Academia as reputation system

Jason Mittell's picture
In reentering from a stimulating & really provocative few days at the MediaCommons retreat, one of the lasting insights and exciting aspects of our plan is rethinking the peer review and academic community roles as parts of reputation systems. Coincidentally, I stumbled across this Wired article on "crowdhacking," or manipulating reputation systems like Digg & eBay for fun & profit (more profit than fun). Although it's doubtful that MediaCommons would spawn a cottage industry to promote or disparage academic reputation, all it would take is one member to game the system to destroy the whole endeavor. For me, this speaks to the need to work against anonymity and ensure that reputation in our community is generated through thoughtful commentary more than just button-pushing tagging. More to come here and at my own blog. -Jason


Clancy Ratliff's picture

I agree with what you're

I agree with what you’re saying regarding real names and thoughtful commentary, but I have to say, I think there are plenty of people who game the traditional academic publishing system — though admittedly, that gaming doesn’t destroy the whole endeavor.

Michael Z. Newman's picture

Jason: your links don't work

Jason: your links don’t work for me.

Anyhow, now that I’m commenting…I don’t understand why anyone would do scholarly work pseudonymously. One point of scholarly work is to attach value to your name so that you will be recognized for creating knowledge and hired and promoted on that basis. What (non-mischievous) incentive does the pseudonymous scholar follow?

Also, by button-pushing tagging do you mean “digg this” or “add to favorites”? Is someone proposing this as a way of online peer review? (Of course, scholarly work online is already subject to the judgment of internet users who are free to digg, stumble, add to, link to, etc., which is part of the production of scholarly reputations as I write.)

Looking forward to reading more about your discussions.


Jason Mittell's picture

Mike - thanks for the links

Mike - thanks for the links heads-up - it should work now. To contextualize the discussion, part of what MediaCommons is looking to do is make the peer review process transparent & open, utilizing the technologies of the web. While much of that will be through posted commentary on pieces, another function will be more like “digging” or slashdot - promoting items that are valuable to a large portion of the community. So it’s more about making sure the commenters & readers are named & tied to real identities, not the authors of scholarship. Again, more to come soon…

Jonathan Gray's picture

But doesn't blind reviewing

But doesn’t blind reviewing serve something of a purpose too? Don’t get me wrong — I think that if all parties are civil and decent people who are well-adjusted, reviewing with names can be a good way to go. Some of the better, more helpful reviews I’ve received identified themselves. But imagine, for instance, that a junior scholar reviews a senior scholar’s work with some rather broad (even if nicely worded) criticisms. Here, blind reviewing protects the junior scholar from fear of petty payback, gives the senior scholar needed criticism, and avoids timid ass-kissing in the review. Academics, let’s be honest, have quite often put a lot of self-evaluative stock into their ideas, and not many of us were sports stars or the coolest kids on campus, etc., so our ideas become very personal, with criticism of those ideas cutting to the bone. There is certainly considerable merit in trying to shepherd in a system that teaches people to take criticism better, but surely some kind of blind reviewing could still be helpful? Apart from anything else, sometimes the power of the name (whether of reviewer or reviewed) and its aura dictate the limits of discussion and debate, and getting the name out of the situation therefore retains some utility, by removing its power as automatic gatekeeper. As I understand it, MediaCommons wants to start challenging the traditional gatekeepers, and the aura of the name is one of the biggies.
(But, hey, I put my name on this, and invite named criticisms, so I’m not suggesting a total blind lovefest—just balance)

Jonathan, Based on some of


Based on some of the discussions we’ve had at the mediacommons gathering recently - I wonder if we are about reproducing academic practices and hierarchies and whether or not we are at all talking about challenging “traditional gatekeepers”. We are developing a “newer” system of gatekeepers, it seems to me (as I’ve said in a different way on my blog post here a couple days ago).