Scholarly Communication eBook

Our recently-concluded social justice topic series “Scholarly Communication in the Digital Era for the Public Good” is now available as an eBook.

Scholarly Communication in the Digital Era for the Public Good

Sch Comm

As we’ve done before with “Imagining New York City After Stop-and-Frisk” and “From Punishment to Public Health,” we curated a topic series – blog posts and multimedia content, like podcasts, around a specific topic – then compiled them into an ebook. In each one, we feature guests and highlight work here across traditional silos of academia, activism and journalism and media.

In the 20th century, scholars communicated within relatively small fields of other experts and did so primarily through monographs and peer-reviewed journal articles. Those works of scholarship were discoverable because they were indexed and sorted into card catalogs and bound reference manuals.

These analog forms of scholarly communication are now joined by new modes of digital expression that augment and occasionally supplant earlier forms.  In this topic series, we explore changes in the modes and emphases of scholarly communication, examining the shift from book- and journal-centric academic publishing to open access hybrids and alternatives, including film and video.

We also explore the ways that social media can serve scholars to connect their work with wider audiences, including non-academic readers, activists, journalists and engaged citizens. We examine scholars’ responsibilities to shape and reflect public understandings, and what academics do to contribute fully to efforts to enhance the public good.

We encourage you to read, re-use, re-mix and share this eBook with fellow scholars, activists, journalists, and citizens.  If you’d like to reach out, you can find us on Twitter @JustPublics365, Facebook or email us directly at justpublics365@gmail.com.

Open Scholarship for Open Education

The promise of massive, open online courses is that they would be available to anyone, anywhere, at anytime, and that could be revolutionary.

Unfortunately, these attempts at open education are mostly not that open.  This is especially true when it comes to reading materials which are severely limited because of copyright restrictions. In spring, 2013 when we piloted our massively participatory open, online course (#InQ13), we worked with librarians to find and use legitimately open access reading materials. As it turned out, this involved a lot of work on the part of some heroic librarians.

This presentation from the CUNY IT Conference, 2013 explains some of the nuances of that process:

If you’d like to read about the nuts and bolts of this in more detail, here is a self-archived, pre-print version of our paper “Open Scholarship for Open Education,” co-authored by Shawn(ta) Smith, Polly Thistlethwaite and me.

Social Media Toolkit

We initially released our JustPublics@365 Social Media Toolkit in December and now we’re pleased to announce you can now read or download it on ISSUU.

ISSUU 2Many academics want to engage in research and produce knowledge that informs progressive social change. Digital media technologies are making it easier for academics to connect their research with people, community groups, and movements who are also trying to bring about social change. Yet, most academics are perplexed about how to share their research with publics beyond the academy.

JustPublics@365 is here to help meet this unmet need, connecting academics and social change agents through digital media for the public good. Our toolkit, available in multiple e-book formats, is an easy way to get started.

Get it three ways:

Engaging Academics and Reimagining Scholarly Communication for the Public Good: A Report

We are pleased to announce the release of “Engaging Academics and Reimagining Scholarly Communication for the Public Good: A Report,” which summarizes the work we accomplished in 2013.

JP365 Report Cover

The report highlights:

Much of the work we produced is available on our website and is all licensed under Creative Commons for reuse (CC BY-NC-SA). We encourage you to incorporate these resources into your own scholarship, activism and teaching.  Please join our email list to stay up-to-date on our latest work!

You can download a PDF of the report here or read it online.

Guide to Good Presentations

One of the traditional forms of presenting academic work is to read a paper. Literally. I’ve seen this done for years. A scholar will stand and read a paper aloud to a group of seemingly intelligent people, as if the mark of an intellectual is how much boredom one can endure.  It’s dreadfully dull as an information delivery mechanism.

This form of presenting academic work has changed to include the use of slides. The problem is that this is often just a glorified version of reading a paper, with far too much text and charts crammed into slides that are impossible to read. This is sometimes referred to as “death by powerpoint.”

We can do better than this. And, indeed, if we’re interested in communicating scholarly ideas with a wider public, we need to get better at this.  Here are some resources for how to do this.

Guidelines for Good Presentation Slides 

Concluding Our Series on Scholarly Communication

Back in February, we began this series exploring scholarly communication.

Printed, Bound Journals on Shelf

(Image source)

What does it mean to be a scholar now?  In the eight weeks of the series, we’ve had thoughtful contributions from experts discussing a wide array of areas related to the changing landscape of what it means to be an academic in the 21st century. The topics we’ve discussed here include:

  • being a public intellectual;
  • responses to Nick Kristof’s critique of academics as not public enough;
  • the convergence of social science and journalism;
  • the perils and promises of open access publishing;
  • conversations about the Future of Higher Education with and around Cathy Davidson’s meta-MOOC;
  • documentaries as a multimedia form that incorporates scholarship, activism for social justice and art;
  • the way measures of ‘impact’ are shifting and how those measures can be used to further social justice.

Next, we’ll compile all these posts into one, easy-to-download, completely free e-book for you to read, use and share.

American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs

“You don’t choose the times you live in but you do choose who you want to be and how you want to think.” This quote from Grace Lee Boggs nicely captures the essence of her life, as does a new documentary.

Am Rev film header

Activist, writer, and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs has spent more than 70 years involved in the African-American movement, encompassing housing rights, labor, civil rights, Black Power, environmental justice, and urban community development. Boggs, a Chinese-American woman with a Ph.D. in philosophy, makes an unusual portrait of an activist in the Black struggle, but as Angela Davis notes, “Grace has made more contributions to the Black struggle than most Black people have.”

American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, a documentary directed by Grace Lee (no relation to Boggs) portrays the story of this remarkable woman’s long tenure as an activist. The film was recently screened in New York City, which I attended. The film chronicles Boggs’ lifetime of activism and demonstrates the philosophical threads that weave throughout.

When she completed a Ph.D. in philosophy from Bryn Mawr College in 1940, there was no place for a woman of color in the academy, so she took a low-wage job at the University of Chicago Philosophy Library. Her involvement in the African American movement began when she moved to a low-income, primarily black neighborhood in Chicago. Unable to afford rent, she lived in a co-worker’s rat-infested basement in a poor, primarily African-American neighborhood. It was there that she witnessed first-hand the impact of urban poverty. She joined a tenants’ rights organization, launching a life of activism that touched on every major social movement in the U.S. in the latter half of the 20th Century into the present, compiling a thick FBI file along the way.

Grace-Lee-Boggs

She moved to Detroit in 1953 with her husband Jimmy Boggs, an African-American auto worker and fellow social activist and organizer. They stayed in Detroit as factories closed, unemployment rates soared, white residents moved out of the city, and municipal resources dried up. She remains there today, continuing to engage in creating change through community engagement through Detroit Summer, a multi-generational urban gardening program she founded.

Philosophically, Boggs continually emphasizes the importance of discourse, as well as action, in working for social change. She has said that she often feels that social movements overestimate action and underestimate the role of reflection in creating lasting change and argues that social change needs to be a two-sized transformation: revolution and evolution. “Revolution is evolution toward something much grander in terms of what it means to be a human being,” she said, “just being outraged does not constitute revolution.”

Am Rev book

Boggs puts scholarly communication for the public good into practice everyday by engaging in practical philosophy on the ground through dialogue with others and dogged, dedication to the lengthy process of engaging in community-building and creating social change. Through dialogue and reflection her views and approaches have altered over time, but what remains is her commitment to the view that engagement and thought are what push us forward in our efforts toward greater equality. 

Boggs makes a compelling subject for a documentary, a media which brings the story of this scholar-activist to a broader audience and gives us a better sense of the breadth of her work. This film does an exemplary job placing Boggs in a historical social context, and even provides brief, accessible lessons on Hegel and Marx. Against this background, Boggs’s voice, her perspective on social change and the consistency of her message are heard loud and clear.

Reach, Impact and Scholarly Communication Now

Academics working today are laboring in a rapidly changing landscape of scholarly communication.

When acclaimed Internet researcher danah boyd published her recent book, “It’s Complicated,” about the social lives of networked teens with the highly reputable academic house Yale University Press, she also put a free PDF of the book up on her own website.  She wrote this about that decision:

“…I didn’t publicize this when I did so. For those who are curious as to why, I want to explain. And I want you to understand the various issues at play for me as an author and a youth advocate.

I didn’t write this book to make money. I wrote this book to reach as wide of an audience as I possibly could. This desire to get as many people as engaged as possible drove every decision I made throughout this process. One of the things that drew me to Yale was their willingness to let me put a freely downloadable CC-licensed copy of the book online on the day the book came out. I knew that trade presses wouldn’t let a first time author pull that one off. …But what I started to realize is that when people purchase the book, they signal to outside folks that the book is important. This is one of the reasons that I asked people who value this book to buy it. Your purchasing decisions help me signal to the powers that be that this book is important, that the message in the book is valuable.” (emphasis in the original)

It’s an important and worthwhile book, and you should buy it and/or download it, depending on what you can manage. What I so appreciate about what she’s done here is to find a way to thread the very thin needle of open access and a prominent, scholarly book.

It's Complicated - book cover

Elsewhere in that post, she describes her experience with the machinery of publishing, and it goes like this:

“If you haven’t published a book before, it’s pretty unbelievable to see all of the machinery that goes into getting the book out once the book exists in physical form. News organizations want to promote books that will be influential or spark a conversation, but they are also anxious about having their stories usurped by others. Booksellers make risky decisions about how many copies they think they can sell ahead of time and order accordingly. (And then there’s the world of paying for placement which I simply didn’t do.) Booksellers’ orders – as well as actual presales – are influential in shaping the future of a book, just like first weekend movie sales matter. For example, these sales influence bestseller and recommendation lists. These lists are key to getting broader audiences’ attention (and for getting the attention of certain highly influential journalistic enterprises). And, as an author trying to get a message out, I realized that I needed to engage with this ecosystem and I needed all of these actors to believe in my book.”

Her experience with publishing is quite different from the traditional academic’s experience, but then that might be expected as danah boyd is not a traditional academic.  If you’re not familiar, danah boyd is something of a celebrity among folks who study the Internet, works as a Principle Researcher at Microsoft, and is starting her own research shop called Data & Society. Her work is also on two areas  – the Internet and teenagers — that has wide public appeal.

The reality for most traditional academics is that they produce “Long, complex monographs are expensive to produce yet sell only 150 to 300 copies.”

The news is even worse for academic papers published in traditional journals. A study at Indiana University found that:

“as many as 50% of papers are never read by anyone other than their authors, referees and journal editors.” That same study concluded that “some 90% of papers that have been published in academic journals are never cited.”

This is a certain kind of impact, to be sure, if who you are trying to have an impact on is an elite group of specialists in your field.  But this model of publishing is never going to have much of a wider reach.

As Anthony DiMaggio, writing for CounterPunch, notes about his own field of Political Science, that it is dominated by “over-specialization and obscurity” with scholars who carve out “extremely narrow niches” that have “no practical utility.”  DiMaggio minces no words as he calls out social science academics broadly for a lack of relevance and what he deems as cowardice:

“Lack of relevance to the political world doesn’t make one’s research interesting or worthwhile, but this message falls on deaf ears in insulated places like high ed social science departments.  A main reason for scholars’ contempt for political advocacy is cowardice.  The vast majority of scholars have been socialized their entire lives to believe they must always remain ‘objective,’ and that to take a position on an issue would be heretical.  Most scholars operate according to a pack mentality – fearful of engaging in unconventional behavior.  By producing useful real world research, one is challenging the sacred rules governing ‘objective’ social science that celebrate esoteric research agendas. To step outside that mold would be to endanger one’s prestige, and risk that one will be seen as unprofessional in colleagues’ minds. Such pressures ensure that academics remain part of the problem, not the solution. They fail by design to challenge the political and economic power status quo and injustices that occur around them.”

There’s something to what DiMaggio says here, but I don’t know if it’s cowardice as much as institutional reward structures.  Or, perhaps those are two sides of the same coin.

The legacy model of scholarly communication values writing obscure books and papers for tiny audiences makes sense within a certain kind of reward structure. Within legacy academia, the people that sit on hiring, tenure and promotion committees still place value on at things like ‘impact factor’ of little-read journals and the fading prestige of boutique publishers with minuscule runs.

However, the appearance of digitally fluent, hybrid scholars – like danah boyd – who are more interested in reach and impact on a broader public, point to a new kind of reward structure, one that values influence beyond a small group of specialists.

The real challenge, I think, comes when a researcher that doesn’t have the star-power or following of a danah boyd wants to write about something that’s much less appealing than what teenagers are doing on the Internet.  What kind of broad reach or impact can a relatively unknown scholar writing about a topic that’s unpopular expect to have? This remains an open question in this changing landscape of scholarly communication, but it seems to me that the Internet offers a set of opportunities to reach beyond the conventional audiences for academic research.

Still, even when academics use social media there’s little to indicate they are doing so in order to reach a broad, general audience. Indeed, we know from recent research that even when academics use social media, such as blogging, they mostly don’t do this to engage with a broader public. In a recent study of 100 academics blogs, researchers found that most academics are blogging for professionals peers, rather than for the public in any general sense: 73% of the blogs analyzed were geared toward other academics, while just 38% were designed for general readers.

I can’t help but wonder how different academic research would look if we were guided by danah boyd’s goal: “I wrote this book to reach as wide of an audience as I possibly could.”  

The counter to this, of course, and one that I often hear in talks I give about this work, is something along the lines of: “well, small publishers and journals are providing a valuable service for getting academic work published that wouldn’t ever be interesting to a wide, public audience. This work is often too complex, theoretical, esoteric, important, too politically unpopular for a wide audience, so we must rely on the obscure publishing options to keep doing what we do as academics.”

There is something to this argument.  For example, I write about racism – a thoroughly unpopular topic in the US.  My academic books have done ok, but they will never be as popular as the work that danah boyd does.  It’s also the case that academic presses have published books of mine that probably would not have been picked up by trade presses for a general, public audience. Still, what I also know to be true is that the work I do on racism has gotten a much bigger following from my various social media outlets than it has from the books and articles I’ve published.

The skepticism about “reach” for academic work is built on a misconception that there won’t be an audience for that work. In fact, I think there are multiple audiences, varied publics and a wide citizenry that’s really interested in more substantive contributions about the state of the world than they’re currently getting.  And, I think academics can step up and make a contribution, if we’ll begin to re-think what scholarly communication is now.

 

Creating Change with Storytelling

The way we measure impact is changing, whether the “we” is academics, grant makers or activists. Recently, I wrote here about “transactional” and “transformational” metrics.  Transactional metrics are things we can quantify and count, including altmetrics.

Transformational metrics have to do with those qualitative changes that are more difficult to measure, such as collaborative projects, changing the conversation about a topic, or really creating social or cultural changes. In order to measure these kinds of changes, what I argue is that we need more kinds of storytelling.  We do this already in academia, when we craft recommendations, tenure letters, or make our case to a committee for why someone should be promoted. What we do is tell a story about the impact this scholar has has on the field, or the world.

And, storytelling is a crucial part of what makes us human. We have a deep, human desire both to have an impact on the world and to tell stories.

Around the campfire

Given that I’ve been saying this for a while now here, I was delighted to come across this Storytelling & Social Change: A Strategy Guide for Grantmakers (pdf) by Paul VanDeCarr.

Story Guide Cover

This guide compiles the wisdom of more than 75 storytellers, media-makers, community activists and foundation staffers into a comprehensive overview that’s the first of its kind. It’s aimed at grant makers, but of use to other change makers as well.

In a recent post, VanDeCarr notes other, less obvious, applications of storytelling that can create real change, such as Heart & Soulor Marshall Ganz’s “Public Narrative” method, adapted by the 2008 Obama campaign. There are also projects designed to educate the public such as Voice of Witness does with human rights or to advocate a cause such as the grantees of the Health Media Initiative of the Open Society Foundation.

VanDeCarr also highlights Nation Inside, a project he works on, which hosts a web platform for activists working on mass incarceration to organize around personal stories. VanDeCarr finds that more and more organizations are integrating storytelling into their daily work as a more effective way to meet the demands of the massive challenges they’re facing.

Engaging with communities to create innovate social change is finding its way into some universities as well. For example, in 2006 the University of Minnesota established an Office for Public Engagement (OPE) to further the integration of public engagement into the University’s core mission of research and teaching.  Part of the conversation that’s happening at University of Minnesota’s OPE includes a discussion about metrics, in other words, how do you tell if you’re successful at “public engagement.” And, sure enough, under their menu item “Impact” are Stories and Videos.

There will be a time, in the not too distant future, in which young scholars, grant seekers and activists, will be compiling videos and multimedia portfolios to tell stories that illustrate their impact on the world. Or, perhaps that future is happening now.

 

Queer Internet Studies Workshop, April 4th

On April 4, JustPublics@365 is co-sponsoring the Queer Internet Studies Workshop, which we (Jessa Lingel and Jack Gieseking) are organizing. The workshop (other co-sponsors includeThe Brown Institute for Media Innovation and Microsoft Research), is aligned with the vision of JustPublics@365 in that it brings together academics, activists and artists around a particular topic. The focus of our workshop will be on the topic of technology and queerness."Los Mismos Derechos" Gay Rights march, Latin America

(Image source: Queer Legislation in Latin America)

Why technology and queerness?

Prefixes like inter-cross- and trans- are deeply familiar to people in queer and feminist communities. In our own research about Internet technologies, we constantly struggle to capture both the benefits and drawbacks of using these same technologies in everyday life.

On the one hand, online technologies are an important tool for historically marginalized groups (like LGBTQ people) to connect across geographic distances, to share resources and to work for social change.

On the other, there are many examples of terrible harm caused by online interactions, ranging from the ability to make anonymous threats to policing images of bodies. Here again, queer folks are frequently the targets of such attacks.

Given that queer folks (like other marginalized groups) can both benefit from and be harmed by online technologies, it’s productive and politically important to think through issues of ethical design, the activist potential of online platforms and opportunities for making queer lives better.

Social network visualization of queer friendship networks(Image: The interwoven and interdependent connections between the 7,855 members of the Facebook group, Queer Exchange, as of December 1st, 2013. Source:  Jack Gieseking CC BY-NC.)

With the QIS workshop, we want to create a space where artists and activists can share their work with each other, where academics can reach across disciplinary boundaries and make connections, were people can learn about institutional resources, technologies and tools that can support their existing projects and foster new ones.  In order to come up with topics of conversation, we asked some of the folks who’ve signed up to attend the workshop to share their key questions about how online technologies both help and hinder queer lives.  Here’s a selection of what they think are the pressing issues in thinking about technology and queerness:

  • Thinking about databases, data mining, subjectivity and normativity, particularly as it relates to surveillance
  • Broadening our understanding of queer politics to include class- and race-conscious politics that prioritize social and economic justice
  • Getting away from the academic practice of identifying communities on the Internet solely to prove that they’re there to an academic audience
  • Thinking about the use of mobile technologies by homeless LGBTQ youth
  • Using the lived experience of LGBTQ people to rethink tech policy

We’re excited about the range of ideas that have surfaced so far, and those that are bound to come up on April 4th. For more details, check out our website.

Hope to see you in April!

~ This post was co-authored by Jessa Lingel and jack Gieseking. Jessa Lingel is a post doctoral research fellow at Microsoft Research, you can learn more about her work here

 Jack Gieseking is Postdoctoral Fellow in the Digital and Computational Studies Initiative at Bowdoin College, and co-editor of The People, Place, and Space Reader (Routledge 2014).

Tarnished Gold: The Tale of Bohannon, DOAJ, and the Predators

Many of us may remember the Sokal hoax of 1996. Alan Sokal, a physics professor, successfully published a hoax article in Social Text in order to ridicule humanities scholarship.  More recently, last fall, John Bohannon, a journalist for Science, sent out a significantly scientifically flawed “spoof” article about a wonder drug. He sent the article to 304 open access journals. The majority of these journals published the “spoof” article. Why did he do this? He wanted to prove that open access journals offer very little or no peer-review. Many of the journals were listed in the main portal for open access journals, the Directory of Open Access Journals aka DOAJ.

The first question to ask is why so many open access journals accepted the sham article. The answer, although not obvious, is that there is a dark side to open access: predatory publishers.

dracula

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/25/Dracula_1958_c.jpg

Predatory publishers have always existed in various guises. Most academics are familiar with the vanity-press style monograph publishers that exist to help authors get their work into print. Even in commercial journal publishing unethical practices are not atypical (try googling “fake Elsevier journals“).  Junket-y conferences are another face of predatory publishing.

Nefarious publishers have always existed but the new twist comes with technology. Anyone can install a free publishing platform and call themselves a journal publisher. This is great but also problematic. New “gold” open access journals can be launched easily. Some open access journals charge authors article processing charges to help cover costs. This is most common in the STEM fields where authors build these fees into their grants and/or can get funding from their universities.

As in the past, there is good money to be made on the backs of desperate and/or naïve scholars rushing towards tenure and promotion. Now the process is as simple as submitting a paper online.

peer-review-in-a-week

And no revisions to worry about! Visa, MasterCard, or PayPal, please.

Predatory publishers have mushroomed, spinning off vaguely named and copycat titled journals. Spam emails lure in new fish.

Hoe's_six-cylinder_press

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/03/Hoe%27s_six-cylinder_press.png

Many of us first learned about predatory publishers from a New York Times piece about Jeffrey Beall, an academic librarian, and his crusade to save us from the predators by listing them on his blog. Beall’s “list” was the A to Z of what we knew about predatory publishing. And then came Bohannon.

Bohannon’s sting caused a firestorm, but his method was flawed. Why not also probe how many toll-access publishers would accept the article? Bohannon’s conclusions were dubious–the majority of journals in the Directory of Open Access Journals actually rejected the article and a majority on Beall’s list accepted the article. Yet in the aftermath, there has been considerable hand-wringing. The question was now:

Who is policing open access?
Those creepy predatory journals are giving open access a bad name!
 

In response, I recommend that everyone read “On the mark? Responses to a sting“ as well as librarian Barbara Fister’s thoughtful comments on the issue.  There are also helpful organizations including OASPA, COPE, and SPARC Europe Seal for Open Access Journals in addition to the broader SPARC organization.

But what happens when a discovery tool takes on a bigger role?

DOAJ tightened inclusion standards after the sting and now offers a seal of approval. The new standards are not without flaws:  (paid) registration with CrossRef is difficult for small and/or one-off open access publishers. However, DOAJ should be lauded for their efforts to keep the predatory publishers at bay. At least 114 journals were removed from DOAJ after the Bohannon scandal.

But Dorothea Salo in the aforementioned group commentary “On the mark?” notes:

This is progress, but a cursory examination of the new DOAJ criteria shows that they are crediting good practices such as peer review, rather than punishing bad practices such as email spam, falsely-listed editors, and junkety conferences. … Its program simply does not suffice to eliminate all the scammers and scammy practices.

It’s still too early to tell if DOAJ’s efforts will make a difference. We need much more public education about gold open access and how it differs entirely from predatory publishing. The recent scandal involving Springer and IEEE publishing 120 “gibberish” papers is further evidence that scholarly communications based on peer-review needs reform. Is open peer-review the answer? Are predatory publishers just an expression of a transitional period and will they wither as open access grows to the stage where it is widely understood and embraced?

GIDEON’S ARMY Receives Prestigious Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize

This week, on the anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, The Ridenhour Prizes announced that GIDEON’S ARMY, directed and produced by Dawn Porter, will receive the 2014 Documentary Film Prize.

The Ridenhour Prizes recognize and encourage those who persevere in acts of truth-­telling that protect the public interest, promote social justice, or illuminate a more just vision of society.

Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) is the landmark Supreme Court decision that unanimously ruled that states are required to provide counsel in criminal cases to represent defendants unable to afford to pay for their own attorneys. GIDEON’S ARMY follows three young public defenders in the Deep South — Travis Williams, Brandy Alexander, and June Hardwick — as they struggle with staggering caseloads, long hours and low pay, trying to balance their commitment to public service with a criminal justice system strained to the breaking point. Here’s the trailer (:45):

In reflecting upon its decision, the awards committee said, “We are thrilled to have selected Gideon’s Army which celebrates the legion of idealistic young public defenders who are fighting for equal justice for the disenfranchised within our broken and biased legal system, while struggling to stay one step ahead of poverty themselves.”

brandyclient

(One of the attorneys featured in the film, Brandy, with a client.
Image source.)

GIDEON’S ARMY highlights the work of public defenders while also exposing the subtle and not so subtle ways in which the justice system is complicit in the mismanagement of indigent defense. Rather than taking their chances with a court appointed lawyer — who may have hundreds of other cases — increasing numbers of defendants agree to plea deals or sentences outside of a trial. As a result, between 90 to 95 percent of defendants plead guilty and never receive the right to counsel as guaranteed by the sixth amendment to the Constitution. This disconnect between the promise of Gideon v. Wainwright and the reality of the law’s implementation has clearly contributed to prison over-crowding, violence, and a reduced chance of rehabilitation.

study of the 100 most populous counties in the United States found that 82 percent of indigent clients were handled by public defenders. In the most recent year that numbers are available, a mere 964 public defender offices nationwide had to handle nearly 6 million indigent defense cases.

“I am honored and so very grateful to receive the Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize,” said director Dawn Porter. “The award will help amplify the critical issues Gideon’s Army exposes, and further share the harrowing stories of America’s overworked public defenders with audiences across the world. Ron Ridenhour was a man committed to truth-telling and correcting injustice. My hope is to advance these same ideals, by using Gideon’s Army to educate audiences, spark civic debate, and ultimately advance constructive solutions to the problems facing America’s criminal justice system. On behalf of the 15,000 public defenders and their clients, and with special thanks to the wonderful lawyers of Gideon’s Promise who are the inspiration and heart of the film, I thank the Ridenhour Award Committee.”

We here at JustPublics@365, congratulate Dawn Porter on this prestigious award. We’re also pleased to have this opportunity to share our recent interview with her.


 

GIDEON’S ARMY will be awarded the 2014 Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize on Wednesday, April 30th, from 12pm to 2pm at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. This event is open to press.

 

 

The Unhappy Divorce of Journalism and the Social Sciences

Just about the worst thing you can say about a piece of sociological writing is that it’s “journalistic.” The term is often used as a criticism, interchangeable at times with “descriptive”, “thin,” or just plain superficial.

There’s good reason many us have little confidence in journalism: the closer a story comes to our own experience, the easier it is to see its flaws. Take, for example, the article about the proliferation of “hooking up” on college campuses that appeared in The New York Times a few years ago.

Image from NYT "Sex on Campus"(Source: New York Times, “Sex on Campus”)

The story claimed that hooking up—sex outside of relationships—is commonplace on college campuses, and is being pursued as actively by women as men. On the basis of interviews with a small number of women at elite schools like the University of Pennsylvania, the article claimed that busy women students didn’t have time for full-blown relationships, so they opted for more superficial sexual liaisons.

It was quickly denounced by sociologists, who charged that the reporter based on claims on flimsy evidence. It was even more roundly criticized on the Internet by college students who felt that the article’s generalizations were unfair or inaccurate. Many of their classmates were indeed pursuing long-term relationships, some argued. A veritable cottage industry of commentary cropped up alongside the article, showing the press’ power to incite and engage. (See, for example http://goo.gl/vg57t.)

Journalism Dictionary Image(Image Source)

“Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story,” journalists frequently joke. And in fact, for journalists, who must hook the reader in and keep their attention in order to hold onto their jobs, storytelling is an end in itself. Since their audiences are reading for the sheer pleasure of good writing, they write, at least partly, to entertain, and to encourage readers to keep reading.

This is how George Saunders, the award-winning author of nonfiction and short stories, puts it:

“I’m essentially trying to impersonate a first-time reader who has to pick up the story and at every point has to decide whether to continue reading.” If an “intelligent person picks it up, they’ll keep going. It’s an intimate thing between equals. I’m not above you talking down. We’re on the same level. You’re just as smart, just as worldly, just as curious as I am.”

Academic books, in contrast, tend to be written for a finite group of other experts, conveying an argument which is typically based on  an extended research project. Writing a first book, which often emerges out of a dissertation, you may envision your audiences as particular professors on a tenure committee. Later on, you’re probably addressing experts in your field. While the writing should be persuasive, academics don’t particularly care if they’re holding the reader’s attention or not; they assume that what they say is inherently interesting, and that their potential readers are sufficiently intrigued by the topic to read on —even if the writing is less than scintillating.

Faced with these differences of purpose and audience, some would suggest that we leave storytelling to the journalists, and sociologizing to the sociologists. Let journalists speak to the people, while let sociologists keep working in the trenches, doing the hard work of data collection and analysis. As a graduate student of mine recently told me, “Sociology is supposed to be serious and scientific, not entertaining and story-like.”

Sociology and journalism, he was taught, are as different as cows and horses.

Horse and Cow(Image Source)

Early in their graduate school careers, students learn that professionalization means performing the role of sociologist, and differentiating oneself from those who value good writing for their own sake, and who write to entertain—writers of fiction and nonfiction. Rather than writing pleasurable prose, they are supposed to be advancing sociological knowledge.

But in fact, sociology and journalism have long existed in relation to one another. For one thing, sociologists know what they know partly through the media. And of course social scientists rely, at times, upon the media to disseminate our ideas to broader publics.

Likewise, journalists regularly mine sociological work for insights on everything from young adults’ changing pathways to adulthood, to the question of whether equality diminishes sexual desire, and sociologists are used to being consulted as experts for that telling quote on a variety of subjects. The best journalists do even more: browsing the web and journals for story ideas. They regularly raid our work, popularizing it for others to consume—at times without citing us.

Sociologists and journalists also have in common the fact that they’re both in the business of producing representations of social reality— stories– accounts of connected events that unfolds through time, which have characters that interact with another in different settings. Journalists and sociologists have different strategies of storytelling, to be sure. When journalists tell stories about social phenomena, such as hooking up on college campuses and other social trends, they tend to tell them through the lives of individuals—they show the reader what is going on, painting portraits of scenes and characters. Sociologists, in contrast, tell—they make arguments, drawing on data— numbers if we are quantitative sociologist, or vignettes and thick description if we are ethnographers.

But while we sociologists have been busy honing our rigorous methodological skills and ways of telling, we’ve ceded the field of translation, which requires showing, to smart journalists. By failing to discuss our work in compelling ways, we limit its impact, placing a wall, in effect, between our work and potential audiences.

Rather than deride “popular sociology” which addresses larger publics, in book-length works of general interest as well as shorter articles and essays –it’s time to reclaim it as something to aspire to. Popular sociology offers the general reader a sociological take on something he or she may be curious about. It embodies a hybrid style of writing, bridging journalism and sociology by showing and telling, painting a portrait of a group, a scene, or a trend that unfolds over time, offering thick description while analyzing what is occurring beneath the surface of events.

~ Arlene Stein is Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University, and editor of Contexts Magazine. You can follow her at twitter @SteinArlene. She blogs at https://steinarlene.wordpress.com.

Getting Academic Research into the Public Sphere: The Rundown on Repositories

A big focus of JustPublics@365 is getting scholarship into the public sphere. But, how do scholars do that? What, precisely, is the mechanism that academics are supposed to use to share their work with a wider audience?

Open access journals — that is, journals that make their articles freely available online, immediately and permanently — are certainly one way to do this. You may have heard the buzz about the Nobel prize winner who publicly rejected “the tyranny of the luxury journals” and committed himself to supporting, as an author and an editor, open access journals.

Open Access is Not Only about Journals

Discussion about open access often focuses exclusively on open access journals, and often on the extreme ends of the quality spectrum: the really excellent journals and the really awful ones. There’s a lot of fascinating and nuanced and ever-evolving stuff to say about open access journals, but there’s a whole lot more to open access. And today I’m going to talk about open access repositories, freely accessible online databases of articles and other works.

What Are Open Access Repositories?

Thanks to Google (and the irrepressible urge to research health symptoms), you’ve almost certainly found and read materials in open access repositories, but you might not have realized that there was anything special about the sites hosting those document.

One reason open access repositories are special is that they’re created and maintained with long-term preservation in mind. They will persist, and offer persistent URLs to documents, much longer than most other sites. In particular, they will outlast authors’ personal web pages, which often disappear shortly after retirement, resignation, death, or failure to pay for domain name renewal. So, unlike most free web content, works in open access repositories aren’t just open access now and a year from now; they’re open access for a very long time to come — ideally, forever.

Types of Repositories

There is no single, universal open access repository, but that’s okay because Google and other tools search across many repositories and generally do a good job of finding what you’re looking for, wherever it may reside. Here are some of the different flavors of open access repositories:

  • Disciplinary repositories are repositories that welcome submissions in a certain field, regardless of the institutional home of the author(s). Some of the biggest and best-known disciplinary repositories are arXiv.org (for physics, math, computer science, and several other sciences), PubMed Central (for the biomedical sciences), and the Social Science Research Network, or SSRN (for the social sciences). One big benefit of disciplinary repositories is that they collect a large amount of related research in one place, so it’s often well worth a researcher’s time to go directly to the appropriate repository and browse or search for papers of interest. Of course, some disciplinary repositories are more robust than others, and, while there are many, there is not a repository for every field.
  • Institutional repositories are repositories hosted by an institution (usually a college or university) to make available the works of its researchers. Successful examples include the repositories at MIT and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. One big benefit of institutional repositories is that they accept all kinds of documents — slideshows, posters, speaker’s notes, images, etc. — whereas many disciplinary repositories limit themselves to articles/papers.
  • Commercial networking/profile sites, such as Academia.edu, ResearchGate, and Mendeley, allow researchers to create profile pages and upload their works. These sites have helped many researchers (including those who don’t have an appropriate disciplinary repository or an institutional repository at their disposal) make their works open access, and have connected many others with those works. But the commercial nature of these sites make some worry about what’s being done with data about users and contributions, as well as about the longevity of the sites and the fate of the documents if the sites shut.

To explore the universe of repositories, visit OpenDOAR (Directory of Open Access Repositories) and ROAR (Registry of Open Access Repositories).

And here’s some really big news: The CUNY Graduate Center is in the process of rolling out its own repository — there’s almost nothing there yet, but soon it’ll have lots of papers, dissertations, master’s theses, and other works.  And here’s even bigger news: CUNY will soon be following suit with a university-wide repository!

GC Works

Sneak peek of the Graduate Center’s brand new institutional repository: Graduate Center Academic Works

Is All This Allowed? Isn’t It Pirating?

Sure, researchers can put all sorts of research output online. But what about their journal articles — aren’t a lot of journals commercial, and don’t journals require authors to transfer their copyright to the journal?

Yes, a lot of journals are for-profit enterprises, and yes, those journals almost always require authors to sign over their copyright. Nevertheless, a majority of journals allow authors to self-archive their articles (usually not the final PDF, but some version) in open access repositories. (Find out which journals allow what at SHERPA/RoMEO.)

So, yep, all this is allowed, and, nope, using repositories is not pirating!

Transactional and Transformational Measures of Impact

As we come to the end of the meta-MOOC #FutureEd conversations prompted by Cathy Davidson and our lunchtime interlocutors here at CUNY, I’m pondering how we measure the impact of such a course, and more broadly, the impact of the work we do as academics.

In a recent post at The Chronicle of Higher Ed, Douglas Howard considers the unfinished feeling of so much teaching in general:

Did Jim, who talked about becoming a therapist, go on to graduate school in psychology? Did Jessica, who argued so passionately in class against the death penalty, make it as a lawyer? We fill in the blanks about them based upon what we know (or think we know), and tell ourselves that their stories ended the way that we hoped.

Teaching, in this regard, is the great open-ended narrative, the romantic fragment, the perpetually unfinished symphony.

The fact is, we almost never know if a course we taught, or a book we wrote, or an article we labored over, has any impact on anyone else.

Mark McGuire has a thoughtful post at HASTAC about the difficulty in rating transformational experiences specifically in the context of a MOOC, such as the one on #FutureEd:

We rate hotels, music, live performances, movies, etc., so that others are able to make an informed decision about how to best invest their time and money. Rating and reviewing MOOCs seems like a sensible thing to do for similar reasons, and it would not be surprising to see such a practice develop. However, unlike a hotel or restaurant franchise, a living, changing, organic learning experience cannot be packaged, replicated, and sold to consumers who are looking for a satisfying (and predictable) product or service. It can’t offer the same experience to the same person twice, and one person’s experience may not be a good indicator of the experience another person will have. A transformational learning experience is like a good pot luck dinner party — you might have had the time of your life, but it can never be repeated.

I like the dinner party metaphor for teaching much better than the “unfinished symphony,” perhaps because I’m much more likely to attempt a dinner party than a symphony.  I do think that there is a kind of alchemy in teaching, and good dinner parties, that makes it easy to assemble the same people, elements and conditions but difficult to replicate magic when it happens.

It’s also difficult to think about how one might measure any of this. Unfortunately, to my way of thinking, the word “measure” has become synonymous with “quantify.”  When we think of measurement exclusively in terms of quantification and counting, we lose a great deal of the story of impact.

I want to suggest an alternative way of thinking about impact that includes qualitative measures. In the chart below, you’ll see a way of conceptualizing “transactional” measures – quantifiable things we can count, alongside “transformational” measure – qualitative measures, that are more difficult to count but represent more lasting change.

Transactional v. Transformational metrics

(Chart content from Bolder Advocacy, h/t gabriel sayegh.
Chart design by Emily Sherwood)

In this schema, transactional metrics include both traditional (or “legacy”) academic measures of impact such as citations, along with alternative measures (or “altmetrics”), such downloads, or mentions on social media. Quantitative, transactional measures of impact can also include lasting social change, such as changes to public policy.  One of the things I like about this conceptualization is that it illustrates the incremental change that altmetrics represent. In other words, altmetrics are just another way of counting things – downloads and social media mentions, rather than citations – but it’s still just counting things. Counting and quantification can tell us somethings, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

On the “transformational” side are those things that it’s difficult, perhaps even impossible to measure, but that are so crucial to doing work that has a lasting impact. These include identifying allies, building relationships, establishing collaborations, and co-creating projects. Ultimately, transformational work is about changing lives, changing the broader cultural narrative, and changing society in ways that make it more just and democratic for all. These kinds of transformations demand a different kind of metric, one that relies primarily storytelling.

How might this work in academia? Well, to some extent, it already does. 

To take the example of teaching, you may have gotten the advice – as I did – “save everything” for your tenure file. This advice often goes something like, “everytime a student sends you a thank you card, or writes you an email, or says, ‘this class made all the difference for me’ save that for your tenure file.” That’s part of how we ‘finish the symphony,’ to borrow Doug Howard’s metaphor, we get notes from students, we compile those into a narrative about our teaching. It’s impartial, to be sure, but it’s something. The comments that students add to teaching evaluations are another place we see that impact in narrative form, although these are so skewed by the context of actually sitting in the class that it misses the longer term impact of how that course may have changed someone.

For the diminishing few of us on the other side of the tenure-hurdle, think about those letters of recommendation we write for junior scholars.  Whether we’re writing for someone to get hired, promoted, or granted tenure, what we’re doing when we craft those letters is creating a narrative about the candidate’s impact on their corner of the academic world so far. Of course, we augment that with quantitative data, “this many articles over this span of time,” and “these numbers in teaching evaluations.”

The fact is, we already combine transactional and transformational metrics in academia in the way that we do peer evaluations. What we need to consider in academia is expanding how we think about ‘impact’ and realize the way that we already use both quantitative and qualitative measures to evaluate and assess the impact of our work.

More than this, we need to reclaim storytelling and narrative, augmented by the affordances of digital media, to tell stories of impact that make a difference.