Friday, 22 November 2013

week 11 blogging questions

This week we didn't spend much class time discussing peer-review in a general sense, including your thoughts about Fitzpatrick's arguments. Your examples of feedback you might have given as peer-reviewers of her chapter were insightful, including the identification of some potentially obscure cultural references, but in retrospect it would have been nice to have an open discussion as well. Let's do that in this week's blogging question. What are your thoughts on peer-review, whether the traditional kind described by Lovejoy and our recommended readings, or the alternate approach championed by Fitzpatrick? Are there other examples or models of peer-review that are worth considering?

An example of a peer-review controversy you might have heard about is the Sokol affair. I won't retell the story here, but it's worth knowing about because it tested many of the principles that underlie peer review. The Wikipedia page for this controversy is reasonably detailed and impartial, and contains links to further reading, including the publications in Social Text and Lingua Franca that ignited it all, and Sokal's subsequent entries in the debate: Interesting to note that the controversy has become known as "the Sokal affair," not "the Social Text affair." To test this, I searched for the latter phrase on Wikipedia and was redirected to the stable url above.

<tangent type="baseball">There were many rubuttals of Sokal's hoax, including one by Derrida, but if you read just one, I suggest making it Stanley Fish's op-ed piece for the New York Times, "Professor Sokal's Bad Joke." Fish, in passing, helps to establish baseball as one of the best proving-grounds for ideas about epistemology -- something I've been trying to do indirectly with music in our course, though Fish does it better. In that spirit, let me recommend an academic prank that embodied many of the qualities missing from Sokal's: William S. Stevens's legendary 1975 article for the University of Pennsylvania Law Review on "The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule" (originally published anonymously). In addition to making some great legal and sports insights, this piece deftly satirizes the citational excesses of law articles, and at one point on the first page footnotes the use of the word the. As a scholarly prank, this one is intelligent, inclusive, scrupulously researched, and honest in its use of humour to light a candle where Sokal settled for cursing the darkness.</tangent>

In your post, feel free to comment on the Sokal affair, or to explore any other aspect of peer-review, whether the underlying principles, their practical application, or both. As I mentioned in class, these are questions that affect everyone who produces or uses research, no matter the discipline. 

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