Saturday, November 22, 2008

Academic Transparency

Hello Blogosphere, I have a quandry about academic life as it relates to one's professional specialization. Therefore, comments are extremely welcome on this post!

Around cultural debates, it seems you can throw a rock and hit someone who says "Well, I hold a doctoral degree in the field of fruit; this cultural debate cannot apply." Often times, it can be pretty easy to check these spokespeople out: go to their university's website, scope out their CV, and see if anything exists that causes you to add credibility to their claims.

So a couple of days ago, I had reasons to doubt the claims of an academic. He makes some bold claims basically citing "I'm a -ologist." The source I had cited his full name with middle initial. So I looked him up. In the course of trying to validate his credentials to speak to the issue, I discovered his school's website (Go Google go) but no faculty profile or CV of any kind. Odd... But I figure, I'm getting good at navigating around ProQuest's Dissertations and Theses so I'll try to figure out what he wrote his dissertation on. I found his master's thesis in a subfield that doesn't map to the subfield that he's making his claims. Okay, okay, so some people begin early and publish around a bit. So I go to the discipline-specific database, and see what comes up.. He has a limited publication record all in his master's subfield. So I try to Google Scholar because I was starting to feel a little irked. On Google Scholar I find a citation to his PhD dissertation (turns out it was completed at a university that does not require dissertations to be published). But it's still in his same Mater's subfield. After finding his PhD citation on Google scholar, I found a record of his publications on his school's hidden web through Google web search. All of his published scholarship, save his most recent work, is published in his Master's subfield and his most recent work is published by a non-academic publishing house in a different subfield.

I find this situation to be perplexing because a) I wasn't trying to stalk the guy and b) most academics leave a trail of published breadcrumbs to tell a story. But I guess this hunt also begs the question about specialization. If you train in a subfield (like molecular biology), does that mean that you could also be a specialist in a different subfield in the same discipline (like evolutionary biology)? Do academics have some sort of public service obligation to let the world know what they publish? Do these expectations vary across disciplines (ie are the rules different for history than they are for chemistry)? Does it matter the Carneige classification of the academic's college or university?


Ambivalent Academic said...

To answer your first question: yes.

Speaking from my own experience, having a degree in one sub-field of biology does NOT mean that your expertise is exclusively restricted. For instance, I am working on my PhD in a molecular genetics lab (that's two sub-fields - molecular biology and genetics). My degree (and thus all my corusework and the emphasis of my dissertation research) is titled with a different subfield, but I use the first two subfields as technical approaches to get at the third.

Another lab mate has also incorporated a fourth subfield - uses 1 & 2 to answer questions about the interactions between 3 & 4. infinitum

Albatross said...

I agree with Ambivalent Academic that your degree does not limit your expertise. But it gets tricky when the expertise is based only on using techniques from a field. It could go either way! To go with the example, I wouldn't automatically consider someone who uses molecular techniques for evolutionary studies to be an expert molecular biologist. You can use PCR without understanding a lot about proteins or cells in general. They certainly could be an expert though.
What makes an expert- practical usage of a field or book knowledge of it? Both?
I think it is strange that the guy wouldn't say something about his experience in the field that he was trying to claim to belong to.

Amanda said...

Do academics have some sort of public service obligation to let the world know what they publish?

Yes! Especially if you take public money. The only way to advance any field is to tell other people what you've discovered. If you don't publish, then it's like what you've done never happened.

marry said...

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