Sunday, March 6, 2011

"The average academic seeks to avoid exposure"

There's been a lot of traffic and activity at our humble little blog lately. But evidently, there's chatter afoot doubting the merits of academic blogging. (See Critical Animal and Progressive Geographies.)

Alex Reid at Digital Digs makes an intriguing case for the fearlessness of blogging:

As I have written here and in, you know, "real" publications, I view these concerns in relation to exposure.  The research suggests that 93% of all humanities articles go uncited. Though it is likely impossible to measure, this statistic leads me to wonder how often the typical humanities article is even read. Obviously all articles are read by someone: editors, reviewers, etc. Does the typical humanities article have a readership in the dozens? the hundreds? Certainly not more than that.  This article indicates that average monograph sales are now under 400 copies. Many of these will be for libraries, which could indicate more readers but could also indicate zero readers. Regardless, the readership is still in the hundreds at best. In my experience, the average audience for a conference presentation is <20. In short, to get tenure at a research university, perhaps you have published ten articles, a book, and presented at 20 conferences. This would be a pretty solid vita, in my experience. How large an audience do you think this is in total? Less than the number of monthly visitors to this very modest blog.
It would seem to me that the average academic (or academic journal) seeks to avoid exposure. Publishing an article in the "Journal of narrowly-focused humanities studies" is a good way to hide. Those who do manage to find you will probably be sympathetic. Plus you always have the shield of peer-review: clearly someone thought what you said was ok. Even if someone disagrees with you, the differences will likely be on details that very few people will know or care about. Besides, by the time that person manages to write and publish a response, your article is in the distant past. In any case, this almost never happens. Since 93% of humanities articles are never cited you can safely publish with the assumption that no one will ever mention your article again. Phew!
Reid hints that it's this being exposed that makes some academics wary of blogging, i.e., they fear that in the future they will not be able to be meangingful contributors to their disciplines while still remaining protected or concealed by more traditional, 'closed' forms of scholarship.

I'm curious to know from contributors and readers if Reid's comments resonate with you, and in particular, if blogging changes how we conceptualize scholarly work.


  1. First, I'd like to point out that citation indexes are NOT a reliable or valid indicator of citations in the humanities. This is because they only count citations IN JOURNAL ARTICLES. Because the monograph is so pervasive in the humanities, many of the citations of humanities journal articles will not be in other journal articles but in monographs WHICH ARE NOT INDEXED by the citation indexes. Which means that 93% number tells us nothing.

    That said, I think there is something about exposure. I've been blogging about these issues myself and one of my commentors brought up the conflict between the need to publish for validation (e.g. t&p) and the need to publish to communicate. It seems that the former now dominates, to the detriment of the latter, even making the communicative function of traditional means of dissemination (publishing and conferences) weaker. Those who blog, find it refreshing because they get to debate ideas, get feedback, etc.

    Personally, I think there is a place for both.

  2. The commercial citation indexes also fail to index the thousands of arts and humanities journals that are published ad hoc and for free online by learned societies / as open access, and these are thus deemed "impossible" to index by automated methods. Some of the open access publishing software has RSS feeds, but the bulk of freely available arts and humanities titles are placed on the web in an inconsistent way, usually without any way of getting even their table of contents to an automated service - let alone anything else of use to those who would measure them.


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