Postmodern Peer Review and Emerging Genres (Moveable Types of Information Literacy)
We find it quaint that Vannevar Bush would try to do hypertext with an automated, user-writeable microfiche. It is similarly quaint that a library database be optimized to deliver PDF documents or other facsimiles of the printed page.
Native electronic journals offer cutting-edge, peer-reviewed scholarship, sometimes on a timeline of weeks. For example, the content of First Monday is mostly traditional, though the accelerated timeline of the peer-review process changes the relationship of the scholar to scholarship.
In new media studies, online delivery not only permits the easy inclusion of multimedia, but instead of static graphics, the illustrations can be data files and computer programs that let the user interact with the new media objects being discussed. For example, new media scholar Nick Montfort published a review of Espen Aarseth’s monograph Cybertext. The review includes java applets that let the reader interact with some of the cybertexts Aarseth represented via static transcripts. (See “Cybertext Killed the Hypertext Star“.) In 1997, I published an article on a computer simulation of the motion of pageant wagons through the streets of the medieval town of York, via a web collection that included a working version of the simulation software.
The scholarly monograph remains, for now, and for good reason, the gold standard of academic authority. The ongoing crisis in scholarly publication suggests that the traditional book will be valuable precisely because of its scarcity. But not all knowledge is constructed via the methods that lend themselves to a linear presentation.
Popularly-edited online texts (such as Wikipedia) typically summarize general knowledge, rather than offer a forum for the presentation of new knowledge or controversial opinion; further, emerging electronic genres also typically over-represent particular opinions espoused by technorati who manipulate the system (“googlewashing,” illustrated by the online prank that causes a Google search for “miserable failure” to point first to George Bush’s official biography on the White House web site).
Our students are already using Amazon.com to look up quotations in books they do not want to buy. They are addicted to Google, which searches the free web and is blind to material behind paid access firewalls. But there is value in teaching students to “read” grass-roots, populist knowledge — for example, the reputation-tracking transaction feedback function of eBay or the consumer reviews in ePinions.
In the emerging electronic genres, peer-review (in the form of inbound links, e-mailed or posted corrections/refutations, revision, or even deletion) is expected to happen after a text is published, thus making the process of peer review visible, instead of simply the product. Developing strategies to compensate for the anomalous effects and weaknesses of these grass-roots knowledge systems is a vital skill for 21st Century information literacy.