In short, Fiske doesn’t like when people use social media to publish negative comments on published research. She’s implicitly following what I’ve sometimes called the research incumbency rule: that, once an article is published in some approved venue, it should be taken as truth. I’ve written elsewhere on my problems with this attitude—in short, (a) many published papers are clearly in error, which can often be seen just by internal examination of the claims and which becomes even clearer following unsuccessful replication, and (b) publication itself is such a crapshoot that it’s a statistical error to draw a bright line between published and unpublished work...
Fiske is annoyed with social media, and I can understand that. She’s sitting at the top of traditional media. She can publish an article in the APS Observer and get all this discussion without having to go through peer review; she has the power to approve articles for the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; work by herself and har colleagues is featured in national newspapers, TV, radio, and even Ted talks, or so I’ve heard. Top-down media are Susan Fiske’s friend. Social media, though, she has no control over. That’s must be frustrating, and as a successful practioner of traditional media myself (yes, I too have published in scholarly journals), I too can get annoyed when newcomers circumvent the traditional channels of publication. People such as Fiske and myself spend our professional lives building up a small fortune of coin in the form of publications and citations, and it’s painful to see that devalued, or to think that there’s another sort of scrip in circulation that can buy things that our old-school money cannot.
But let’s forget about careers for a moment and instead talk science.
When it comes to pointing out errors in published work, social media have been necessary. There just has been no reasonable alternative. Yes, it’s sometimes possible to publish peer-reviewed letters in journals criticizing published work, but it can be a huge amount of effort. Journals and authors often apply massive resistance to bury criticisms....
Let me conclude with a key disagreement I have with Fiske. She prefers moderated forums where criticism is done in private. I prefer open discussion. Personally I am not a fan of Twitter, where the space limitation seems to encourge snappy, often adversarial exchanges. I like blogs, and blog comments, because we have enough space to fully explain ourselves and to give full references to what we are discussing. Andrew Gelman "What has happened down here is the winds have changed." [HT L.A. Paul & Liam Kofi Bright]
Gelman's post is reading in full, although I should mention that his useful historical timeline ignores the very important work done by Deirdre McCloskey (and her collaborators) on statistical significance, and the very early work (1990-3) [here, here, etc.] on the problems of replication in the social sciences by my mentor David Levy and his then collaborator Susan Feigenbaum. These papers by Feigenbaum and Levy were largely ignored (although they influenced my own work and early blogging). I know from conversation with David that NSF was uninterested in funding work on problems in replication at the time. The market in ideas is inefficient and the self-correcting mechanisms of science are imperfect, yet in philosophy we nearly always assume/presuppose an image of science that posits these. Okay, now let me get to the point.
Within professional philosophy (and science [you may substitute science for philosophy in this post]), blogging is currently treated in four predominant ways:
(i) A place to discuss and debate professional issues/norms (think of all the work Jennifer Saul and her collaborators have done to get gender-related issues discussed)
(ii) a means to convey news about the profession;
(iii) a way to try out ideas among sub-set of interested specialists and would be specialists; in fact this often leads (iii*) to the development or reinforcement of intellectual communities around some issues (with the risks of generating echo-chamber).
(iv) A means to promote developed and published views to the profession and the public.
There is recognition that (i) is a service to the profession and that curating blogs that cater to (ii-iv) is also a professional service. Publishing a blog post is generally treated as akin to an editorial--a part of public outreach or public service. Few are willing to treat blogging (v) as a species of philosophy, let alone professional philosophy that contributes substantially to the ongoing development of philosophy (or some other discipline). This last point is true even though some of the debates over the norms of the profession fall very properly and centrally under what goes by the name of 'meta-philosophy' (which in some quarters is becoming a recognizable area of specialization (AOS) or (AOC)). It is notable that both (iii) and (iv) require considerable philosophical skill to do so in a way that does not undermine professional reputations. Brian Weatherson, for example set the bar very high (on iii) in his earlier years at Thoughts Arguments and Rants.
There seem to be two arguments that prevent recognition of blogging as (professional) philosophy (science): first, it is not refereed (in fact, blogging is often, but not always, self-publication); second, the blogging format deviates in content and style from the existing professional formats (that is, the refereed journal article and scholarly monograph). Both are contingent arguments against treating blogging as a means to contribute substantially to professional philosophy as such. (Nobody would say Aristotle is not philosophy because he was not refereed.) For, while undoubtedly evaluating a blogger's quality would require some innovation in one's metrics/criteria, there is no principled reason why one could not evaluate the quality and impact of a blogger's blog post(s) post-facto in, say, a normal tenure review and promotion. In addition, quite a bit of objective data (about visits, links, discussion, prizes/honors) can be collected to contextualize interest in a blogger and his/her impact. Obviously, some of these metrics may reinforce (recall) the worst tendencies in contemporary, technocratic scholarly evaluation, but that's something that can be addressed. Moreover, while it's true that blog posts deviate from existing academic formats, they are often contiguous with other formats found in philosophical history (including letters [e.g., Seneca, Margaret Cavendish], and linked essays [Bacon, Addison, Montaigne]), and commentaries [De Grouchy]--this is, especially relevant for members from historically marginalized groups whose philosophical contributions often appeared in non-academic formats in the past.
By contrast, I would argue (in self-serving fashion) that blogging (in the manner of v) has some non-trivial professional virtues that can contribute substantially to philosophy not just as a service but as a means to advance the content/core of the discipline: (a) it is fundamentally not-gated, so there are few barriers to entry (anybody can start a blog) and criticism (most blogs have a comment option--or one can start another blog commenting an blog), so it removes a status quo bias in existing research. Non-trivially, one of the ways it removes barriers to entry is that blogging is (b) also to lower cost (it is truly open as opposed to the many pseudo-open science projects). In addition, (c) blogging can be dialogical with audience members reviewing (including structured peer review) and responding to/commenting on posts. A blogger can (d) make transparent connections and links by linking to other works within a particular blog post (and so, thereby, reveal or call attention to systematic entailments or presuppositions) and within the life of a blog or blog-persona. While some element of this (d) is also the case in traditional academic formats, a blogger can (e) respond to events in real time and continuously update her position (if she so wishes) and (e*) reveal the ways her thought has developed. In particular, (f) blogs can shape the events and discipline in real time (e.g. Gelman). Finally, a blog can (g) try out or host different kinds of voices, and, thereby, explore a wider range of experiences.
While there is no reason to wish for the total displacement of the traditional scholarly formats – there are important virtues attached to peer review, and the slow accumulation of research findings --, it seems clear that blogging can expand the ways in which true scholarship (science, philosophy) is practiced. For too long we have conflated the peer-review process not just with the gold standard, but with the only legitimate standard. But while there is a lot to be said for the virtues of peer review and attempts to improve it via smell steps of introducing better and better practices, there are also known systematic fragilities with that process that no amount of tinkering will eliminate (because humans are not angels). (This is more general vice in the sciences where one method becomes fully hegemonic (e.g., evidence based medicine and randomized control trials are promoted in ways that create foreseeable fragilities.))
Thus, my claim is that blogging is a means toward making philosophy (science) more truth-apt because it allows us to become more robust. This is why we need to prevent the situation that only tenured folk can really afford to invest in blogging (v) as a way to contribute to philosophy. Now, nearly all the prolific bloggers are folk with tenure who, having figured out how to produce a steady stream of ordinary scholarship, can leverage their professional status to get an audience for their view(s). But this just reinforces species of status quo bias. Until we are willing to recognize blogging as a species of true philosophy and reward that professionally, young folk will be reluctant to run all the risks associated with it.
The argument here is agnostic on the virtues of blogging as a means toward public philosophy or disseminating philosophy to a wider audience, although it is clear that some of the arguments offered here carry over to these realms, and may be even more compelling, in cases of blogging as a species of public philosophy.*
O’Neill, Eileen. "Disappearing ink: Early modern women philosophers and their fate in history." Philosophy in a feminist voice: Critiques and reconstructions (1998): 17-62. See also, Lisa Shapiro (ms) “What is a Philosophical Cannon”