Responding to “Is PDQ a good idea?”

Over on Ancient World Bloggers, Michael Smith has commented on the PDQ project. He raises some important points that I felt warranted a response (cross-posted over at AWBG); I also must admit that I objected to the phrase ‘pseudo-journal’:

“I don’t understand the need for a pseudo-journal whose rationale is “providing a citeable format for people uncomfortable with citing weblogs.”

‘Pseudo-journal’ is not really the appropriate word for what PDQ is trying to accomplish, and I think unnecessarily pejorative. The rationale regarding citation is only one purpose behind PDQ. Certainly, MLA-style citations for blogs exist; but what happens when the blog itself is no longer available, or the author decides he or she has had enough? It takes an enormous amount of energy to try to put quality thought and reflection out there. One niche the PDQ is envisioned to fill is a permanent open repository for these things.

The other niche is the one concerning ‘authority’. We teach our students to be wary of websites for which they cannot determine the author. We forbid them to use the Wikipedia. But the fact remains that our students will turn first to the internet, to blogs and wikis, before they wander down to the library and try to find a copy of the Bolletino Communale. JSTOR is fantastic: but I’ve had maybe six students in the past two years of my intro to Roman culture course actually dig their way through the Library website to gain access to it. It is up to us then to devise ways of providing authority to good solid writing about the past, in the places where our students and the public will find it most easily. PDQ is one answer to this problem.

Traditional peer-reviewing works well, or else it would have been jettisoned years ago. However, I think there is room for alternative approaches to peer-review. I am attracted to the idea of letting it all hang out for the world to see – the evolution of the discussion of the PDQ is in itself a model for a new kind of peer-review.

For me, the greater attraction of something like PDQ is the fact that I write about, and research with, quickly evolving digital tools. Some of my agent-modeling work has been in press for two years now, but the platform I used then is already two or three major version changes out of date. My code is already a relic. Something like PDQ is necessary to get information out there pretty darned quickly. I’m also quite interested – though I don’t blog about it personally – in the political uses and abuses of archaeology, archaeology’s appearances in the popular press, and how that all plays out. There  are issues there that need to be discussed, and *are* discussed on great blogs. These discussions however do not find their way into academic journals (at least not at the time they have contemporary relevance). Again, something like PDQ has a role in legitimizing the discussion.

Finally, and I may be being a bit flip here, I am reminded of the recording industry. No doubt, many record industry executives felt that cds and albums were perfectly good existing ways of getting serious music to its listeners, so who would want to download a single song? The point here is about gate-keeping, and deciding what gets out, and how it gets out, to the public. All of us involved with PDQ are serious academics, who want to make our subject, our interests, and our energies available to a wider public. We want to include that wider public serious about the past, in what traditionally is an exclusive project. We want to lower the barriers to participation, but do it in such a fashion to allow authority to emerge.