My friend Irving commented that he is not so sure about my conclusion in the BioEverything post that the trend toward The Singularity is underway. Irving may be right although the things going on in bioengineering seem to fit the pattern that Ray Kurzweil describes in his book. More on that another time. What got me thinking from Irving’s comment is more about blogging. Now that I have been a student in the doctoral program for a couple of months I can see quite a contrast between scholarly writing with critical thinking and the world of blogging.
In scholarly writing it is important to back your assertions and conclusions with research and to provide a citation for all the reference material that you use. It is also important to think critically about what you read and to not jump to conclusions. Various points of view that you uncover should be compared and contrasted to bring out differences. The goal is to create new knowledge by extending or enhancing what you learn from others.
Blogging is quite a different process. Although it is certainly possible to provide a reference list and citations it is generally a much more informal communications vehicle. A skeptic might call it “winging it”. I am the first to admit that the things I write in my blog are not vetted in any way. The things I say are my opinion. I have many readers who trust me as a source but it is certainly not peer reviewed. An advantage of the blog however is that an author can easily change their mind and express a new opinion as a result of learning or feedback such as was provided by Irving. My book about the Internet took me six months to write. It took the publishing process more than six months to get the book on the shelves of book stores. In the world of Internet technology a lot changes in six months. With the blog as my book follow-on I can write weekly what I have learned and include things that have changed and in some cases caused me to believe something different than what I believed at the time I wrote the book.
The first thing students are advised in the doctoral program is to avoid using Google, Wikipedia, social networking sites, or general purpose websites and instead to use the thousands of journals containing peer reviewed points of view. Fortunately, the university library provides on-line access and search tools to utilize these journals. I completely agree with the university’s point that the easy access and availability of so many search engines can provide an avenue for poor quality work. I also agree with caveat emptor. There is a lot of great information on the web and a lot of not so great and some that is completely fraudulent. The ease of creating and finding information both has risks.
With regard to the peer review process I am not sure it is perfect. Perhaps it is like the jury system. It is not perfect but it is better than the alternatives. Shattell (2010) found that slightly more than 25% of authors found peer reviews to be less than constructive. Editors revealed issues with inconsistency, insufficient feedback to the author, reviewer bias, and disrespectful tone. The Internet has created a more level playing field and it is beginning to have an impact on processes that have previously been considered sacred. I believe the peer review process is critical to the integrity of scholarly learning and to the University of Phoenix Scholar-Practitioner-Leader model but I further believe that the peer-review process will evolve by using the power of the Internet to make the process more inclusive. Dan Cohen at George Mason University (Cohen, 2010, August 23) is one of the advocates for a more open web-based approach to the review of scholarly works. The New York Times article on this subject is enlightening and I am sure there will be significant research done on the points raised in the Times story.
Cohen, P. (2010, August 23, 2010). Scholars Test Web Alternative to Peer Review, New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/24/arts/24peer.html
Shattell, M. M., Chinn, P., Thomas, S. P., & Cowling, W. R., III. (2010). Authors’ and editors’ perspectives on peer review quality in three scholarly nursing journals. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 42(1), 58-65. doi: 10.1111/j.1547-5069.2009.01331.x