Yesterday a colleague in the UK, Jeni Tennison, published a great blog on her site. The title is probably very much unclear for the non-initiated (“Using “Punning” to Answer httpRange-14”) and the details are not of relevance for now. Suffices it to say that she touches on one of the “permathread” discussions that regularly rages on the various technical mailing lists related to Semantic Web. Jeni’s blog offers a very clear explanation of the problem and offers a way forward.
Apart from the technical content I was wondering: would that blog ever be considered as part of Jeni’s academic achievements if she was working at an academic institution? And the answer is, sadly, a clear “no”. “No”, because she “just” wrote it is a personal communication, and she did not go through the time consuming road of “official” publications in a journal or a conference. ”No”, because she does not have formal scientific references, “just” references to mailing lists, wiki pages and the like. ”No”, because the blog was not officially peer reviewed; alas! the fact that she had very long and discussions on some of her ideas on public mailing list with some of the best known experts in the field does not count. “No”, in spite of the fact that, if her ideas are accepted by the community (which is, of course, in no way sure), these would influence the technical direction for the work of hundreds of people, as well as practically deployment of systems, software, etc; at the minimum, there will be dozens if not hundreds of reactions and references to this blog in the days and weeks to come. I can easily make the bet that her piece will have a greater influence in the advancement of a particular area of science and technology than many of the hundreds of academically high valued papers that are published this year.
Is this Jeni’s loss? If she is to pursue an academic career then, of course it is. But it is a much greater loss for science that ignores such intellectual achievements by keeping to its outdated scholarly commutation rules. In fact, it shows that science may have to go back to its old traditions of communication: after all, in the good old times, many of the greatest achievements of science were first published as personal letters or journals. Something have been lost…
(If you are interested in these issues, you may consider looking at the Force11 Community’s Web site and the Force11 Manifesto… that community will, hopefully, evolve significantly in the months to come.)