Time to Walk the Walk

I am deeply frustrated with the sometimes closed atmosphere in academic life. I feel a profound discomfort when I encounter students and scholars who are paranoid that their research ideas will be stolen, that their sources will be discovered and, shock and horror, will be used by someone else. I’m simply incapable of sympathizing with them. I don’t like it when scholars pass around papers with bold warnings commanding me, “Do not circulate,” and I’m even less happy when I have been given handouts at a presentation only to have the speaker collect them again following the talk as if I was looking over instructor comments on a graded final exam. I feel my stomach churn as, to give a recent example, a professor opens up a database file of archival information and, smiling mischievously to the audience, declares that this is his “secret” source.

Such is life, people say to me, or else quote me some snotty French equivalent. That is the reality of this harsh academic world we live in. Well, perhaps I’m suffering from an early onset of old-age grumpiness, but I just don’t want to play that game. I don’t care that I’m still a graduate student, that job committees will look over everything they can find by me in search of sub-standard material, or that publishing firms will want me to explain why an earlier version of something I have submitted to them is available for download somewhere online. I don’t care if someone else finds some topic I have done some preliminary work on interesting, runs with it, and ends up publishing something on it. I may feel a momentary pang of regret that I didn’t get my own butt in gear and finish the project myself, but if they did a good job, then I really have no cause for complaint.

I’ve decided to just go ahead and start posting everything I produce academically, including short conference presentations and other research works in progress. You can find this material on a new research page here at Muninn.

11 thoughts on “Time to Walk the Walk”

  1. I think the choice of openness is very admirable. In the end, it will be the quality of your work that stands out over everything else. Since I’ll be working in industry for at least the next few years I won’t have the option of being so open, but the specific research position I have accepted was on the condition that I am allowed to publish research in peer-reviewed journals. And I hope to some day return to academia where I can also have more of an open policy towards information.

  2. I admire the openness and hope it doesn’t hurt your options in the future. I admit I’ve been guilty of trying to keep my sources secret or somehow limited, but fortunately when I’ve realised this is the case I try to break myself of it immediately.

  3. I applaud you for standing up for what you believe in. Although it may not make waves in the academic world and change how things are done, you still are setting an example by standing firm on something that ultimately is both admirable and borderline ethical. Keep up the great work!

  4. I’ve also noticed this bizarre turn toward antiquarianism in historical fields of East Asia. I think this partly has to do with the cultural turn. I am a cultural historian myself and I have seen many superb works of cultural history, but I have to admit that it is difficult to evaluate a work that purports to analyze the symbolic system of a society unfamiliar to us on the basis of a shared, relatively impartial standard.

    This propels the cultural historians to develop a love for episodes from the past that are shocking and unique. And if you discovered a story that nobody else had unearthed before, you build your entire monograph or career plan on the basis of the novelty of having ‘discovered’ something.

    I have a friend in Columbia who reads the same kind of sources as I do. The bulk of our dissertation research surrounds the experience of Koryo intellectuals under Mongol rule. But we ask different questions and place our analysis in different types of framework. We always share our discoveries with each other and will continue to do so.

    What I find disturbing is that on several occasions, I was told not to openly share sources that supposedly nobody else looked at. Not only do I find that unethical, it doesn’t make any sense. The South Korean scholars have unearthed just about every textual source we can think of for the medieval period and have written so many studies already. History is about asking meaningful questions, not antiquarian retelling of stories patched together from disjointed sequence of events, and is about pursuing those meaningful questions with rigor.

    Okay, enough rant for today. I hope to chat about this more with you after my exam next week!

  5. I just read your newly created ‘research’ page before coming to read this post, which I’m really glad about. I support your open access-ism and do keep the faith, Mitchy.

  6. Thanks to everyone for the kind words and also to Javier for sharing his frustrations with source sharing – I have similar anecdotes to tell (also good luck to Javier on his comprehensive exams next week).

  7. Right on! Don’t loose heart, their are plenty of other scholars out there who feel the way you do and I think there are plenty of open access movements out there gaining some ground (for instance, I just found out about ScholarWorks, example http://scholarworks.umass.edu/).

    Please forgive the rather simple comparison but I just had to say that this whole mentality reminds me of a friend I went to high school with who would refuse to tell me where she got her awesome DocMarten like boots. She said she didn’t want me going out and buying the same pair because she wanted to be the only one in school that had them. She was pretty fierce about guarding her misfit persona.

  8. Way to go! You know I’m very much an “open everything” advocate. How much could we all benefit when energy is no longer wasted keeping things hidden from each other, a strategy that will always fail at some point. Not to mention how much more progress would be made with sources more available, instantly, digitally and easy to find.

    I know a big part of academics don’t subscribe to that paradigm, but openness is here to stay, consider yourself a small part of history in the making.

  9. I applaud your rebellion against the paranoid attitude one finds particularly in E. Asian history. Literature people like to laugh because since they have 20000 people who have written on Shakespeare, the idea of one scholarone event/phenomenon/historical person ratio is ridiculous.

    Having said that, some cynical people will read your research page as an attempt to stake ground and establish precedence. It’s sad, but probably true.

    E. Asian studies–speaking broadly– is undergoing a transformation now; the people that you find most hostile to your open attitude will likely be senior scholars, who are used to have several centuries by themselves.

  10. I absolutely support you. I’ve done something similar here: http://reganmian.net/blog/publications-and-presentations/. I also experimented with releasing my MA thesis not just OA, but in a variety of formats (PDF is so old skool): http://reganmian.net/top-level-courses.

    I know exactly what you mean by closed. I actually wrote to the professors at University of Oslo who have created a Norwegian-Chinese dictionary. They got millions of kroner from the Norwegian government to do this, and the books cost 1000 NOK (about $180 USD) to buy, and are gigantic… Of course, they’ve only sold a handful (I got one as a gift, but never use it). If I could get the electronic database, I would use it a lot… If I could get the database in an open format, I could do all kinds of amazing useful things with it. I asked them directly if they would be willing to release it, and they declined. Sad. But we have to keep pushing :)


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