Thursday, September 15, 2005

Snipping at the heels of the more intellectually ambitious

The postings of Ivan Tribble about the danger to one's academic career of keeping a blog have set off a Niagara of comments in the blogosphere (love those mixed metaphors). Brian Weatherson's entry on Crooked Timber is nuanced and sensitive to the subtleties of blogging. This snippet below is particularly apt. (Pause for memory lane: I recall hearing a well known ethicist while I was in college, in response to an undergraduate's enthusiasm for Plato's Republic, uttering, "yes, Plato, he made lots of mistakes.")

And in the long run, there are some things that you should be writing on a blog. I don’t know how much this extends to other disciplines, but a lot of philosophy publication is taken up with papers about why X’s proposal about topic Y is wrong. Now “Philosopher makes mistake” is hardly a headline, so a lot of these papers aren’t surprising. The world would be better off if the journals could be cleared of a lot of them. Of course the good of the world need not be the primary concern of the young academic. (It certainly wasn’t my concern when I was younger, or now for that matter.) Still, there comes a time when it starts to look unfortunate to have all of one’s CV taken up with these little critical notes. (I’ve had to make separate listings on my CV for positive and negative papers just to remove the impression that I do nothing but snip at heels of the more intellectually ambitious.) And at that time you might prefer that those sharp critical comments you’d made had been confined to a well-kept first-rate blog rather than slotted into a second-or-third-rate journal. Certainly the academic world would be better if a lot of these papers were confined to web-self-publication, and after a while their writers will also be better off.

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