In the university newspaper there was an article on the academics vs. pseudo academics. According to the author the problem is that university academics didn’t go out enough and pseudo academics are taking their place instead with books, articles and speaking opportunities.
The main concern was that these pseudo academics pretty much can say anything they want. Their work is not peer reviewed and so the quality of their work is not guaranteed. The concept of peer reviews in academic publishing consists of anonymous reviewers commenting and giving feedback on a paper that has been submitted for publication.
I can understand the frustration expressed in the university newspaper. The intended audience doesn’t listen, or in this case doesn’t read, but reads someone else’s work, being either brilliant or BS, instead. That probably happens a lot and not only in the academic world. Think of performers who really aren’t the best singers (Madonna) around, but become bigger stars than the talented singer/songwriter.
But how bad is it really to read material from authors that have not been peer reviewed? When something is not peer reviewed it doesn’t mean it is not worth reading. It just hasn’t gone through a peer review process. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that its contents are worthless. A lot depends on the reader(s) I would say. Eventually it is the reader who values the content or not. Of course not every reader is critical enough and I sometimes see authors being hyped while I don’t really get what the fuss is about. Sometimes I read publications or posts that I know to be wrong, while other people think it is just great and even spread the (faulty) word through trackbacks. Fact is that subjective quality is in the eye of the beholder. The beholder being the reader.
In academia, one of the ways to check for quality is the number of times an author’s work has been cited. Citations make the academic world go round as it is an indicator for the quality of the author, the article, the academic institution and the academic journal and its publisher. Academic publishers and libraries have been developing and offering access to citation indexes to subscribers and members of libraries.
Now Amazon apparently has such a feature too. Seth Godin posted on it. I think Godin is giving Amazon too much credit though. This feature is nothing more than an application of the principle of citation indexes that have been around in academic publishing for a long time. On Web of Science (subscribers only) I can check exactly how often mr. Godin is quoted. The good thing about this feature is that this indicator of quality is apparently applied in the non-academic world.
There still seem to be two worlds of knowledge though. In order to make that one world there should be interaction. Fact is that academics interact in their own world of academic publishing. This whole thing of academic publishing is an interesting thing. The idea behind it is that academics have a dialogue with each other through their papers in academic and scientific journals. Their university requires them to publish. They are rewarded when they do. Scientific publishers do not pay the academics for their work; they get the stuff for free. The publishers in turn sell their journals for $ 1000 a subscription to university libraries, who have to offer this material to their staff as well as their students. It is a circular supply chain really! This supply chain has been around for quite some time now. As I said: Citations make the world go round. Some parties have too much to lose.
The possibilities the internet offers so far haven’t seduced academics to break this chain and to directly interact with their audience instead. Even though blogging and trackbacks offer the same as academic publishing does. Trackbacks really are citations too. Both of them make knowledge go round!