Raiders of the Lost References

For those who are interested in the questions that can be raised with regard to peer reviewed articles and citation indexes, I would like to recommend a special report that was recently published by Peter Aldhous in a periodical that I like very much to read, New Scientist: “The Stem Cell Wars” (12 June 2010, pp. 12-14). The article does not necessarily indicate abuse, but it shows how highly competitive science and research have become, and how the criteria to decide about what is good science may well be influenced by other parameters than what could be considered as scientific creativity, such as how researchers and their laboratories or institutions are connected, or how periodicals are ranked, or what kind of financial and political of national interests are at play.

The article in New Scientist concerns stem cell research – a very specific high-stake (who will get a Nobel prize?) field of research. But the issue is also important and relevant in areas as theology, that have a very contextual character. A lot of very good theology never reaches the top level journals and many creative ideas emerge in the interaction “in the field” and in small communities where concrete questions of injustice are posed. I continue wondering whether, for theology especially, we could not find a way to become “raiders of the lost references“, highlighting the research of communities of faith in the field.

Another concern that I feel the need to raise concerns the real availability of the so-called top level journals. They are often expensive and out of budgetary reach of many institutions of the South, who will rely more on what is available for free through the internet. Should we not, especially for theology, democratize research: making available creative challenges and ideas as well as listening to what the experiences of faith communities can tell us all? If one wants to begin to answer these questions, a reflection about the use of the internet as a public space becomes crucial.

What are our ideas of good and academically sound, serious theology? And how can we create the space in which these ideas can really be discussed? How can we make available good texts without tagging them with a prize that most people just cannot pay?

I am not sure that I am as yet capable of putting the questions in the correct way … but they continue to nag me. The article in New Scientist just stirred those feelings once more.

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