Thursday, October 27, 2011

New Online Anthropology "Journals": Semi- Quasi- or Pseudo- ?

Since this is open access week, here are some thoughts on a couple of new online "journals" or journal-like entities, in the field of anthropology. They are Anthropologies, and Anthropology of this Century. I've published in the first, but not the second. Each has published some interesting papers. They seem to favor works relating to contemporary issues or contemporary disciplinary concerns.

This is the blurb for Anthropologies:

"This goal of this site is to explore contemporary anthropology through essays, short articles, and opinion pieces written from diverse perspectives.  There is no single way to define the field, hence "anthropologies."  By presenting various viewpoints and positions, this site seeks to highlight not only what anthropology means to those who practice it, but also how those meanings are relevant to wider audiences."

For Anthropology of This Century, the description is:

"ANTHROPOLOGY OF THIS CENTURY (AOTC) publishes reviews of recent works in anthropology and related disciplines, as well as occasional feature articles. There are three issues per academic year – in October, January and May."

This is not a full analysis of these two things, just some random thoughts and queries. Should we call them journals? Each has a name that sounds like it could be the name of a journal, and each is arranged in numbered volumes or issues, each with several papers (often on a theme). So outwardly these look like journals. Anthropologies calls itself variously a "site" and a "collaborative online project." Does that collaboration refer to the three members of the "Editorial Team," or to all the authors? Perhaps I am a collaborator in this project by virtue of the inclusion of my article; I'm not sure about this. AOTC does not call itself anything, perhaps on purpose. It has a list of people as "Our Authors," and one person is listed as "Publisher and Editor."

Semi-Journal ("half journal" or "partial journal") might be an appropriate name for these things. That is, they have some attributes of journals (editors, articles by scholars, numbered volumes), but not others (peer review; clear submission guidelines, editorial boards). Or perhaps Quasi-Journal (almost a journal, as if it were a journal)? I wouldn't call them Pseudo-Journals (false or fraudulent journals), since they do not claim to be academic journals. And they aren't blogs or wikis.

This name issue is not as trivial as it might sound. What is the intellectual and professional status of these things? When I mention my article in Anthropologies, I am never sure what to call it. ("Yes, I published something on that topic in an online _______" WHAT??). What should I call this on my CV? It is certainly not a peer reviewed journal article. I couldn't remember what I did with it, so I just checked my CV. Guess what - I forget to add it to my CV! And there is no appropriate category there to include it! Hmm, I will have to modify or add to the categories of written work on my CV to accommodate this article.

My confusion here is part of the general situation of flux in the online production of intellectual work throughout the disciplines. I must admit here, I am one of those old fashioned academics ("fossilized" some will say) who sees the value of peer-reviewed journals as much greater than things like blogs and online semi-journals. This and my other blogs are all well and good, a way to let off steam, but as a scholar I want to be known and appreciated for my scientific and scholarly publications. This issue came up in discussion on Neuroanthropology and other anthropology-related blogs recently. Greg Downey argued that blog writing should be taken more seriously by tenure and promotion committees, and judged as true intellectual production. I disagreed, suggesting that blogging is better viewed as a service activity, separate from intellectual contributions like peer-reviewed articles, books, grants, etc. Some other folks supported Greg (e.g., Jason Anstrosio; see posts on his very nice blog, Living Anthropologically), and praised blogs that discussed real scholarly topics, combining citations to the peer-reviewed literature with links to blogs and other internet venues (like semi-journals).

Perhaps one part of the disagreement here has to do with disciplinary differences. Blogs like Neuroanthropology often take on real scientific issues and discuss them in a sophisticated way, with citations to the relevant research. The archaeology blogs I am familiar with, on the other hand, mostly communicate to non-specialists, or else discuss disciplinary issues (like this one), but rarely take on serious intellectual issues. The papers on Anthropologies and AOTC are closer to the serious end of this spectrum, and perhaps they deserve more status or consideration than the typical archaeology blog. Nevertheless, they are not peer-reviewed. Say what you like about the criticisms and problems of peer-review; it is still the best filtering method available for maintaining the quality of academic production in scholarly disciplines.

I wouldn't mind calling Anthropologies and AOTC and other similar things "semi-journals," or literally, "half-journals." But I would emphasize that the half that they lack includes the most important thing for science and scholarship -- peer review. That said, these are interesting and important new venues, and it is hard to predict where internet scholarship will be 5 or 10 years from now. Check these out, especially Anthropologies, which is quite good and exciting.


Anonymous said...

I have not even bothered adding my own contribution to Anthropologies as a publication in my CV. Perhaps I should then, but then I have invested more work on some of my own blog posts.

Paul Wren said...

I believe any title given to these web publications should not include the word "journal."

If there is no peer review and no editing of the content prior to publication, then they are at best "web magazines."

I am in no way challenging the quality or value of sites like Anthropologies-- I find it to be a great implementation and a source of new viewpoints. But calling it a journal would be misleading.

I contributed an essay to Anthropologies, and was honored to be asked. And even though my list of publications is nearly non-existent, I would be reluctant to list my contribution to Anthropologies in my CV.

Michael E. Smith said...

Paul - Yeah, I think I agree with you that these things should not be called journals. On the other hand, contributions to them are real professional contributions and should definitely be listed on one's CV - just not in the "journal articles" or "peer reviewed" category.

Jason Baird Jackson said...

I have been busy since first reading your post and have not had time yet to write a reflection on the issues that you raise. I may get to it tonight and then there will be a track back link to your post. These are key questions on which I have a number of thoughts. More soon.

Greg Downey said...

Great discussion, Michael, and although we may have disagreed about some points, I think we both agree that the situation is murky and likely in transition. Although I want to win more respect for online writing -- whether that's in a blog, semi-blog, pseudo-journal, aggregator or whatever other sort of online genre or transitional genre (as Jason writes on his site) -- I also don't list any of my online writing on my CV, except as a big broad one-item category. I think I currently have a special category called 'Online writing' or something that mentions the approximate number, but I don't have any titles or anything else.

I think I'd like to put pressure on this to change, even though I am reluctant to make claims for online writing that might be challenged. For example, I do not list blog writing on my applications for grants, although I am planning on writing a part for my portfolio when I go up for promotion, as I've mentioned. In my CV, I draw a very hard distinction between 'Refereed journal publications' and everything else, and I do have a category for 'Non-refereed publications' in which I could feature online writing (I've also written stuff for the AAA's Anthropology News, for Encyclopedias, for science mags like Seed...).

But I agree with the main point: a journal is a journal, with peer review. Especially because my students are always getting confused about this, I am very reluctant to make that any murkier. But we also get credit for lots of other publications that aren't peer reviewed -- encyclopedia chapters, book reviews in journals that aren't themselves peer-reviewed, published commentary. To me, this 'second tier' academic publishing is where our best online writing belongs: above a letter to the editor, but certainly at least as reputable as a piece in Anthropology News....

Great to see this discussion continue though.

John Hawks said...

I list these on my CV under "Popular articles and essays", of which I have several in other venues. An essay is much less work than a peer-reviewed article, and I do not think it serves our purposes to confuse them. I would put them on par with an invited book review, although I list those separately.

Some other fields have a much more developed tradition of writing in semi-professional and informal contexts. I don't think academia has a trademark on the term "journal", and just wait until we start seeing edited e-book volumes...

Ryan Anderson said...

Hi Michael,

Thanks for this post, and for bringing up these questions. A lot of people have asked about anthropologies, wanting to know what it really is--a magazine, a blog, a journal, etc. Sometimes, I'm not really sure what to answer. To me, it's somewhere between a magazine, a blog, and an Op-Ed page. It's definitely not a peer-reviewed academic journal...although it could go more in that direction I suppose. Your post--and Jason Jackson's reply--bring up a lot of interesting issues to think about. Thanks.

Michael E. Smith said...

John and Ryan - I like the category "popular articles and essays", and I may start using that on my CV (it can merge with "newspaper and magazine articles"). I list my home page and blogs under "Internet activity," but specific essays (such as my piece in Ryan's Anthropologies) deserve other recognition.

The key is to acknowledge the value of this kind of work, without confusing it with peer-reviewed journal publications.