‘Pouring the credit’ and why it’s still important

by Lilia Efimova on 5 September 2008

I was about to write a post on procrastination that keeps me from writing, but now I have something better – a couple of comments my post on bloggers as public intellectuals to follow-up.

Jack Vinson [bold is mine]:

…what I take from this is the larger picture of how people work together to develop new and interesting ideas.  Academics, the focus of Lilia’s discussion, naturally talk to one another and hammer out ideas.  It’s hard enough to see where an idea truly originates even amongst a few people.

But when the conversation crosses tens or hundreds of people AND locations AND sources AND time, then the genesis of ideas is up in the clouds.  We know this – at least this seems like something I learned through my education.  But we still insist in our society on finding THE person who came up with some invention and pouring the credit upon her.

I guess those things happened before, but with current interconnectivity the process of “cloud idea generation” becomes wider and faster. It also becomes more visible – with so much of interactions being technology-mediated it’s now more easy to see how bits of ideas travel and change.

“Pouring the credit” is an interesting issue. As a person, I’m happy inventing ideas and even more happier to see them travel and being used: knowing that a bit of my thinking was useful for someone else is rewarding by itself. In this respect I don’t really need credits, but I definitely appreciate having “trackbacks” – some way of knowing where my ideas travel and what happened to them.

For me as a professional things are much more difficult: I still get hired and get paid as an individual, not as part of the cloud. The current rules that govern my work are pretty much based on the number and quality of the ideas that could be traced to me as a contributor. In this sense, credits are essential.

While I love doing research, one of the reasons I’m not planning to stay in the academic world is the system that ties formal professional growth (which is about the scale of challenges to deal with and available resources next to the salary scale) to channelling ideas into forms and spaces (e.g. A-list journals) that might work better for credits, but do not necessarily for helping ideas to travel wider and faster.

Interestingly enough, this is also the issue that makes me thinking of getting back to my HR(D) roots after I’m done with the PhD research. I believe that many new ways of working are not getting where they could be in organisations because they do not fit with the ways the work is evaluated and rewarded.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jack Vinson 5 September 2008 at 22:38

I don’t know if you follow danah boyd any more, but she has written on this issue a few times at http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/, as she goes through her PhD-writing process.

Oh, and thanks for the link!

2 ismael 6 September 2008 at 11:11

Loved this description of the Academy: “the system that ties formal professional growth […] to channelling ideas into forms and spaces […] that might work better for credits, but do not necessarily for helping ideas to travel wider and faster”.

I’ve been having lately an open debate with some colleagues of mine about PhD dissertations having to be adapted and then published as a (paper) book, or just uploaded to a web server and spread all around.

The book provides credits… and a reach of 1,000 people in the best of scenarios (the number issued of copies + some people at some library). What’s the reach of a free PDF diffused in the appropriate community?

3 Lilia Efimova 7 September 2008 at 13:52

Jack, thanks – somehow at the moment of writing I didn’t think about danah’s writing on the topic.

Ismael, not sure how many people would want to read a book-length PDF :) Ideally, PhD research should be reported in some other format, but actually my comment was more on the post-PhD life in academia…

4 Jason Priem 16 September 2008 at 18:46

I agree with Ismael: you hit the nail square upon its uppermost extremity in your description of the academic model.

Academic Productivity did a good “science 2.0” post a few weeks back, that did a good job of summarizing where we are along the road to a more open, relevant publishing system and what’s holding us back. The fact remains that despite the goofiness of the current publishing system (taxpayers fund the research, the journals get it for free, and then…off to the walled garden, 25 bucks-an-article please), it’s what the whole system is built upon; these things don’t change fast, especially in the relatively conservative culture of academia.

However, on the good side, I think that interest in different, more open models is growing; the Academy is finally starting–starting!–to realize that this whole “internet” thing can and should change the way we communicate research. I think–well, hope–that the vast, current difference between publication and blogging will begin to blur in the near future. As scholarship becomes more accessible–both in style and distribution–a career in the Academy may become more meaningful. I think that academics like you, who make an effort to infuse their blogging with their scholarship (and vice versa) are helping to bring that about.

5 Lilia Efimova 17 September 2008 at 10:30

Jason, thanks for the pointer to Academic Productivity. I am realising that need to spend more time checking what is already there on the subject :)

I admit that my views on academia are too much on the extreme side – depending where you are things might not be that bad and this world is definitely changing. In a couple of months I’m participating in Berlin 6 Open Access Conference (http://www.berlin6.org) – that’s one of the signs that eventually things will be different.

6 Norman Dragt 14 October 2008 at 01:53

Although the system of academia has chosen citation as its measuring system for academic importance, influence and rewarding, the builders of the system never have been shy of sharing ideas. The fact that the internet was able to grow has largely to do with the fact that its users more often used it to share ideas, then to sell them. That the internet has changed from a place to share ideas to a place to sell, has nothing to do with the reality. It just makes clear that it is easier to sell a product or idea to a lot of people than to share an idea. There are still lots of places where ideas are shared, finding them in this ocean of products is the problem. Often you need to know exactly where you have to go.

To explain my point: newsgroups, where the blogs of their time. Someone started a thought stream, others would comment on it. The problem with newsgroups was it knowledge barrier. If you did not know how to use a newsreader or you knew nobody that could give you the address of the group you could not participate. But newsgroups where the system of the late eighties and begin nineties to share information and ideas. They still exist, but because of their incredible difficult use, compared to e-mail and blog software, few people know of their existence.

Also e-mail is an example of a product that made sharing of ideas possible. In the nineties of the last century it was completely normal for a researcher to be member of several mailing-lists on his research subject to keep abreast of what happened in his field. And some of those groups have gone online and created the first websites, where others just withered away because they did not get new members, as there seemed to be easier ways to share information.

If however you are talking about dissemination of ideas outside the academic domain your are absolutely correct. The selling of articles and their rights to publishers who after that sell a publication for prices, that no normal human being would pay for any publication with a specific subject (how successful would Playboy have been if it charged the same prices you pay for most scientific publications), does stand in the way of the dissemination of ideas among a brother public then the academic libraries.

So the dissemination beyond the academic world is our problem. But that is not hindered by the system chosen to determine credit. That is hindered by the language used in scientific publications. And it is hindered by the fact that large amounts of academic trained professionals do not like to read scientific publications. Partly because they understood the rules of scientific writing just enough to pass the courses they had to follow in them. And when they got their first job, discovered that their bosses did not like scientific writing at all. But also because they read publications written by journalists for a brother public, with often a combination of scientific fact and every day practices. And the scientific facts are often so distorted that the professional can not use the information to create ideas, expect if the idea available from the scientific facts are so clear and concise that they are usable without translation in the practice of the professional.

That is also probably the reason why e-learning is so widely used, it is practical, not scientific. Even though much of its basic structure comes from scientific research over several decades and combines two scientific disciplines, educational science and information technology. But e-learning was first developed in the scientific community, and used by professionals who later disseminated it in their professional life.

So if you really want to start a revolution in the exchange of ideas, you should change the working life of professionals. They need more time to keep up with what is happening in the academic world. They also would need a different academic training, in which sharing ideas is more important than getting grades. Their rewards should not be based solely at getting every project done on time, within budget, but also on creating and sharing ideas.

And off course this reaction is incomplete, but then it is not an scientific answer. I would really like to hear what needs to be added to make this reaction more complete and scientific, and where I follow crooked or wrong thoughts and ideas. Another thing that hinders the dissemination of ideas. Most people do not like being confronted with their mistakes.

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