Just yesterday, I was on one of my hobby horses, arguing that we live in a post-journal academic world but don’t quite realize it yet. Today, I find this twitter moment from John Hawks. Contributions like this one, no matter who they are from, must be considered full academic contributions, on a par with refereed articles in traditional academic journals, for all purposes, including hiring, grant applications, and tenure, promotion and merit.
The post communicates important data in a very timely manner and it gives us a good sense of the questions it poses and the researcher’s preliminary analysis. The discussion and comments it generates will become its peer review, and will be much more informative and useful than the considered opinions (unshared) of three (if lucky) anonymous reviewers. The reason that these kinds of preliminary contributions aren’t normally given full academic credit, so to speak, is that they are generally not published in traditional journals because of the limited number of slots available in them. Those slots are reserved for more “mature” work. But more mature work is not necessarily more useful (and usually not more interesting).
The scarcity of slots in which to publish academic work is in fact entirely imaginary. It is a self-imposed limitation, an inheritance from the days of packet boats, which unnecessarily slows the scholarly process, excludes participants who would otherwise make significant contributions, reduces the diversity of ideas and claims up for examination, and inflicts significant, unnecessary injury on our disciplines.
This imagined scarcity, however, sustains the prestige economy of academia. Someone like Hawks, fortunately, can afford spend some of his accumulated capital on putting out this kind of extremely valuable, non-traditional contribution. Students and junior scholars, on the other hand, need to invest everything in the pursuit of a refereed journal slot, simply because we grant reviewers and hiring committee members have not looked at the extraordinary work which exists outside those limited slots.