(lack of) Online Debate about Academia

Over the last few months I’ve been reading a lot. Mostly academic papers, blogs of researchers, downloaded text-books and Wikipedia (as usual) related to IR. I can’t help but notice that there is very little open debate about academic papers and research conclusions. Where are the normal under-grads interested in the subject? I have to say that I was a bit surprised.

So here I’m summarizing some good points made by the answer-ers to the Question “Why don’t people comment on Academic papers Online?” on Quora.

Alicia Zha points out one obvious reason that what is written as a comment or written on a blog can then be used without attributing to the original author.

Another point (which Arvind Narayanan makes) is that researchers don’t have any incentive to comment on the blogs. They won’t (really) get any concrete credibility for posting a handful of comments. In this regard, I have seen most of the comments to blog posts made by Profs are by other Profs. They are people who have already made a name for themselves.

Elise Paradis notes something along similar lines – that academia runs on reputation. Whatever you may think, comments on blog posts are not always well thought out. All it may take (according to her) are a couple of lame comments to ruin a carefully built up reputation. So people tend to be extra careful before posting things in the open for all to see and judge.

For the most part I feel its fear of getting seen as a fool by the admittedly superior researcher posting the paper. Open and wild discussion of research may actually be quite interesting. There are some blogs thats openly discuss aspects of academics – with great responses. The Life at IISc blog written by Prof Giridhar is a perfect example.There are bound to be many others.

I have done my own share of commenting on the blogs that I have come across. Both research oriented and academic. At first I was a bit surprised at the lack of discussion, but commented anyway. Now that I’m getting a better idea of the inner working of such things, I am wondering.

If anyone out there thought that I was an idiot, I am sorry to inform you that you may well be correct! 😀
Here’s hoping this doesn’t cost me a scholarship a few years down the line! 😉

Update: There are a few good efforts to open up the whole process and make the reviewing process better also. One of the sites which I forgot to mention was the Not Relevant blog. They can publish papers within days of submission (instead of the regular 2-3 months) with a commons license and the promise of open debate. Its specifically for the Information Retrieval space. I wonder if any other subjects have a similar attempt.

Here’s their flyer/poster at SIGIR 2010 in Geneva


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