I originally wrote this little rant back in early April, but saved it because posting hot-blooded rants has gotten me into some trouble here & I wanted time to cool off. Then I just ignored it for a while. But now I’m into belated spring cleaning of the email inbox and postponed blog posts. Looking at this again, I’m ok with it, so here goes…
There’s one big point in this article that really ticks me off. I’ve seen this again and again and it’s just as stupid now as the first time. So here’s my bone to pick. Don’t ever use this chestnut around me or I’ll be forced to kick you in the shins.
“Just as a hamburger and a coke is no substitute for a well balanced meal, the Internet is no substitute for books. Before a book goes into print, a text is reviewed by several individuals well versed in grammar and language. The text may have to be amended several times before it is considered worthy of publication. But does information that gets published on the Net undergo the same process?” This is rarely so.
Boo fracking hoo. Let me just clear one thing up: there have always been un-peer reviewed and un-edited publications out there. The editorial process is good; heaven knows I’m all for the peer review process. But that’s just a crutch, a convenience to take some of the load off of the reader. The important thing is learning to evaluate what you read & to determine if it’s worth your time or not. Reviewers & editors do part of that for you. You have to do it more for yourself with online materials. Get over it.
Back in 1998 I wrote an article for ARIST with Robin Peek on electronic scholarly journal publishing, titled, cleverly, Electronic Scholarly Journal Publishing. One of the things we discussed in that article was the reaction that e-pubs got in the scholarly community when they first started to appear. Some of that reaction was “gee whiz.” Some of it was: the decrease in time taken to publish a work diminishes the rigor of the review process, and thus the intellectual weight of the work.
Let me be totally blunt: that argument was crap then & it’s crap now. The medium is irrelevant; the speed is irrelevant; the delivery mechanism is irrelevant. I could conduct peer review by passenger pigeon & still come up with a lousy result. The quality of thinking is what is important, and frankly I’d go so far as to say, the only thing that’s important. The quality of thinking by the author, by the reviewer, and by the reader. If the author is Jayson Blair, for example, the writing isn’t going to be worthwhile no matter how well-edited it is. If the reviewer is lazy, they won’t catch errors or make good suggestions to improve the manuscript.
Peer review will not save you, people. Yes, it’s a good thing. Yes, it’s useful. Yes, it improves the quality of materials. But would you really suggest that there’s no writing that’s good without it? In the whole world? No, no reasonable person would say that. Is there lots of crummy writing out there? Yes, of course there is. Is there crummy writing out there that’s been through an editorial process? Yes, of course there is. Is there quality writing out there that has not been through an editorial process? Yes, OF COURSE there is.
To suggest that internet = hamburger & coke, and books = well balanced meal is as ridiculous as to suggest that all swans are white. It’s a classic failure of induction. Don’t let it happen to you.
This post now ends as it began: with one of Jessamyn’s posts. Jessamyn links to the latest edition of Gorman shooting his mouth off (shooting his pen off?), & also to a comment on LISNews that accuses him of making a similar logical error.