After the publishers walk the plank, will the APA and MLA be far behind?

It’s the time of the semester when grad students get grumpy and it’s showing in our blogs. Elsewhere I’ve laughed a bitter laugh over Laura K and SCIgen. Meanwhile Badger wonders how much of herself she’d have to give up to make it in academia: would she have to mute her feminism and all the intense personal writing she does, not only in her blog but in the poetry zines and literary translations she’s been putting out for years just for the pleasure of it?

It looks to me like it will be a long while before blogging counts for anything at tenure time. However, I wonder whether the open access movement will bring that day closer, or at least reduce the distance between academic writing and blogging.

The stated goal of open access is to counter the greed of the scholarly publishing industry, which makes academic institutions buy their own work back at outrageously inflated prices, and to reduce the delays imposed by the editorial process, when nowadays innovation operates at Internet speeds. In some disciplines bottom-up e-print and e-journal systems are well on their way to displacing the for-profit journals, and in others they’re just getting started, but the trend is clear.

Once academic publishing is in the hands of the people doing the writing, will the reforms stop there? Will researchers accustomed to reading and writing research blogs in a more intimate tone, and where a hyperlink is of more immediate value than a formal bibliographic citation, not want to do the same when they write for peer review? Might people refuse to write in the stuffy and citation-heavy form of academic culture?

If that happened would we all get dumber (no more need to substantiate our assertions with references)? Or would we all get more creative (no more APA or MLA style, no more passive voice, no more stating the obvious and omitting the personal)? I’m not sure. But my guess is that pharmacologists and engineers would still find ways to substantiate their claims (which really live in the data, not the references, anyway — when was the last time a bridge collapsed because of a missing bibliography?) and people working in more free-form disciplines might appreciate the opportunity to be freer in form.

One thought on “After the publishers walk the plank, will the APA and MLA be far behind?

  1. Prentiss:

    “Free-form disciplines” is just another way of referring to those such as anthropology (my own discipline) in which there is little or no incremental theory-building. Rather, each new theory or paradigm throws out the previous rascals as being completely wrong and starts over. That kind of discipline really does not benefit from peer-review, so why not cut it loose from traditional academic standards? On the other hand, disciplines in which current work does build on previous work (genetics, for instance, in which I’m now involved) benefit a great deal from peer-review. I can honestly say that, though infuriating, peer review has improved each of my published articles from what I initially submitted. Academics who attack peer review are, by and large, working in disciplines that aren’t really disciplined (that is, do not build on prior work), and so see nothing wrong with glorifying self-indulgent writing.

    By the way, greetings from the C.E. Donart Alumni Society.

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