Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Blogging == PLoS?

I'm confused by this Slate article on academic blogging. For some reason, it maintains that open-access journals like the Public Library of Science have something to do with blogging:
Perhaps the most significant challenge to the traditional peer-review practices comes from open-source projects like the Public Library of Science, which, though their journals are peer-reviewed, are available to all readers. Michael B. Eisen, an assistant biology professor at Berkeley and one of the co-founders (with Harold Varmus) of PloS, believes that academic bloggers face similar challenges to those of scientists who publish in open-source journals like his.

"One of the main issues we face in trying to convince junior academics to publish in PLoS instead of more established journals is their concern about how such publications will look at tenure time. I keep trying to convince people that, in an ideal world, tenure decisions should be made on the quality of one's work, not the venue of its publication. And there's no reason this shouldn't apply to things like blogs as well," he says.

Um, but the whole point of PLoS is (in their words):

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) was formed in 2000 by scientists and physicians to make peer-reviewed research freely accessible online to the world.
So what does does this have to do with blogging? PLoS is a peer-reviewed journal that happens to have a different economic model behind it, and I presume should be treated like any other acadmic journal when it comes to assigning publishing credit. Blogging is not (in general) peer-reviewed or reviewd at all, which is why it's hard to account for it in tenure decisions. As far as I can see they have nothing to do with one another, other than both involving this new-fangled web thingy.


Michael Eisen said...

The point I was trying to make, which got lost a bit in the quote, is that tenure committees should judge the content of an assistant professor's body of work, irrespective of where it was published. This is what unites PLoS and blogging - some authors are reluctant to publish in PLoS journals because they're worried they won't get proper credit at tenure time, just like some bloggers are worried they won't get proper credit for their blogs at tenure time. If tenure committees simply read the works and evaluated them, then PLoS authors and bloggers would be better off, hence the juxtaposition isn't that crazy.

mtraven said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment! I'm seriously honored.

But I still don't quite get it, maybe I don't understand how PLoS and/or academic publishing really works. I would think that a PLoS journal would be just like any other new journal -- not Science or Cell, but no different in principle from any other newly formed journal.

I assume tenure committees don't have time to actually evaluate all of the candidate's writings, so they use gross judgements like number of papers, weighted by prestige. Blogging has zero prestige because it has no barrier to entry. Peer-review functions to create barriers so the fact of a publication in a peer-reviewed journal is more significant.

I'd like to understand how PLoS journals are any different, or perceived as different.

goatchowder said...

I find it kind of scary that academics-- who are supposed to be experts at primary research and fact-checking-- would instead rely on heuristics like the *name* of the journal someone's writing appears in, rather than just, um, reading the writing and judging it on its own merits.

Then again, I'm not an academic, just a former brand-marketing puke. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised if the value of academic writing is evaluated in the same manner as soap, cars, computer equipment, stereo equipment, and condoms.

Cell: the choice of a new generation. Science: we build excitement.

mtraven said...

Well, actually I emailed Eisen and he said much the same, that at least for tenure cases they have time to do the reading. But for other cases (reviews etc), they have the same information overload problem as anyone else, except more so. And, since you can't read everything, you need to rely on credentials to do the initial filtering step at least.