28 February 2013

Twitter as an academic search tool = user beware

I'm delighted that journals are using social media to promote journal articles.  It's a brilliant idea.  @T&F_Africa is really pioneering this, at least in my field,   tweeting links to pertinent, if not necessarily recent, articles.  I quite often retweet these to my students.  But the last two times I have followed their links, I've had second thoughts about those retweets.

The first time, it was a link to an article about Islam and the WoT in Mali. Fascinating stuff, and from 2007, so a good background to the current crisis.  But the more I read the paper, the more concerned I became. It's a thoughtful piece, which draws some reasonable conclusions.  But nowhere are we told anything about the author or his research.  We don't know if he's ever visited Mali, if he speaks the languages, if he did research there via a research grant, or while in the US military. The paper is reasonably referenced - albeit entirely to secondary sources -  but I can't judge its value, or robustness, without knowing something about how the analysis was generated.

Today @T&F_Africa  tweeted a link to a paper on 'ethnic terrorism' in Kenya.  Interesting, I thought, if a bit tendentious.  But again, while this paper does give us the author's affiliation, we have no way of judging how much of an 'expert' he is.  Did he spend several months in the field?  or is it 'armchair' research from the comforts of home?  Again, the footnotes seem to be in order, but with no discussion of methodology, I'm left wondering why this author is positioning himself as an 'expert' in this sensitive field.

I don't really blame the authors for these oversights, but what were the editors doing letting articles get published without such basic information?  Do they think about how to strengthen articles? how to make them more robust and effective?

There's a comment somewhere in my twitterstream from an academic saying 'I only ever get boilerplate letters from editors'.  It worries me that this may be becoming standard.  Surely editors have a duty of care to their authors to help them improve articles?

Or am I being too precious, and as long as the footnotes are there, anything goes?

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