I've just added an excellent blog to our Blogroll (see left sidebar): if:book - A Project of The Institute for the Future of the Book. Below is an excerpt from a recent post about blogging, peer review and academia:
Posted by ben vershbow at November 17, 2005 03:27 PM
"...academic blogging represents the fruition, not a betrayal, of the university's ideals. One might argue that blogging is in fact the very embodiment of what the political philosopher Michael Oakshott once called "The Conversation of Mankind"—an endless, thoroughly democratic dialogue about the best ideas and artifacts of our culture.
...might blogging be subversive precisely because it makes real the very vision of intellectual life that the university has never managed to achieve?"
The idea of blogging as a kind of service or outreach is just beginning (maybe) to gain traction. But what about blogging as scholarship? Most professor-bloggers I've spoken with consider blogging an invaluable tool for working through ideas, for facilitating exchange within and across disciplines. But it's all decidedly casual. And that's part of what makes it such fun. But to gain acceptance in the academy, there have to be standards. There have to be barriers to entry. Traditionally, that's what peer review has been for. Can there be some sort of peer review system for blogs?
Boynton has a few ideas about how something like this could work (we're also wrestling with these questions on our back porch blog, Sidebar, with the eventual aim of making some sort of formal proposal). Whatever the technicalities, the approach should be to establish a middle path, something like peer review, but not a literal transposition. Some way to gauge and recognize the intellectual rigor of academic blogs without compromising their refreshing immediacy and individuality -- without crashing the party as it were.
There's already a sort of peer review going on among blog carnivals, the periodicals of the blogosphere. Carnivals are rotating showcases of exemplary blog writing in specific disciplines -- history, philosophy, science, education, and many, many more, some quite eccentric. Like blogs, carnivals suffer from an unfortunate coinage. But even with a snootier name -- blog symposiums maybe -- you would never in a million years confuse them with an official-looking peer review journal. Yet the carnivals practice peer review in its most essential form: the gathering of one's fellows (in this case academics and non-scholar enthusiasts alike) to collectively evaluate (ok, perhaps "savor" is more appropriate) a range of intellectual labors in a given area. Boynton:
In the end, peer review is just that: review by one's peers. Any particular system should be judged by its efficiency and efficacy, and not by the perceived prestige of the publication in which the work appears.
If anything, blog-influenced practices like these might reclaim for intellectuals the true spirit of peer review, which, as Harvard University Press editor Lindsay Waters has argued, has been all but outsourced to prestigious university presses and journals. Experimenting with open-source methods of judgment—whether of straight scholarship or academic blogs—might actually revitalize academic writing.
It's unfortunate that the accepted avenues of academic publishing -- peer-reviewed journals and monographs -- purchase prestige and job security usually at the expense of readership. It suggests an institutional bias in the academy against public intellectualism and in favor of kind of monastic seclusion (no doubt part of the legacy of this last great medieval institution). Nowhere is this more apparent than in the language of academic writing: opaque, convoluted, studded with jargon, its total remoteness from ordinary human speech its surest sign of the author's membership in the academic elite. [...]