Monday, December 05, 2005

But isn't open discussion the point of scholarship?

Do you ever feel that we're regressing instead of progressing in the move for more open discussion of scholarly ideas? As if the obscenely long journal review process wasn't bad enough ...

My former school, BYU, I guess is in the middle of some controversy because a physics professor is doing research claiming that the WTC towers fell because of controlled demolition and not from the planes. This is, of course, not a belief shared by many, and some are very upset about his allegations. But here's the part of it that irks me: The student newspaper reported that a BYU PR spokesperson said, "My advice to him, as I would tell any professor, was to not discuss a paper until it was published."

What!?! Why would you not discuss your work just because some random profs haven't yet blind-reviewed it? I would think you should encourage professors and scholars to talk about their research as often as they can, believing that exchanging ideas will help them refine and improve their papers for review. The process shouldn't be "wait, publish, then discuss" but "discuss while writing, discuss after writing, and more discussion after publication." Wouldn't that improve our ideas as well as circulate them more quickly around the world?

I know the PR spokesperson is trying to protect the university and its professors from half-baked research that hasn't passed peer-reviewed muster, but I think we shouldn't be afraid to stand by our ideas and discuss them--whether they've been peer reviewed yet or not. I want to be clear that I am not criticizing this spokesperson, because I've heard her speak before and she seems like a wonderful person. I'm sure she's following protocol, and it's the protocol I take issue with.

But that's just my opinion, and I haven't published it. Maybe I shouldn't be discussing this yet!