At Bucknell’s Digital Scholarship Conference last fall, Zeynep Tufekci made a compelling case for public academic writing. Her keynote address, Researching Out Loud: Public Scholarship as a Process of Publishing Before and After Publishing, argued that public academic writing can have enriching effects on both public discourse and the research and pedagogy of individual scholars.
Drawing on personal experience, she made an eloquent case for how digital publishing platforms like blogs (hers is Technosociology) or Medium afford scholars an opportunity to bring their research to bear upon issues of pressing public concern. Doing so can deepen our understanding of important public issues, and the practice of writing with and for a public readership can help us refine our scholarship and open us to unanticipated paths of inquiry.
Despite the significant benefits, there are, of course, downsides to public writing. Not least of which is the culture of outrage and trolling that often characterizes communication online. Another issue, however, is that the academy lacks structures that enable it to recognize, evaluate and reward excellent public scholarly writing.
In response in part to these issues, we developed the Public Philosophy Journal (@PubPhilJ), an ecosystem of scholarly communication designed to listen to the web for compelling conversations at the intersection of philosophy and questions of wide public concern in order then to curate them into a space of open developmental peer review.
Here is how put it as we were beginning the project:
Since then, we’ve received two separate grants from the Mellon Foundation, the first, a $236K one-year award to begin developing the @PubPhilJ platform, and now, a $549K two-year grant to cultivate community around the @PubPhilJ, publish our first digital artifacts, further develop the platform, and work out the developmental peer review process and the collegiality index that will be central to its success.
The @PubPhilJ is designed to enrich both public discourse and academic research by cultivating, recognizing, and rewarding the habits of excellent public scholarship.
On the cultivation side, the collegiality index will enable us to articulate best practices of public scholarly deliberation and to signal to users of the platform the expectations of the community and the degree to which they are meeting them.
On the recognition side, the developmental review process will enable us to nourish seeded contributions so they grow into mature scholarly publications as published artifacts in the journal itself.
And on the rewards side, for those community members who request it, the @PubPhilJ is committed to providing tenure and promotion committees with a letter of public engagement that demonstrates the community member’s participation in the journal as a curator, reviewer, and author. We will use detailed data analytics and links to specific instances of excellent public scholarship in order to document the scope and impact of the public scholarly activity in which our members are engaged.
The benefits of doing the “Research Out Loud” for which Zeynep rightly advocates can best be realized when academics risk public writing, and publishing ecosystems like the Public Philosophy Journal curate those conversations, enhance them with open peer review, and re-publish them in a form the academy can recognize as excellent.