Thursday, October 28, 2004
There's a new search service for philosophy papers: Philosophy Papers Online

It could be a useful service, if it worked; if it indexed all philosophy papers. Unfortunately, it depends on the authors of papers proactively going there and submitting their papers for indexing. If you search for Heidegger, you get zero hits.

I've spent close to ten years trying to link to all Heidegger related papers online, hence trying to find all such papers, and I've noticed similar ideas come and go. Some of them are still ongoing, like Ephilosopher and Online Papers in Philosophy, but even after a few years in service they have indexed only a small fraction of the papers available online, and don't even keep up with what's becoming available daily.

Part of the problem with such services is depending on the writers of papers coming forth and informing the sites. The successful philosophy sites depend on their webmasters doing most of the work, like the regularly updated Ekotopos.

Another problem is that many authors are not interested in the wide dissemination of their papers. They come from a tradition of exchanging ideas within a tight circle of specialists and striving to be published in certain prestigious journals. To them, being widely read, being popular, is not a concern, or even antithetical.

In a recent interview on Slashdot Neal Stephenson, a novelist who is wildly popular with engineers, was asked whether he thought science-fiction was treated condescension by the mainstream literati. He replies at length by relating his meetings with "literary" types, and dividing writers in Dantes (who write for their patrons) and Beowulfs (who write for the audience around the campfire). Go read the whole thing; second Q&A. Arguably, something similar is at work in philosophy. There are people who are genuinely interested in philosophical subjects and eager to discuss it with other enthusiasts, and then there are those that have made an institutional career out of philosophy, and need to please their patrons to get grants, tenure, and get published. And there are the clever few that manage both, getting both the respect of their peers, their books sold in bookstores, and their ideas spread. I don't think there's anything wrong with being published in specialized journals, but in the long run, what's the point of doing philosophy, or anything else for that matter, only to have your work gather dust in a few libraries?

The web was invented by physicists who were tired of tracking down references through slow library systems. By combining the internet's File Transfer Protocol with hyper-text, all references in a document were immediately available with the click of a mouse. Today, science publishing is in crisis because scientists and their libraries are canceling their subscriptions to specialized journals. Even peer review has been revolutionized. Having your peers link to your papers and counting the links is a much more efficient method of ranking papers than the traditional method of waiting years for a handful of specialists to read the draft and approve it for publication.

Some philosophers have got the idea and now publish their papers on the web, and benefit from the wider readership and the contacts they make that way. They are the brave few because internet publishing is still a new thing, where the rules and culture is being worked out, and because the prestigious journals try to forbid the papers being available through alternate sources. Now, scholars have been photocopying and faxing each other papers for years, so the journals haven't had complete control of those papers, but the internet has changed the dynamics. I believe the technical term for the new dynamic is a new use of the word disintermediation--it used to be a financial designation. In internet parlance it means routing around the bottlenecks.

It's encouraging that some philosophers are posting their papers on the web. It's a first step. The papers are still in the old style appropriate for paper journals. They are generally PDF files designed for looking good on paper, which is not a bad thing, but as such they are internet dead-ends. Ideally they should be HTML documents so that their references can be hyperlinked to the documents referred to.

So, I encourage writers to publish on the internet, and make use of the services trying to index philosophy papers. It's an evolving medium, dynamic, growing, and on the path to the future.
Great post.

Like you I'd love to see a philosophy collection at least somewhat on part with the physics repository of papers over at LANL. I access that site quite regularly and it has numerous mirrors to ensure availability.

Alas I think the culture of physicists is just radically different from that of philosophers. For physicists, while publishing is still important to ones career, how they view it is so different. Further there is this assumption that there is "a truth" that everyone is working towards and that by getting the ideas out there we'll get there faster. Also there is a desire to communicate ones ideas to others. Lee Smolin, one of the top figures in quantum gravity, for instance has written popular books about the topic and has regular papers on how things are going that are approachable by even undergraduates in physics.

There really isn't anything equivalent in philosophy. On the one hand there just isn't that sense of a quest for truth. (Some might even point out that philosophy is the love of wisdom and not the quest for a truth) Further, unlike physics, philosophy is broken up into widely divergent views. Even when different groups speak to each other, it assumes some overlap. But there's nothing in science as divisive as the Continental - Analytic gap for instance. And philosopher publishers are often concerned if a paper is available on the web rather than in their book or publication.

Here's hoping things change. I don't think they will though.
I agree that philosophy and physics are different, and that the differences lead their practitioners to view and adopt technology differently, and philosophers tend to split in different camps with different goals, but I believe that things like footnotes and references function in a similar way in their papers, and that therefore philosophy papers will catch up to the technology. I think the trend is there, just slower. Philosophy on the internet has evolved from its beginnings on mailing lists and the placing of shared documents on ftp sites. Today most academic philosophers have home pages with their CVs. The CVs list their publications, and a few of those, generally the more recent, are linked to the actual documents. As time passes, more of the papers will appear online and someday (the tipping point) it will be possible to link citations to the original documents. I think this is already possible in some cases. For example many ancient philosophy documents are online and can be linked to.

On the other hand, alluding to the mirrors of the physics servers, there remains the problem of permanence. Libraries have demonstrated that they can maintain documents across the centuries, but web servers are of a more temporal nature.

Also discourgaing me is the new practice of the traditional publishers to try to sell access to the online papers. I understand that they are struggling to come up with a viable business model, but this doesn't serve the interests of the authors. I don't believe philosophers derive any useful income from the sale of academic journals, in print or online. The practice of having to pay a fee whenever one clicks on a reference is simply not viable.
Post a Comment

<< Home
For when Ereignis is not sufficient.

Appropriation appropriates! Send your appropriations to enowning at gmail.com.

View mobile version