Monday, January 08, 2007

Should we blog our pre-publication ideas?

In James Crossley's interesting recent blogger of the month interview, he makes the following comment:
I think it is pretty clear to anyone who might read the blog that I am reluctant to put anything particularly new on the blog unless it is published or being published. I didn’t consciously make this decision but I just can’t bring myself to put too many pre-publication ideas.
On Reception of the Bible, John Lyons echoes this "reluctance to put pre-publication work on a blog" and contrasts this with people like me who are more willing to discuss ideas pre-publication. I suppose my way of thinking about this would be to ask why not discuss your research on your blog? To me the advantages are fairly obvious -- one is experimenting, thinking out loud, attempting to articulate one's views, getting feedback, getting pointers to useful bibliography and so on. All of these things help one to hone one's writing and to come up with a stronger final product at the full publication stage. I'd be more worried about going to final publication without having aired the ideas and a good deal of the writing in a public setting beforehand.

So what are the disadvantages of airing one's research at the pre-publication stage in one's academic blog? John's take is as follows:
Without a great deal of thought, I am beginning to wonder if this has something to do with how you approach blogging as an outlet for your work. You might, of course, not care about publishing your work in academic outlets, but I doubt that is the case with Mark and Jim (or with the others mentioned above). I am sure they are confident that their work is still publishable despite their blog offerings (after all, Mark has now published a 'substantially revised version' of his previously offered review of The Nativity Story in the--admittedly not very prestigious-- SBL forum). From his comments Mark appears to value the feedback he has received, apparently seeing it as akin to that which he might receive at a conference. Yet to me there is something public about the internet that makes me doubt anyone will want to take it for a journal. I have no evidence for this, but it seems very real to me.
I am highly sceptical of the latter, and I would be surprised if a serious journal were to reject something because the ideas were worked out in part in an academic's blog. After all, it has long been the case that journal articles take over material previously circulated in conference proceedings or collections of seminar papers, and likewise papers temporarily posted in full on the net. I doubt that piecemeal, incomplete research that is under development on a blog would fair worse. And if the journal were to question the academic's pre-publication blog musings, the more fool them. Who would reject a paper for a journal because it had previously been read in academic settings like a conference? If one were very nervous about such things, one could always remove an offending post at a later date. To be honest, I have been tempted to do the latter for other reasons, that I would prefer to direct people to the more fully formed and mature expressions of my ideas, but on balance I quite like the idea of the raw, under-development piecemeal blog research ideas to be there for future consultation too.

In short, I don't think that blogging pre-publication ideas is at all a bar to full publication. Indeed in my experience, it works the opposite way. For me, blogging sometimes encourages publication. A simple example is the one mentioned by John, my underdeveloped musings on The Nativity Story, which subsequently evolved into a fuller, more polished review for the SBL Forum. I wouldn't have written the SBL Forum piece if I had not begun reflecting out loud on the film in the blog. I can illustrate a more complex version of the same kind of thing. Back in 2004, about one in every three entries in this blog focused on the latest news on The Passion of the Christ. When I finally got to see the film, I offered My Thoughts in a rolling post, with no intention of developing for publication. But Bible and Interpretation picked up the post and asked if I would develop it for their site and the result was a new piece called The Passion, Pornography an Polemic. In turn, Robert Webb saw my interest in the film and asked me to contribute to the book he was co-editing with Kathleen Corley called Jesus and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. The article I wrote for that book, on "The Power of The Passion: Reacting and Overreacting to Gibson's Artistic Vision", bore only a distant relationship to that original blog post, but it was from that that it was ultimately derived. And without it, I might never have been encouraged to write the fuller piece.

I suppose that is my justification for airing pre-publication ideas, but it is also an encouragement to others to do the same. There is an element of risk or adventure about trying out ideas on one's blog, but the risks sometimes pay off and lead one in unexpected directions. I might add, though, that in spite of all that I have said, I only occasionally engage in this kind of thing. The majority of my research ideas don't get developed here in the blog but rather through reading, teaching, thinking, reflection, sharing with friends and so on. I am currently working on the Gospel of Thomas but how often have I blogged on that here? Next year I am hoping to begin writing my book provisionally entitled ________, _________ and _____ but I don't feel comfortable even mentioning that here yet. It seems, then, that there are some research ideas that one feels more comfortable about sharing than others, and I am not sure that I can articulate why that is the case, or what the criteria are. Like John, I want to give this some more thought.

Update (17 January, 08:52): On Reception of the Bible, John Lyons gathers together all the links on the biblioblogs to subsequent discussion of this issue, and weighs in again himself on this interesting topic.


Michael F. Bird said...

I think blogging on publication ideas is a good thing: (1) You can get some feedback for how much interest in the subject is out there; (2) You can get some immediate comments about the direction of your proposal; and (3) It gets you thinking about how to communicate what you've been pondering about. There is always the danger that you let the cat out of the bag too soon, but on the whole I think it has more going for it.

James Crossley said...

the thing is I agree with all this. I just don't know why I don't do it more often. Clearly it works and why not widen your debating partners. Maybe Mike's danger is what is the problem for some (like me). Oh, I dunno!

Stephen C. Carlson said...

I think it depends. It has for me, yet I'm not really sure what it depends on. Here's an attempt:

Sometimes to do an idea justice it requires a fuller treatment than a blog can conveniently provide. If one likes the idea enough to think about publication, why make a bad first impression with a feeble blog post?

As they say, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and sometimes a blog is better suited for making the claim than laying out the evidence.

On the other hand, blogging might better if one is exploring a topic, perhaps for the first time, or chasing leads that may or may not go anywhere. Here, there may be more evidence than actual analysis.

J. Archer said...

Here's one benefit to students:

Working out ideas in public shows us that scholars do not simply walk into a room with fully-formed ideas and a handful of defenses to boot.

I did art for many years and I rarely found it encouraging to see an artist display his or her final pieces. While working on my own projects, I found it discouraging that the stage I was at was not at the stage other artists appeared to be: complete and polished.

When others see scholars working out ideas, or even uncertain about some ideas, that experience helps to counter the imperative to be "done." To perpetually encounter people with refined ideas hides the reality of all the hard work and research that has gone into arguments. Of course, students will (ideally) get some idea of what kind of work is required to write well, but that may well conflict with the image they are shown.

Tony Bellows said...

This blog caused me to follow up Mark's excellent pos-blog revision on The Passion of the Christ.

Two comments:
1) He mentions in his article only recently do we get a Jesus who dances, but I believe that in Godspell, made into a film, he does;
2) It would be interesting to take a sample of pre-publication blogs and finished articles to look at how narratives and texts are reformed, and whether there are any lessons there for redaction criticism; for instance, if we were given blog material in various stages of working out, and blind (or double-blind) - i.e. not knowing which stage the material was produced - can we tell from looking at material how polished it is, how many loose ends there are etc, and which is the earlier material? What hypothesis and assumptions would we make, and could these be transferred to other kinds of sources?