I didn’t expect to ever become an academic blogger, but several developments in 2017 changed my mind. I have been increasingly dissatisfied with the state of academic publishing, and I have been casting about for alternatives. A few years ago, I became involved in an open access project and rapidly determined that the solution did not lie there. In this context of questioning, the precipitating event that turned me into a blogger was the publication of the Cerutti Mastodon claim in Nature in April of this year (Holen et al 2017). When I read that paper, I decided to create my blog and did so that very morning.
Academic blogging as publishing
If I look back, some of my earlier traditional publications show clear signs of my migration toward blogging. Costopoulos (2016a) is clearly a blog post, and I would not submit it to Current Anthropology if I wrote it today. It is a response to a published article and a reflection on some interesting themes in human evolution. If I wrote it today, I would simply post it to my blog and tweet it with the appropriate hashtags and twitter handles.
Looking back further, Costopoulos (2016b) and Xue and Costopoulos (2010) are also clearly blog posts. I now realize that because they directly engage others on questions that are in the air, these are some of my publications that have gotten the most response and have generated the most commentary and further work by others. The digital archaeology paper (Costopoulos 2016b) has spawned a series of very interesting blog posts by students in the context of a course at Maynooth University. For the second year now, I am reading these thoughtful and interesting comments (just three examples Kurzmeier 2017, Healy 2016, Power 2017), often critical of the position I took, but always productive and constructive.
The engagement would probably have been even greater had I simply posted these articles instead of publishing them in traditional journals with restricted specialist readership. I have since learned that my blog posts, disseminated on Twitter and Facebook, have generated more feedback over a shorter time from colleagues, from students, from academics in widely divergent disciplines, and from the certainly from the general public, than my traditional publications.
What I now recognize as my first blog post, published in a traditional peer-reviewed venue, sparked a very productive debate through Jeremy Huggett’s response, simply posted to his blog (Huggett 2016), which will lead to a session at the CAA meeting in Tubingen this March. This encounter between my traditionally published piece and Huggett’s blog post helped me realize that we don’t need journals at all. The core functions of academic publishing, to disseminate results, to engage claims, to build on each other’s work, can now be fulfilled without journals.
This was reinforced by my reaction to the fact that the Mastodon, Untermassfeld, and Pedra Furada claims were all recently published in highly ranked journals, leading me to reflect that not only are journals obsolete, they have actually become counter-productive.
I contrast the activity that my blog posts have generated in just one year with what has happened to some of the papers which were most important to my professional trajectory, and which have gone to die somewhere in some journal. They exist mainly as paywalled evidence that the grant money entrusted to me was not wasted, to be confirmed by gate-keeper initiates when I apply for further grants. I would rather give more direct evidence to a wider audience. I will be posting versions of those papers to my blog this coming year, and hopefully they can have a second chance to make a difference for someone.
I have started listing some of my blog posts on my CV in a sub-section under publications. I am still learning how to decide which ones I list, but so far, I have the main ones on the Cerutti Mastodon affair, and some posts that report original contributions that once would have gone to a refereed journal.
I think it is important for us to start listing our non-traditional contributions on our CV and let referees evaluate them if they wish. It is equally important that we start evaluating those of others when they are listed in support of job, promotion, or grant applications.
Change of Twitter and Facebook presence
Until last year, I had carefully kept my personal Facebook page off my professional networks and had restricted my twitter feed to purely personal use. With the inception of my blog, I started disseminating my posts on both platforms, which has led to an explosion in the number of contacts on each. I have found that keeping both profiles locked down actually meant that I missed on quite a bit of what was going on in the discipline. I had feared that mixing professional and personal on social media would be difficult and perhaps even unpleasant, but experience has proven otherwise. It has in fact gone quite smoothly. It has led to a surprising amount of productive engagement from family and friends in the questions I deal with in my academic life and no noticeable professional interference in my personal.
My most read post of the year (758 views) was a comment on the public role of physical anthropologists, but my two main themes were the state of academic publishing (13 posts totaling 1140 views and the evaluation of claims of early occupation in North America and Europe (8 posts totaling 883 views), starting with the Cerutti Mastodon site. I don’t see those main themes changing much for the coming year, although more may be added.
Lessons learned by a first time blogger
Learning to blog is an interesting process. Finding the time has not been as much of a challenge as I anticipated. In fact, it has become a welcome and necessary release.
I have found that I enjoy writing again. It is motivating to communicate results or perspectives to a broad audience, released from the dread of hoop jumping through the traditional publishing process, and actually get evidence of impact and engagement beyond a number of citations, most of which, let’s face it, are not substantive, but appear as boiler plate in the first couple of paragraphs of a paper. Significantly, I have found that I get much more helpful and constructive comments post-publication than I ever have through the traditional review process.
I normally carve out a few hours a week, mainly in the early morning, before campus fills up and demands escalate. I didn’t think finding topics would be a problem, but I didn’t expect having such a long waitlist of posts to write.
I mainly blog about what is going on in the literature (both traditional and on social media). Once in a while, I write an original contribution out of old data that has never found a home and that deserves to be out there. I have piles of that coming up in the next while. Sometimes I post something just for fun (fun, in academia? Could it be?). Eventually, I will produce and post new stuff, probably in relation to the three conference presentations to which I have committed for 2018.
I’ve learned to take my time. I normally write a first draft of a “current affairs” post over a couple of mornings, go through it at the end of the second day, then go through it again the next morning, before I finally post. Sometimes things go faster, but I try to slow it down. In the case of the original contributions, I work on them for a few weeks to a few months, as I would any paper I publish.
So far, academic blogging has been interesting, revealing, and engaging. It is the most productive and least costly publishing I have ever done. And it allows me to throw in the odd Oak Island reference, even in a serious post.
Costopoulos A 2016a. The secret to human success is being half-smart and half-social, Current Anthropology 57:827.
Costopoulos A 2016b. Digital Archaeology is here (and has been for a while), Frontiers in Digital Archaeology, https://doi.org/10.3389/fdigh.2016.00004
Healy A 2016. Knowledge vs action: respecting the transdiscipline, https://dhblog.maynoothuniversity.ie/hhealy/?p=264
Holen et al 2017. A 130,000-year-old archaeological site in southern California, USA, Nature 544:479-483.
Huggett J 2016. Let’s talk about digital archaeology, Introspective Digital Archaeology blog, https://introspectivedigitalarchaeology.wordpress.com/2016/05/10/lets-talk-about-digital-archaeology/
Kurzmeier M 2017. If you gaze long into your toolbox…, https://dhblog.maynoothuniversity.ie/hhealy/?p=264
Power D 2017. We need to talk about how the digital impacts on archaeology, https://dhblog.maynoothuniversity.ie/dpower/2017/12/15/136/
Xue and Costopoulos 2010. The evitable route to zealotry, Current Anthropology 51:269-70.