Time Well Spent

March 9, 2005 | 27 comments
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Periodically we bloggers ask ourselves exactly how valuable a pursuit blogging is. Blogging is great for lots of reasons, but certainly part of its value is in its contributing to some other activities. For a current example, Rosalynde’s post on conscience played a role in the development of a paper she will be presenting this weekend at the 2005 Annual Meeting of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology, at Utah State University. A couple of other T&S bloggers will also be giving papers there (click here to view program).

Ironically, probably more people will read her blog post than hear her presentation, though the presentation will be much more thoroughly worked out. I am curious to see how the relationship between blogging and conventional publication develops with time.

pd mallamo kindly observes:
Much as I love T&S, this discussion, in particular, makes me wonder if some – many – of you should blog less and write for publication more. In other words, even though this kind of exchange can be stimulatiing and useful, past a point you’re wasting your time – if your time could be better spent committing these ideas to a more permanent and reviewed form, such as a book. Hate to be old fashioned, but there are obviously many good minds and lots of energy here – too much just for a Mormon audience.

Of course, one of the fun things about blogging is that your ideas get reviewed immediately! Sometimes even by some pretty interesting people. Like, say, the authors of works you are discussing. And theoretically a blog post can be pretty permanent, though a recent power loss on my PDA reminds me that printed books have a very nice variety of permanence. And instead of referring to another work in a footnote that someone might have to go to a library in the next state to look up (depending on how obscure the work cited is), on the blog I can link, and the reader can open it up in the next tab on her browser.

Still, there is something importantly different about reviewed conferences, books and other conventional publications. They are a lot more work to access and use than a blog, for those of us with broadband at home or at work. But I think what makes them special is closely related to the fact that they are also so much more work to produce. Glad you can make it out to Logan, Rosalynde!

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27 Responses to Time Well Spent

  1. Nate Oman on March 9, 2005 at 7:39 pm

    Ben: I ended up writing a short paper — about 15 pages — for the LDS Law Students conference entitled “On the Possiblity of Mormon Legal Thought” part of which grew out of some of my posting here. I didn’t give anything more than a short precis of the piece at the conference, but I nevertheless plan on revising it and — hopefully — publishing it in the future. I think that blogging can be a good way of sparking ideas, but I agree that it can never be a replacement for the plodding task of rigorously working out your ideas. I am currently shopping around an article to the law reviews that grew out of a ten minute conversation with a friend of mine. It is now just over 50 pages long. At its best, I see blogging as standing in the same relationship to real intellectual work as conversation with intelligent friends does to publishing.

  2. Kaimi on March 9, 2005 at 7:45 pm

    My Wisconsin piece started out as a comment in the margin of Dave’s book review. His book review was already in galleys, so he couldn’t incorporate what looked like an interesting aside. We discussed it over lunch one day. The next thing you know, we had pulled an article out of that little aside. And it ended up in a borderline-top-20 law journal. I’m still a little amazed at how that all played out.

  3. Ben Huff on March 9, 2005 at 8:19 pm

    I have been part of a conversation on LDS-Phil the last week or so that I think has brought into focus some key issues on freedom. While my dissertation is in ethics, I spent a lot of time thinking about free will/agency issues on the way to writing it. I think I have something really great to write about now, if only I had the time! Well, maybe this summer when I get writer’s block on my dissertation.

  4. Keith on March 9, 2005 at 8:48 pm

    My wife’s paper that she will present at SMPT in Logan was inspired by the long discussion I had with Blake about atonement on LDS-Phil–a discussion she followed mostly second hand, though she did read some of my posts.

    I guess we could say this is a kind of publication/discussion by proxy.

  5. Ben Huff on March 9, 2005 at 9:09 pm

    Interesting to hear, Keith. I enjoyed getting a look (courtesy of Brian) at your forthcoming Element piece last week. Wish you could be there in Logan too!

  6. Ben Huff on March 9, 2005 at 9:11 pm

    At its best, I see blogging as standing in the same relationship to real intellectual work as conversation with intelligent friends does to publishing.

    Yes, and given how far-flung many of us Mormons are who would like to publish, some sort of telecommunication is pretty much vital.

  7. Rosalynde Welch on March 9, 2005 at 9:35 pm

    Thanks, Ben, I’m excited to come! Putting the finishing touches on the paper tonight (not really, actually, just sticking in the final additions and tomorrow night I’ll polish), and packing the kids up.

    For me, blogging serves a somewhat different purpose than it does for academics with a career to attend to. I have absolutely no collegial environment outside the bloggernacle, since I work so very independently (read: me at my computer with two screaming kids), so blogging provides me with the kind of professional social interaction that makes academia enjoyable. Other than the paper I’m presenting this weekend, none of my posts have furthered my primary academic research. (Then again, who am I kidding; my “primary academic research” is in deep freeze at the moment, and probably will remain that way permanently. Blogging’s not to blame for that, gender is.)

  8. Matt Evans on March 9, 2005 at 10:15 pm

    All,

    Why do you consider blogging to be merely a forum for conversation, and not a publishing medium?

  9. Geoff Johnston on March 9, 2005 at 11:57 pm

    I think Matt asks a very valid question here. Perhaps I’m Internet-biased because I’ve spent my entire professional career working for Internet-related companies, but I also have to wonder what are we doing while blogging if not publishing? What is to stop any one of us from writing a larger article/essay and “publishing” it in parts at a blog? Someone has already mentioned that it would reach a larger audience than most obscure journals and there seem to be ample numbers of qualified people participating in the Bloggernacle now to critique such a piece. Plus any such article would immediately be just a click away for all others on the Web to reference. I suspect these notions of offline journals being superior will sound more and more old-fashioned and quaint over time.

    BTW — I’ll be there Saturday (though probably bleary-eyed from a late night arrival) and I’m looking forward to your presentation Rosalynde.

  10. Clark on March 10, 2005 at 12:01 am

    It seems that’s simple Matt. Blogs aren’t as prestigious and further the style on most blogs is casual. Even more formal blogs still bear closer resemblance to a conversation than published text. That’s not to deny a relationship to publication. Among science journals blogs are becoming a way to correct mistakes in published papers and discuss it. Further the various pre-print repositories (slowly expanding from physics to other disciplines) help blur the line between blog and journal. Nevertheless publishing implies that one has carefully written and rewritten ones paper, fact checked, had people look over it and in general attain a more stable state than a blog post. I mean, be honest, how many of your blog posts have you worked on for months with a dozen rewrites? Heavens, I rarely do rewrites to any of my posts. (Beyond correcting egregious typos I notice)

  11. Geoff Johnston on March 10, 2005 at 12:42 am

    That is probably true Clark, but we are talking about a new and different medium here. Instead of working on one paper for months you build up your arguments through myriads of different supporting posts over months. Before you know it you have all the pieces of a very strong argument with all the “footnotes” (read: links) in place already. It potentially becomes a fortified and very well documented argument all at your blog. You of all people in the Bloggernacle seem to represent this pattern.

    I believe the Internet is changing the world and guys like you are on the cutting edge of the new way of publishing important thoughts. My prediction (hey I’m a Web analyst by trade – I make all sorts of predictions) is that over the next 10 or so years those who stubbornly cling to the old-school methods and ignore the Web will find themselves left behind and less influential and certainly less read and discussed than their web-publishing (blogging) counterparts.

  12. J. Stapley on March 10, 2005 at 12:55 am

    To second Clark’s post: publishing in a peer-reviewed journal, at least in the sciences, requires a rigueur that blogging just doesn’t approach. My thesis (still holding two unpublished papers) required that I read every related paper back to 1850. I revised every paragraph at least 20 times and annotated with over 300 individual sources. The result is something I am sure that no one has ever elucidated before.

    Blogging often seems to catalyze novel insights in the participants. As dynamic as these discussions seem we cannot be sure they are at all novel (though they might be for us) unless we spend the time to do the research.

  13. Clark on March 10, 2005 at 1:05 am

    Geoff, the problem is that a paper is more than just a few arguments. I agree that blogging is excellent for developing arguments and getting feedback. But it just isn’t the same for the rest. (i.e. how do readers know what level of stability and confidence you have in your work?)

    My personal feeling is that blogging will always have a sort of “parasitic” relationship to more formal press. Most political blogs, for instance, comment based on formal journalism reports. Yes they often add to or report things left out. But by and large even the ones with the most original reporting still end up having a necessary relationship to the papers and other outlets.

    More academic blogging does as well. And, I think, in a similar fashion. I think the exact relationship is still in flux. It is interesting seeing how academic blogging develops. I don’t think a stable relationship has really been reached yet. However it does appear, from my reading, that blogging will always be below peer review, if only because of prestige. Put an other way, even the most prestigious blog may well be akin to being interviewed by a popular media outlet. But it won’t impress your peers as much as getting published in a peer reviewed journal.

    I expect the peer reviewed journals to change. But journals like Nature or Science (for scientists) will always be sought after. I do think though that there will become a middle ground of the repositories which will help aid progress in the sciences (and eventually the humanities – philosophy has recently begun picking up the format for instance)

  14. Geoff Johnston on March 10, 2005 at 1:54 am

    Good thoughts Clark and J.

    But you are both really talking about standards. My question is what is keeping someone from writing a piece worthy of being published in an important journal in any field and instead publishing it at a blog? (Maybe publishing the piece as a whole but probably in several parts.) You are right that today probably nobody is holding themselves to a sufficiently high standard with their blogs — but what is to stop them?

    This question is particularly true in the Bloggernacle and concerning Mormon issues. Many people here have the skills to write a piece worthy of BYU Studies or Dialogue or Sunstone, etc. In fact many here have been published there. I expect to see a day in the not-too-distant future when someone here will choose to do just that – write a “publishable” essay or article and publish it here first. I mean T&S gets something like 2000 visits every day for cryin’ out loud! I suspect that is more than the annual readership of any of those publications I mentioned.

    In fact I’ll throw out this challenge to those qualified individuals blogging here: Write something worthy of being published in one of those offline journals — really push yourselves — and then publish it here or at your own blog first! (Or at least get a public draft up here and use us as a peer review.) Those here at T&S probably have a bigger audience than any of the Mormon Studies publications so take advantage of it!

    (Also, it would be good if you T&S bosses accepted submissions here or agreed to link to smaller islands of any takers)

    Maybe the only thing keeping the Bloggernacle from becoming the premiere place to publish insightful and cutting edge Mormon studies papers is that no one here is holding themselves to high enough standards … yet.

  15. Matt Evans on March 10, 2005 at 8:59 am

    I agree with Geoff that someone could apply the standards of a prestigious publication to a blog post — blog posts don’t have to be half-baked. Given our collective experience editing academic journals, the T&S bloggers could institute publication standards to rival those of the Mormon Studies publications.

    The problem is that barriers-to-entry for blogging are deminimus, resulting in too much content being produced, even on narrow subjects, for people to read (or hear or watch) everything. We therefore use outlets (publishers, broadcasters) as simple proxies to determine content’s value. They sift the wheat from the chaff, according to their own inhouse procedures and standards, and once we trust the outlet, we let them comb the world looking for gems.

    Technological advances are producing more efficient ways to lower information costs (the cost of sorting through information to find the gems) that will continue to diminish the role outlets play as proxies to determine content’s value. In the future it will be inexpensive to judge content on its own merits.

  16. Bryce I on March 10, 2005 at 9:12 am

    Geoff J.–

    Don’t forget that M* welcomes guest submissions already.

    /end shameless plug

  17. John Mansfield on March 10, 2005 at 9:25 am

    Brother Geoff asked: My question is what is keeping someone from writing a piece worthy of being published in an important journal in any field and instead publishing it at a blog? (Maybe publishing the piece as a whole but probably in several parts.) You are right that today probably nobody is holding themselves to a sufficiently high standard with their blogs – but what is to stop them?

    In my field (fluid dynamics) it has been fairly standard for many years to make pre-prints available on one’s research web pages. Usually they come down once the journals have published the papers. I would suppose this happens in many fields.

  18. Nate Oman on March 10, 2005 at 9:46 am

    One difference is simply length. Very few people will read a twenty page blog post, let along a fifty page one. I do think that the internet is changing academic publishing. (Mormon studies, true to form, is behind the curve here.) In law and the social sciences lots and lots of working papers and published articles are circulated first on the Social Science Research Network (www.ssrn.com). In law at least, the life cycle of a paper is going something like this:

    1. Paper is written.
    2. Paper is presented at numerous workshops at one’s own school and at other schools.
    3. Paper is revised.
    4. Paper is posted to SSRN, and further presented at workshops.
    5. Paper is pubished in a law review.
    6. Law review article is eventually integrated into chapter of a book.

    Gordon and other law profs obviously can speak to this better than I can, but my sense is that increasingly the internet means that law reviews are serving a sort of repository function, but that they actually come in much later in the life cycle of a piece than previously. I have two papers up on SSRN. Niether has been published yet, but I have already gotten extensive feedback on both of them from folks who have read them online. Indeed, one of them is going to be cited in at least one article that will appear before my paper itself is “published.”

    Furthermore, in law at least, the journals long ago moved into the electronic medium either through Westlaw or LexisNexis or, more recently, through HeinOnline. Finally, many law profs run blogs that serve to popularize and publicize their scholarship. In addition to which, there are blogs that focus on particular scholarlly areas within the law, and frequently high light current workshops, papers on SSRN, or law review articles.

    A while ago, I tried to start something like SSRN for Mormon Studies — I called it the Kolob Network — but no one seemed much interested and I ran out of energy and enthusiasm. I suspect that for something like that to be successful it would need to be associated with some institution that would give it a stamp of scholarlly respectability. It would be nice if BYU or the Joseph Fielding Smith institute could host something along these lines, but I suspect that it is not politically feasible. (Although I would love to be proven wrong about this.) MHA or the Dialogue foundation might do it, but I suspect that they don’t have the resources and in any case don’t want to set up something that will be seen as competing with their journals. If Claremont goes forward with their Mormon studies chair, it might be worthwhile for them to sponsor something along these lines. A final — and perhaps ultimately superior solution — is for Mormon studies scholars to simply move into existing networks. I’ve no idea if religious studies or history have anything comparable to SSRN, but if they did it would be great if Mormon scholars developed a norm a la legal scholars of uploading their papers to these sites.

  19. Jonathan Green on March 10, 2005 at 10:36 am

    If blogs became journals, wouldn’t we have to invent blogs all over again? It’s nice to have a place to toss out half-finished ideas and share research notes that will never reach the status of significant articles, and also a place to pick up new ideas and concepts from people working in many different fields. Besides, if anyone put together a first-rate publishable article and posted it here, half the responses would consist of “academic jargon! long words! my head hurts!”

    Nate, how does the SSRN handle issues of professionalization? Does it control submissions and comments in any way? Would a Mormon studies prepublication network have the effect of encoding some standard–or the lack of any standard–of professional status?

  20. Kaimi on March 10, 2005 at 11:19 am

    Jonathan,

    The only controlling factor on SSRN of which I’m aware is embarrassment. You don’t put up a bad paper, because you don’t want to be embarrassed by it.

    Like Nate, I’ve had the SSRN versions of a couple of my own articles cited in other pieces. It’s a good system. And Nate, let’s restart Kolob. You didn’t have 2300 readers per day the last time you tried. I think that you could pull it off now.

  21. Geoff Johnston on March 10, 2005 at 11:24 am

    Looks like Kaimi sort of beat me to the punch…

    Nevertheless, the serial entrepreneur in me can’t resist a situation like this… (it’s fun even when there’s no money in it.)

    Ok, so here is the easy solution to Jonathan’s objection. The blogs stay just as they are. The new articles simply get published in a separate place. Either at a new site that acts as a new online Mormon Studies journal or at an existing blog (like this one) in a separate section at the site. (Clark does something like this at his blog). This would be a place where a good 50 page article would be expected. We could easily come up with technology to make it readable and useful. (I recruited my brother to help us out with the new Bloggernacle aggregator site we just launched — ldsblogs.org — and it is working like a charm already)

    I suspect the reason Nate didn’t have much luck before with this idea is because he lacked leverage. That leverage is now in your grasp in the form of thousand of eyeballs every day. (On the Web eyeballs are everything). With the most viewers and top quality, content all the best Mormon Studies scholars would eventually want to be published at such a site. Lest you think you would have trouble getting contributors do not underestimate the promise of thousands of interested readers per day — scholars eat that stuff up. (Wasn’t Nibley the one that said the University is nothing more or less than a place to show off?)

    Anyway, I will be happy to help (at least with strategic planning, consulting and implementation) if anyone is interested in taking this ball and running with it.

  22. Kaimi on March 10, 2005 at 11:34 am

    To get a sense of what Kolob looked like in the past, take a look at

    http://web.archive.org/web/20031201080203/http://www.kolobnetwork.org/

  23. Clark on March 10, 2005 at 11:53 am

    To add to John’s comments, it is very common for many researchers to have up papers – often papers still being heavily revised – on their websites. Often this is very bloglike in nature.

    I think though that blogs proper are viewed as more active. They generally are looked at frequently. The fact of the matter is that blogs link to papers, but you simply can’t maintain the rate of production to blog the quality of research a paper demands. But, for an example of a blog that does something more like what Geoff mentions, check out this one from the main scholars in free will. Further there are many blogs that list new papers in some field. Weatherson’s philosophy blog of new papers does this, for instance. Physics Comments does something similar (although a tad more involved) for physics and physics blogs.

  24. Clark on March 10, 2005 at 11:56 am

    BTW – the nice thing about Physics Comments that I linked to above, is that it includes reviews of papers. The downside is that its interface isn’t the cleanest. But I suspect it is closest to what Geoff is looking for.

  25. Geoff Johnston on March 10, 2005 at 12:18 pm

    Yes, Clark. What I’m envisioning is not really a blog and not an offline journal but something in between. Rather than publishing articles and essays monthly they are published as soon as they are ready. And then there would be some sort of bloglike feedback mechanism to allow for revisions, critiques, etc. The value would be that it would be inextricably connected with the Bloggernacle so the blogs in the ‘nacle could cite and link to the articles in regular blog discussions.

    Right now blogs are derivative discussions of such offline articles — what is to stop bloggers from enveloping and creating the source material too and publishing at a separate but connected site or section? We have the special sauce now (that’s my codeword for the thing every new venture needs to succeed and what every existing huge success had at its beginnings); and the special sauce in this case is the combination of proper talent to write and sufficient numbers of eyeballs to read, consider, and discuss. (And the Bloggernacle is only going to get bigger, friends)

    BTW –you’re right Clark, that site is ugly as sin. But I’m not surprised to hear something like this is already live on the Web in other fields. We could do much better than that (at least in site quality and usability).

  26. William Morris on March 10, 2005 at 1:16 pm

    I like this idea very much and thing it is especially suited to Mormon Studies where the venues for publication are so limited.

    For example, I was approached a few years ago about presented a paper at the annual AML conference. I would have loved to, but I wasn’t able to travel to UT for the conference — and probably won’t be able to for another 2-4 years.

    That leaves me with Irreantum — which doesn’t publish many essays of literary criticism and often has themed issues thus limiting my chances further. BYU Studies doesn’t publish much literary criticism (plus, I’m not an actual academic and they seem to have tightened up a bit on who they will publish) and neither does Sunstone and Dialogue (and I’m not that interested in submitting book reviews).

    Something that would be an extension of the Bloggernacle would be awesome. The feedback element would be especially important for me since I’m very much an amateur in the field.

    This would also motivate me to do more formal writing. For instance, I’ve thought about trying to turn my series on Mormon literature and magic realism into a paper, but at the moment don’t really have a motivation to do so [although I do have two more posts to add to the series in the works].

  27. Ben Huff on March 10, 2005 at 4:26 pm

    What I’m envisioning is not really a blog and not an offline journal but something in between. Rather than publishing articles and essays monthly they are published as soon as they are ready. And then there would be some sort of bloglike feedback mechanism to allow for revisions, critiques, etc.

    As it happens, Element was originally envisioned as functioning in pretty much the way you describe, as an online journal with comments. A bit before its time, perhaps. The comments were to be moderated, to keep up the quality of comments as well. This was before the blog revolution; I suspect Dennis (Potter) was simply planning to insert them by hand into his html documents; the quantity wouldn’t have been too great for that. Perhaps they would have grown out of discussion on LDS-Phil. But Dennis was still working on his dissertation, and in a new job, and online journals hadn’t picked up as much credibility yet, and . . .

    Critical mass and pacing are crucial for something like this to work. The pace needs to be sedate enough, and the amount of fluffy noise low enough that very busy academic types (people like Richard Bushman . . .) can participate — this includes the editor. Yet it also needs to command enough people’s attention that very busy people feel it is worth their while to participate. I’m not saying lots of T&S participants aren’t very busy, but lots of very busy people are *not* T&S participants, and understandably so.

    On the other hand, there is also a lot of value to having a blog discussion of various pieces of Mormon Studies scholarship, even if a lot of the professional academics don’t follow it. So for the near term, even if online journals or the like don’t sponsor blog-like commenting, T&S and other blogs can always link to their content and discuss it (sort of like this discussion, for example). I think we’ll see a fair bit of that here as time goes on.