Monday, September 7, 2009

On Scholarship 2.0

During August Reinventing Academic Publishing Online appeared on Scholarship 2.0. It is a polemic against what its authors see as an exclusive establishment consisting of the "top academic journals" that only the richest universities can afford, and a self-serving institutional system that distorts the academic process in order to make the job of funding bodies and appointing committees easier.
Now there are many misguided people who think that there are such things as "top academic journals" where the best computing research is to be found, and regrettably some of these people do appear to hold positions of power and influence. But the fault is theirs alone.
I believe strongly in the value of computing research conferences: but the large ones have pursued profit at the expense of discrimination. It is easy to find dreadful papers presented at even the best conferences, with half-baked ideas and without results or any pretence at evaluation. But it is precisely the Web and Web 2.0 that allows us to find quality independently of the vehicle used for publication.
I have been following with some interest the response in UK academia to the recent Research Assessment Exercise. The Computing panel noted that excellent articles were to be found in journals with low impact factors, and conversely. They were astonished at the huge number (1247) of refereed journals that submitted articles had appeared in, and were amazed that relatively few university departments had submitted conference publications. They restated their policy that conference papers could be just as good as those found in the "top-rated journals".
Interested readers can follow this debate in the Conference of Heads and Professors of Computing and the consultation about the Research Excellence Framework.
Not only is their analysis of the last RAE excellent: so are the proposals for the next RAE, which will recognise that originality, rigour and impact are not usually found in a single publication. So let's just get on with the research, and leave the task of re-inventing academic publication to those who have time for it.
(Update 9 Nov: and in the meantime, join, which looks like a good Web 2.0 scholarship repository!)

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