In the latest issue of JASIST is an article by Marcia Bates, which is a response to an article by Birger Hjørland, which is a response to an article by Marcia Bates. Bates’ first article was published in 2006; Hjørland’s article was published in 2007; Bates’ second article was published in 2008. First of all, let me say that I love these sorts of exchanges. First, in a schadenfreude kind of way, observing the academic equivalent of fisticuffs. But more importantly, as an example of exactly the sort of thing that academia excels at: airing intellectual debates in a public forum. But my real point is, that’s a solid 2 years in which this particular debate has played out, and I suspect it ain’t over yet. Plus it’s only had three moves.
I witnessed another intellectual debate with three moves recently: Paul Courant to Siva Vaidhyanathan to Paul Courant. Total elapsed time: two days. Two days! The Courant-Vaidhyanathan exchange was literally 365 times faster than the Bates-Hjørland exchange.
Ok, so it’s not a perfect comparison: Bates1 and Hjørland are a little meaty to be blog posts, though Bates2 could possibly have been. And really this is not a novel observation: academic bloggers have been saying forever that blogs have the potential to speed up the pace of intellectual exchange. Still, though, it’s rare to see such a clear-cut example; most of the discussion of the benefits of blogging for academia are hypothetical (academic, one might even say)… what it amuses me to call the “ooh shiny object” argument: Look at this cool new toy! Here are some ideas for how we can use it! Aren’t you as excited about this as I am?
Anyway, I love seeing this actually happen, with bona fine Really Smart People™ having an interesting debate. Not to mention the added value that the blog exchange enables: comments. Other Really Smart People™ pitched in on that discussion: Brewster Kahle, Paul Duguid, John Gilmore, Kristin Antelman, and no doubt other Really Smart People™ whose names I just don’t know. Now that’s airing an intellectual debate in a public forum. That has the potential to really raise the level of the debate.
Update, 23 Feb 2009:
Well, I was right when I wrote that it ain’t over yet, though it took a year for the next move in this discussion to see the light of day. Which I suppose vindicates my love of the scholarly blogosphere.
Update, 11 August 2011:
And another two years for the next response! I love it! It’s a slow motion fight, like boxing in molasses!
Birger Hjørland’s Manichean misconstruction of Marcia Bates’ work, by Marcia J. Bates