Peer-reviewed Monday – Reflective Pedagogy
When I wrote that one theory and practice post last November I was thinking about reflective practice, but I didn’t really talk about it.  Luckily, Kirsten at Into the Stacks picked up that thought for me.  The whole post is great, but here’s the reflection piece:

But the purpose of theory, it seems to me, is as much to cause us to reflect on our practice as it is to inform our practice.

In my own post, I over-used the term “inform,” because while that is important, I think that reflection is just as, if not more important.  Reflection is the point where the practice part of the job mixes with the theory part, with the writing part and the presenting part and the reading outside the discipline part.  It’s not just a matter of taking what someone else has done and saying “I could do that.”  It’s taking what someone else has said and saying “wow, this makes me think/feel/understand something about what I do.”

So this article from last year’s Journal of Academic Librarianship jumped out at me – as it brings together the ideas of praxis and information literacy:

H JACOBS (2008). Information Literacy and Reflective Pedagogical Praxis The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 34 (3), 256-262 DOI: 10.1016/j.acalib.2008.03.009

The article is well-done, and I recommend it if you’re interested in the why of reflective practice, particularly where it comes to teaching and information literacy, but for me it felt a little like that one song in Dirty Dancing – the one they dance to at the end that sounds like it is going to be classic 80’s overwrought pop and you keep thinking it’s going to take off into the saxophones and dance beat and it never does because in that last scene they’re doing the mambo that Jennifer Grey’s character learned as a novice and it can never really deviate from its initial beat as much as it sounds like it is going to?

The whole thing is why we should think about reflective practice, with no how or even how I do it.  Which is fine, and important, but when you’ve already drunk that particular kool-aid it lacks a certain punch.

Anyway, quick summary.  Jacobs argues that librarians need to think more about pedagogy and not just about teaching.  She briefly touches on the lack of teaching/ pedagogy training in library school, and argues that even if one has had a teaching methods class that isn’t enough.   Because so much of the teaching/learning work we do happens outside of the classroom setting, teaching methods alone won’t give us the coherence or the big picture we need to be effective.

She also argues for a broad, inclusive definition of information literacy.  Based on the the UN’s Alexandria Proclamation on Information Literacy and Lifelong Learning, the definition she favors includes that stuff in the standards-based definitions, but “goes on to make explicit what is implied in the other definitions by emphasizing the democratizing and social justice elements inherent in information literacy.”  This broad definition, she says, forces an understanding of information literacy that has to extend beyond the classroom.

Which brings us to the crux of the paper’s argument:

What I am suggesting is that the dialogues we have surrounding information literacy instruction strive to find a balance in the daily and the visionary, the local and the global, the practices and the theories, the ideal and the possible. One of the ways we can begin to do this in our daily teaching lives is to work toward creating habits of mind that prioritize reflective discussions about what it is that we are doing when we ‘do’ information literacy. This means thinking about pedagogy and talking about how we might work toward making the global local, the visionary concrete, the theoretical practicable, and, perhaps, the ideal possible. But how can we, as individual librarians, begin to work toward making information literacy ideals possible?

She argues that letting external standards, or quantitative measures, or standards-based rubrics define what we “do” when we do information literacy is not the way to go.  Not only will that keep us from understanding IL in that broad way advocated here, but it also reinforces an old-school, disempowering vision of education itself – Paolo Friere’s banking metaphor – where the teacher deposits knowledge among the students.

Finally, she gets to the argument mentioned in the abstract, that composition and rhetoric offer a lot to librarians trying to figure out how to understand information literacy in broader contexts.  She points out that the rhet/comp literature pushes back on the idea of standards-based assessment or pedagogy.  For one thing, this kind of approach makes it that much harder to really critically interrogate the assumptions underlying the standards or models themselves.

Which brings her to praxis:

Praxis — the interplay of theory and practice — is vital to information literacy since it simultaneously strives to ground theoretical ideas into practicable activities and use experiential knowledge to rethink and re-envision theoretical concepts.

She points to a particular article from the rhet/comp field, Shari Stenberg and Amy Lee’s College English article Developing Pedagogies: Learning the Teaching of English.  Drawing on Stenberg and Lee, Jacobs argues that we must develop ways to study our actual practice as texts, our teaching as texts.  She further argues that most of what we do when it comes to pedagogy is articulate different visions of it – visions that are not grounded in what practitioners actually do.

Beyond this, she argues that we need to study these things together, have critical, reflective conversations together about what it is that we do.  At the heart of this is the idea that teaching can’t be mastered, that developing our understanding of what we do is an inherently ongoing process.

And here’s the thing – I really like all of what she has to say here.  I do find it interesting that given the large body of literature on reflective practice she doesn’t draw from that, but what she says is consistent with the parts of that literature I like so overall, I don’t mind.  But here is where she ends.  She’s made the case for reflective practice and reflective conversations, for reading our practice like texts – but she doesn’t go on to the how of things.

Partly, because she refuses to do so:

For these reasons, I resist offering answers, solutions, or methods to questions about how to engage theory and practice within information literacy initiatives.

But recognizes that this is frustrating:

At the same time, I acknowledge that refusing to provide answers to questions such as “how do I teach information literacy” or “how do I become a reflective pedagogue” or “how might I foster a reflective pedagogical environment in my library” often seems evasive and counter productive.

She argues that librarians should engage in reflective dialogue, and that they should in effect walk the walk in front of their students – that the best way to get students engaged in the learning process is for teachers to be engaged in it as well.   That teachers should interrogate their own assumptions about their own learning process, examine why the set the problems they set, be engaged in their own learning process as they would want their students to be engaged.  To encourage students to develop their curiosity, to set meaningful problems for themselves to investigate – librarians should do that too.  Especially when it comes to their own practice.

But again, no how.  And I will admit I don’t find the “articulating this for you would be against what i am arguing” to be unsatisfying.  Because I don’t really think that Jacobs is letting us see her process – I don’t think that she is letting us see her walk the walk.  I see her problem-setting on a personal, engaged level – but instead I see her telling us that there is a problem, arguing that in very traditional, very objective scholarly language, and then positing a solution to the problem that doesn’t fit in that rhetorical structure.  It’s late, and I’m tired, and I will defintiely accept that I didn’t catch something that is here – but I don’t think that personal engagement is here.

Don’t get me wrong, one of the things I like about the article is what I do see of Jacobs’ passion for this subject, her ability to draw connections and connect the dots.  But I want to see her reflecting on her practice – as a teacher, maybe and as a scholar certainly.  I think that would have allowed her to be true to her “no prescriptive reflection recipes” principles, while still offering something more satisfying than “creative, reflective dialogue.”

Perhaps my perspective is skewed, though, because I am increasingly starting to believe that showing students how we use the tools we describe in our own research and scholarship is the best way to communicate their value.  I do think that modeling what we preach is crucial.   So I may be glomming onto what is a less important part of her overall argument than I would have you believe.

Still, my favorite part of this article is buried in footnote 59 – where she can’t resist weighing in with some ideas.  And I find the peek into the reviewing process entirely charming:

59. The question of how to go about enacting this creative, reflective dialogue is undeniably pressing. In response to this piece, an anonymous reviewer asked a crucial question: “am I simply to include more problem based learning into my teaching of information literacy, or do I need to start from scratch and sit alongside the classes I work with, understanding how they think, and walking with them on their path to critical thinking and information literacy. God please give me the time for this.” The reviewer concludes, “However, this is perhaps the nature of the reflective activity the author is recommending.” Indeed, the answer the reviewer provides to his or her question is the answer I too would offer. The act of asking questions such as the ones quoted above is precisely the kind of reflective activity I am advocating. Pedagogical reflection does not mean we need to dismantle and rebuild our information literacy classes, programs, and initiatives from the ground up (though we may, after reflection, choose to do so). Instead pedagogical reflection means that that we ask questions like the ones quoted above of ourselves and our teaching and that we think critically and creatively about the small and large pedagogical choices we make.

Peer-reviewed Monday post-conference-drive-by

Oh who am I kidding.  It probably won’t be short.  But it might be disjointed.  My good intentions were foiled by intermittent Internet access at the Super Conference, which was not that unexpected.  And by a seriously limited amount of power for my computer, which was totally unexpected except for my expected ability to do boneheaded things like leaving my power adapter at home.

{FYI – the Canadians, they know how to treat their speakers.  It’s been great.}

I do have something to say about peer reviewed research today though – it’s about this 2005 Library Quarterly article by Kimmo Tuominen, Reijo Savolainen and Sanna Talja.

Fair warning, I really liked this article.  I first read something by Savolainen when I was working on an annotated bibliography in library school (I think the topic was genre) and I’ve been something of a fan ever since.  Like AnneMaree Lloyd who was discussed here two weeks ago, these authors argue that we need to expand our definitions of information literacy.  And the expansion they’re arguing for is similar to Lloyd’s.  I find more food for thought here – more connections between the different things I’m thinking about and working on.

Perhaps this is because this is not a research article – these authors are not bound by their own sample, questions, or data.  Perhaps it is because tthey do a better job of placing their vision of information literacy in its theoretial context, or at least of explaining what that context is and why we should care about it.  Or perhaps it is just because their vision is broader.

In any event, their starting point is similar to Lloyd’s –

The predominant view of information literacy tends to conceive of IL as a set of attributes – or personal fluencies – that can be taught, evaluated, and measured independently of the practical tasks and contexts in which they are used.

And they have similar conclusions –

We argue that understanding the interplay between knowledge formation, workplace learning, and information technologies is crucial for the success of IL initiatives.  Needs for information and information skills are embedded in work practice and domain-dependent tasks.

So from here the authors look back at the IL discussion over time. They locate its start in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, trace the initial involvement of professional associations in the 1980’s, touch on the Big 6 model in the 1990’s and then argue that the concept of information literacy began to be associated with the broader concept of lifelong learning in the 1990’s.  They conclude this history section with the argument that since the 1990’s there have been many attempts to define competency standards for information literacy.

From here, they move to talking about challenges to the idea of information literacy.  Interestingly, they place the argument that IL instruction requires cooperation with faculty, integration into the curriculum, and a grounding in content-focused classroom assignments as one such challenge.  Given that that model has been presented to me as the norm (with the separate, credit-course instruction idea as the exception) since I was in library school, this rang a little strange to me.

The authors dismiss the challenges to IL.  They argue that so long as definitions of IL take the individual as subject, and outline a set of generic, transferable skills that individual can master – there is broad agreement as to what the potentially vague concept of “information literacy” means.  They argue that the ACRL IL Standards for Higher Education, for example, define a set of generic skills that are supposed to have relevance across the disciplines and across contexts.

This is very interesting to me, because we spent a long time on my campus defining just that kind of generic, transferable information literacy standards.  We did so in conjunction with faculty across the disciplines – from all of our colleges and who taught all levels of undergraduates.  The thing is this, this was a really invigorating process.  We held focus groups with faculty and had conversations with a lot of programs and units across campus and I’m really, really proud of the document we came up with .  As a model for objectives/ goal-writing, this document is not bad.  Look at the action verbs!

And more than that, the repeated conversations with faculty were really morale-boosting.  Getting faculty to come over to the library and talk, and talk in-depth and really, really intelligently about information literacy wasn’t a challenge – it was easy.  And the faculty had such useful and smart things to say about the stuff we all cared about.  It was a good process.

Since then, we’ve been wondering what to do with the document.  Our campus doesn’t have any instiutution-wide learning goals; we don’t have a structure where our competencies could fit in or be adopted on a campus-wide level.   So that’s an issue.  But even within the library, we’ve struggled with where to go next.

And I think that the factors mentioned in this article may have something to do with it.  We use the course-integrated, there should be an assignment, IL has more meaning with taught in the context of an actual information need model.  And we thought and still think that we *could* define disciplinary or context- specific versions of our competencies (or at least of the examples), but we haven’t done that.  Our one attempt to do so got bogged down in a nightmare mire of granularity.

We want to define a program that integrates the branch campuses, the archives/ special collections, faculty programs and all levels of graduate/undergraduate student instruction and I’m not sure that the competency document is that helpful in doing that.  It was a useful reflective exercise for us, and the process of creating it collaboratively with faculty was very useful.  But beyond that, I’m not sure how to make it useful for us as we try to structure a doing-more-with-less type of instruction program.

And it might be because of what is articulated in this article.  When I think of how to create a document like this for beginning composition, for example, which while multidiscipinary has a clearly articulated goal of introducing students to academic writing and knowledge creation.  And that goal is a context – academic writing provides a context.  Context is even easier to conceptualize in different fields.

The authors argue that these standards-based ideas of IL are based on an assumption of information as something factual and knowable (I think our collaborative process with faculty undercut this in our case).  They also suggest that the standards are too focused on the individual as agent seeking and using information.  This piece I have a little bit of a problem with.  It’s kind of a typical criticism of constructivism – arguing that it’s too individual, too grounded in individual cognitive processes:

Most of the published IL literature draws from constructivist theories of learning stressing that individuals not only absorb the messages carried by information but are also active builders of sense and meaning.

What they’re missing here, or probably not giving the same emphasis that I would give more than ignoring – is Vygotsky.  Kuhlthau, who they acknowledge as influential, deliberately focuses on Vygotsky’s brand of constructivism, which was a deliberate effort to integrate the social and cultural back IN to constructivism.  Still, much as I love Vygotsky, and much as I respect Kuhlthau for going that route — I have to agree that the *image* of the solitary scholar undergirds the picture painted by most IL competency standards.

Beyond this, the authors idea of the social in information literacy is very specific – grounded in this idea of socialtechnical practice.  As they suggest, “the most important aspects of IL may be those that cannot be measured at the level of the individual alone.”   By this, they mean, that it is not the individual but the community that decides what kinds of sources are useful, and valued, and important — which things you have to master to be successful within the community:

Groups and communities read and evaluate texts collaboratively.  Interpretation and evaluation in scientific and other knowledge domains is undertaken in specialized “communities of practice,” or “epistemic communities.”

Which is why I think the “academic writing” context in beginning composition is not too broad as to be useful.  For new or neophyte scholars, the idea that there are practices of communicating knowledge, that there are types of knowledge more avalued than others – these ideas are new enough that they deserve an introduction all their own.  Expecting students to jump into the epistemic community of a discipine before they really understand that there is such a thing as epistemology… that seems unreasonable to me.

The authors here tend to argue that IL is too grounded in school and that it misses the communitie of practice aspect because it’s too grounded in school.  I think I would probably argue (though this just occurred to me and I’m a classic introvert which means I need more processing time and thus must reserve the right to argue the opposite of this later) … anyway … I would probably argue that the problem isn’t that we focus on generic academic writing skills instead of grounding things in context – I would argue that we present generic academic writing skills without really grounding them in their context.  I agree that we have an assumption that these skills, mastered in any context, will be useful and valuable.  That we don’t have to explain their significance across contexts because students will be able to draw those connections.  I’m not sure that’s true unless we specifically, and deliberately, explain the academic context in the first place.

And I really like the idea of grounding those pieces of information literacy – that what you will even be looking for is determined by the discourse, by the practice-standards of a particular discourse community — in the community or the context.  So, to these authors, “sociotechnical practice” means identifying where the community determines what it means to be information literate.    And that’s really, really valuable.

Beyond this, I think we need to start deliberately teaching our students how to figure out what those community standards are.  Not teaching them what they are – but how to figure that out.  I wondered the other day if students are using search engines to figure out how to enter the scholarly discourse even if they aren’t taught specifically what “peer reviewed” means, or anything like that.  Looking at my referral logs, I don’t think they are.  That kind of bothers me – they should know how to go looking for the how-to information they need.  And I suspect we should start teaching it.

Kimmo Tuominen, Reijo Savolainen, Sanna Talja (2005). Information Literacy as a Sociotechnical Practice The Library Quarterly, 75 (3), 329-345 DOI: 10.1086/497311

Kicking off Peer Reviewed Mondays

I am apparently not the only theory geek out there.  But I realized that I haven’t been doing a great job of putting my money where my mouth is where it comes to the value of peer-reviewed articles.  So my Monday evenings this term look like they are, for a variety of reasons, going to lend themselves to this experiment – Peer Reviewed Mondays.

Which means – Mondays I’ll try to at least point to a peer-reviewed article that I think is worth talking about.  I’ll also try to explain why.  That seems do-able.

So I’ve had the idea for this for a while, which of course means that I haven’t come across anything peer reviewed that really inspired me to write.  But today, I was inspired by a presentation I heard on campus to go poking around into journals I haven’t looked at before and I came across this article (PDF) from 2004, which takes a different kind of look at issues of evaluation when it comes to science and research and peer reviewed papers.  The meta of that delights me, and I think this paper is a useful addition to the stuff in my brain.

The article is called The Rhetorical Situation of the Scientific Paper and the “Appearance” of Objectivity.

(Useless aside – when the presenter today was being introduced I was unreasonably amused because to fully express the meaning of each journal article, the professor doing the introducing had to read out all of the punctuation – like the quotation marks above.  That doesn’t happen in library papers enough. )

Allen’s method is simple.  He articulates ideas and theories from the rhetoric/composition discourse, and then analyzes a single scholarly article –

in this essay, I analyze Renske Wassenberg, Jeffrey E. Max, Scott D. Lindgren, and Amy Schatz’s article, “Sustained Attention in Children and Adolescents after Traumatic Brain Injury: Relation to Severity of Injury, Adaptive Functioning, ADHD and Social Background” (herein referred to as “Sustained Attention in Children and Adolescents”), recently published in Brain Injury, to illustrate that the writer of an  experimental report in effect creates an exigence and then addresses it through rhetorical strategies that contribute to the appearance of objectivity.

Allen’s initial discussions, that scientific rhetoric is rhetoric, that scholarly objectivity has limits, and that specific rhetorical decisions (like the use, or what might be considered overuse in any other context, of the passive voice) are employed to enhance the impression of objectivity.  are interesting but not earth-shattering.  Where I found the nuggets of real interest were in the concluding sections.  Allen draws upon John Swales, who examined closely how scientists establish the idea that their research question is important.

Swales called the strategy Create a Research Space (CARS)  and identified three main rhetorical moves that most scholars make.  As Allen describes them:

  • Establish centrality within the research.
  • Establish a niche within the research.
  • Occupy the niche.

So what’s interesting about this to me, is Allen’s conclusion that – scientific authors seek to establish their study’s relevance through the implication that they share the same central assumptions and information base.

The reason this is interesting is that it dovetails neatly with Thomas Kuhn’s idea of normal science – the idea that a shared set of first principles is central to the idea of scholarly discourse, particularly a discourse that advances knowledge.   Where that intersects with the idea of peer review is in the idea of what makes it through peer review – the idea that an article or a piece of research needs to be more than just good or interesting research, it also needs to be a good example of what research is in a particular discipline, or discourse community.

Allen compares the relatively ordinary piece of research that he is anaylzing with a far more influential piece and finds that some of the rhetorical strategies that are used to establish the science-ness and the objectivity of the former are present, but far less present in the latter.  This – especially the idea that authors proposing truly ground-breaking research might be less likely to use the passive, “objective” voice – might be more likely to refer to themselves as active agents – is simply fascinating.

Allen points out that the very language we use to talk about scholarly research – creating meaning, knowledge, verifying truth claims – implies that the situation in which scientists communicate their findings is rhetorical.  He also points out that it is not just scientists – but the rest of us who rely in many ways on the meaning and knowledge scientists create – who need to understand these rhetorical practices.  His last sentence, in fact, is as good a justification for information literacy in higher ed as I’ve seen:

Certainly, scientists and researchers should be aware of embedded rhetorical strategies. But given the profound and pervasive influence of science in Western culture, we should all––scientist or not––be attentive to how our knowledge is shaped.

And now on to that delicious meta I love so much.

I love the idea of using this article to talk about what scholarship really is with undergraduates, particularly undergrads working on understanding academic writing.  But here’s the thing – the author of this article is himself an undergraduate writer.


The article appears in Young Scholars in Writing: Undergraduate Research in Writing and Rhetoric – a peer-reviewed journal, with an editorial board made up of faculty in rhetoric and composition.  The content of the journal is all by undergraduate researchers, and the peer reviewers themselves are undergraduates who have also published in the journal.

The journal reflects some of the practices of open peer review that fascinate me – especially as information literacy resources for students as they learn the practice of scholarly knowledge creation.  The review process itself is not made public, but each issue of the journal has a Comments and Responses section where student writers write 2-5 page responses to papers that have been published in the journal.

Which gets to the last piece of meta.  The one overwhelming benefit of the peer-review process, that is rarely discussed by us librarians in information literacy classes when we have to talk to students about finding peer reviewed articles – and that is rarely discussed by the faculty who require their students to find peer reviewed articles — the one thing that is pretty much unanimously agreed is that the process of peer review makes the paper better.  Maybe not all better, maybe not better in the same way as it would be better if it were reviewed by other people.  But better than it would have been had it not gone through that process.  This paper is beautifully written – clear and accessible and smart.

I love the idea of digging into the idea of peer review, using student engagement with the peer review process as an entry point — but to be able to do that with a paper that itself should spark new ideas about the value of scholarship, and how to evaluate scholarship – that looks kind of like a gift.

Matthew Allen (2004). The Rhetorical Situation of the Scientific Paper and the “Appearance” of Objectivity Young Scholars in Writing: Undergraduate Research in Writing and Rhetoric, 2

Why we should read it before we cite it — no, really!

Last week, Female Science Professor wrote a lovely pair of posts about scholars and scholarship, what it feels like when your work has an impact on someone and what it feels like to meet the people who have influenced you in that particular undefinable way where it’s hard to even express what they’ve meant to you. I shared one, saved the other and generally felt very good about being a small part of this world where rock star crushes on ideas and the people who share them are understood and embraced.

Way to ruin everything, Inside Higher Ed.

Okay, not really. But seriously, it’s a lot harder to feel like a rock star because someone has read and used your work if, as Malcolm Wright and J. Scott Armstrong suggest, they probably didn’t read it and if they did, they probably read it wrong.

That might be a little bit strong, but not by much. So what does it mean when a published, peer-reviewed article in a real life journal kicks off its final, concluding paragraph with this sentence – Authors should read the papers they cite.


This isn’t a library tutorial aimed at fifth-graders writing their first research paper, after all. This is a paper talking about what professional scholars, people responsible for the continued development of knowledge in disciplines, should do. It can’t mean anything good. Here’s the original article:

Article at Interfaces – requires subscription

Article at Dr. Anderson’s faculty page – does NOT require a subscription – (opens in PDF)

Nutshell – Dr. Anderson wrote one of the more impact-heavy articles in his discipline, and the only article that analyzes and explains how to correct for non-response bias in mail surveys (that’s bias caused by people who do not respond at all to the survey). By analyzing 1. how often research based on mail surveys includes a citation to this article, and 2. how often the later researchers seem to interpret and apply the original article correctly the authors conclude that many, many researchers are not reading all of the relevant literature. More disturbingly, many, many researchers aren’t even reading all of the articles they themselves cite.

Now, on one level this isn’t a shocker – anyone who has read moderately deeply in any body of literature has probably looked at at least one bloated literature review and said “hey – this person probably didn’t really read all of these books and articles.” This article suggests that it’s more complex than just lit-review padding, that scholarly authors also mis-cite and mis-use the resources they use to support the methods they use and the conclusions they draw.

Working on the assumption that if your research uses a mail survey, you should at least be considering the possibility of nonresponse bias, they found that:

…far less than one in a thousand mail surveys consider evidence-based findings related to nonresponse bias. This has occurred even though the paper was published in 1977 and has been available in full text on the Internet for many years.

Working on the further assumption that someone who makes a claim about nonresponse bias, and who reads, understands and cites an article that outlines a particular method for correcting nonresponse bias to support that claim, will follow the method outlined in the article they cited, the authors conclude that many authors are either not reading or are not understanding the articles they cite:

The net result is that whereas evidence-based procedures for dealing with nonresponse bias have been available since 1977, they are properly applied only about once every 50 times that they are mentioned, and they are mentioned in only about one out of every 80 academic mail surveys.

Most of the research that seriously digs into how well researchers use the sources they cite has come out of the sciences, particularly the medical sciences. This is one of the first articles I’ve seen dealing with the social sciences, and I think it’s worth reading more closely because this very rough and brief summary doesn’t really do justice to the issues it raises. But right now, I want to turn to the authors’ conclusions because I think they get at some of the things we’ve been talking about around here about how new technologies and the read/write web might have an impact on scholarship.

The first two outline author responsibilities:

  • First – read the sources you cite. I think we can take that as a given – a bare-minimum practice not a best practice.
  • Secondly, “authors should use the verification of citations procedure.” Here they’re calling for authors to contact all of the researchers whose work they want to cite to make sure that they’re citing it correctly. I’m going to come back to this one.

The second two put some of the burden on the journals:

  • Journals should require authors to attest that they have in fact read the work they cite and that they have performed due diligence to make sure their citations are correct. That seems a sad, largely symbolic, but not unreasonable precaution.
  • Finally, journals should provide easily accessible webspaces for other people to post additional work and additional research that is relevant to research that has been published in the journal. Going to come back to this one too because I think it’s actually related to the one above.

Basically – both of these recommendations suggest that more communication and more transparency would be more better for knowledge creation. And what is the read/write web about if not communication and transparency, networking and openness?

Some of the commenters on the IHE article expressed, shall we say, polite skepticism that an author should be obligated to contact every person they cite before citing them. These concerns were also raised by one of the formal comment pieces attached to the Interfaces article. And I have to say I agree with these concerns for a few reasons. Anderson made the claim more than once that he does this as an author, with good results, and that the process is not too onerous. But that doesn’t really address the question of how onerous it would be for a prolific or influential author to have to field all of those requests.

And I’ll also admit to having some author is dead reactions to this. What if I contact Author A and say I’m planning to use your work in this way and they say “well I didn’t intend it to be used in that way so you shouldn’t.” Does that really mean I shouldn’t? Really? It’s hard to see this kind of thing not devolving quickly into something that actually hinders the development of new knowledge because it hinders new researchers’ ability to push at and find new connections in work that has come before.

But not to throw everything out with this bathwater – the idea that more and better and faster communication between scholars (more and better and faster than can be provided within journals and the citation-as-communication tradition) makes better scholarly conversations and better scholarship – that’s something I think we need to hold on to. Anderson points out how talking to the researcher who really knows the area described in the thing you’re citing can point you to other, less cited but more useful resources – how they can expand your knowledge of the field you’re talking about:

We checked with Franke to verify that we cited his work correctly. He directed us to a broader literature, and noted that Franke (1980) provided a longer and more technically sophisticated criticism; this later paper has been cited in the ISI Citation Index just nine times as of August 2006.

This is an area where the transparency, speed and networking aspects of the emerging web might have a real impact on the quality of scholarship even if there are no material changes in the practice of producing journal articles. I might not be sure about the idea of making this communication a part of citation verification but it should be a part of knowledge creation. And it’s tied as well with the final recommendation – that journals should provide webspaces for some, not all but some, of this communication to happen.

The types of conversations between similarly interested scholars that Anderson is describing is nothing new – the emerging web offers some opportunities for those conversations to move off the backchannel. Or maybe it’s the idea that it’s still a backchannel, but the back channel being visible is interesting. Whether the journal has its own backchannel for errors, additions, omissions and new ideas to be posted, or whether that backchannel exists on blogs, in online knoweldge communities, or networking spaces doesn’t matter so much as it can exist. We certainly have the technology.

And the journal Interfaces itself I think provides a suggestion as to why this kind of addtional discourse and conversation is valuable. You may have noticed that what looks like a fifteen page article is really an eight page article with six pages of response pieces, followed by an authors’ response. The responses challenge parts of the original article, and enrich other parts with additional information and examples. They illustrate the collaborative nature of knowledge production in the disciplines in a way that citations alone cannot. I couldn’t find anything on the journal’s website about this practice – if it’s a regular thing, how responses are solicited, or more. These responses are a spot of openness in a fairly closed publication.

And that as well points to the last point to make here because this is far too long already – I don’t think we have to change everything to fix the problems raised here – and I don’t think if we did change everything it would fix all of the problems raised here. There’s that scene in Bull Durham where Eppie Calvin gets his guitar taken away because he won’t get the lyrics right. And that’s the connection between FemaleScienceProfessor and Anderson and Wight — who can feel like a rock star if they’re singing your songs but getting them wrong?

There will always be Eppie Calvins out there inside and outside of academia -for them, women are wooly because of the stress. But injecting just some openness, making some communication visible – won’t stop Eppie Calvin, but might keep the next person from replicating his mistakes. And that’s a good thing.