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A Question of Credibility

Posted by on March 13, 2011

As many of you pointed out in our online discussion, the question of the role of blogging in the academic community comes down to credibility. Academic papers published in journals submit to a rigorous peer review process. You assume that an article or essay published in a peer-reviewed journal is a credible source of research. Blogs, on the other hand, lack the sort of vertical structure of review that creates “credibility.”

Yet there are many ways in which an academic blog can still be a valid and productive asset to a discourse community. First, we must remove the stereotype of the blog as a personal journal full of opinion and ego. Certainly a scholarly blogger might write posts that fit this stereotype, but as any perfunctory search through hubs like the Academic Blog Portal will demonstrate, most academic blogs focus on the research process. This can take a variety forms and search a variety of purposes: posing questions of inquiry, chronicling problems in the process, reviewing sources and research, even posting drafts of papers.

The key here is the community involvement. While conferences and journals provide access to ongoing, current research in any given field, there is a delay between the actual research process and the publication of findings. Research blogs remove this delay, utilizing the factor of immediacy to gain useful (and sometimes not-so-useful) feedback from the discourse community. Thus blogs, wikis, forums, and even tools like Twitter and Facebook create a space for real-time discussion and sharing of discourse. They allow community members from across the globe to participate in the creation of knowledge.

Digital publication of scholarly work that falls outside the vertical power structure of peer review and the academy will suffer from a perceived lack of credibility. Does that mean that these works are any less valid?

The big question posed in our Friday online discussion was how to evaluate the credibility of digital publications that fall outside the standard academic vertical power structure.

Interestingly enough, the Modern Language Association has produced a wiki that attempts to answer this question. They pose questions, best practices in Digital Work, and places to find an expert to help with the evaluation. This, of course, places the responsibility of the evaluation on individual readers or organizations. But it might be the first step towards shifting the power of academic publication away from the standard journal hierarchy.

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