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Profession 2011: Evaluating Digital Scholarship

Profession 2011: Evaluating Digital Scholarship

 

The 2011 issue of Profession, journal published by the Modern Language Association, is a must read. 

Everything in this issue interests me, but the main reason to post about it here is the section titled "Evaluating Digital Scholarship", introduced by Susan Schreibman, Laura Mandell, and Stephen Olsen, and containing five papers: 

"On the Evaluation of Digital Media as Scholarship", by Geoffrey Rockwell

"Engaging Digital Scholarship: Thoughts on Evaluating Multimedia Scholarship", by Steve Anderson and Tara McPherson

"Where Credit Is Due: Preconditions for the Evaluation of Collaborative Digital Scholarship", by Bethany Nowviskie

"On Creating a Usable Future", by Jerome McGann

"Peer Review, Judgment, and Reading", by Kathleen Fitzpatrick

It must be celebrated that, only logically, these papers are open access. I feel it is slightly strange they chose the label "Free" and not "Open Access". (See screen grab below).  Yes, the latter would mean non-subscribers can access the papers witthout having to go through a paywall, but the word choice connotes a sort of exceptional condition (a "special offer"), which, after all, it is, since disappointingly the rest of the articles in the issue are accessible only to subscribers.  

I also found slightly strange that the links still say only "Abstract" (and, in the case of the introduction, "Citation") when they do take us to a page that allows us to download the full paper. I understand that the journal's website architecture has predefined pages for "Abstracts" and not full papers, since Profession is normally not an Open Access journal, but perhaps this fantastic occasion in which a whole section, due to its topic and disciplinary approach, is Open Access, the MLA could consider revising the terminology.

(Image above is a screen shot from <http://www.mlajournals.org/toc/prof/2011/1>. Accessed 09 December 2011).

These are minor details, of course, and this Open Access offering of timely essays is extremely welcomed at this exciting moment for scholarly evaluation and communications.

Maybe in the not-so-distant future Profession will be completely Open Access... An educated guess would suggest that would only maximise the MLA's international standing, citations, global membership and impact. In the meanwhile, let's celebrate this 2011 issue, which comes with truly vital food for thought.

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PS.  I particularly wish I (and many others)  had had open access to read Hillary Chute's article,"Comics Form and Narrating Lives", which explores Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Joe Sacco’s Footnotes in Gaza.

If you are interested, in The Comics Grid Janine Utell wrote recently about Bechdel’s Fun Home, and Nina Mickwitz explored Footnotes in Gaza. (I also recently trasncribed for the Grid an interview with Sacco I conducted in 2002).

 

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9 comments

Hi, Ernesto. Thanks for the post! We're really happy to have been able to make these articles available OA. The oddness you note in the "citation" links is a bug in our hosting service; it's been noted, and a fix is in the works, but it's taking some time to get it in place. We look forward to more discussion of the articles, and of the ways that scholarly communication is changing overall.

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Thanks for your reply, KF. I do indeed hope my post contributes, even if in a small way, to encourage more discussion on the articles and of the changes in scholarly communication. 

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As I think of digital scholarship, and open response forums I remain skeptical.  I am skeptical because I do not trust that computers can keep evaluative structures of scholarship from evolving into perspective arguments, and often heated academic battles.

Also, who owns what.  I think it is amazing that it is now cost-efficient to publish on the internet, but who are to be the gatekeepers of this information.  The algorithms that design them, or the academics who contribute their work for free.

I do not trust that open scholarship can maintain any "strict standards" and believe it could turn into a social media battle of promotion.  Open scholarship is great, but with STANDARDS.  How do you choose who to include and exclude in a discourse/editing forum?

These are conversations that I wish would take place in classrooms and on campuses, instead of always on the internet.  

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In an era when drug companies pay for positive tests of new products, where Pearson runs the system of selecting who qualifies for specialized versions of their tests, where academics "sell" their universities based on the menu of their cafeterias, WHAT CAN YOU BE THINKING that the net is actually LESS credible than life or death tests, legally and morally mandated exceptions, and college as a "consumer industry!"

The point of an "open digital system" is that it accepts exceptions like those you think are important. Just because an academic "review" has multiple reviewers does not qualify as "objectivity." For that matter there never was real "objectivity," just transparency in who was judging. Now that that has been destroyed - by the Supreme Court in Citizens United and similar decisions - the safest way to get balanced news and academic information is to look to where that news comes from, and trust your friends.

Don't be a patsy to poor journalism.

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In an era when drug companies pay for positive tests of new products, where Pearson runs the system of selecting who qualifies for specialized versions of their tests, where academics "sell" their universities based on the menu of their cafeterias, WHAT CAN YOU BE THINKING that the net is actually LESS credible than life or death tests, legally and morally mandated exceptions, and college as a "consumer industry!"

The point of an "open digital system" is that it accepts exceptions like those you think are important. Just because an academic "review" has multiple reviewers does not qualify as "objectivity." For that matter there never was real "objectivity," just transparency in who was judging. Now that that has been destroyed - by the Supreme Court in Citizens United and similar decisions - the safest way to get balanced news and academic information is to look to where that news comes from, and trust your friends.

Don't be a patsy to poor journalism.

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Thank you for responding to my comment.  I read a blog which elucidated Willinsky's Access Principle and I agree.  I feel a moral obligation to spread as much knowledge as possible, but I need to eat.  If my academic department does not enable me the technical training to take part in these open digital scholarship opportunities, then I fell I am being left behind.  

I think Kathy Fitzpatrick's, Planned Obsolescence, is groundbreaking.  Yet, why can I not be taught this new textuality in a world literature classroom? I want this kind of training in my English Department, and a lot of "old school" thinkers believe the Digital Humanities equates to grant funding, that often goes to programmers. 

I believe many professors remain skeptical of digital scholarship and "Distance Reading" and that skepticism forces us students to follow a limiting pattern of traditional scholarship.  I do think a tight knit group of digital humanists are evolving, and I do believe the power to code and create, versus being at the beck n call of software programmers is a thought worth evaluating.  

Students are the ones being hurt in this digital humanities scholarship controversy.  Time wasted of the conversations of objectivity, is time not spent teaching students to innovate.

 

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Thank you for responding to my comment.  I read a blog which elucidated Willinsky's Access Principle and I agree.  I feel a moral obligation to spread as much knowledge as possible, but I need to eat.  If my academic department does not enable me the technical training to take part in these open digital scholarship opportunities, then I fell I am being left behind.  

I think Kathy Fitzpatrick's, Planned Obsolescence, is groundbreaking.  Yet, why can I not be taught this new textuality in a world literature classroom? I want this kind of training in my English Department, and a lot of "old school" thinkers believe the Digital Humanities equates to grant funding, that often goes to programmers. 

I believe many professors remain skeptical of digital scholarship and "Distance Reading" and that skepticism forces us students to follow a limiting pattern of traditional scholarship.  I do think a tight knit group of digital humanists are evolving, and I do believe the power to code and create, versus being at the beck n call of software programmers is a thought worth evaluating.  

Students are the ones being hurt in this digital humanities scholarship controversy.  Time wasted of the conversations of objectivity, is time not spent teaching students to innovate.

 

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If no humanities students can code, in essence, we are all left to the same gatekeepers of the college system, the hegemony of all white men.  Diversity in the creation of digital scholarship and forums seems non-existent.  If these "open system formats" can only be created by people that look alike, is that not the evolution of a new white hegemony of power, the "technocratic elite", and we scholars are left at the mercy of what they "allow" us to do.

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Respectfully: I'll venture into the frustration here and say there are so many assumptions going on in these recent posts  that they need sorting out. I'm bothered by the idea that humanities students can't code (they increasingly can to some degree, as programming becomes even a high school elective ---if a very cursory start--- in many places) and sites such as Code Academy give, ahem, open access to quality lessons. The more deeply disturbing assumption is the declaration of a kind of "us vs. them" mentality of Humanities vs, white males (coders). Are there not white males in the Humanities? Are there not coders other than white males (yes). There may be a coming technocratic elite, but its demographic remains to be seen. Coding is a skill. It can be learned. Even claiming an age divide forecloses important conversations. One needs funding, for example, to make progress, to explore the very ideas people are interested in here. To say that the Digital Humanities is, to some, "just about funding" needs a clearer formulation of what's troublesome. The sense seems to be, in some posts, of insincerity (?). 

The rest of this conversation so far could benefit from a wider view. For starters, I'd suggest examining the work of the Open Knowledge Foundation (http://okfn.org). The work of Britt Holbrook may also interest some, as he has done some fascinating work on open peer review, impact factor, altmetrics, etc. Found here: jbrittholbrook.com

 

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