Re: Beyond Access and Impact: The Ultimate Benefit of SkyReading/Writing

From: Joseph Ransdell <ransdell_at_DOOR.NET>
Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2001 09:20:26 -0600

If George Lundberg will trouble to read the message from me which he quotes
he will find that I point out explicitly that the review article is not what
is under discussion and explain why. (For his convenience, I include below
the paragraph in which I address this.) I can elaborate further on that if
the point is not clear. Perhaps I could suggest, too, that Lundberg might
want to re-read Harnad's account of the topic more closely as well, where it
seems to me to be clear enough, upon reflection at least, that Harnad is not
describing the function of review articles (nor talking about the use of
internet chat lines either, as Lundberg apparently thinks).

Thus George Lundberg wrote:

> The process and product being discussed has existed for aeons in the
> pre-internet age and continues to fluorish electronically. There is a wide
> appreciative audience. It is called "Review Article" or "Journalistic
> Report" or "Summary".

And I addressed this kind of misunderstanding in the following paragraph:

> David is perhaps misled by state-of-the-art review articles, often
> commissioned by editors of journals to provide an overview of the various
> positions held by researchers on some controverted topic, along with the
> reasons why the various positions have been held or controverted. These do
> not purport to be or aim at being summaries of actual dialogical
> interchanges, though, but represent the reviewer's attempt at isolating what
> he or she thinks is or is not important in what has been said on many
> different occasions. These can indeed be helpful at times, though only to
> the extent that one realizes and duly compensates for the fact that such
> summary reports are to be taken cum grano salis and are likely to be
> regarded as biased at times, and sometimes rightly, by at least some of the
> participants, if the opportunity should arise for them to register such a
> complaint.

> Librarians may have a natural tendency to exaggerate the importance of
> keeping permanent records of all professional communication, whenever
> possible, overlooking the fact that informal professional discourse is
> rarely regarded by those participating in a research tradition as involving
> argumentation and assertion with the sort of seriousness appropriate to
> something that is said as a final and considered statement of one's view. It
> is very important that there be a "lapidary" medium for formal publication
> in research -- understanding "lapidary" in the extended sense of a medium
> whose content can be returned to at will and for an indefinitely long period
> -- but that is because of recognition of the need for occasions when one is
> to be held responsible for taking and holding to a certain reason-based
> conviction, in contrast with communication in which one is exploring
> possibilities by tracking out their consequences without the inhibition of
> the need for commitment to them. Those special lapidary communications --
> "primary research publications", as they are sometimes called -- are what
> provide the anchor points in research as a communicational process that at
> once enables and facilitates progressive development in the research
> traditions.
> But the importance of there also being much informal discourse, and of
> varying kinds, should not be overlooked, as it too commonly is at present,
> where the emphasis on formal publication as a commodity in the economics of
> prestige has led to grotesque deformations of intellectual life in the
> humanities in particular, where entire departments can come to resemble
> lunatic asylums at times, with no meaningful and professionally relevant
> informal communication occurring at all among what are nominally collegial
> peers. Where the dialogue is informal, there is some which should indeed
> by recorded verbatim -- as it frequently is, in fact -- for reasons such as
> those which Stevan ably describes in his account of "skywriting" and for
> other reasons as well.
> I agree with Stevan, too, that something desirable but heretofore impossible
> is available now, and I suggest that the reluctance to recognize the value
> in this may be based on the mistaken belief that little or no importance
> attaches to research communication which is not of the nature of primary or
> formal publication. In fact, though, one could argue that it is not
> infrequently the case that informal communication is even more important
> since the ideas that come finally to be accepted by the research community
> are generated and refined and rendered rationally persuasive chiefly in
> informal circumstances, and the primary publication in which they eventuate,
> though essential in the process, actually plays a relatively minor role in
> acceptance. But the need for summary overviews of informal discourse, from
> the standpoint of a non-participant observer, is nevertheless dubious for
> reasons given above.
> Joseph Ransdell
> Dept of Philosophy
> Texas Tech University
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Received on Thu Nov 29 2001 - 15:47:57 GMT

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