Was passiert, wenn wissenschaftliche Buchrezensionen nicht nur online angeboten, sondern auch ohne redaktionelle Moderation kommentiert werden können – ob der Kommentierende nun etwas vom Thema versteht oder nicht? Kann man den Autoren der rezensierten Werke zumuten, sich mit möglicherweise unsachlichen oder ganz einfach unsinnigen Kommentaren auseinanderzusetzen? Sollte man den Nutzerkreis auf die Ingroup der Fachleute beschränken, auch wenn das nach Elitedenken und Snobismus aussieht?
Unser Panelist Danny Millum (IHR London) berichtet von seinen Erfahrungen als Redakteur des Online-Rezensionsjournals “Reviews in History”. Anders als bei recensio.net wagen die Londoner Kollegen “real Web 2.0” und verzichten bei einem Teil der Rezensionen auf eine Qualitätsprüfung eingehender Kommentare vor deren Freitschaltung.
Dealing with hecklers – academics in an unmediated environment
von Danny Millum
The journal I edit, Reviews in History, has always allowed authors to respond to their reviews. This allows them an opportunity not just to ‘set the record straight’ and counter any criticism made in the orginal review, but also, more fruitfully for the reader, to expand upon issues raised in the review that may have stimulated new ideas or lines of research.
Until recently these interactions were strictly limited to one review, and one response. It was felt that without such a rule it might be difficult in some cases to avoid potentially lengthy points-scoring exchanges, of more interest to the participants than the audience. Authors who would have been pleased to participate by making an initial response may have been put off to think that they were signing up for an unlimited commitment.
In the last few months, though, Reviews has tentatively entered the social media age, by enabling on some reviews a comment feature, open to all readers. In many ways this fits with the direction that historians are being encouraged to move in in the UK, with the pressure to make an impact outside the academy. Allowing, and responding to, comments on their work should be very much part of this agenda.
However, in practice, these things are never straightforward. An academic reviewer ‘should possess relevant expertise as well as the scholarship required to appreciate books in the round. They would approach books in a spirit of deference and attempt to promote (and to meditate in) a co-operative dialogue between authors and their readers’ (Patrick O’Brien, 1996).
This is clearly not the model that prevails outside the academy! It is the norm for comments to display ignorance, or rudeness – and this presents a problem for the historian looking to engage with an unmediated audience. Our reviewers have communicated to me their difficulty in facing comments which are not engaging on any academic level. Should they respond and correct errors / refute claims which are clearly ridiculous? It’s not a mode of communication they are used to, and it sometimes may seem pointless to have to explain what would be obvious to an informed audience, but at the same time they DO want to be seen to engage, and they don’t want to leave misinterpretations uncorrected.
I just wondered if others have experienced this, and wondered what the answer is. Greater mediation, and the filtering of comments is one possibility, as is the limiting of the forum to specialists. The extent to which anyone benefits from the spurious opening up of the academic conversation to those who may not have the knowledge to participate in an informed fashion must weighed against the dangers of snobbery and elitism.
Mind you, 90% of the comments are from robots anyway…