Thursday, July 10, 2014

Blogs, other forms of social media and gatekeepers



I have been reflecting on why I write this blog, without making more effort to publish in newspapers and other grey (non peer-reviewed) literature, such as The Conversation. First, a lot of these blog-entries are expanded facebook comments, or retrieved from emails, thus, do not take much extra effort. In some cases, they are the first draft of serious papers or editorials for our NGO, BODHI. Sometimes, the reverse occurs - they are old newsletter articles or fragment of papers rescued from behind paywalls. Unlike many other formats, I can change blogs and improve them over time. Blogs, as grey literature, count little for my CV or grant-winning capacity, but neither do other forms of grey literature.

However, an important reason for this blog is that I have not been very successful in getting either the Conversation or mainstream media (MSM) interested in my ideas .. I did try hard with the Conversation with one of my blog entries about the evolving fortress world and they still rejected it. I haven’t tried since, though I have published there a bit, in the past (and more recently with co-authors concerning the IPCC health chapter). Overall however, I have concluded it’s not worth the effort, I think I must be a little too extreme for the Conversation and certainly for MSM. For example, I have likened Australia to an emerging Nazi Germany and a land which George Orwell would recognise, with regard to our cruel treatment of asylum seekers and the deliberately biased language apparently now used by all politicians in the ruling parties.  I don't think many Australians agree with me about that, it is too disheartening and confronting. Certainly Bob Carr doesn't; he has attempted to excoriate Malcolm Fraser for making a similar suggestion. But while it's true that Sri Lanka does not treat all Tamils in the way that Nazi Germany treated all Jews, it's also undeniable that our government, with strong public support, is comfortable not only about rapidly deciding that numerous people seeking asylum are in fact seeking economic opportunity, but in then sending them to an island where the occasional practice of torture appears to be condoned, including by Tony Abbott.

I have also started to tweet quite a bit .. including to some journalists .. I think, eventually, these forms of social media could be a back door to more MSM interest; before social media, when I used to write to them “cold” not a single one ever replied. I no longer bother.

With the blog I don’t have to go through a gatekeeper. I have had a lot of gatekeeper problems in my academic career; some of the papers which I regard as my best, even years later (i.e. they stand the test of time), were rejected by reviewers .. but rescued by wiser editors .. (eg Human carrying capacity and human health, published in 2004 in PLoS Med has now been viewed almost 30,000 times, and is one of the most widely read articles in the medicine and health sciences category of the PLoS family of journals published in 2004. It still gets looked at several thousand times a year, unfortunately it has not gone out of date. It was, originally, rejected. My 8,000 word Borrie Prize winning essay (2001), on the rise and fall of Malthusian thinking within demography, won the prize but was then rejected by many learned demography journals, with hostile gatekeepers. Eventually I hope it will appear in The Human Titanic, in a chapter called "Keeping the lower decks crowded".  But some of its thinking is in the PLoS Med paper.

Essentially, we can live as one human species on one full planet, or we can live as dozens, hundreds or even thousands of separate groups competing with each other for resources that are only abundant if we stabilise (or reduce) our consumption of those resources. We have evolved to live as these small competing groups; if we do we not evolve a better alternative then the next few centuries will be very ugly indeed as Clive Hamilton argues in his reply to Andrew Revkin in "The Delusion of the Good Anthropocene".