way in which Mallon suggests that the 'ADD' quality of digitised study damages deep learning, while also lamenting the fact that those 'most gifted' (whatever that means) seem to be fleeing for the - relative to academia - infinitely more twitchy realms of TV or business.
In 2002 I was about to sit English undergrad finals at Oxford, and wondering what to do next. My Head of English said to me 'Ten years ago, Mary, I'd have said you HAVE to do graduate work. But these days they're employing lecturers by the term in some universities. There's no future in English studies. So I'm telling you: work hard, get your First, and shove off. You won't regret it.'
I did, and did, and haven't. And I'm not the only one. I've talked for years with other bookish types, many of whom made the same decision, about why we did so.
Far from merely being evidence of the difficulty of 'upgrading' study of the humanities in academic institutions, I think Mallon's contradictory complaints raise the question of whether academic institutions still know what they are for. At the undergraduate level, they function as finishing schools for the bourgeoisie; elsewhere, they are often little more than production lines for marketable ideas. Spheres of research that don't produce either baby bankers or patentable biotech cut little ice these days.
In this context, his use of the phrase 'the contemplative life' is suggestive. It evokes the beginning of universities as such in the medieval monasteries; and it raises the question of how well the modern university serves the ideals of those establishments.
Though I'm far from advocating celibacy and the like, the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake has much appeal for me. And I find it hard to see how I could do that in a university. With my mind occupied with college politics, competition for tenure, bitchy publication bottlenecks and gatekeepers of 'acceptable' study or knowledge and, perhaps worst of all, by an ever more desperate scrabble for funding I fail to see how I'd ever have time to pursue genuine, deep-seated intellectual curiosity. And so, though it means less time to read, fewer clever people to talk to, and no library to pillage, I'd rather do dead-end temping jobs in London and read on the Tube.
Bringing this back to MediaCommons. If I'm not the only egghead to have abandoned the universities, then there must be a whole stratum of mendicant boffins out there, drifting unsatisfied through the 'real world' of work, building up their libraries, thinking like mad but crippled by a lack of outlets for sharing their insights and little crossover with 'professional' academia. And this seems to me an unprecedented opportunity for the universities to reach out beyond their ivory towers.
So if MediaCommons represents the beginnings of a move to extend intellectual discourse beyond the narrow and professionalised world of modern universities, I'm in. If it's an attempt to engage both with those who decided to stay in academia, and those who decided to risk losing intellectual rigour and studying time in favour of a broader context and experience, then it's worth doing. The question for me simply becomes one of how these groups can work together, and what they might usefully do that benefits the culture as a whole.
gary Frost on April 3, 2007 9:43 AM:
The forum needs character. Not a casual living journal or chevy fan site. And at the same time it will need to evade the obsessive self-reference of second life. Is should behave like a visitor that provokes the best dinner conversation in years.
The terms associated with screen reading are suggestive and the term "lurking" characterizes an unpromising behavior. Tracking has a better implication; following traces toward an envisioned goal. Likewise co-operative discourse rather than "ranting". Then the need for reflexive navigation as contrasted with relentless scrolling forward. Paper books incite the reflexive arts like the interplay of reading and writing and reading and writing or the generative action of reading implications between books. Finally there should be occasional fixed displacements of the discourse to print.
bowerbird on April 3, 2007 4:35 PM:
> you might notice that how something is said
> has throughout most of Western history been
> considered just as important as what is said.
whatever floats yer boat.
but if you say "neanderthal" is "inflammatory"
rather than some silly hyperbole of rhetoric,
i certainly don't know how to enlighten you
as to who is flaming whom.
spend all the time you want "convincing" people
that they need to move online to be the future...
but 10 years from now, you'll come to realize that
you were wasting your time, because they would
have come around even if you had ignored them.
heck you can even -- if you really want to --
convince yourself that you were "successful"...
after all, all of those people i was trying to convince
to take up word-processing and use e-mail are now
doing exactly what i had been persuading them to do.