I had a conversation earlier this year with a faculty member who was recently appointed to emeritus status at a research university, a story that says a lot about the research climate in philosophy then and now.

The faculty member joined his institution in the early 1960’s. I discreetly asked about the research expectations: His process was uncomplicated: write a paper and send it off ("I usually had a few people look at it within the department, but I didn’t really do many conferences"). His preferred venues of choice were Mind and the Journal of Philosophy, and if he "didn’t get it accepted at the first place you usually got it accepted in the next one."   

I don’t know how typical this faculty member’s experiences were, but this astonished me: I imagine we now think little of sending papers to many more journals, vetting them with many more colleagues in many more venues, etc.  But the more surprising thing was his remark that even when a paper was rejected "you’d get three or four pages of feedback returned to you."

Again, I don’t know how representative this is of the era, but it struck me that (a) there’s the sense that journals provide comments less frequently than they once did, and (b) the comments they provide are of uneven quality. (The journals wiki  Doug so kindly created suggests that most journals take seriously their obligation to provide timely and effective feedback to authors, but some — including some very prominent journals in the discipline — don’t seem to have a very good reputation in that regard.)

And that brings me to blogging: Are blogs like PEA Soup now performing the service — providing timely and informative feedback on research — that journals once did more ardently? And will journals be superseded in this function by blogs?  Speaking for myself, PEA Soup has been invaluable as a place to vet my ideas before an informed and helpful audience. (Three of my manuscripts that eventually were published saw their first exposure to public scrutiny on this blog: Kant on lying to murderers, the competency requirement for execution , and moral expertise.) And why wait for feedback from a journal (or at a conference for that matter) when I can nearly instant feedback from our incredibly accomplished contributors, who by my very rough count have published 250 papers and a goodly number of books (and I’ve not even mentioned the commenters)?

So I wonder: will blogging replace journals in this capacity?  And how has blogging changed scholarship in philosophy?

4 Replies to “Blogging and the future of scholarship

  1. It is a good question Michael and to some degree I think the answer is yes. However (and it is a big however) presently writing on something like Peasoup is in itself a privilege not a right, and it is for the most part only on the “big” blogs that you will get much feedback at all. So in other words journals will accept papers from anyone, whereas blogs like Peasoup will only accept posts from those already accepted as regular bloggers. (Although some blogs do do guest blogs)
    This makes me wonder is there space for a peer reviewed blog ie a blog that posts entries sent in by anyone as long as a reviewer agrees?

  2. I don’t think that blogs will ever replace the vetting function that the comments of peers, journal referees, and conference audiences serve, because, in part, the vetting occurs at different stages in each case. Blogs help to vet initial core ideas, whereas peers and journal referees help to vet complete papers. I never post a complete paper on PEA Soup, although I’m sure some of the readers will lament that my posts seem almost as long. Rather, what I post is a concise summary of some half-baked idea that I’m not sure is worth developing into a paper, or I’m not exactly sure how to shape or package that idea into a paper. Our excellent commentators help me decide whether the idea has any hope of passing muster and is worth developing into a paper. But no commentator at PEA Soup says things like: (1) you could have said the same thing in half as many worlds, (2) you don’t adequately motivate the project, (3) the paper is not sufficiently grounded in the literature, (4) section 3 really belongs in a different paper, etc. You can only get those sorts of comments on a completed paper. So, as I see it, blogs serve not replace journals referees, but to replace that excellent colleague that you bump ideas off of.

  3. “(1) you could have said the same thing in half as many worlds”
    At first Doug I thought some odd claim about publishing in possible worlds… But now I realise that there is just one too many “l” in your statement.
    I’ll agree wholeheartedly this though:
    “So, as I see it, blogs serve not replace journals referees, but to replace that excellent colleague that you bump ideas off of.”
    Having shifted to progressively smaller departments (from 20 to 5 to now just me) blogging, in terms of posting and commenting and just reading has (along with other things such as reading journals and attending conferences) kept me in touch with what is going on in the fields of philosophy I am interested, along with allowing me to bounce sometimes very half baked ideas off some very sharp people.

  4. I don’t think blogs will ever replace journals. They serve utterly different functions. Blogs are “free flowing,” not tied to the stuffy conventions of ordinary scholarship.
    For example, there were about 50 posts recently on “incoherentism,” a term I coined in a recent paper. There was a LOT speculation about what the idea was, whether it was anything new or plausible, etc. (Also there was a lot on unrelated issues!)
    Anyway, no sooner had I written in with a link to that original paper, offering people a chance to get it from (one of) the horse(s) mouth(s), but the thread died!
    That is as it should be! It’s much more fun to discuss things without the constraint of knowing what, exactly, one is talking about! A journal would never allow us to do that. Talk about stifling creativity!
    Sniff . . I mean . . it’s not like my . . . sniff . . . feelings were hurt or anything . . . Sniff. Why? Do I seem hurt? I’m not! Snifffff. No way! I’m totally . . . snifffff . . . serious.

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