Post or perish ?

by John Quiggin on November 26, 2004

There’s been a fair bit of discussion among academic bloggers about whether blogs count for the purposes of vitas and if so how. The maximalist position (so far not put forward seriously by anyone as far as I know) is that each blog post is a separate publication. The minimal claim is that blogs are a form of community service, like talking to school groups and similar. A good place to start, with plenty of links to earlier contributions, is this post by Eszter.

Rather than engaging directly with the arguments that have been put up so far, I want to claim that the question will ultimately be settled by the way in which blogs are used and referred to. In this context, I have a couple of observations.

First, I’ve had one reader tell me that he’s cited one of my posts in an academic work, and I think this is not unique. Clearly, the more this happens, the more conventions for referring to blog posts will be developed, and the more easily they can be incorporated in vitas and so on.

Second, I had an interesting recent communication from the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia, which sets school examinations. They used this post in an exam paper for Year 12 politics. They wrote asking for copyright permission to print it in their set of past papers[1].

The blog post was a response to an opinion piece by Gerard Henderson, and I guess this is about where I see blogs fitting at present. Posts are like short versions of opinion pieces or contributions to magazines like The New Republic or, in Australia, Quadrant and Eureka Street. As was noted by some earlier commentators, blogs have pretty much captured the territory occupied by these magazines, to the extent that quite a few have responded by establishing their own blogs. I list all my opinion pieces in my CV (which is in moderate need of updating, I see), but I’ve not yet done the same with the blog.

fn1. Interestingly, the board has the right to use material in exam papers without telling anyone, even the author, so as to preserve secrecy. It’s only when they want to reprint that they need copyright permission.

{ 15 comments }

1

Jonathan Dresner 11.26.04 at 10:20 am

Once academic blogging gets going seriously, blog posts could be said to go through a really rough (by which I mean tough and rumbly as well as unrefined) form of peer review — it can even be anonymous on most blogs; double-blind if you blog pseudonymously.

I think blogging is closer to teaching than to research: we don’t cite individual lectures in our c.v.’s, though we do list the courses; we don’t cite individual blog posts, but we do list the blogs to which we contribute.

My c.v. takes the same tack as yours: listing op-ed pieces separately from other writings, but listing them, nonetheless as they are a form of public and disciplinary service. I think a senior colleague suggested it at some point, when I started writing op-eds.

2

Kieran Healy 11.26.04 at 10:44 am

The maximalist position (so far not put forward seriously by anyone as far as I know) is that each blog post is a separate publication.

At least one (presumably desperate) chancer “has run that one up the flagpole”:http://www.kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/000439.html.

This year in our Annual Reviews we were told to put in a bit more than normal about service, as this was something that the administration was emphasizing for some reason. So I had a sentence about CT, with a bit of data about the number of visits we get on a typical day.

3

harry 11.26.04 at 3:01 pm

With my consent, but not at my suggestion, my collaborator on a book project mentioned my participation in CT in a letter to a potential publisher. I don’t have it on my cv at all, but am increaingly aware that it might be relevant to both publishers and university administrations concerned with service to the community. That said, since everyone thinks Henry writes all my posts (even the frivolous ones), I am in the nice position of being able to claim for myself the ones that go well, and pretend that Henry wrote the others.

4

eszter 11.26.04 at 3:48 pm

That’s funny, Harry.:) I wouldn’t be surprised if publishers were interested in an activity like this for the mere potential of it as a marketing tool.

Posts are like short versions of opinion pieces or contributions to magazines…

That’s a good analogy, although
I don’t think they have to be “short versions”, sometimes they are at least as long if not longer (which can be a good or a not-so-good thing).

5

Richard Zach 11.26.04 at 4:07 pm

Academics have been engaged in online discussions for 15-20 years, on email lists and on Usenet. Before AOL, many news groups had distiguished readers and posters. I remember some very good discussions on sci.logic from the early 90’s and specialized, moderated lists such as FOM (Foundations of Math) are still going strong, with a readership that includes basically anyone who’s someone in that area. I have seen FOM posts cited in published papers. I don’t think anyone lists their FOM posts in their CVs, not even as service. Maybe when a larger percentage of academics spends a larger percentage of their workday reading and writing blog posts, it’ll turn out differently for blogs, but if the 20-year history of online academic discussion is a guide, you’ll get as much credit for blogging as for talking to people at conferences or writing letters.

6

eszter 11.26.04 at 4:50 pm

Richard, so you’re saying that one should only get credit for talking to other academics? It seems that teaching and service may be broader categories. Especially at public universities, it seems that talking to a broader audience should count for something. Moreover, blog discussions are often interdisciplinary in ways that few conferences are. Is there no value to discussions with academics from other fields? Also, some of the best comments (i.e. most insightful, challenging, etc.) come from non-academics on blogs. Why should those contributions and discussions be discounted?

7

Giles 11.26.04 at 6:09 pm

. I’d have thought that one useful way that blogs could be cited is if they provoke an immediate measurable response – so it might be valid to cite a posting if it gets say 10 track backs and 50 comments. This is the way blogs entries can be distinguished from papers. Posts generally raise questions (and cook up half baked answers) and the number of comments, track backs and hits measures whether the public thinks it was an interesting question.

Papers by contrast generally try to answer questions and the number of citations measure how good that answer was.

So perhaps in the future, postings might be included in a vita to indicate how productive a question asker you are while papers measure your answering ability. And this can’t be a bad thing for search committees since any department needs a good balance of question askers and answerers.

8

eszter 11.26.04 at 6:21 pm

My impression – from discussions offline with people – is that there are plenty of blog posts that don’t get many comments or trackbacks yet still leave important impressions on people or lead people to think about things in new ways. (After all, numerous blogs get hundreds of visitors yet rarely get a comment. Those hundreds of visitors wouldn’t keep going back – or would they? – if they got nothing out of the posts.) I don’t think there is necessarily a clear relationship between number of comments/trackbacks and value (measured on whatever different dimensions) of a post. By the way, this is also the case for referencing scholarly articles. Not all articles are referenced because they are so great or made such a profound contribution. In fact, some are referenced very critically (although I guess one can make the argument that they led to some debate, but it seems even that may be a stretch as they may just be referenced as an example of a straw man argument). This is a smiliar misconception to Google’s ranking algorithm, which assumes a link to a site is a positive recommendation to said site. That’s not always the case either.

9

Giles 11.26.04 at 7:37 pm

I agree its not a fair metric – one genuine “inspiration” is worth 1000 posts and I don’t think that the biases are any different from writing and citing articles – if you want to get cited a lot quickly write articles about what evers trendy e.g. outsourcing – if you want lots of comments/track backs post about Iraq/Israel etc. The important point is that the internet allows for relatively immediate evaluations and comments/hits/track backs are the easiest measure. However since blogs measure “short term” /ephemeral issue raising abilities – I’d have thought that you could only quote immediate statistics i.e. posts this year/month while in the long term you should only cite posts that have been used to develop your own or others actual completed research.

10

nnyhav 11.26.04 at 10:35 pm

Is the question then whether citation in an approved form of the literature worthy of mention?

11

Kevin Carson 11.26.04 at 11:37 pm

Knowing some of the profs I worked for in grad school, I’m surprised they’re not obsessively nagging the Social Sciences Citation Index to list trackbacks as citations.

I actually worked for a guy once who assigned me to comb through the SSCI for the previous ten years and make a table of the number of times each faculty member was cited. This was the poly sci department at Texas A&M, BTW, and the numbers crunchers there thought this would be a good argument for the legislature to fund a PhD program.

Then I had another guy assign me to track SSCI citations between professors so he could do a game-theory piece analyzing their tit-for-tat behavior. I was dumbfounded: he actually wanted me to document what a bunch of featherbedding scumbags he and his cronies were!

Most of those polsci wankers at College Station never heard of Aristotle, but if you’re into unreadable monographs on voting behavior full of chi-squareds and standard deviations, it’s the place to be. The Texas A&M history dept is also big on cliometrics, from what I’ve heard.

12

Jonathan Dresner 11.26.04 at 11:55 pm

One more thought on why it matters now that blogging be listed on c.v.’s: the incessant calls for scholars and teachers to use “technology” as a teaching tool. The ability to write a post with hyperlinks is not a terribly significant one in itself, but it signifies an awareness and engagement with innovative (ok, fashionable) technology with educational implications.

13

freddie 11.27.04 at 12:01 am

Most blogs are about the equivalent of self-published work.. Why not settle, at least, for peer reviewd posts?

14

Deb Frisch 11.28.04 at 6:25 pm

JQ: one reader tell me that he’s cited one of my posts in an academic work.

[the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia] used this post in an exam paper for Year 12 politics.

The market provides a way to decide whether a blog entry should be listed on a CV and if so, where.

If a blog entry is cited in a journal article, it is research. If JQ’s reader ultimately publishes his work in Econometrica, JQ’s bloglication should be listed under research publications.

Quiggin, J. (11.26.04). Post or perish? Crooked Timber.
In Jones, A. (2005, p. 21). Maximizing the utility of blogging. Economic Journal, 24, 11-23.

If a blog entry is cited in a textbook or used in a state or nationwide exam, it is teaching.

The blogging/CV problem might be a trigger for universities to think about the braoder issue of how to value public intellectual activities/dissemination of research (e.g., op-ed pieces, interviews in mass media, useful web sites, blogging).

15

Mark - The Podcasting Guy 12.01.04 at 11:49 am

As a blogger, what are your thoughts on Podcasting?Mark

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