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Revising Research
November 21, 2011 1:32 PM   Subscribe

Emory University English professor Mark Bauerlein (previously) argues that the majority of research by literary academics has no meaningful value.

Here is a link to the PDF version of Bauerlein's paper.
posted by reenum (77 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
This guy wrote a book titled:

The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future; Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30
posted by phrontist at 1:35 PM on November 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


Well, then how are we to know whether his paper has any meaningful value? A paradox, a paradox. That most ingenious paradox! We’ve quips and quibbles heard in flocks, but none to beat that paradox!
posted by zachlipton at 1:39 PM on November 21, 2011 [28 favorites]


Man, Bauerlein is like the Energizer bunny of culture warriors. A new crusade against a new easy target, complete with a new set of pseudo-empirical evidence and a new thin wrapper around the same old right-wing anti-intellectual "tenured radicals" axe-grinding, every two years, like clockwork.
posted by RogerB at 1:40 PM on November 21, 2011 [22 favorites]


Show me to peers, and I'll show you a paradox.
posted by rikschell at 1:41 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the caveat (from the second link) that he's not arguing for fewer faculty, just asking for fewer, more impactful publications rather than cranking out as many papers as possible, is maybe not a bad idea. But I worry that the headline ENGLISH PROFESSOR ARGUES FOR LESS ENGLISH RESEARCH maybe will capture the imaginations of people who want to gut the humanities.

And maybe this guy has a weird axe to grind, but there might be a good half-point buried in there. I'll have to actually read the paper in its entirety, I suppose.
posted by dismas at 1:42 PM on November 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


*sings*
A paradox, a paradox
A most ingenious paradox
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
This paradox!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:46 PM on November 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


I am going to pay Bauerlein the ultimate compliment as an English professor and not read his paper.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:47 PM on November 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


Well, then how are we to know whether his paper has any meaningful value?

By how often is it cited, apparently, which is the measure of value applied in the paper. A little more mutual admiration amongst this club of useless academics and all will be good it seems.
posted by three blind mice at 1:48 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's my understanding from my humanities friends that humanities-type papers don't have to have a rigorous lit review prefacing or framing their research, the part where most citations in the sciences are located. Judging the impact of a humanities paper by counting citations seems kind of odd and beside the point.

That said, I have always managed to refrain from asking my humanities friends "What's the point if no one is going to cite your paper anyway?". So far.
posted by logicpunk at 1:50 PM on November 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


just asking for fewer, more impactful publications rather than cranking out as many papers as possible, is maybe not a bad idea.

The problem there is that you get the "tentpole" problem in that if you only have so many papers to pursue in a given year, then what gets pursued are the most mainstream ideas that already get attention.

Limit what gets attention in research, and you can say goodbye to queer literary criticism, analysis of activist rhetoric, new avenues of digital expression and generally any study that makes conservative academics uncomfortable.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 1:52 PM on November 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


*checks his status. sees he is a full professor*

I bet that makes all the untenured and sessional staff working in his department really, really happy. All their anxieties about jobs gone! Just like that!

Here's my study: "Senior faculty members stuck at home with nothing else to do write whatever they like and get it published." It will be followed by "Some academics are really annoying: my 500 page investigation of egotripping and the university." And then I will sell tickets to people to watch this guy and Stanley Fish fight to the death while armed only with bookmarks. Two men enter! One man leaves!
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:06 PM on November 21, 2011 [19 favorites]


At the risk of self-linking (mea culpa or the Jewish equivalent, etc.), I illustrated the problem with Bauerlein's method over at my blog, using myself as a test case. In a nutshell: he's using GoogleScholar to i.d. humanities citations, which...misses tons of stuff. There are zero reliable humanities citation aggregators--you can't find substantive lists anywhere. I mean, I don't think we even have the data to have a meaningful conversation about this topic.
posted by thomas j wise at 2:07 PM on November 21, 2011 [11 favorites]


he's using GoogleScholar to i.d. humanities citations, which...misses tons of stuff

Exactly.
posted by polymodus at 2:08 PM on November 21, 2011


I'm going to extend this argument ad absurdum by pointing out that no research (of literary or scientific nature) ever has any value at all ... until it's done, and then maybe it does. Or doesn't. And you don't know what is going to be 'valuable' in advance, for pretty much any definition of valuable. So any attempt at prior restraint (making a funny, there, relax) of research has no value because you can't quantify its impact. Conversely (er ... complementarily?), you hear a lot of people forecasting great value for their research, and they're not always right about that. It seems to me that Beuerlein's research project here has ... ta daa ... no value.

Pointing out that academics do a lot of grinding to augment their publication statistics is true but is not a new result. And is possibly unrelated. Plenty of great findings have come up accidentally and not in a focused project directed at finding something in particular.
posted by zomg at 2:08 PM on November 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Limit what gets attention in research, and you can say goodbye to queer literary criticism, analysis of activist rhetoric, new avenues of digital expression and generally any study that makes conservative academics uncomfortable.

To make sure I'm understanding you correctly: the argument is that the projects you identify are risky, and scholars won't pursue them because there's not a guaranteed payoff? So if I want tenure and need to complete project A (something mainstream) or B (something less mainstream), I'll go with A because it has a higher chance of success?

I guess my thought was that academics should have the time to publish one book on queer theory instead of needing to crank out half a dozen papers on queer theory. I don't want the fields you identified to be ignored, but I'm not sure the current set of expectations for job market candidates and untenured faculty is sustainable either.

(To be clear: I prefer a world where people's research makes conservative academics uncomfortable to one where people are afraid to pursue novel concepts)

(Also, the confounding variable that logicpunk identifies - the fact that extensive literature reviews are perhaps not as common as in the sciences or some of the social sciences - is also one I hadn't considered. Oh, and the fact that there aren't reliable citation aggregators in the humanities. There is one in my field, so I'm incorrectly projecting all over the place).
posted by dismas at 2:09 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's my understanding from my humanities friends that humanities-type papers don't have to have a rigorous lit review prefacing or framing their research, the part where most citations in the sciences are located.

If only this were true in classics; good "the Wilamowitz footnote" and you will see the horror that a classics list of citations can be. If it don't go back to the 1850s it is not a literature review!
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:11 PM on November 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Academics, when they are through with their meetings don’t have time to read, you know, let alone teach.

Maybe this statement bears some relevance. Maybe not.
posted by jwhite1979 at 2:13 PM on November 21, 2011


A circle jerk is fun and all -- and from a purely mathematical viewpoint, it probably does increase your odds that you're going to find somebody who gets you off -- but if you find just a couple of people who have already proven they know what they're doing, you'll probably have a better time than just measuring success by how many hands have been on your cock.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:15 PM on November 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


I was willing to grant the premise, somewhat — I find it easy to believe that a vast amount of research has no real, practical value, while simultaneously holding the belief that the relatively modest amount that does often gives us amazing new perspectives on life and the human experience, and can be influential for hundreds of years.

But then I saw he was using GoogleScholar, and was like, Jesus, man, call a librarian if you don't know how to research, but don't condemn others for irrelevance based on your inability to do one of the basic functions of your job. It just makes you look like an asshole.
posted by klangklangston at 2:17 PM on November 21, 2011 [12 favorites]


In a nutshell: he's using GoogleScholar to i.d. humanities citations, which...misses tons of stuff.

You have got to be kidding.

No? Well, I guess it's a relief to know I don't have to take this study at all seriously.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 2:18 PM on November 21, 2011


While the numbers of citations might seem low, they are not significantly different from other disciplines.

So all research is worthless? Or just an inefficient use of university money?

or what zomg said, I guess.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:19 PM on November 21, 2011


A friend of mine, now dead sadly, once wrote an undergrad paper entitled 'Why I can't read Milton: a Comic Extravaganza written out of desperation'. He got a non satis although I thought it was quite well argued.
posted by unSane at 2:26 PM on November 21, 2011


Yeah, my metaphor didn't work as well I would have liked on its own; in my head it was clear that 'citations to value of work' would parallel 'hands to value jerking off.' But on reflection, I can see that it could be read to mean I was against the current allocation of funds by universities (which I'm probably not) or supporting the conclusions of this paper (which I'm definitely not)

But I don't think my failure of communication is a failure of the current English departments of the USA. Just that something about this paper reminds me of dicks.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:27 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


the majority of research by literary academics using Google Scholar has no meaningful value.
posted by benzenedream at 2:31 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


And then I will sell tickets to people to watch this guy and Stanley Fish fight to the death while armed only with bookmarks. Two men enter! One man leaves!

Give me decent odds that it's a Pyrrhic victory and I'll buy two.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:31 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


The elite universities get people to staff humanities departments based usually on outstanding publications. Search any ivy college, English Dept, tenured faculty member, and do a search on his or her published work. You may believe that what gets published is of little significance, but to those in a field, discipline, such things do matter ..example: anyone who cares about Shakespeare know Stephen Greenblatt--neo-historian, at Harvard. Ps: he just won the National Book Award for a book about Lucretius, using his approach to study this Roman author.

The president of Harvard? Amazingly good scholar- writer whose books are a delight evenfor the non-specialist.
And yes. Lots of crap out there. But show me a field where this is not the case
posted by Postroad at 2:34 PM on November 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Give me decent odds that it's a Pyrrhic victory and I'll buy two.

Well, I'm not saying one man leaves alive.... Just that he leaves.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:35 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Emory University English professor Mark Bauerlein (previously) argues that the majority of research by literary academics has no meaningful value.

I don't know what scale of value he's using for "meaningful", but he's most certainly doing it wrong.
posted by jokeefe at 2:36 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem here is that academia has a one-size-fits-all definition of scholarly excellence -- publication of articles in specialized journals. For some specialties that makes a lot of sense. For others, not so much.

For most students and for society outside the University, English departments, along with many of the arts and humanities, are valuable not primarily because of new scholarship, but because they preserve a tradition and teach students to be more incisive, nuanced and intellectually alive. The point is that if we eliminated the specific pressure to publish scholarly articles, faculty members would have "more time to teach classes, work with students individually, and pursue long-term research projects. . ." In most arts and humanities departments that would be a net benefit for the world. Some, perhaps most faculty wouldn't like it, but their students and society would be better off.

The NY Times just published a long piece on the law school curriculum and scholarship. The article pointed out over a half billion dollars of student tuition was subsidizing law faculty scholarship. Now it's easy to criticize the methodology at arriving at this number, but the fundamental point remains. Is this the best use of resources? Couldn't some energy from these brilliant minds be redirected to something more useful?
posted by ferdydurke at 2:41 PM on November 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


The NY Times just published a long piece on the law school curriculum and scholarship. The article pointed out over a half billion dollars of student tuition was subsidizing law faculty scholarship. Now it's easy to criticize the methodology at arriving at this number, but the fundamental point remains. Is this the best use of resources? Couldn't some energy from these brilliant minds be redirected to something more useful?

I came here to make the same point. Here is the article, which was just published on Saturday. The number that struck me is that a full 40% of law review articles - which occupy up to 40% of a professor's time - have never been cited anywhere. Not even in other scholarly works. All the while, federal subsidized loans support tuition increases at universities that have outpaced inflation by 4 times (tuition has gone up 498%) over the last 25 years, and students who want a college education often have little choice but to take out the loans and come out of school saddled with $100,000+ of debt.

Scholarship for scholarship's sake, at the expense of students who are paying the tuition that supports it, is inefficient.
posted by AgentRocket at 2:56 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Scholarship for scholarship's sake, at the expense of students who are paying the tuition that supports it, is inefficient.

I agree wholeheartedly. I support liberal arts education and don't want to see the gutting of any English departments, but this kind of academic literary criticism -- shifting bones from one graveyard to another -- has a real cost when it comes to the education of students. The Google Scholar snark is fair, but the main thrust of the article is right on.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 3:01 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


The paper was produced by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity and released as part of a conference co-hosted by the center and the Cato Institute, a think tank that advocates for limited government and pro-market approaches.

I see.

logicpunk: The lit review in science does not seem to be all that significant in raising the # of citations in science papers. From the article:
A 2010 report by Thomson Reuters found that the average number of citations for a U.S. paper in the sciences between 2005 and 2009, roughly the same time period covered in Bauerlein's data, was 1.75. Some fields were significantly higher, such as space sciences and plant and animal sciences, which averaged four citations. But other fields, such as engineering, chemistry, and physics, averaged only one.




Here's an idea: instead of shifting money and emphasis away from research (in the humanities and else where) because it doesn't get read, why don't we try to make more of it available to the general public?
posted by Saxon Kane at 3:17 PM on November 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


If you want your teaching done by people who aren't actively engaged in their own scholarly research projects and their own intellectual life, why hire PhDs to do the work at all? Just replace universities with four more years of high school and be done with it.

The research requirement makes faculty accountable to a scholarly field, and to the production of knowledge, as well as to their students. Treating research as if it were an "inefficiency" in teaching, as if teaching undergraduates were professors' only real job and everything else they do were some elaborate fraud to protect their wasted time, just betrays a lack of understanding of how universities are meant to work — or a future adjunct-hiring-only administrator's mindset in the making. Either way, a deep discomprehension of what the academy is for and a worryingly anti-intellectual attitude.
posted by RogerB at 3:21 PM on November 21, 2011 [20 favorites]


Here's an idea: instead of shifting money and emphasis away from research (in the humanities and else where) because it doesn't get read, why don't we try to make more of it available to the general public?

This times a billion. It's like you put an electrified fence studded with machine gun nests around the museum and then concluded "Guess nobody likes art!"
posted by Horace Rumpole at 3:25 PM on November 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


The thing is that most humanities scholarship doesn't actually cost very much or even anything at all, because it's all done on top of other work. The expensive humanities research is usually archival and that does involve making new things known to the public; there are *very few* high-end research people who get not to teach at all and sit around producing papers on how useless most research (that isn't theirs) is. Last year I taught 170 students each semester and produced my work in the time I had left over. Without a grant. You could count my salary as a pure research cost, but then you'd have to work our what my time in the classroom, marking, sitting with students, writing letters of recommendation, trying to sort out their problems with bureaucracy, and so forth was worth. And no one produces work (or at least not that I know) with the belief that it is irrelevant or won't be read or to spit all over their teaching. Most of us are under tremendous pressure from the government or from our universities to show how our research has value for the wider community. In fact, it's one of the metrics for promotion, tenure and grants (for the latter it's really important).
posted by lesbiassparrow at 3:30 PM on November 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


Celebrity professor seeks greater celebrity.
posted by LarryC at 3:33 PM on November 21, 2011


Here's an idea: instead of shifting money and emphasis away from research (in the humanities and else where) because it doesn't get read, why don't we try to make more of it available to the general public?

Absolutely. I have a BA and an MA and history, but, because I have not attended classes in the last few years, I can no longer access most journals unless I actually go to my campus library. Never mind the thousands I spent going to the fucking school. I used to be able to access the library resources from home, but the school took away that privilege a couple of years back.

Of course now I get mail monthly about signing up for their PhD program or another degree or somesuch, and they access to scholarly journals, etc is one of their first bullet points. (of course I get mail weekly and email almost daily about donating money and "giving back to the University that gave so much to [me]."

Fuck them and their George W. Bush Presidential Library.
posted by holdkris99 at 3:35 PM on November 21, 2011


See also: House of Leaves
posted by thescientificmethhead at 3:37 PM on November 21, 2011


Celebrity professor seeks greater celebrity.

Or, you know, "celebrity" professor seeks to pull the ladder up after him by getting into bed with right-wing think tanks. Which leads to a couple of unsavory and unwelcome images....
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:52 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I used to be able to access the library resources from home, but the school took away that privilege a couple of years back.

Academic publishing, rather than the research, is the circle jerk. If you're lucky, there are a few hundred people who care to read your research. Of course, if you are publishing mostly to your professional peers rather than the external world, this works out fine, because all the other academics have access to the same journals. The journal publishers know this, which is why they can raise fees hugely and can count on harried academics to advocate for them. Go Team Elsevier!
posted by benzenedream at 3:56 PM on November 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


the majority of research by literary academics has no meaningful value.

Sturgeon's Law.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:12 PM on November 21, 2011


It's telling that he didn't publish this before he got tenure.
posted by oddman at 4:20 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


And then I will sell tickets to people to watch this guy and Stanley Fish fight to the death while armed only with bookmarks. Two men enter! One man leaves!

Fish has a posse, however. His interpretive communities are apt to fuck a brother up.
posted by tigrefacile at 4:22 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Schweig still, mein kleine Bauerlein.
posted by smithsmith at 4:23 PM on November 21, 2011


This guy should study price theory before he opines on what something ought to cost. He is making a rookie pricing mistake in modeling value based on number components or subjective utility.
posted by humanfont at 4:37 PM on November 21, 2011


Emory University English professor Mark Bauerlein (previously) argues that the majority of research by literary academics has no meaningful value.

Metafilter.com member hal_c_on concurs and states that Bauerlein's arguments have no meaningful value as its a "Duh!".
posted by hal_c_on at 4:40 PM on November 21, 2011


Man, Bauerlein is like the Energizer bunny of culture warriors. A new crusade against a new easy target, complete with a new set of pseudo-empirical evidence and a new thin wrapper around the same old right-wing anti-intellectual "tenured radicals" axe-grinding, every two years, like clockwork.
posted by RogerB at 1:40 PM on November 21 [13 favorites +] [!]


See. That's an "ad hominem", an attack against the person rather than their argument.
Metafilter always seems to have a large amount of faves whenever there's an ad hominem attack.

I figure that you are an english academic or supporter as you don't like Bauerlein. But it actually looks pretty bad for you as your personal attack kinda support his basic premise.

If you don't like something that is written, write about that, not about the author. That way we gain some kind of insight into what was written rather than who can throw the best insults.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:46 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you don't like something that is written, write about that, not about the author. That way we gain some kind of insight into what was written rather than who can throw the best insults.

I don't know. In this case, knowing that he was backed by the Cato Institute suggest pretty strongly to me that the point of this is not to improve the lot of poor, overworked literature profs, who the Right has generally had slightly less than no time for. Is that ad hominem or more like the law of bad-faith bedfellows?
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:51 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you don't like something that is written, write about that, not about the author.
This is exactly the sort of bollocks your sort always comes out with.

Having got the obvious joke out the way, RogerB's comment was entirely in bounds. If someone has a track-record of serial piss-poor potshots at open goals it certainly should be brought up when they do it again.
posted by Abiezer at 4:58 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Um...does anyone with any knowledge of the field seriously doubt that an awful lot of papers get published simply because of the "publish or perish" climate that faculty live in and not because of any compelling need for that particular paper to have been either written or published?

Whether or not there's some evil neocon conspiracy that this is all part of (a rather odd backwater for the conspirators to be playing in, but no doubt a key step in a game that's too long for me to be able to observe it) the basic claim here seems to me indisputable. We publish far too early and far too often. I read papers all the time that seem to me nothing more than "oh, and I can do the same thing I did in my last paper to this poem/play/novel too!"

Google Scholar may be a crude instrument for his purposes, but it does anyone think that if you replicated the study with a finer instrument it would find a startlingly different result?

I can easily imagine a richer world of literary scholarship premised upon much less frequent but much more studied publication.
posted by yoink at 5:01 PM on November 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Google Scholar may be a crude instrument for his purposes, but it does anyone think that if you replicated the study with a finer instrument it would find a startlingly different result?

We won't know until somebody tries, but Google Scholar is certainly not as good a tool for this sort of thing than, say, Web of Knowledge. Using an index keyed to the discipline you are examining will always get a wider range of material than a general, free resource like Google Scholar.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:06 PM on November 21, 2011


Google Scholar may be a crude instrument for his purposes, but it does anyone think that if you replicated the study with a finer instrument it would find a startlingly different result?

Depends on the field and the article and when it was published. A concrete personal example: I have one article that is cited a fair amount and most of those don't appear on Google scholar; I have another where most of the citations do. And the problem with citations as a blunt instrument for impact is that it doesn't assess whether all of those citations are saying 'well I mention this because it's the dumbest piece of work I've ever read.'

I would love it if the pressure to publish were less and those publications were more accessible to everyone, but I'm not sure I'd like it to go back to the days when you got tenure based on one article on trees in Shakespeare, either. And if you think North American academics publish a lot, you should look at the UK where the RAE is merciless in forcing people to churn out book after book.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 5:10 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


See. That's an "ad hominem" [...] it actually looks pretty bad for you as your personal attack kinda support his basic premise.

So my alleged ad hominem makes his argument a better one? Please, teach me more about rhetoric! This is great stuff.

Seriously: Metafilter is not a debate club, and you are not its adjudicator. In a discussion among humans, rigorous argumentation is sometimes treated as non-mandatory. And I am, personally, far too tired of Mark Bauerlein's long track record of waging ideological Kulturkampf to treat each new sally as deserving of serious refutation.

does anyone think that if you replicated the study with a finer instrument it would find a startlingly different result?

Yes, that seems entirely possible to me. Google Scholar simply misses a ton of the humanities, and as thomas j wise pointed out in her blog post linked above, so does every other electronic database. Humanities citation tracking is hard to do well. And in any case citations are not the same thing as scholarly merit or interest — an article with 0 published citations can still be used in classes, discussed in conferences, and so on. This should all be pretty obvious, but in the wake of Bauerlein's bad-faith faux-naivete perhaps it still bears restating.
posted by RogerB at 5:11 PM on November 21, 2011


I've read a whole lot of books and papers, and cited very few. Is the stuff I've read but not cited therefore valueless?
posted by eustacescrubb at 5:15 PM on November 21, 2011


Some professors should spend less time doing research and more time mentoring students. Young minds are impressionable and can easily be led astray if not given sufficient guiding influence.

By the way, did you know that Newt Gingrich has a B.A. in history from Emory University?
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:15 PM on November 21, 2011


And if you think North American academics publish a lot, you should look at the UK where the RAE is merciless in forcing people to churn out book after book.

The fact that it's even worse elsewhere hardly means that it's good here. I am, actually, quite familiar with the RAE system and it seems to me to be a perfect illustration of actual harm to scholarship by a system which purports to put its entire emphasis on promoting it.
posted by yoink at 5:19 PM on November 21, 2011


I've read a whole lot of books and papers, and cited very few. Is the stuff I've read but not cited therefore valueless?

He says himself that "Citation counts are a crude indicator of value." His point is not "every single uncited paper is obviously poor scholarship and a waste of time.' It's intended to be indicative, no more: a very large number of papers with very low citation counts suggests that a great deal of work that is a "contribution to the critical conversation" (you must know that hoary old cliche, right?) is not, in fact, entering the conversation so much as emptily echoing it--like someone standing on the fringes of a conversation and saying "yeah, that's right!" every so often.

Certainly this lines up with my on personal impression of the state of the discipline. Heck, I know I've published things myself I thought unready for publication simply because I was worried that the CV would look too thin come time for departmental review.
posted by yoink at 5:34 PM on November 21, 2011


I have never gone to a conference and felt like more than 25% of my peers really give a shit about the paper/presentation they are delivering. Perhaps this just means that I think most of us, like most of anyone, aren't that good at what we do. I suspect, however, that there is little incentive, or time, to do the incredibly difficult work that is required to actually make claims that one continues to give a shit about after one has finished writing. It's possible, certainly, that a half-formed idea will eventually find its way to inspire something better, but I imagine a world where the give-a-shit percentage rises to half (even if more of us are attending conferences just to listen) and I imagine a much more lively, productive, and meaningful academic community.

His methods are crap. Even if we trust where his citation numbers are coming from, many of you have already pointed out that citations are a dubious measure of what he is measuring. I would add that many of the citations that occur in our current climate are empty, driven by the same thing that drives over-publication: the ability to evaluate academic output based on a rubric understandable to someone who doesn't understand the research. For the same reasons that tenure requires the counting of publications, we count sources. I almost never find sources used in a way that their quantity demonstrates a depth of exchange or whatever it is that he thinks he is measuring. Also, as has been pointed out, the connection to Cato suggests an agenda (or at least the potential to be an agenda's patsy) that reduces the professoriate by continuing to provide headlines about value and usefulness, the terms of the rubric that created the mess in the first place. Ironically, the thing that makes his study crap is the attempt to make it a study (too quickly to do it right) rather than just making it an op/ed piece.

If he had published a Stanley Fish style (please don't read this as praise for Fish...) blurb arguing that the keys to efficiency and value in the humanities were actually about providing time and resources to do our jobs rather than about maximizing output, we wouldn't be nearly as concerned, I don't think, about his argument. Of course, it is possible that his methods and Cato connection underscore his actual agenda; certainly, his attempt to prove this with numbers and percentages (though I am shockingly number-centric in my own work) speak to a desire to find an audience outside of the academy.

Here's the real paradox: he's arguing for an academic world that would, I think, make most of our academic, artistic, and professional lives better while at the same time framing his questions in such a way that he all but guarantees that fewer of us actually get to live those lives.
posted by Dromio_of_Columbus at 6:01 PM on November 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


In some areas, obscure articles are written about obscure subjects, and certainly many of them are of dubious worth. A lot of scholarship is narrow, and derivative. Some areas of higher ed. have not-very-high standards of scholarship.

Knowledge has moved to the web, and it may take some time for the academic model to evolve. I think this is true in many areas. Ideally, over time, case law will become digital, and people can look up cases online without paying huge fees. They're our courts and our laws, after all. Medical research, funded by taxpayers, is often expensive to access. The old model, where knowledge was limited by the cost of publishing, can be replaced by open information, where the value is in knowing how to search, and how to understand. Medicine, Law, and Academia are old, hide-bound professions, and do not adapt to change quickly.
posted by theora55 at 6:41 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hoo boy. Just wait until I publish my study that uses arXiv to prove that the humanities don't even exist!
posted by schmod at 6:52 PM on November 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


Here's the real paradox: he's arguing for an academic world that would, I think, make most of our academic, artistic, and professional lives better while at the same time framing his questions in such a way that he all but guarantees that fewer of us actually get to live those lives.

Well, he can't guarantee anything. What will determine how, if at all, the issue impacts our lives is how we choose to frame it in the discipline (well, that, and the outcome of any larger political/cultural struggle over the issue). I think this thread suggests we'll get all defensive and pretend that everything we write is super, super important and that the current model cannot possibly be improved--which I don't think will be very productive.

Frankly, I doubt the Cato institute spends an inordinate amount of time worrying about the incentive structures for research in the liberal arts disciplines. I'm sure they're happy to take the odd pot shot at pointy-headed intellectuals but I doubt it's anywhere near what they take to be the coal face of political struggle.

Personally, I think research in English is in bad shape. There are complaints above about access to our scholarship, but can you imagine many people who are not paid to do the task actually choosing to read much of what we publish in our professional journals? There are, of course, honorable exceptions, but so much of what is published is so horribly jargon-laden and its concerns so removed from anything the wider public could imagine caring about that it often feels as if we're deliberately working to consign ourselves to general irrelevancy in the wider cultural debate.
posted by yoink at 7:24 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


One could liken humanities citations to favoriting on Metafilter comments: I, like many people, benefited indirectly from reading Metafilter ideas and facts long before I directly engaged in the long conversation; neither likes nor IP address tracking could compute the influence it has had on me, so the number of times it has spurred on my own ideas offline.
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 7:38 PM on November 21, 2011


The fact that it's even worse elsewhere hardly means that it's good here. I am, actually, quite familiar with the RAE system and it seems to me to be a perfect illustration of actual harm to scholarship by a system which purports to put its entire emphasis on promoting it.

I agree, but my experience of the burst in publications from the pressures of the RAE in my discipline is that the problem is not research that no one cites, but people publishing what is essentially the same book/article. And as the people most likely to find it easy to get multiple book contracts tend to be the senior people, my feeling is that they have indulged in this to a disproportionate degree. (Of course, I would never call this a study; it's more of a personal perception. And, alas, no one has funded it).

I think the problem is also that whenever these things come up what people usually mean by too much useless research is research they don't like. I don't like jargon-laden* stuff either, but given the amount of people who will read authors I find impenetrable, I don't think that means it's not going to have any wider appeal ever.

* Well, stuff laden with jargon I don't understand.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:54 PM on November 21, 2011


In a discussion among humans, rigorous argumentation is sometimes treated as non-mandatory.

Was that your way of saying "I can be funny if I want to"?

Good god, cut the funding from all the humanities.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:33 PM on November 21, 2011


There are complaints above about access to our scholarship, but can you imagine many people who are not paid to do the task actually choosing to read much of what we publish in our professional journals? There are, of course, honorable exceptions, but so much of what is published is so horribly jargon-laden and its concerns so removed from anything the wider public could imagine caring about that it often feels as if we're deliberately working to consign ourselves to general irrelevancy in the wider cultural debate.

But don't you think that these two things are related?

On the one hand, you have unethical rent-seekers restricting access to this scholarship for no reason other than to line their own pockets. So the scholarship is only available to a select few with special jobs giving them a free pass on the ludicrous fees. It cannot be read by anyone outside this circle.

On the other hand, you see the circle of people described above writing more and more in jargon and code and, well, for each other rather than for the wider public.

I mean, what else would you expect? Why would a literature professor write for Joe Paperback, why would she make that effort to find common-language alternatives to jargon and carefully lay out her assumptions, when she knows that Joe Paperback can't read what she writes? Not won't. Can't. I'm not going to blame the professor in that scenario for giving up and writing for an audience that actually exists. (And I'm also not going to blame Mr Paperback for concluding that whatever literature professors are doing, it clearly isn't meant for him.)

Maybe if humanities scholarship were distributed in a more egalitarian manner, rather than in the way that maximizes the profits of a few companies who don't give a fuck about the humanities but did happen to luck out in IP musical chairs, we would see more writing that is for a general audience. No doubt there will always be professors who want to explore the abstract outer reaches of theory, but I hope I am not being too naiive when I suppose that the majority of academics would welcome and enjoy a sudden widening of their audience to anyone interested in the humanities, and quickly adapt to it.

(In fact this adaptation is already sort of happening, via blogs and so on, but the process is slow because the knowledge is still locked up so tight. Many academics still feel that they need to save their best insights for publication, so there is always a tendency for blogs to represent a sort of scavenge-and-improvise ring of shanty towns on the outskirts of Ivory City. I think we can do better.)
posted by No-sword at 8:37 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good god, cut the funding from all the humanities.

Noooo! Not all $1000 of it! How will the MLA have that one sandwich this year?

I wish there all this magical funding from governments for humanities, I really do. But in a lot of areas of the humanities in North America much of the funding for research comes from private bodies, not the taxpayer.

And for those who think that all Arts faculties should be axed and the money ploughed into science, this might be of interest: http://www.today.ucla.edu/portal/ut/bottom-line-shows-humanities-really-155771.aspx Admittedly the author has a dog in the fight, what with teaching English, but it's not that clear that Arts/Humanities are this enormous drain on university budgets. It's just not that expensive to run these departments.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:03 PM on November 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think he's right that people in many fields - probably all fields - should publish fewer and more important things. The world has too much cruft; we'd learn so much more if we published denser, more well researched/tested material. But then, I'm not on a tenure committee, so what I think isn't even worth anything.
posted by jb at 9:34 PM on November 21, 2011


On the one hand, you have unethical rent-seekers restricting access to this scholarship for no reason other than to line their own pockets.

That describes Nature and Elsevier in the sciences perfectly. It's largely irrelevant to humanities journals which are typically relatively inexpensive. A student (electronic only) subscription to "Critical Inquiry"--for example--is $28. That's a subscription--not a single issue. And no, the affordable journals don't feature markedly more accessible prose.
posted by yoink at 9:39 PM on November 21, 2011


One of Bauerlein's points is that literary scholars don't get enough citations (=attention) for them to matter, stating that "slightly less than one in eight research essays attract significant attention in scholarly periodicals in the six years after they are published," 'significant attention' defined as more than one citation per year. This he considers to be a bad result, whereas in reality, it's nothing out of the ordinary; on the contrary, it's above average, considering that 90% of research articles are never cited at all. Whether citations are a good indicator of anything, though, is a completely different matter.
posted by daniel_charms at 10:30 PM on November 21, 2011


No, I'm sorry, Yoink, humanities journals don't get a pass here. The vast majority, even those that offer individual subscriptions, are not priced with the needs of a person paying their own way (as opposed to a person with an official journal-buying budget) in mind.

A student (electronic only) subscription to "Critical Inquiry"--for example--is $28. That's a subscription--not a single issue.

Maybe "Critical Inquiry" is an exception. I can think of half a dozen journals whose subscription policies I have investigated. They all charged at least twice this much (per year, let's keep in mind), and those subscriptions did not, as far as I could tell, grant access to past issues. So we would be talking $200+ per year to read only new articles from a very small selection of journals. This might work in some fields, but to call it "accessible" in the context of literature is just nonsensical.

My point is that there are dozens, hundreds, thousands of articles out there, published and archived and easily accessible, whose writers were not paid, whose reviewers were not paid, whose editors retired decades ago. There are no royalties going to widows or children. And yet somehow if I want to read this material I must pay orders of magnitude more per word than I would pay for a new, printed, hardcover book (if I'm lucky -- sometimes, of course, I just can't get access to it no matter what). Servers and admin costs cannot possibly account for this. Someone is making money off this material just because they can. This is not what academia is supposed to be about.

(And let me be clear -- this is specifically about academia. I don't think there is anything like the same moral issue involved when it comes to artificial scarcity of, say, commercial music or movies or even books, where in theory everyone had mercenary motives from the beginning. Academia is supposed to be different. That professor gave that journal her article for free in 1950 on the understanding that it would be available to anyone who wanted to read it. She did not give it to that journal for free so that sixty years later whatever suit happened to own the IP could use it as a lever to squeeze more money out of the nation's libraries.)

And no, the affordable journals don't feature markedly more accessible prose.

As I said, I don't consider the situation you describe "affordable" (even though individual journals might be, sure), but I will observe that the really affordable sources of academic thought, by which I mean high-quality academic-style blogs, generally do feature accessible prose. I do not think that this is a coincidence.
posted by No-sword at 10:54 PM on November 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Let me clarify a bit more, actually: I don't begrudge currently active journals charging what they need to to cover costs and so on. I don't mind their electronic editions being behind some sort of paywall for a certain period of time, to ensure that they are able to charge that money. I don't object to other companies coming in and running that paywall service at enough of a profit to pay their own people decent wages. All of this seems reasonable, if there are unavoidable costs and no other way to pay them. (Whether this is really the case or not is a separate question.)

I do object to that system of paywalls being run in such a way that an ordinary person cannot get behind them at a reasonable cost, and I do object to material remaining behind those paywalls for ever and ever and ever, just because, with all benefit from this situation accruing to rentiers.
posted by No-sword at 11:00 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


One of the things that I found the most interesting about my girlfriend's description of Cuba is that regular people read academic and trade journals. They're available at every library, and she saw people all over the city reading things like Agricultural Irrigation Monthly and Cuban Health Outcomes. So, while I don't think that everyone would put down Dan Brown, making all research paid for with public funds available for free to the public would certainly be appreciated by some of us.
posted by klangklangston at 11:12 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've read some lit crit that had me rolling my eyes 'til they fell out on the floor, but Jesus. The reason why Humanities gets kicked in the balls again and again is because there's no corporate money there for it. Yeah, that's too broad of a statement, but at the moment I'm pissy because at my school we have a new science/engineering building that looks like an art museum, while the Humanities department is moldering away in an old corner of the oldest building, the Writing Center stuck practically in a friggin' closet. Well, it's a community college, we just need to teach kids enough so that they know enough to push buttons on fracking devices I guess.
bitter
bitter
bitter
adjunct
posted by angrycat at 4:05 AM on November 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I will defend "hal_c-on" who commented on the use of the ad hominem attack by some here instead of a substantive critique of the article in question. And then a poster dismisses "hal_c_on with another ad hominem! Don't philosophy profs teach the ad hominem as a logical fallacy? Or are those silly little rules of argument only valid in the classroom? And to have seemingly well educated humanists defend a logical fallacy, well, that is just sad. But I do appreciate all of you who have commented on the substance of the article (really!).

I think where the author might have a point is the slow but steady mission drift at some 2nd, but particularly 3rd tier universities who are demanding more scholarship from faculty. At lower tier schools teaching loads are substantial, often 4 courses per semester. Injecting a demand for more publications at those schools will come with a hefty price. Somebody will pay. And it will likely be the students. Was it Clint Eastwood who said "a man has got to know his limitations"? Some Universities should think about that.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 4:51 AM on November 22, 2011


My point is that there are dozens, hundreds, thousands of articles out there, published and archived and easily accessible, whose writers were not paid, whose reviewers were not paid, whose editors retired decades ago. There are no royalties going to widows or children. And yet somehow if I want to read this material I must pay orders of magnitude more per word than I would pay for a new, printed, hardcover book (if I'm lucky -- sometimes, of course, I just can't get access to it no matter what). Servers and admin costs cannot possibly account for this. Someone is making money off this material just because they can. This is not what academia is supposed to be about.

Please cite one example of a Humanities journal that is a high money earner for some evil nameless corporation.

I gave you the subscription cost for Critical Inquiry--one of the top rated journals in the business. Here's the subscription cost for ELH, another leading journal: $40 for a student subscription for a year. That is not prohibitively expensive by anybody's standard (and it's just $45 for non-students). Heck, their institutional rate (the rate a university library would pay) is only $205. This isn't a money spinner for anyone. Journals in Lit Crit are typically owned and produced by university presses. The situation you are thinking of is only relevant in the sciences where large companies recognized that there were certain high impact journals that universities had to purchase and they have used that leverage to screw the price up to insane levels. That simply has not happened in the Humanities, however.

If you want access to journal archives, join a library that maintains institutional subscriptions to Project Muse etc. Again, that can be done for pretty nominal fees. I'm not saying that it wouldn't be better if everything we published appeared in open-access fora (and this is something that my institution, like many others, is actively exploring and actively encouraging faculty to examine), but for the very, very, very few non-specialists out there who actually have the urge to explore a wide range of scholarly articles over many journals, the barriers to doing so are not, in fact, particularly high.

And the reason blogs are more accessible than journal articles is because they're blogs. Nothing anyone writes on a blog is going to be weighed as part of a promotion file. There are open-access journals in literary criticism and to the extent that they wish to be taken seriously as direct competitors with the established journals the prose they feature is indistinguishable for the prose in those outlets.
posted by yoink at 9:13 AM on November 22, 2011


I'm not saying they're high money-earners, especially compared to the sciences. That's why it's so frustrating. They're fucking us over for relative pennies.

Re subscription rates, you're not listening to what I'm saying. Yes, it is possible for an individual to subscribe to one journal. No, it is not feasible for an individual without links to academia to get access to enough journal articles, past and present, to keep up with most fields. With all due respect, it sounds like you have institutional access and are having trouble seeing past that privilege. You're hearing me say that I can't afford bread and suggesting that I just eat cake instead.

If you want access to journal archives, join a library that maintains institutional subscriptions to Project Muse etc. Again, that can be done for pretty nominal fees.

I am an Australian citizen living in Japan. By all means, point me at a library that will give or sell me membership offering remote access, from Japan, to Project Muse, JSTOR, etc. (Don't just Google for libraries offering membership to non-residents who pay a fee and then point me at the results. I've tried a few of those. Those memberships usually require you to turn up in person to apply, and I haven't yet found one that included remote access to journals anyway.)

I haven't yet found such a library. I don't think one exists. I suspect that the reason for this is because the IP holders place unnecessarily severe restrictions on its use. (I certainly don't think any librarians are trying to keep me from learning things.)

If you can embarrass me by finding me a library that does what I want, by all means do so!

the barriers to doing so are not, in fact, particularly high.

Given that the barriers to doing so should be no practically non-existent, they are ridiculously and insultingly high in relative terms.

And the reason blogs are more accessible than journal articles is because they're blogs. Nothing anyone writes on a blog is going to be weighed as part of a promotion file. There are open-access journals in literary criticism and to the extent that they wish to be taken seriously as direct competitors with the established journals the prose they feature is indistinguishable for the prose in those outlets.

The point is that academics can write clear and engaging prose on interesting and important topics. I know that there are incentives for them to write cryptic and boring prose as well, even when the general audience might be reading. I'm not saying access is the only issue. But I think it is one issue.

I'm not saying that it wouldn't be better if everything we published appeared in open-access fora (and this is something that my institution, like many others, is actively exploring and actively encouraging faculty to examine)

I'm grateful for sentiments like this. I believe that things will be better one day. But don't expect me to enjoy waiting for that day when the only things holding it back are inertia and greed.
posted by No-sword at 4:19 PM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


By all means, point me at a library that will give or sell me membership offering remote access, from Japan, to Project Muse, JSTOR, etc.

This is a pretty niche situation, No-sword. I imagine that I'm not fabulously well supplied with access to Japanese scholarly material here, either.
posted by yoink at 9:44 PM on November 22, 2011


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