(Roughly) Daily

“I think a lot of journal articles should really be blogs”*…



In a way that’s painfully analogous to situation in the broader world of “retail” news and information, the prevailing incentive structure for academic publishing– which privilege clicks and attention over rigor in research– is a problem:

[Earlier this month] development studies journal Third World Quarterly published an article that, by many common metrics used in academia today, will be the most successful in its 38-year history. The paper has, in a few days, already achieved a higher Altmetric Attention Score than any other TWQ paper. By the rules of modern academia, this is a triumph. The problem is, the paper is not.

The article, “The case for colonialism”, is a travesty, the academic equivalent of a Trump tweet, clickbait with footnotes. Its author, Bruce Gilley, a professor at the Department of Political Science at Portland State University, sets out to question the “orthodoxy” of the last 100 years that has given colonialism a bad name. He argues that western colonialism was “as a general rule, both objectively beneficial and subjectively legitimate”, and goes on to say that instead of taking a critical view of colonial and imperial history, we should be “recolonising some areas” and “creating new Western colonies from scratch”.

So how did this article rise to such prominence and apparent success? Arguments for colonialism have been made in academia before; however, Gilley’s article contributes no new evidence or datasets, and discussing its empirical shortfalls and blindness to vast sections of colonial history would go far beyond the scope of this post. Thankfully, this is currently being done by some of the many scholars to have produced excellent work on colonialism over the past decades – although, by doing so, they will be further driving up the citation count and impact metrics of the original publication. Indeed a petition calling for the article’s retraction has garnered over 10,000 signatures, and many of the journal’s editorial board have resigned.

Of course, none of this is accidental. It is a well-planned provocation, an argument that feeds off the criticism it is designed to create, and references it as evidence of the prevailing “orthodoxy”. If this sounds familiar, this is exactly the same strategy with which the alt-right movement has hacked its way into public debates. The article even replicates its trademark victimhood and brazen rewriting of history by claiming that colonialism has had a “bad name” for the last hundred years, and thereby backdating what the author perceives to be a politically correct obsession to a time when colonialism was still official government policy in many states…

Ponder peer review at: “Clickbait and impact: how academia has been hacked.”

* Nate Silver


As we get in touch with our inner Diogenes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1892 that Joshua Pusey patented the “flexible match”; he then sold his patent to the Diamond Match Trust (which he joined, as patent attorney)– and his design became the first mass-produced paper matchbook.



Written by LW

September 27, 2017 at 1:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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