SansBlogue  
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.


Sunday, May 30, 2004
 
Open Scholarship or Free Scholarship?

The whole open scholarship / open source scholarship thing has really sparked some discussion, so let's continue it!

For those who have not been following it, here are some of the recent posts by biblical scholars on this topic: This last mentioned movement (like some of the projects we've all mentioned) has a hard-core definition of "open":
'There are many degrees and kinds of wider and easier access to this literature. By "open access" to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.'

(Peter's quotation from Budapest material)

My own concern is not so much that scholarship be 'free' but that it be 'open'. By this I mean that it should be cheap and accessible enough that no scholar or student is unable to access it because their institution cannot afford the costs. As the Budapest Initiative recognize there are costs involved in publishing (again I'll refer you to David's thought provoking [if now old] 'Publishers: Who Needs Them?'). These costs must be met, and it is reasonable that the receivers of the ideas contribute to pay these costs, but if we used the technology well that contribution could be minimal compared to the cost of a print monograph, or journal.

So far there seems to be a few reasons advanced for scholars' hesitation to publish in less costly, more accessible (open) electronic ways:
  1. Lack of credit - the disseminary, e-journals and other projects that are peer reviewed can end this as long as our standards are not lowered. Though as Stephen pointed out this may require editorial boards to "prime the pump" with good material of their own!

  2. Need for stable citable editions - on this see Open Archives Initiative (OAI) and self archiving projects like the Sanford Dictionary of Philosophy.

  3. Shortage of quality writing - see AKMA's post lamenting the lack of scholars queuing up to publish with the Disseminary, are Stephen's 'editorial board' comments (to my comment on his post) applicable here?

Since at least two of the papers at the session I'm organizing for AIBI will address these issues hopefully we can get some good ftf discussion going to add momentum to these online contributions..



Thursday, May 27, 2004
 
Online Niels Peter Lemche Course

According to the Jim West's Biblical Theology blog Niels Peter Lemche is running an interesting online course. Titled "History of Israel and Palestine in Ancient Times". I can find no reference to this anywhere else. Which, for me, raises the question of where (if at all) there is a list of such online courses. Someday I'd love to get together (via email) with those who have run them to learn from their experiences!


 
What is "Open Scholarship"?

I think in some ways our flurry of posts on Open Scholarship (see below) has started from the wrong place. We need first to define what we mean by the term, else our discussion is liable to run at a variety of tangents.

So, here is what I mean by Open Scholarship - with a bias towards Open Biblical Scholarship. Open Scholarship is "open" and it must be "“scholarly" if one or other of these are missing the wrong term is being used!

Much current scholarship is not "“open" in the sense that large numbers of potential scholars cannot interact with it. (Or such interaction is restricted in some way.)

The most obvious such restriction is that even in the West our libraries can no longer carry everything. Open Scholarship could use electronic media to be effectively ubiquitous. But worse, much current scholarship excludes scholars from majority world contexts through its cost. With the price of monographs from Brill or even SAP how many will a University library in Africa (excluding South Africa) be able to afford?

Print - which began by opening scholarship to the masses in new and frightening ways– has now become a means-test barring the majority of humans from full participation!
Open Scholarship will not be scholarship as a means-tested closed membership club for the rich world.

However, anything which deserves the name Open Biblical Scholarship must be "scholarly".

It must not merely deal with a biblical studies topic, but also be of recognisable (and therefore probably recognised) value. Scholarly publication differs from other sorts of publication in two main ways. First it is addressed to a community of scholars, but second it has been selected and approved in some recognized way - usually peer review. Open Biblical Scholarship must address this issue before it can lay claim to the name. The only projects we’ve discussed so far that meet this criterion are the two journals Journal of Biblical Studies and Journal of Hebrew Scriptures. Stephen C. Carlson argues that JBS seems to be failing because it has not attracted enough good quality contributions. My impression is that JHS by contrast is succeeding according to this measure.
What is the difference? I suspect it is found precisely in the area of peer-review. JHS has chosen not to publish more contributions than JBS has, therefore it is perceived as a “better” place to publish, and therefore it (now) receives more good quality submissions…. (Stephen seems to agree with this to some extent - see his reply to my comment on his post.)

The problem is not so much the medium as the messages!



Wednesday, May 26, 2004
 
Open Source Scholarship again...

This topic seems to have hit a nerve, Mark Goodacre makes some useful points about quality, and reminds us of Matt O'Donnell's OpenText.org project, sadly just a holding page at present. Though, thinking of some of the responses I hear to proposals for open scholarship I do wonder if "threatening" does not describe at least part of the established scholarly response to such proposals...

Then Stephen C. Carlson at Hypotyposeis joins in with a longish and equally stimulating contribution. I haven't had time to digest and reflect on all that he says (I have some traditional paper scholarship to attend to urgently) - expect more here tomorrow!



Tuesday, May 25, 2004
 
Open Source Scholarship

Paul (see below) also has an interesting short piece asking "Why is open source scholarship so threatening?" It's a good question - after all, scholars are surely in the business of developing new ideas. And all of us like Newton, surely recognise that :

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
Isaac Newton, Letter to Robert Hooke, February 5, 1675

That is, scholarship works through the free and wide dissemination of ideas, and their free discussion and adaptation as well as adoption by others.

In that light "open source" is the obvious mode of publication for the scholarly enterprise.

Yet, this enterprise also depends on selection (see Vannevar Bush's classic "As we may think"). In a world where information overload is a significant part of everyday life we rely on the preselection that publishers perform, through the peer review process, to weed out most of the rubbish and leave us to select what we need from the "good stuff".

The examples Paul uses raise these questions quite accutely. They are both translation projects. His piece starts from comments about an open Bible translation (WEB)
and his example of what open source scholarship means is the Open Scrolls Project.

Now, we all know that translation is a difficult task. A quick dip into the b-Hebrew list will show that. It is also a potentially dangerous one, Bible translation is dangerous because for millions of people the texts being translated are Scripture, authorities in their lives. The potential harm of mistranslation of the DSS is less obvious, however if a mistranslation gets widely spread, it can make the scholar's task of communicating the results of their work to the interested public more difficult (and a translation on the web is likely to spread widely)!

The Open Scrolls Project is quite clear that it is NOT seeking a high level of scholarly work:
Anyone who wishes to help, either with a little or a lot, needs simply to have some working knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek.

Is this "scholarship"?

Equally, scholarly work cites its sources. The open source model encourages copying and adaptation, when there are multiple versions available the issue of citability also arrises - who will ensure that the edition I cite will be available to you?

On the whole my own inclination is to agree with the suggestion that scholars ought naturally to be inclined towards an open source model. However, one must then work out how to ensure that the activity remains scholarly. David Clines several years ago addressed some of these issues in his article "Publishers: Who Needs Them?".

For the Hypertext Bible Commentary & Encyclopaedia project we hope to make full use of peer reviewing to ensure scholarly standards. However, what neither we, nor anyone else I know of has solved is how to pay for this purity of scholarship while making the material freely available!

Our best hope is that sales of stable (and therefore citable) editions to libraries may cover the ongoing running costs.


 
Biblical Studies Search Engine and Forum

There is a new and potentially exciting Biblical Studies resource at http://www.deinde.org/ the Deinde home page is a sort of Biblical Studies blog maintained by a group of Biblical Studies postgraduates. There is also a discussion forum, currently sadly little used.

For now though the real treasure is a subject specific editorially selected Biblical Studies search engine. Paul Nikkel (the "top banana") says (in an email) that although he only "started the search project in February" they currently "have about 13 000 pages indexed now...and growing."

So those of us who have scholarly Bible related sites should:
  • link to the resource

  • check we are listed and if not use the submission email

  • point our students to it - that way they will get more good stuff, and perhaps less rubbish!


  • Paul writes also that:
    I think a form of this is essential to making use of the myriad of published biblical works on the net. Link pages are fine but they are time consuming and difficult to sort through for a specific topic. Also, of course this has an advantage to something like Google search as it is 'peer-reviewed', the pages have to meet at least some requirements to be included in the search, further Google does not index everything on the web.



    Thursday, May 20, 2004
     
    Comments :: no comment :: sorry!

    I'm sorry people, in an "upgrade" all the comments made previously were lost, but I believe that the comments function is itself restored.



     
    Studying the Bible in an Electronic world

    There is an opportunity to put together a session for the Association Internationale Bible et Informatique conference in July. What I'd like to do is get a few Biblical Scholars who are using electronic means of communication, and thinking about what they are doing... to reflect on the question: How does an electronic communication environment change the way we do biblical studies? There would be a series of short presentations and panel discussion.

    Over the next day or two we'll see if there are people able to make this a "goer".



    Wednesday, May 19, 2004
     
    The apocryphal Life of Brian

    Over at Paleojudaica (a good biblical scholar's blog) Jim has a fascinating piece on the alternate histories of the Python movie Life of Brian since the film has been a favourite of mine since a group of us went to see it in fear and trepidation (there was a Christian picket against it) I was hooked.

    He goes on to explore lots of biblical studies related themes, like the nature of canon, memory and history... How can I set this blog entry as compulsory reading for a class??


    Monday, May 17, 2004
     
    Hypertext and Biblical Studies

    This weekend was my birthday, in the physical world we had a great triple celebration, graduations of a son and future daughter-in-law and the birthday all at once, however in the virtual world what a roller-coaster!

    First the good news:

    Rubén Gómez over at Bible Software Review Weblog said nice things about my article Hypertext and Biblical Studies just published on the SBL website.

    I recieved an email from another scholar interested in my suggestion of forming a small group interested in the coherence of prophetic texts - I should blog about that soon...

    Another couple of users emailed me with favourable comments about the Amos material.

    Then a sample of the bad news:

    One of the authors I'd commissioned to write for the issue of Stimulus that I am guest-editing, whom I'd allowed an extra long deadline, has pulled out. That leaves me 5,000 words short and little time to arrange to fill the gap. Anyone have a good article on some IT : Church : Culture type theme???

    Though on Sunday morning Barbara said in a surprised tone "this online stuff really suits you doesn't it" I'm learning that maybe real life as some advantages over the virtual world! (My friend would never have let me down face-to-face in the same kind of way as by e-mail...)


    Friday, May 07, 2004
     
    Engari mo tēnā!

    I realise that the last remark in that rant needs explaining. It'll also let me write something less spleenful, which is a good thing!

    This semester, while I am on sabbatical, I have been taking a beginners course in Māori language (with Rewai who is a fine teacher), during the course Māori TV finally started in NZ, one of their programs is a language lesson called Korero Mai which I've been watching with Barbara and Richard. Part of the fun is a soap opera, called ākina, one of the characters, Mere, has a sharp tongue and often retorts with feeling "engari mo tēnā" (I don't think so!) it's become a catch phrase in our house.


     
    Iraqis enjoy new freedom of expression on Web journals

    Do you like irony?

    Here is the sort of headline we expect showing how the invasion of Iraq and the expulsion and capture of the notorious dictator has brought freedom of speech to a benighted people.

    Let's leave aside the stories behind the disgusting pictures. Though such human rights abuses deserve and demand redress.

    Let's look instead at how "freedom of speech" works in the USA.

    Mike Moore a troublesome and unconventional, but talented, film-maker gets backing from a big company (Miramax currently advertising Kill Bill 2) to make a film Fahrenheit 9/11 that claims financial links between the Bush family and the family of Osama bin Laden. The film is good enough to be chosen for the Cannes festival, but distribution is blocked by Disney, who own Miramax, because it may affect their tax breaks in the state go verned by Jeb Bush.

    In short a corrupt and synical abuse of power to deny freedom of speech and freedom for people to watch the film if they like. Sadaam woul surely have loved freedom of speech American-style!

    USA home of the free: engari mo tena!


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