Evolutions in Scholarship

Blogging as Scholarship

Tuesday, July 6, 2010 8:03 am

Updated July 8, 2010 – see below.

Blogging. For many, the term evokes thoughts of cringe-worthy diary-esque posts by angry teenagers, or bland breakfast tweets by bored acquaintances. But in many fields, including the sciences, law and librarianship, blogging has become vital to the advancement of scholarship. Blogs provide outlets for scholarly exchanges and expression of ideas that might otherwise be lost among the cacophony of hallway conversations and hastily-jotted margin notes. Blogs expand the conversation beyond a handful of colleagues gathered in the same physical space to an online intersection of scholars, students and interested individuals who are able to share insights in a more real-time manner than traditional exchanges via letters and rebuttal articles in journals. Blogging advances an idea or argument, and that is the ultimate goal of scholarship.

Blogging has changed dramatically, both since its genesis in the late 1990s and again within the last five years. In 2005, the Chronicle of Higher Education published a pseudonymous article titled, Bloggers Need Not Apply, which was soon followed by Attack of the Career-Killing Blogs by Robert S. Boynton on Slate. Although Boynton was critical of the claim that blogging automatically had an adverse effect on career success, Mark Sample best summed up the objection to blogging within the academy when he stated that “…the real problem with academics who blog is that they leave evidence that they’re not at that precise moment engaged in research or teaching. A blog is an index to one’s daily ‘unproductive’ activity” (Sample Reality blog).

In the five years since “career killing blogs” first “attacked,” blogs and specifically scholarly blogging have matured. Publishers, such as Nature Publishing Group, and higher education media outlets, including the Chronicle, have blogs, speaking to the importance of blogging within research fields and higher education generally. The the rise of vetted blogging communities and the evolution of publications via blogs/blogging platforms point to the rising value of blogs as an outlet for scholarship. Noted examples of these communities and publications include:

  • ScienceBlogs – 80+ bloggers covering various aspects of science; sharing and assessing research, discussing science news and events; launched in January 2006
  • ResearchBlogging.org – over 1,000 blogs/10,000 posts; aggregates blog posts on peer reviewed articles, posts similar to review articles; started in mid-2007
  • In the Library with the Lead Pipe – peer-reviewed (one external, one internal) blog authored by six librarians, with submissions by guest authors; has an ISSN; peer reviewers named but reviews not public; average 2 articles per month, 2,000-5,000 words; publication began in October 2008
  • Hacking the Academy – book project of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University; collected in one week in May 2010 through crowdsourcing, using hashtags (e.g., #hackacad); over 300 contributions from nearly 200 authors; full content available online, print edition forthcoming from Digital Culture Books

Despite such projects, written scholarly output in many fields is still expected to appear in a journal or monograph, vetted by pre-publication blind peer review. To engage in written discourse that does not have the peer review stamp of approval prior to distribution seems folly to many. Even fields with a healthy culture of sharing articles pre-peer review via repositories such as arXiv or SSRN eventually feed that scholarship into traditional publication structures.

Admittedly, the lack of editorial oversight and traditional peer review are strikes against blogging as scholarship. But to automatically dismiss blogs from the realm of scholarship, even while desiring universal electronic access to information (ahem, that’s scholarship folks!), is to fail to “stop trying to pound the square peg of digital scholarship into the round hole of analog scholarship” (Mills Kelly, Making Digital Scholarship Count (2), edwired). As Kathleen Fitzpatrick, author of Planned Obsolescence, notes, the criteria used during a scholar’s tenure and promotion review usually tries to assess impact on the field through the tally of peer-reviewed publications. But, she argues, “why should the two-to-three readers selected by a journal/press, plus that entity’s editor/editorial board, be the arbiter of the authority of scholarly work–particularly in the digital, when we have so many more complex means of assessing the effect of/response to scholarly work via network analysis?”

If scholars are to be truly evaluated on their impact to the field, a blog that fosters healthy debate and discussion, and ideally advances ideas or problems within the field, is a strong indicator of immediate impact. Blogging busts through access barriers that are currently limiting scholarly advancement by tying scholarship that “counts” to a centuries-old system that often fails to connect and engage scholars expediently. Through commenting and response posts, blogging has even evolved its own peer review system, albeit post-publication. Do you believe it is time for blogging to be validated by the academy as a means of scholarly discourse?

UPDATE: This week, an event has taken place that might have undermined my argument that blogging is scholarship, but I believe it actually underscores it. ScienceBlogs (SB) has come under scrutiny for a move that angered many of its bloggers and brought its credibility into question. Because this event did not pass by unnoticed, but sparked intense debate across the SB blogosphere and beyond, it confirms that blogging is actively monitored and reviewed by an engaged peer community that takes threats to credibility and autonomy very seriously. Read more from the Columbia Journalism Review, the Knight Science Journalism Tracker at MIT, The Guardian’s Science Blog, and Carl Zimmer at The Loom.

Comments

  1. I have recently re-engaged within academic pursuit of an MFA, within a low residency program for Visual Art. Keeping a blog is a required component of our scholarly discourse. A week ago, I never really knew what a blog was, I am now keeping my blog as an online journal of my progress, my reading list, exhibits I view, and works in progress as well as completed works posted.

    I would have scoffed at the need or requirement for this academic participation, but I see it a valuable vehicle in allowing my peer colleague students to review my progress, and reciprocally to theirs, as well as my faculty adviser, and mentor artist to see my direction and reflection.

  2. As a Wake grad student working on my Master’s, yet someone who has spent the previous ten years in the publishing and media business, I have a very discordant view on the blogging “epidemic.”

    When it comes to academic discourse, I feel strongly that blogs allow one to convey their thoughts, ideas and research — and seek and obtain peer review for it. However, when it comes to journalistic integrity, I believe blogs have terribly skewed the boundaries between what is true, researched “news” and that which is opinion presented as “news.”

    In some ways, I find the ability to create a blog to be as easy as the new phenomenon of “self-publishing.” Someone who claims to be a scholar, or someone who purports to be an academian, can simply send their 100-page manuscript to Amazon.com’s division known as BookSurge and have 100 copies printed. Then they mail or deliver them to companies, universities, etc., in the hopes of them actually being published for-profit. Rarely, if ever, do you actually see true peer review of these such books appear in true scholarly journals, however.

    Moreover, the rise of Google’s AdWords service has perpetuated tens of thousands of blogs whose sole purpose is to generate page views — and hopefully ad hits — in the goal of making money. That horribly undermines academic and journalistic integrity, as people seek to sensationalize information in the hopes of wide-spread, viral dissemination.

    As an undergraduate at Rutgers College in the 1990s, we had a handful of very successful resources on-line including message boards, listserv applications, and comment forums to present, discuss and debate our ideas. They were not only more than suitable, they were more protected: i.e., the phenomenal of “trolls” did not exist because registration and usership was limited by the admin. Today, blogs have largely supplanted such applications.

    Truly, however, blogs are nothing more than a fancy GUI applied to a message board, and in most instances you can start one for free versus the formerly paid model. If it were to cost $500 a year to start a blog, they would not be nearly as prevalent now as they were five years ago.

    James A. Molnar
    molnja7@wfu.edu

  3. James, you raise a valid point about the ease of entry into blogging contributing to the wide spectrum of authority and accuracy found in the blogosphere. However, I believe that is all the more reason why those academic blogs that do not seek to “sensationalize information” or “skew the boundaries” of traditional journalism, but rather serve to advance knowledge in their field and maintain a healthy, respectful discourse, should be recognized as scholarship.

  4. The future of news is building an audience for yourself. This is no more limited to big new organizations. Blogging has helped individuals to make a mark for themselves and this is what any enterprising journalist must do.

    I curate the Bighow Online Journalism Guide Page http://bighow.com/journalism on Bighow, the social news sharing website.

    There, you will find links to all the useful tools, resources, guides that you would need to excel in the exciting field of Online Journalism. It also covers the latest trends in Online news.


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