1. Worth reading in relation to this post
    Prof, no one is reading you.
    An average academic journal article is read in its entirety by about 10 people. To shape policy, professors should start penning commentaries in popular media.

    See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/news/opinion/more-opinion-stories/story/prof-no-one-reading-you-20150411?utm_content=buffere05eb&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer#sthash.XESninWk.16ZdPNnB.dpuf


    • Thanks, Linda. It was actually that post that spurred me to write this one – because of the emphasis (assumption?) about research shaping policy. The authors’ suggestion for media contribution to be part of promotion folios would leave some non-applied research fields in the cold, but there seemed to be no accounting for this.


  2. Maybe a measure of the ‘value’ of a public comment or social media post would be the number *and quality* of the comments left on a post? (just joking…) Or the number of shares or retweets it garnered? So many questions, so few useful answers.


    • I know you were being tongue-in-cheek, but it’s true that good quality of discussion on posts and articles is a big indicator of how well the work’s travelling! Good comments generate more good comments, and – I would guess – more serious consideration of issues and controversies. When The Conversation brought a dedicated community manager on board to moderate comments, it became much, much more civilised and discursive. Not as much trollage!

      There’s a whole field of altmetrics that’s dedicated to finding good ways to weight various contributions online but, again, we’re going back to ‘easy’ numbers that everyone knows don’t give a very nuanced picture.


  3. We keep talking about ‘quality’ as if we have already defined what it means… social media is about quantity though so I would actively avoid it being used as a criterion for promotion.


    • I agree that ‘quality’ is a much contested term, Linda! Yet it doesn’t seem to stop it influencing large, expansive (and expensive) frameworks inter/nationally…


  4. There’s a broader question in here, which is the way in which we’ve accepted quite uncritically the value of highly competitive promotion systems, repeat-locked onto the values and assumptions we apply to academic hiring.

    This means that from the moment an academic is hired, she’s inducted into a culture of career gaming that is meant to influence every choice she makes, every day. “Will this count towards promotion?” really shouldn’t be the answer to the question “Do I have a contribution to make to this news item/policy working party/conference committee?”

    I share your ambivalence. On the one hand, it’s great that there is some stirring recognition that working in public is work. On the other, we know exactly how this calculation has proved to be corrupting in relation to citation.

    I wish we could take a harder look at the assumption that competition is a proxy for contribution.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I started writing on a (slight) tangent in a draft of this post about how putting consistent demands on whether researchers create/maintain media profiles ignores both news AND research cycles. Your research won’t always be interesting to the media, and findings can’t / shouldn’t be circulated all the time (b/c when is the research actually being done?).

      As always, you’ve cut right through to the bigger framework of assumptions around the logic of ‘gaming’ in academia. It’s why many of these discussions end up interrogating what it is that academics/researchers should be doing vs what the system thinks they should be doing… And the conversation doesn’t seem to move on much from there?


  5. I was just chatting with a researcher last week who smartly pointed out that media mentions really only matter (in terms of “the greater good”) because policy wonks often look to the media, rather than journals, to help them determine what research should underpin their policy recommendations.

    And–anecdotally–in digging through articles that have been mentioned in policy documents (using the Altmetric Explorer app), it’s looking more and more like mentions of research in policy documents are more in the vein of “Here’s our recommended course of action, and here are XYZ citations that help give background on the topic” than they are “Here’s a recommended course of action, and here’s the brilliant study whose recommendations underpin the entire thing”. More to come on that, though–plan to write that up and blog about it soon.


  6. I share your concerns about the metricisation of everything. And it occurs to me as I read this post that that approach is based on a false assumption: that the only reason academic do anything at all is to collect points.

    People do read academic articles. Every single academic I know not only reads articles but has a list of articles that they feel bad about not having read yet. And most people write because they have somehting to say that they WANT people to read an engage with.

    THe issue of WHO reads and engages with that something is a separate one, and while I agree that if one is doing work relevant to audiences beyond your own small corner of academic scholarship then you need to be publishing somewhere that those audiences are likely to come across it (and probably doing more besides), I do not agree that advancing scholarly debate by publishing for other scholars is an illegitimate activity, which is the implication of so much of this “no one reads journal articles, why are you even publishing here” rhetoric. (That sentence got very long. Sorry.)

    What would happen if we started from teh assumption that academics are hard working people who care deeply about some very specialized things that matter to some other people, too. That what they most want is to engage in debate and discussion about those things and have their thoughts influence the thoughts and actions of others. That you don’t have to incentivize them or punish them. You need to provide a supportive environment in which they can do that stuff.

    Anyway, I’m preaching to the choir here, I suspect but thanks for writing what you wrote. More of us need to say these things.


    • Thanks for this fab comment, Jo. Really liked your points about how scholars writing for scholars has its value and place in the scholarly system – it shouldn’t be all about whether there’s external engagement (this also has its place in the scholarly system, but it shouldn’t be entirely reified as an ultimate good).

      The whole race for citations astounds me – I’m sure there is some research out there (anyone?) on what proportion of citations are nothing that one should be proud of. What is the context of the citation? Was it to dismiss or support your argument? Some of the most highly cited ‘controversial’ pieces that I know of (e.g. Huntington’s ‘clash of civilisations’ work) are cited for good reasons. Does that matter?

      And while you may feel you are preaching to the choir, it’s heartening and satisfying to read this. It is rarely something I see as people tend not to spell it out.


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