Friday, June 06, 2008
  Britannica does Wiki
And I missed it, it was there on the Britannica Blog sitting in my feedreader since Tuesday, but I've been so busy with a laptop that is almost dead, and another that is nearly ready to take its place (though it has not battery life, or microphone :( that I nearly missed it.

As I understand it, the post Britannica’s New Site: More Participation, Collaboration from Experts and Readers basically announces that the Wikipedia model has so much going for it that Britannica has to adopt elements from its greatest rival's method of working. By that I mean that the announcement clearly hopes that something of the incredible energy and diversity of the Wikipedia community involvement will be able to be harnessed into a more controlled and even attributed and peer reviewed environment. It is a grand dream. It looks well thought out.

Among many ideas, this one stood out for me:
Britannica will help them with research and publishing tools and by allowing them to easily use text and non-text material from Encyclopaedia Britannica in their work. We will publish the final products on our site for the benefit of all readers, with all due attribution and credit to the people who created them. The authors will have the option of collaborating with others on their work, but each author will retain
control of his or her own work.
Is this Britannica "getting" the commercial potential of Web 2.0, and like Google and YouTube planning to profit from it, or is it more?
You can preview the new site, which is still in beta testing, at A portion of the people who visit Britannica Online today are being routed to this site and are using it now; soon it will replace our current site at entirely, and the new features we have described above will be introduced in the weeks and months ahead.
I can't wait to see how this attempt to marry the best of the new with the best of the old works out, in the years and decades, rather than weeks and months ahead! One thing is for sure, at last the "old" is gone, buried and dead... I still wonder what the new will look like, and wonder at what it has already given us.

In the post that preceded the announcement and anticipated it a contributor, Jorge Cauz, three important principles:
  • "ownership" - by which he means attribution and responsibility - about which none need fear or quibble
  • "the voices and powers of experts" which is a much less attractive phrase than the Britannica's official "community of scholars" I hope the official version wins out, I would hate to be at the mercy of the power of experts, since the "experts" of the past become in the present fools
  • "objectivity" which he claims is merely "difficult to attain", my view is that it is an impossible though perhaps desirable dream!
While there is much in this post that is sensible (as Jim W will doubtless have pointed out back on Tuesday) there is a tone that I fear:
We believe that to provide lively and intelligent coverage of complex subjects requires experts and knowledgeable editors who can make astute judgments that cut through the on a topic.
This reads to me dangerously like the tyranny of "experts" that every successful totalitarian regime in the 20th century ensured.Give me the "cacophony of competing and often
confusing viewpoints
" over the bland, expert unitary point of view - but then I believe truth is more important than "standing" ;-)

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008
  Scholarly prejudice against electronic publication, among biblical scholars
Torrey has a short post taking notice of the Prophecy and Apocalyptic: Additional Bibliography that the Institute for Biblical Research has put up on their website. Sandy and O’Hare write:
This collection of sources supplements a bibliography published by Baker under the auspices of the Institute for Biblical Research: D. Brent Sandy and Daniel M. O’Hare, Prophecy and Apocalyptic: An Annotated Bibliography (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007).

In the process of compiling sources, hundreds were entered into our data base (many of which were annotated), but in the end they could not be included in the final selection for the printed edition of the bibliography. Hence, those sources are here made available.

Which is great, a sort of bonus for those who have the print book. Well done! However, they also write:
One advantage of this
digital version of the bibliography is that you may search for specific
words pertinent to your research.
Which is not so great... because what it means is that I can easily search the supplementary material, but the material in the print book must be inconveniently searched by hand. In other words the bibliography would have been better published online or at least electronically in the first place! BUT some criterion other than the advantage to the user caused it to be published in print, and now in order that the print book may sell the online more convenient and usable version cannot contain the full dataset.

The scholarly prejudice against e-publication strikes again!

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Friday, April 11, 2008
  Nichthus and Open AccessScholarship
Nichthus was kind enough to reply to my post, replying to his post, with a post. So, at long last because a refugee camp was not the ideal place to formulate a good reply, here is my reply to his reply to my reply.

His concern, reflected in the title "Can we have the cake, and eat it too?" basically seems to be that "open" scholarship does not generate income, and so leaches on the work of others.

I have dealt with some of these broader questions in earlier posts like:
But my post was concerned not with the whole Education 2.0/Open Scholarship field (or in view of the ill defined, and indeed unbounded, nature of these expressions perhaps "worlds") but with the particular case of scholarly publishing. And even perhaps within that of the scholarly journal. There Nichthus' examples, like big budget movies, are simply not appropriate.

Nick Montfort on Grand Text Auto recently made several of the points that I'd make in reply to Nichthus:
Scholarly and scientific journals differ from many other sorts of publications. Authors are not paid - in some cases, they pay in the form of per-article fees or fees for color illustrations and extra content. Articles are reviewed by other academics who determine if they should be published; these reviewers are also not paid. The work that people do as researchers, writers, and reviewers is effectively subsidized by whatever institution supports these people as faculty, staff, or students. In the case of pay-for-access journals, the same institutions that indirectly pay for important labor on a journal also must pay the for-profit company that runs the journal in order to gain exclusive access (that is, access not available to the public) to the final outcome. This access doesn’t typically come in the form of a print journal these days, of course.

This process is one that I characterize as anti-publication.
I like it! Traditional "for profit" scholarly articles and books are not "publications", but "anti-publications" since they artificially limit their readership.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008
  Amos review in Maarav
Jim W kindly emailed me a copy of the review of the Amos: Hypertext Bible Commentary from Maarav 14.1 which appeared recently. Since I am currently in a refugee camp I had no other way to see it. Walter Kim (Harvard) has done an excellent job of first understanding the nature and aims of the project, and then reviewing it on its own terms. He understands the medium and his criticisms are well worth consideration. Some will probably be incorporated into a second edition of Amos one day - and may well get incorporated into the changeable version earlier than that (n.b. there are two editions the stable, citable, peer reviewed edition on CD, and currently also at and the "wild" edition that I may change any time and therefore is neither stable, nor formally peer reviewed). I plan to post discussion of some of the ideas from these print reviews in the near future, but not till we are home from the camp and I have again the luxury of peace and quiet for thinking ;-)

For now I will just quote the closing paragraph, and bask!
The digital revolution has altered the way people shop and interact. In this unique commentary, Bulkeley suggests that the revolution extends to the way people learn and that the organization of information ought to reflect that transformation. The field of biblical studies is in many ways a conservative endeavor. Scholars work with ancient and venerable things. This commentary, however, suggests that one need not work with them in ancient and venerable ways. With the rise of the internet, the landscape of learning is changing, and Bulkeley helps the reader explore the possibilities of this new terrain. With a vast array of sound files, photos, encyclopedic articles, and traditional commentary on verses, readers of various levels of training and expertise can browse the commentary and construct a rather different experience, based upon the links pursude or ignored. Because the internet permits learning to occur as controlled chaos, the person who searches on the webexercises a vaste amount of autonomy in the selection and utilisation of resources. Bulkeley's commentary puts the reader in a similar position.

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Friday, March 21, 2008
  How "open" are theological ideas?
Nichthus has a post (which originated in the "Composing free and open online educational resources" course he is following, and from which I will take one paragraph out of context - for the context read his full post, and probably the others in the series) in which he discusses "openness":
I certainly perceive that the future will be a more open place, thanks to what is already happening online. I prefer to think, though, that we might achieve this alongside our 'professional thinkers' with academic tenure and, dare I suggest it, the ivory tower perspective. I question the extent to which ideas are currently 'closed', as I am free to examine others' ideas now - I just need to be careful not to pass them off as my own, or to misrepresent them.
While I have much sympathy with what he says, I think also that it reflects a priviledged Western point of view. Ideas (in disciplines like education and theology - Nichthus' areas of professional interest currently) are open, because as he says "I am free to examine others' ideas now". What he does not say, but presumably assumes, is that this implies that I can either buy the book or journal in which these particular ideas are circulated, or have access to a library or online database (like EBSCO) from which I can access the material. In a Western academic context this is (more or less*1) true. Where I have been working recently access to these commercial databases is not available, even Colombo Theological Seminary, which has superb facilities and a good library compared to what is possible at KKBBSC. In such places the cost of a subscription even to a minimal Journal database is simply not affordable.

A scholar or student here is limited to those ideas which are available locally, or freely online - since both sites have Internet access. Any other idea, even when published in a Journal like JBL*2 which is very widely available is not "open" here! Ideas which must be bought are not "open" but restricted, access is determined by priviledge or wealth!

As long as most publication is in books and closed-access journals, Western education and scholarship is fundamentally something which is bought and sold, and not something which is "open". Theological (and educational) ideas are only "open" to the rich or priveledged, or if their author has chosen to publish them in an open journal!

1. It is more true in well-endowed institutions, like large public universities, or "rich" private colleges, it is less true in other places. Access to journal articles outside the "normal" theological disciplines is for example much less easy and quick for me now that I have access only to the Carey library resources, than it was last year when the University of Auckland library offered a much broader collection for my use. Even in the West many theological training institutions can not afford to offer the level of access that Carey does. [
2. As an example of this a Google search for "Journal of Biblical Literature" leads directly to the
JSTOR page - I no longer have access to JSTOR, so I can see the journal details, but not the article for which I was searching - it is NOT "open" to me. By contrast anyone with an Internet connection can read Philippe Guillaume, "The Unlikely Malachi-Jonah Sequence (4QXIIa), Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 7: Article 15 (2007) [RETURN]


Friday, October 05, 2007
  Ehud Ben Zvi and the futire [read "future"] of scholarly publishing
As John reminded me in an email and shows in his post Ehud Ben Zvi, the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, and Hypertextuality, the article by Ehud that SBL forum published while I was on holiday deserves comment and discussion.

The article is titled "A Prototype for Further Publication Development of the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures and Other Open-Access Journals" from its opening paragraph it is full of good stuff.
Worldwide, completely free, and unrestricted access to peer-reviewed journal literature is a social and academic good. It is important for the creation and dissemination of knowledge, and as such to the academic guild and to society in general. It is important for individual researchers, students, libraries, and the general educated public..
That paragraph might be dismissed as a platitude, or a pious hope, or even a utopian dream - and would have had to be, even a mere twenty years ago. Yet for over ten of those twenty years JHS has provided a working model. And one that has also changed and adapted. Changing technologies of print have permitted the Journal to be now also available in that secondary format.

The article briefly charts the progress and increasingly firm establishment of the Journal. In doing so it also comments on the acceptability of electronic publication within the academy. In a number of areas I would currently offer a less optimistic conclusion. So, Ehud writes:
In 1996, when the journal was begun, many scholars expressed serious concerns about how publication in open-access, electronic journals would be assessed for tenure and promotion. Electronic publication is not an issue anymore..
Anecdotal evidence suggests that (at least in NZ) while between 1996 and our first government-conducted round of Performance Based Research Funding assessments in 2003 Electronic publication grew strongly in esteem, but that by the second round in 2006 they had again become somewhat suspect. (There MAY be good reasons for this, not all electronic journals are as scrupulous as JHS in their review processes... The evidence is merely anecdotal because the process is confidential and the criteria are secretive and not revealed to the public who pay for the exercise or to the academics who are graded by it. This is a government activity ;-)

Ehud also admits:
there are still financial and human resources problems associated with the open-access model..
This surely is a major understatement! Recently the NY Times has ceased offering its Select service online through a subscription-based economic model. While the NY Times stresses the success of this subscription model with US$10 Million revenue annually, the following comment:
“But our projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low, compared to the growth of online advertising,” said Vivian L. Schiller, senior vice president and general manager of the site,
Suggests that this change is due to lack a real critical mass of subscribers willing to pay for online content, rather than altruism! Meanwhile although providers of mass entertainment may be able to make a financially viable model using advertising revenue, but such a model (even if the academy desired it ;-) is unlikely to be viable for the average Biblical Studies publication. For there are costs involved in electronic publishing. Despite the possibility of greater use of peer-reviewers as amateur proof-readers several open access peer reviewed publications have been criticised for issues of quality control that in a conventional print publication would have been corrected by the proof-reading process. Some reviewers of the Amos: Hypertext Bible Commentary volume have drawn attention to such issues. John in his response to Ehud's article raises the same issue that Ehud raised in his review of my Amos commentary
Secondly, a number of articles published in JHS seem not to have been carefully proofed. In my own case, that is one reason I have not submitted anything to JHS. No matter how careful I am, typographical errors and worse creep in to the work I do. In this I am not alone. JHS needs to have higher copyediting and proofing standards..
A return to patronage (or sponsorship as it is often known today) is another model that is increasingly touted to provide necessary resources for open access publication. In the sciences it is common now for journals to request a fee (often paid out of the grant that funded the research). However, in Biblical Studies such possibilities are not the norm. All patronage raises questions about the independence of the research and its conclusions, so such a model is not without its problems, even if rich donors with an interest in the Bible were queuing up at our doors ;-) (See Sebastian Mary's books and the man, part III: the new patronage for one interesting viewpoint.)

Up to now JHS has published its articles in basic text format. The filetypes offered have changed, now just the page representation of PDF and the more fluid HTML with the proprietary wordprocessor formats MS-Word and Word-Perfect being dropped. Both formats are capable of moving beyond text, but thus far JHS has not explored these possibilities. In part this was doubtless driven in the early days by a desire to keep the journal as familiar as possible. It has also been driven by an appropriate caution:
Not everything that can be done in e-publication of texts is of necessity helpful. We have great tools, but one of the challenges we face is what we should do with them..
Now, however, changes are being explored which might see JHS begin to explore the greater possibilities that electronic publication offers beyond mere linear text.

When Ehud introduces these possibilities in this article he also mentions the need to avoid leaving readers "lost in hyperspace." Yet that is close to my experience with the early prototype pages he linked to in his email to JHS subscribers. For every occurrence of words such as Haggai or Zechariah (inevitably common in this article on "The Formation and intention of the Haggai-Zechariah corpus") produces a popup link to various online biblical texts. Since this is generated automatically the mention of "Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest" produces a less useful link to the text of Joshua 1:1. Thus in two ways this article exemplifies one of the problems with hypertexting biblical studies, link overload, and the mechanical generation of excess and unhelpful links. Different projects will doubtless cope with these issues in different ways, till gradually new conventions emerge. We need discussion of these issues, but there are few places where practitioners of academic hypertext can meet and share wisdom.

[Incidentally, the Hypertext Bible Dictionary will try to deal with this issue by generating most links (except those with biblical chapter and verse references) manually through the decision of an author or editor. See the draft instructions for authors.]

Automated linking also produces other issues, such as nul returns like that from BiBIL for the name August Klostermann. Since these results take time to generate empty results are annoying for users. This problem, of course, is one that clever programming may enable the actual implementation of this hypertext version of the Journal to avoid. But clever programming costs money, which brings us back to the issue of funding open access projects.

That JHS is doing this using XML and from the comment: "The purpose of these xml files is to allow readers to create their own hypertexts, if they so wish, within the limitations of open access databases." I assume and hope an open XML format and perhaps even a standard one like OSIS.

I will end these brief comments quoting Ehud's conclusion:
to implement all of these while keeping the journal open access, which is a non-negotiable issue for us, is a tough act. It involves technical, financial, and general resources challenges. It also requires a great amount of goodwill from a lot of people.
and hoping that the implementation will also be supported through ongoing conversation with other interested parties - not least JHS readers!

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007
  Open Theology
Here's an interesting project: Open Theology. The website leaves the exact nature of the project somewhat vague, it looks like a e-journal, with what appear to be numbered issues, an Advisory Board, instructions for contributors etc. Yet the blurb on the "about us" page reads more like a social networking site:
Welcome to an inclusive project that we hope will grow with the help of your good will, imagination and knowledge. ... We would like to invite students, academics and those with no 'professional' involvement with religious studies to share with us their intellectual passion for critical thinking about religion, so that together we can reflect on the role and value of faith and religion in our culture, wherever we live.
Actually, the header Revue trimestrielle de theologie/Theologische quartalschrift and the like in Polish and possibly English (on my browser the graphic was obscured) makes clear this is a journal. Other description makes clear that the quarterly issues are themed, and interestingly - though numbered AND dated - open to further responses and contributions that continue the discussion. The instructions for contributors also makes clear that submissions are subject to some selection process - it is not stated to be peer-review, so probably selection by the editorial team.

An email to the University of Auckland School of Theology from Revd Dr Piotr Ashwin-Siejkowski (Editor-in-Chief) says:
It is one of our hopes for this international project will bring together students interested in discussion about theology, philosophy, religion and their co-existence in the context of the current culture. We hope also to engage the interest of the students (MA/PhD), by enabling dialogue across different religious traditions about the value of religion and faith in our postmodern culture (section: FORUM), and by promoting conferences and events which focus on tolerance, openness and critical reflection on religion (section: WE RECOMMEND). I would be most grateful if you could pass on our invitation to your academic colleagues and students. Hopefully, some of them may contribute to the forthcoming issues.
Indicates the Journal is open to student papers, though the contributors to the first issue (at least as of now - since that might presumably change ;-) include only people with titles like Prof and Dr.

As I said an interesting project, one to watch. A pity they don't have an RSS feed, which would make subscribing easier!

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Monday, August 13, 2007
  Highlights from "University Publishing in a Digital Age"
The Ithaca University report University Publishing in a Digital Age is a potentially important landmark. Conducted by Laura Brown (former president of OUP USA), and Ithaka’s Strategic Services group, and sponsored financially by Ithaka and JSTOR, it has the potential to be heard by those who control purse strings.

I have only begun to digest it, so intend here simply to quote some of the phrases and ideas that seem to me to be most interesting and important (initially drawn from the "Executive Summary" as representing a distillation of the full content), and sometimes to comment on them. My goal is that those of my readers with an interest Which mainly means academics and students, or others with an interest in the future of academic publishing - which probably ought to mean most of my readers! either are stimulated to read the report for themselves and comment directly, or make comments here. The essential is that this report gets discussed!

Let's start at the beginning:
[u]niversities do not treat the publishing function as an important, mission-centric endeavor. Publishing generally receives little attention from senior leadership at universities and the result has been a scholarly publishing industry that many in the university community find to be increasingly out of step with the important values of the academy.
My take on the first point is that Universities (on the whole with a few, largely historic exceptions) have found presses to be good money-losing opportunities, and have failed to notice that "scaling back" their activity risks stultifying the whole academic scene through the commercialisation of academic publishing. I think my second point comments closely on their final careful phrase!

They note that academics "publish" in two ways, formally and through what they term "grey literature" (an odd phrase since the examples they give are far less grey than the average peer-reviewed monograph! But let's notice with the report what this means:
In the past decade, the range and importance of the latter has been dramatically expanded by information technology, as scholars increasingly turn to preprint servers, blogs, listservs, and institutional repositories, to share their work, ideas, data, opinions, and critiques. These forms of informal publication have become pervasive in the university and college environment. As scholars increasingly rely on these channels to share and find information, the boundaries between formal and informal publication will blur. These changes in the behavior of scholars will require changes in the approaches universities take to all kinds of publishing.
In other words "take your heads out of the sand people, academic publishing is going through a revolution - whether you like it or not", and that for me is the key point, the revolution WILL happen, the only question is who will be left standing afterwards!

What will this revolution look like:
Publishing in the future will look very different than it has looked in the past. Consumption patterns have already changed dramatically, as many scholars have increasingly begun to rely on electronic resources to get information that is useful to their research and teaching. Transformation on the creation and production sides is taking longer, but ultimately may have an even more profound impact on the way scholars work. Publishers have made progress putting their legacy content online, especially with journals. We believe the next stage will be the creation of new formats made possible by digital technologies, ultimately allowing scholars to work in deeply integrated electronic research and publishing environments that will enable real-time dissemination, collaboration, dynamically-updated content, and usage of new media.
Photo by uptick
Yes!PHX 6731

That was the good news. Now for the sting in the tail:
Administrators, librarians and presses each have a role to play (as do scholars, though this report is not directed at them).
Yes, people, this brave new world may be digital and electronic and cool, but lets make sure that scholars do not get their inky hands on the levers of power or horror of horrors learn to take control of their own work. We administrators, along with senior librarians who have learned across the years to "speak our language" are better able to decide the future of academic publishing, so we must make sure scholars do not worry their pointy heads about it. They might rock the boat.... At least I think that's what this sentence means:
Their efforts should be closely and intelligently connected to their campuses’ academic programs and priorities in order to ensure their relevancy and institutional commitment.

Noticed how relevancy and institutional commitment amount to much the same thing?

Oh! Important: yes. Revolutionary: certainly. But really deep down possibly counter-revolutionary... I intend to read more closely over the next few days (marking permitting) so watch this space!

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Saturday, July 07, 2007
  Why blog?
Long, long, ago though not so far away, in a universe both very like and yet quite unlike this one ("The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there." L. P. Hartley) I started a blog. My goal was to discover why people blog. I could not do this from the outside looking in, all i could see was interesting (and not so interesting) stuff, but little to explain the motivations and rewards. I expected this experiment to run for a short while... years passed... (well, three or four have ;-) I quickly got absorbed in blogging and forgot to ask: Why?

The rewards are primarily:
  • social - in reading and writing blogs one "meets" so many interesting people (some of us who met physically for the first time at the notorious SBL Biblioblogging session in 2005 discussed this)
  • intellectual - one also meets, and I hope shares, such interesting ideas
  • surprising - when by email, phone or face to face on meets someone who actually reads what one writes (now that's seldom happened to me as a result of print publication!)
But, still, why do I continue to spend/waste time blogging. The question has been raised for me by a conversation with Heidi Campbell, who is running some research on religious bloggers, the announcement by Lingamish that serious bloggers must divide their attentions between several blogs, and now on a more serious note Gary Rendsberg chips in with his half-birthday reflections!

Gary and David both make a big point of statistics, somehow the number of people who "visit" makes the effort worthwhile. This does not encourage me, sadly this blog has seen better days, 2005 was the highlight, and I have now far less visitors than I used to back then :( In fact Sansbloque's best day ever was Tuesday, August 30, 2005. So in the hopes that nothing succeeds like success and in the interests of nostalgia here is a replay of that day's posts - TAH, DAH:

The view from my office ::

Stephen's post (full of the joys of [Southern Hemisphere] Spring) titled "The sun is shining..." suggested to me a new round of the old this-is-my-desk blog craze...

[Sadly the inspiring photo of a distant and high skylight with grey sky has gone the way of all digitalia, and is no longer available, but trust me it was and is uninspiring!]

The new and even more exciting this-is-the-view-from (or in my case "of")
my-window craze. Despite Stephen's extolling of the windows at Carey,
the view from mine is impossible without a ladder, and I've never
climbed up to look...

Peer review another look: or, on the salvific effects of peer review ::

Jim West has, in Biblical Theology, a fine polemic piece titled "Washed in the Blood of the Peer Review" taking me (and others) to task for our dependence on "peer review". He sums it up, himself, in fine style:
sum I object to the scholarly mentality that sees itself as "washed in
the blood of the peer review". Peer review does not guarantee truth. No
one can believe it does. Hence, it exists simply for the preservation
of power. It is nothing less than the old cliche of the smoke filled
back room where the good ole' white boys gather around the card table
to buttress the careers of their friends while they ignore those who
are not worthy of their attention because "their ideas didn't appear in
the Journal of High-Falootin' Research" published by Brill and costing
95 Dollars for each issue published on a quarterly basis.
largely I agree with him. I have no desire to defend the "system" it is
(almost) indefensible (well it's not, and probably some biblioblogger
with more desire will defend it) but I certainly don't
want to defend it. And I did say, as well as some incautious stuff,
that I now (thanks to Jim's good sense) deeply regret, and won't repeat
;) I did say "or some process that ensures similar rigorous standards".
And will note that, in the sordid world where paid academics live,
"publish or perish" is the rule, and the publish part needs to be
recognised by other bodies as the equivalent of peer review else it
only counts for mini-brownie-points and will not save your career, job
and family income!

So, in summary: I heartily withdraw the phrase "peer review" and reword the last bullet point below:
  • scholarly,
    unless Open Biblical Studies submits itself to quality assurance to
    attest to outsiders (particularly beginners) that it is indeed
    scholarly, and (through some process that ensures rigorous standards as
    a peer review process intends) satisfies the professional academics'
    need for recognition.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007
  Greek NT Text Resources
La Parola in reteThank you, Richard for adding the comment below and pointing me to the La Parola Greek Testament with both variant readings and a list of Patristic citations. It is both magnificent, and a fine example of how (if the data are in suitable formats) people online can build on, and add value to, each other's work. You have put together a really useful site!

Richard lists het following resources which have been used in his project:

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007
  Big Bibles: a response to Lingamish
In a recent article Lingamish claims that Big Bibles are used to "whack" people. In the spirit of scholarly debate I offer this response from the well known open scholarship repository U-Bend:

PS: I am still waiting for all the visitors to come flocking looking for Contrarians ;-)

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Sunday, May 13, 2007
  Sophie: have I seen the future or the past?
There's a story that American journalist Lincoln Steffens visited the USSR and returned, claiming "I've been over into the future and it works!" I have recently begun playing with the Institute for the Future of the Book's alpha release of Sophie, and I have some of the mixed feelings that the Steffens quote elicits today.

Sophie is brilliant, an easy to use editor for complex interactive multimedia. As such it is already superb (though as a pre-release alpha somewhat flaky still), and the plans and dreams of the IFBook people make its future sound even better. If such a tool had existed a few years ago the Amos commentary would have been created using it, and would have emerged very differently from its actual HTML incarnation. Sophie permits rich and varied interactions with multimedia, and will permit comments - creating a community around the media "text". This mix of media with community is evidently the (or at least one) future, and it works! (Or is beginning to work - very well.)

To get a good idea of the possibilities download Mozart's Dissonant Quartet the video with text-over shows some of the possibilities in a timeline based presentation. If you do try it do read the instructions on the page linked above, they will save you (or would have saved me) quite a bit of trying to work out how Sophie works as a reader.

However, to someone used to the free-flowing, largely system independent, world of HTML - and even more so of its more structured and meaningful descendants inhabiting the world of XML - I am frustrated by a system that defines a "page size" (usually a fraction of my screen to accommodate older smaller screens - but pity the user whose screen is too small!) and pages that MUST be turned.

Still, the only demo book I have tried so far Mozart's Dissonant Quartet with its beautiful soundtracks. Here too the ways in which Sophie is "not HTML" can be frustrating, as I said above, till I RTFMed I found the demo far from intuitive to navigate - more of a text adventure with a superb soundtrack than a multimedia experience. Sophie also has a very Macish feel to her, right clicking achieves precisely nothing, though the
interface has Mac's good looks, there are times when Windows comforting convenience is useful! Perhaps when Sophie has her dedicated Reader this will become less of a puzzle. I suspect though it will help if (when IF Book release the "real thing" into the wild) Sophie comes with a firm set of recommended conventions.

Conclusion so far: just one hour in...

Will the limitations of restrictive screen display sizes (so beloved of the graphical designers) be overcome and will the user interface become more intuitive? If so Sophie will make a brilliant environment to produce multimedia instructional materials that can become truly the hub of an interactive communal learning experience... Or is this "future" too restrictive in its polices?

Already - if I was teaching my Bible in an Electronic context course (or in a school) - I can see how students could easily and quickly produce interactive multimedia so easily... I imaging that even some of my IT challenged colleagues could learn to use and love Sophie. And a design that achieves that shows deep wisdom!

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Friday, February 23, 2007
  Promotion and Tenure New Criteria for New Media
Mark Goodacre has a good post responding to a document (whose status is unclear to me) from the New Media Department at the University of Maine, headed "Promotion and Tenure Guidelines Addendum: Rationale for Redefined Criteria" and titled more snappily: "New Criteria for New Media".

Mark open his post praising his (past and present) institutions for the support and encouragement they have given him. However, he also writes:
One of the difficulties is that in some institutions, those involved with appointments, promotions and tenure, have not yet realized how rapidly the scene has changed in the last decade or so, and just how valuable it can be to have academics who invest a lot of time and energy in new media.
Which is sadly both true and widespread. The Maine document he cites is more focused on creation of new media like websites, however an MLA report (discussed earlier this year in an Inside Higher Ed article "A Tenure Reform Plan With Legs") may well have more impact on us poor biblical scholars!

The article set the scene, with some ancient history:
In 1998, a group of provosts of research universities circulated a document calling for bold reforms of the tenure process. Traditional publishing was becoming an economic sinkhole, they argued. Junior professors couldn’t get published. University presses and journal publishers were losing too much money. Libraries couldn’t afford to buy the new scholarship that was published. Somehow, they argued, the system needed to change — with less emphasis on traditional publishing and more creativity about how to evaluate professors up for promotion.
How similar things are in 2006! The cloud (though no bigger than a man's hand) on the horizon is "a proposal being drafted by the Modern Language Association to fundamentally change how English and foreign language professors are reviewed for tenure."

A special panel of the MLA is finishing a report that will call for numerous, far-reaching changes in the way assistant professors are reviewed for tenure.

Inside Higher Ed reveals that:

Among the ideas that will be part of the plan are:

  • The creation of “multiple pathways” to demonstrating research excellence. The monograph is one way, but so would be journal articles, electronic projects, textbooks, jointly written books, and other approaches.

  • The drafting of “memorandums of understanding” between new hires and departments so that those new hires would have a clear sense of expectations in terms of how they would be evaluated for tenure.

  • A commitment to treating electronic work with the same respect accorded to work published in print.

  • The setting of limits on the number of outside reviews sought in tenure cases and on what those reviewers could be asked.

Comments by Charles Phelps, provost of the University of Rochester, are of particular interest for Biblical Scholars:
What the association is doing is “right on target,” he said, and from discussions with fellow provosts, he predicted that English departments would receive similar receptions in other administration buildings.

“The thing that is first and foremost to me is that these changes will happen when they come from the learned society in the relevant discipline — and the field buys into the idea of changing things,” Phelps said.

So, perhaps at the next CARG we should be lobbying for SBL to start a similar process?

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Open Source Religious Resources ::

Here's a project (Open Source Religious Resources) that I wish I had spotted earlier! (But big thanks to Stephen for the pointer.) There is so much about this project that I love, its openness, its simplicity and the way it fills such a need, just for starters. Though like Wikipedia, and any resolutely "open" project it will need some clear quality assurance mechanisms. Maybe the rating process will achieve that. (See Paul's paper from AIBI in Leuven "Through an Open Window: Exploring Openness in Biblical Scholarship" [PS I checked and Paul put a copy online so I have now linked to his Word Document.])

I hope that they do not get bogged down in technology, as the project that Susan Lochrie Graham talked about at SBL a few years back. (It seemed to run out of steam when a big grant application for high end software failed.)

Why you could start running (almost) the whole OSRR dream with the software used by Wikipedia, community editing, uploads and searchability... It is more important to get the community right than to get the software right!

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