Archive for March, 2015

Should You Boycott Traditional Journals?

Monday, March 30th, 2015

(Or, Should I Stay or Should I Go?)

Is it time to boycott “traditional” scholarly publishing? Perhaps you are an academic researcher, just like me. Perhaps, just like me, you think that there are a lot of exciting developments in scholarly publishing thanks to the Internet. And you want to support them. And you also want people to read your research. But you also still need to be sure that your publication venues are held in high regard.

Or maybe you just receive research funding that is subject to new open access requirements.

Ask me about OPEN ACCESS

Academia is a funny place. We are supposedly self-governing. So if we don’t like how our scholarly communications are organized we should be able to fix this ourselves. If we are dissatisfied with the journal system, we’re going to have to do something about it. The question of whether or not it is now time to eschew closed access journals is something that comes up a fair amount among my peers.

It comes up often enough that a group of us at Michigan decided to write an article on the topic. Here’s the article.  It just came out yesterday (open access, of course):

Carl Lagoze, Paul Edwards, Christian Sandvig, & Jean-Christophe Plantin. (2015). Should I stay or Should I Go? Alternative Infrastructures in Scholarly Publishing. International Journal of Communication 9: 1072-1081.

The article is intended for those who want some help figuring out the answer to the question the article title poses: Should I stay or should I go? It’s meant help you decipher the unstable landscape of scholarly publishing these days. (Note that we restrict our topic to journal publishing.)

Researching it was a lot of fun, and I learned quite a bit about how scholarly communication works.

  • It contains a mention of the first journal. Yes, the first one that we would recognize as a journal in today’s terms. It’s Philosophical Transactions published by the Royal Society of London. It’s on Volume 373.
  • It should teach you about some of the recent goings-on in this area. Do you know what a green repository is? What about an overlay journal? Or the “serials crisis“?
  • It addresses a question I’ve had for a while: What the heck are those arXiv people up to? If it’s so great, why hasn’t it spread to all disciplines?
  • There’s some fun discussion of influential experiments in scholarly publishing. Remember the daring foundation of the Electronic Journal of Communication? Vectors? Were you around way-back-in-the-day when the pioneering, Web-based JCMC looked like this hot mess below? Little did we know that we were actually looking at the future.(*)

jcmc-1-1

(JCMC circa 1995)

(*): Unless we were looking at the Gopher version, then in that case we were not looking at the future.

Ultimately, we adapt a framework from Hirschman that we found to be an aid to our thinking about what is going on today in scholarly communication. Feel free to play this song on a loop as you read it.

 

(This post has been cross-posted on The Social Media Collective.)

Eco’s “How to Write a Thesis” in 15 Maxims

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

(or, Thesis Advice, Click-Bait Style)

Italian semiotician and novelist Umberto Eco released How to Write a Thesis in 1977, well before his rise to international intellectual stardom. It has just been released in English for the first time by MIT Press. I’ve just read it.

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I was thinking of assigning it in doctoral seminars, but I regret that a great deal of the book involves scholarly practices that are no longer relevant to anyone. For instance: Is it OK to insert an unnecessary footnote in the middle of your text so that your footnote numbering matches up correctly with what you’ve already typed? (Meaning: So you don’t have to re-type the entire manuscript. On a typewriter.)

It turns out that it is not OK to insert unnecessary footnotes.

And there’s a whole bunch of things about index card management, diacritical marks, and library union indices. And some stuff about the laurea.

However, even if I do not find the book relevant to assign as a whole, Eco’s great wit and strong opinions did lead me to compile the best quotes from the book. I present them to you here:

Eco’s 15 Maxims for PhD Students:

From How to Write a Thesis [1977/2015], selected by me. These are slightly paraphrased to make them work in a list. I hope you like them as much as I did.

  1. Academic humility is the knowledge that anyone can teach us something. Practice it.
  2. A thesis is like a chess game that requires a player to plan in advance all the moves he will make to checkmate his opponent.
  3. How long does it take to write a thesis? No longer than three years and no less than six months.
  4. Imagine that you have a week to take a 600-mile car trip. Even if you are on vacation, you will not leave your house and begin driving indiscriminately in a random direction. A provisional table of contents will function as your work plan.
  5. You must write a thesis that you are able to write.
  6. Your thesis exists to prove the hypothesis that you devised at the outset, not to show the breadth of your knowledge.
  7. What you should never do is quote from an indirect source pretending that you have read the original.
  8. Quote the object of your interpretive analysis with reasonable abundance.
  9. Use notes to pay your debts.
  10. You should not become so paranoid that you believe you have been plagiarized every time a professor or another student addresses a topic related to your thesis.
  11. If you read the great scientists or the great critics you will see that, with a few exceptions, they are quite clear and are not ashamed of explaining things well.
  12. You are not Proust. Do not write long sentences.
  13. The language of a thesis is a metalanguage, that is, a language that speaks of other languages. A psychiatrist who describes the mentally ill does not express himself in the manner of his patients.
  14. If you do not feel qualified, do not defend your thesis.
  15. Do not whine and be complex-ridden, because it is annoying.

 

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