Thanks to my friend Elissa, I enjoyed this article yesterday:
What’s The Point Of Academic Publishing?
I’ve been cogitating since, and thought I’d share a few reactions. Of course, academic publishing is something I’ve written about here before:
Dopamine Junkie 1: Gamification and Academic Publishing
The Robber Barons of Academic Publishing
Quality and Quantity, Editors and Bloggers, Knowledge That Counts/Is Counted
…and it only took a decade!
I guess all those show, in a way, that I’ve bought in to the publishing mill… but also always seen it as a game to be played. Of course, I’ve always been fortunate, in that I got a tenure track position in Canada straight out of my postdoc and got tenure there after 4 years, and have been in permanent academic positions ever since. I can’t even imagine how much it sucks to be a young academic seeking tenure in America at the moment.
Professor Higgs definitely has a point, too: in the Century of the Beancounter, what can be counted must be counted, and maximised. And it’s sooo much easier to count quantity than quality. Efforts to measure quality end up being rendered down to numbers again, and missing the point.
At the same time, I think Sarah Kendzior’s article conflates a few different issues in a way that can be unhelpful. The link between an increasingly casualised academic workforce, for example, and academic publishing is not inevitable or direct. While the lack of tenured positions means that ‘publish or perish’ takes on more urgency, it is a phenomenon in itself that needs addressing. It’s both an economic and a political problem, and is related to beliefs about the purposes of universities and the roles of academics.
I had planned to go through and untangle the issues she conflates, but I think those reading this are smart enough to do that, particularly in the light of some of the issues discussed in the posts linked above (and the articles by others that they link).
Certainly ‘publish in order to have a job’ is flawed in itself – if that’s your motivation, it can be tedious, soul-destroying work, not least because so much of it is under the control of others. You have to publish because you think the ideas are exciting and worth sharing with the world.
That also means getting them out from behind the paywalls. While some Open Access publishing, both by the major houses and scammy new startup journals, is a scam for money, there is an increasing number of new Open Access journals, and I’ll choose them if I can. It’s really a win-win: my work is more accessible, seen by more, therefore cited and used by more, so it benefits both me and the readers/profession I want to serve. The only people it doesn’t benefit are the big academic publishing houses and their shareholders – but screw them, they don’t pay me for my work anyway, and they paywall it away from the very people who are most likely to use it.
It might be a bit premature to say too much yet, but we at Griffith are in the process of starting up an Open Access educational journal, which will also use a form of open peer review. I’ll write more about it here once we launch the journal.
I think the other thing is that you have to do it all. I blog about educational ideas (among many other things), write papers for teachers in teacher journals – they don’t ‘count’ for much but it’s worthwhile work – and also write papers in academic journals, including trying for at least one a year in an ‘A*’: the to journals in the field.
If you dislike writing, or are not full of ideas, or are writing strategically to get employed or promoted rather than out of the joy of the ideas and a commitment to serving humanity, doing it all will be a chore. For me, though, I love writing, and think the ideas are exciting enough to share… so getting them out there is worthwhile, and those who have the need to count can do so later.
As it happens, that approach works: on the ‘county numbers’, I’ll be in the top 2-3 ‘producers’ out of the 75 academics in our School this year. I think this blog is heading for 1800 total posts. And so on.
I guess the bottom line is that we need political action and will to make academic work fairer. That might also include thinking about a system that graduates far more PhDs than it can use. That’s an issue separate from, but linked to, publication.
In terms of publication, we need to take ‘accountability’ out of the hands of the accountants – and eschew the very metaphor – and put it back into the hands of the people in the field who can make the judgements. And trust them to make the judgements. There’s a whole other set of issues there about old boys networks and judging merit fairly, but those issues are no less tractable than those of counting… and arguably would be more likely to let Professor Higgs keep his job and expand the frontiers of our knowledge.