Monday, May 31, 2004
Back to the future?
Paul Nikkel and the "threat" in Open Scholarship

Paul kindly and tactfully reminded me that I had forgotten to discuss his latest contribution in that last post. That was in many ways a shame, because it is another good one. However, in other ways it makes sense to write about his post in a separate article, because (I think) what he means by "open scholarship" is much more radical than what others of us have meant by such terms.

Paul's post is a strong plea for a scholarship that is open not just in its accessibility to readers, but also open to producers.

He quotes his earlier post:
"What do I mean by open source scholarship? [...] It is scholarship that is not formally peer reviewed, it is not copyrighted, it is open to changes and debate. It is dynamic not static, and it is in this open, changing state that it finds academic integrity."
The quibble I have with this is that though the phrase "it is not formally peer reviewed", is fine in itself - what really matters is quality assurance rather than a particular system of QA, however I am not convinced that any other system has yet been demonstrated that works better than peer review for the sort of processes/projects we have been diswcussing. Paul himself seems somewhat to share my problem, for he writes of "three issues":
(1) the desire and need for professional recognition,
(2) the integrity of scholarship, and
(3) the necessity of a formal peer-review process.

I'd say the first of these is largely a consequence of the third. (There are other issues but we could address them, without peer review though how will publication count?)
The third itself is a means towards the second; we have peer review to ensure that work is scholarly.

That's my problem with Open Scholarship as many define it. It does away with formal peer review, without putting some suitable substitute form of quality assurance.

Now, Paul offers a couple of candidates for this role:
The Wikipedia has a peer-review process that works by a simple majority (it also employs moderators to cull abusive spam), likewise the Urban Dictionary. The ease of editing together with mass combined knowledge produces an acceptable result.
My reaction to the maturing Wikipedia is much the same as what it was a few years back when I first saw it. "C'est magnifique mais ce n'est pas la science!" For obvious reasons I check out such a work by searching for "Amos". Wikipedia's short article includes several errors or dubious statements. It states that Amos was:
- since the header in 1:1 is third person this imputation surely requires some evidence...
- this is highly debatable, many commentators conclude the opposite!
And, it seems most strange to me that anyone can write more than a sentence on Amos without mentioning the concept of justice, except in the phrase "the law of God's retributive justice"!

It's Amos, Scotty, but not as careful readers of the Bible know it!

The Slashdot system probably works well on a discussion forum, but I cannot really see that it would be much better than Wiki at producing scholarship.

It's strange, I love Paul's plea for openness for the producers as well as the consumers of scholarship, but I do not want to be open to bad scholarship or non-scholarship.

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