On the “Myth” of Academic Freedom

In a recent post of the F1000 Blog, Rebecca Lawrence suggests that academic freedom is more myth than reality:

Academic freedom?

Other criticisms [of Plan S] focus on possible effects from the point of view of researchers as authors (rather than as readers and users of research) and the so called ‘academic freedom’ restrictions. But current ‘academic freedoms’ are somewhat of a myth, because the existing entrenched system of deciding on funding, promotions and tenure depends more on where you publish, than on what you publish and how your work has value to others. Hence, authors have to try to publish their work in the small subset of journals that are most likely to help their careers.

This scramble to publish the ‘best’ results in the ‘best’ journals causes many problems, including the high cost of such a selective process in these ‘high-impact’ journals, the repeated cost (both actual and time cost) of multiple resubmissions trying to find the ‘right place’ for the publication in the journal hierarchy, and the high opportunity cost.  This, combined with the high proportion of TA journals and the highly problematic growth of hybrid journals not only significantly increases cost, but compromises the goal of universal OA to research results – one of the greatest treasures the society can have and should expect.

We believe that if Plan S is implemented with the strong mandate it currently suggests, it will be a major step towards the goal of universal OA to research results and can greatly reduce overall costs in the scholarly communication system – which will itself bring benefits to researchers as authors and as users of research and indeed increase academic freedom.

I agree that the focus on where we publish rather than what we publish is detrimental to academia in all sorts of ways. When it comes to judging fellow academics’ publication records, too many use the journal title (the linguistic proxy for its impact factor) as a sufficient indicator of the quality of the article. What we should do, instead, is actually read the article. We should also reward academics for publishing in venues that are most likely to reach and impact their intended audiences and for writing in ways that are clearly understandable to non-specialists, when those non-specialists are the intended audience. Instead, we are often too quick to dismiss such publications as non-rigorous.

However, that academics evaluate each other in very messed up ways doesn’t show that academic freedom is a myth. What it shows is that academics aren’t always as thoughtful as we should be about how we exercise our academic freedom.

You're doing it wrong

I’ve never suggested that academic freedom means anything goes (or that you get to publish wherever you want, regardless of what the peer reviewers and editors say). What it does mean, though, is that, to a very large extent, we academics give ourselves the rules under which we operate, at least in terms of research and teaching. Again, I am not suggesting that anything goes. We still have to answer to laws about nepotism, corruption, sexual harassment, or murder. We’re not supposed to speed when we drive, ride our bicycles on the sidewalk, or lie on our taxes. I’m not even suggesting we are very wise about the rules we impose on ourselves.

In fact, I agree with Rebecca that the ways we evaluate each other are riddled with errors. But academic freedom means we have autonomy — give ourselves the law — when it comes to teaching and research. This freedom also comes with responsibilities: we need to teach on the topic of the course, for instance, not spend class time campaigning for our favorite politicians; we shouldn’t plagiarize or fabricate data; I even think we have a duty to try to ensure that our research has an impact on society.

Public funding bodies can obviously place restrictions on us about how we spend those funds. Maybe we’re not allowed to use grant funds to buy alcohol or take our significant others with us on research trips. Public funding bodies can decline to fund our research proposals. Academic freedom doesn’t say I’m entitled to a grant or that I get to spend the money on whatever I want when I get one.

But for public funding bodies to say that I have to publish my research under a CC-BY or equivalent license would cross the line and impinge on academic freedom. Telling me where and how to publish is something I let other academics do, because that’s consistent with academic freedom. I don’t always agree with their decisions. But the decisions of other academics are decisions we academics have to live with — or find a way to change. I want academics to change the rules about how we evaluate each other. Although it seems perfectly reasonable for funding bodies to lay out the rules for determining who gets grants and how money can be spent, I don’t want funding bodies dictating the rules about how we evaluate each other as part of the academic reward system, decisions about promotion, and such. Mandating a CC-BY license crosses that line into heteronomy.

 

Response to Plan S from Academic Researchers: Unethical, Too Risky!

Happy to have contributed to this. If you have comments, please post below the original at For Better Science!

For Better Science

By announcing a radical and controversial Plan S, the European Union has created facts on the ground with Open Access (OA), which is to become Gold standard (pun intended) by the year 2020. I am honoured to present you, exclusively on my site, an Appeal by several European scientists protesting against Plan S, which they fear will deprive them of quality journal venues and of international collaborative opportunities, while disadvantaging scientists whose research budgets preclude paying and playing in this OA league. The appeal authors around the Sweden-based scientist Lynn Kamerlin offer instead their own suggestions how to implement Open Science. 

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Camp Engineering Education AfterNext

This looks like fun!

Interdisciplinarity and evil – Understanding incommensurability

Totally brilliant, of course. 😉

Integration and Implementation Insights

Community member post by J. Britt Holbrook

J. Britt Holbrook (biography)

Incommensurability is a recognized problem in interdisciplinary research. What is it? How can we understand it? And what can we do about it?

What is it?

Incommensurability is best illustrated by a real example. I once co-taught a class with a colleague from another discipline. Her discipline depends on empirical analysis of data sets, literally on counting things. I, on the other hand, am a philosopher. We don’t count. One day she said to our students, “If you don’t have an empirical element in what you’re doing, it’s not research.” I watched the students start nodding, paused for half a beat, and volunteered, “So, I’ve never done any research in my entire career.” “That’s right!” she replied, immediately, yet hesitating somewhere between a discovery and a joke.

What this exchange reveals goes beyond a mere disagreement about…

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Thoughts from the Public Philosophy Network 2018 Conference

First, I’ve been away from my own blog for far too long. My apologies. Second, no more ‘Press This’?! Ugh. So, here is a LINK to the full program of PPN 2018.

Most of these thoughts were generated during the workshop run by Paul Thompson on day 1 on ‘Evaluating Public Philosophy as Academic Scholarship’. This issue is important for everyone who would like to see public philosophy succeed; but it is vitally important for those of us on the tenure track, since not being able to evaluate public philosophy as academic scholarship often means that it is reduced to a ‘service’ activity. Service, of course, is seen as even less important than teaching, which is often seen as less important than research. This hierarchy may be altered at small liberal arts colleges or others that put special emphasis on teaching. Generally speaking, though, one’s research rules in tenure decisions. I’ve never heard, or even heard of, any advice along the lines of ‘Do more teaching and publish less’ or ‘make sure you get on more committees or peer review more journal manuscripts’. Whereas ‘Just publish more’ is something I hear frequently.

So, it’s vitally important to be able to evaluate public philosophy as academic scholarship.

I want to add that, although many of these ideas were not my own and came from group discussion, I am solely responsible for the way I put them here. I may mess up, but no one else should be blamed for my mistakes. What follows isn’t quite the ‘Survival Guide’ that Michael O’Rourke suggested developing. Instead, it is a list of things I (and perhaps others) would like to see coming from PPN. (This may change what PPN is, of course. Can a network that meets once in while provide these things?)

We need:

  1. A statement on the value of public philosophy as academic scholarship. [EDIT: The expression of this need came up at the workshop, but no one there mentioned that such a statement already exists HERE from the APA.  Thanks to Jonathan Ellis and Kelly Parker for help in finding it! Apologies to APA for my ignorance.]
  2. A list of scholarly journals that are public philosophy friendly (i.e., where one can submit and publish work that includes public philosophy). The list would need to be curated so that new journals can be added and old ones removed when they fit or don’t fit the bill.
  3. A list of tools for making the case for the value of public philosophy. I have in mind things like altmetrics (see HERE or HERE or HERE), but it could also include building capacity among a set of potential peers who could serve as reviewers for public philosophy scholarship.
  4. Of course, developing a cohort of peers will mean developing a set of community standards for what counts as good public philosophy. I wouldn’t want that imposed from above (somewhere?) and think this will arise naturally if we are able to foster the development of the community.
  5. Some sort of infrastructure for networking. It’s supposedly a network, right? Is there anywhere people can post profiles?
  6. A repository of documents related to promotion and tenure in public philosophy. Katie Plaisance described how she developed a memorandum of understanding detailing the fact that her remarkably collaborative work deserved full credit as research, despite the fact that she works in a field that seems to value sole-authorship to the detriment of collaborative research. Katie was awesome and said she would share that document with me. But what if she (or everyone) who did smart and cool things like this to help guarantee their ability to do public philosophy had a central repository where all these documents could be posted for everyone to view and use? What if departments that have good criteria for promotion and tenure — criteria that allow for or even encourage public philosophy as scholarship — could post them on such a repository as resources for others?
  7. Leadership! Developing and maintaining these (and no doubt others I’ve missed) resources will require leadership, and maybe even money.

I’d be interested in thoughts on this list, including things you think should be added to it.

On Rubrics

Faculty Development

This semester I’m attending a series of Faculty Development Workshops at NJIT designed to assist new faculty with such essentials as teaching, grant writing, publishing, and tenure & promotion.

I’m posting here now in hopes of getting some feedback on a couple of rubrics I developed after attending the second such workshop.

I’m having students give group presentations in my course on Sports, Technology, and Society, and I was searching for ways to help ensure that all members contributed to the group presentation, as well as to differentiate among varying degrees of contribution. Last Tuesday’s workshop focused on assessment, with some treatment of the use of rubrics for both formative and summative assessment. I did a bit more research on my own, and here’s what I’ve come up with.

First, I developed a two-pronged approach. I want to be able to grade the presentation as a whole, as well as each individual’s contribution to that presentation. I decided to make the group presentation grade worth 60% and the individual contribution grade worth 40% of the overall presentation grade.

Second, I developed the group presentation rubric. For this, I owe a debt to several of the rubrics posted by the Eberly Center at Carnegie Mellon University. I found the rubrics for the philosophy paper and the oral presentation particularly helpful. I am thinking about using this rubric both for formative evaluation (to show the students what I expect), as well as for summative evaluation (actually grading the presentations).

Third, I developed the individual peer assessment rubric. I would actually have the students anonymously fill out one of these for each of their fellow group members. For this rubric, I found a publication from the University of New South Wales to be quite helpful (especially Table 2).

I’d be quite interested in constructive feedback on this approach.

Chatham House Rule | Chatham House

Will be attending a meeting under the Chatham House Rule over the next few days. I’m allowed to report what’s said, as long as I don’t give away who said it. I wonder whether someone would be able to guess that I said something by what was said. I think that might even be a goal of mine — to make sure my voice is recognizable.

The Chatham House Rule originated at Chatham House with the aim of providing anonymity to speakers and to encourage openness and the sharing of information. It is now used throughout the world as an aid to free discussion.

Source: Chatham House Rule | Chatham House