More Comparisons of Journal Peer Review and Blogging
My earlier blog postA Comparison of Blogging and Journal Peer Review compared and contrasted blogging with peer reviewed journals. Here I extend this comparison and suggest some additional examples of possible crossover between the two.
How Blogs and Journals Differ
Blogs can be one person operations and can be used to publish a very wide range of information, some trivial, some profound. Journals tend to be much larger operations and targeted to groups of individuals based on professional interests. They function partially to define a field of research based on a set of standards that are applied during the publishing process.
In the case of journal publishing, the "quality control" function performed by peer review occurs prior to the actual publication of the journal article. Referees (usually but not always anonymous) are selected by the journal editor and they receive a copy of the submitted manuscript. Their comments and criticisms are sent back to the editor, the editor batches these and sends them to the author, and the author revises the article (assuming the article has not been outright rejected at some time during this process) for resubmission and consideration for publishing.
As noted in my earlier post, there are more manuscripts submitted than can be published in the top journals. Within all fields a "pecking order" exists based on perceptions of prestige and influence of the journals in that field.
Once published, the refereed journal article is distributed to individual and institutional subscribers as part of a journal issue, and it is abstracted and indexed via a variety of abstracting and indexing services that are provided to libraries, end users, and other subscribers. The process of "article consumption" begins whereby people read the article either based on a scanning of an actual issue or (more likely) they obtain a copy from a library or a document delivery service of some sort. As time goes on, the article is cited by other authors in other publications. These citations and references then become additional access points as well as, when aggregated, measures of the article's "influence."
Blog publications rarely go through this formal pre-publication review process, but following publication definite similarities between the two systems begin to appear, including mention in other blogs, linking from other blogs, and emerging measures of influence based on various ranking, rating, and social bookmarking services.
All of this proceeds very rapidly but also, as with journal articles, there is a "long tail" of demand that stretches out over time, depending on the topic and the rate of change.(Speaking of a long tail: I'm still amazed that an article that Jeremiah Owyang and I wrote back in January 2006 called "Business and I.T. Must Work Together to Manage New 'Web 2.0' Tools" is still one of my top ten weekly posts.)
In my previous post on blogs and journals I suggested that both these systems influence and are influenced by the social networking among people that occurs within their environments. One practical implication of this is that there are many other avenues for communication of information content besides the written blog post or journal article.
The information contained in a refereed and published journal article, for example, may have been previously disseminated to other researchers via email, workshops, conferences or conference proceedings, or final reports submitted to funding agencies. In other words, the information that appears in a refereed journal article may have long been communicated to members of the author's existing social and professional networks, especially to those working in the same or in very closely related technical or professional areas. It's not unusual, for example, that research reported in a journal article has been long since superseded by other work done by the author.
The article itself, while it now becomes available to a much wider audience through the a wide range of physical and electronic access channels, acts not only as a conduit of research information but also an advertisement of the skill and accomplishments of the author, filtered by the "halo effect" of prestige and recognition of the journal in which it is published.
This institutional aspect of journal publishing, in which we must view the journal in terms of the various social, technical, and research communities in which it functions, has not yet taken hold in the blogosphere. It is too early to tell whether the pecking order that currently exists among widely cited blogs -- and the relationship that has to their advertising rates -- will be as stable as the publishers and associations that publish journals. Nor is it clear that there ever will be the institutionalization of common practices within the blogosphere (although, the discussion that occurred at the recent Social Media Club meeting where journalistic ethics were discussed skittered very close to considering such institutionalization).
Another aspect of blogs that is different from the referreed journals is the feedback that occurs via comments. Journals often publish "letters to the editor" but the interactive nature of the blog comment thread is an order of magnitude faster -- besides being somewhat two way. Some journal publishers are experimenting with the addition of commenting a part of the publishing process and I expect this practice to expand.
Conclusions & Recommendations
Blogs and refereed journals share major differences and major similarities related to process. Similarities include how they are embedded within their social networks and how they can promote communication via other channels outside the fairly limited interactivity that is characteristic of blogs. Differences include:
- Size and financial underpinnings. Journal operations may be subsidized by their institutional sponsors while many blogs are subsidized by the "sweat equity" of their unpaid owners.
- Level of formalism. Journals have a formal process for editing and revision, while blogs are usually much less formal and "seat of the pants."
I am hoping that ways can be found to combine the formal and informal aspects of these two systems in ways that do not impede their operation. For example, I believe that the concept of peer reviewing applied to journal articles is fundamentally sound. It makes sense to call upon the members of a profession to objectively judge and comment on the work of peers in the interest of advancing a field of science or research.
Examples of failures of this approach abound, however, and we need to determine if these failures are related to the underlying structure or to a failure to manage the process effectively. (I believe it is the latter but that is a personal view unsupported by objective data.)
I also believe that those who manage professional associations and professional journals should examine ways to enhance communications among their members, authors, and participants by adopting -- and if necessary adapting -- the processes and systems related to social networking and social media that have been accepted so widely among bloggers and other proponents of "web 2.0" systems.
I don't see the two approaches as fundamentally in opposition. I view it more like the types of distinctions we make in daily life between formal and informal situations. For some meetings, a suit and a tie or a blouse and a skirt are appropriate; for other meetings a t-shirt and jeans will suffice. So it may be with refereed journals and blogs.
Copyright (c) 2007 by Dennis D. McDonald