File /Humanist.vol22.txt, message 100

Date: Wed, 02 Jul 2008 08:30:01 +0100
From: "Humanist Discussion Group \(by way of Willard McCarty              <>\)" <willard-AT-LISTS.VILLAGE.VIRGINIA.EDU>
Subject: 22.098 falsification of process & its publication
To: <humanist-AT-Princeton.EDU>

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 98.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to:

         Date: Wed, 02 Jul 2008 08:27:24 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <>
         Subject: falsification of process & its publication

In their wonderful, indeed astonishing book, The Travels and
Adventures of Serendipity: A Study in Sociological Semantics and the
Sociology of Science (Princeton, 2004), Robert K Merton and Elinor
Barber argue that academic writing tends to falsify retrospectively
the actual processes by which results were obtained. Their focus is
on the normal form of scientific writing, but their argument is apt
for the digital humanities as well. Most of what they have to say on
this topic is in a subsection of the book's Afterword entitled, "The
Standard Scientific Article and Obliterated Scientific Serendipities
(or SSA and OSS, as These Are Bound to Be Abbreviated in Our Age of
Acronyms)", pp. 269-284. Those who know Merton's writings, e.g. from
On the Shoulders of Giants, will recognize the serious playfulness
and have some idea of how well the argument is conducted.

A few years ago, after more years of fighting against the tendency of
students to tell the story of what happened in their research rather
than to construct an argument, I realised that they were partially
right: the story of what happens when you work with computers *does*
matter. The computer, I realised, puts the researcher in something
like an experimental situation, and looking back on the history of
experimental science I could see that keeping a careful record of
what one thinks is happening often proves useful if not crucial. So I
looked around for descriptions of how to write a scientific
laboratory report, combined it with admonitions on how to write
papers in the humanities and produced a little document entitled,
"How to write an essay-report", which then went through revisions
with the help of my colleagues here and is now distributed to our
students. It has also informed our own marking criteria. (See for the
document itself.)

My question here is, has anyone else thought of these matters, esp
about how involvement with computing is changing how we write?

In a discussion at DH2008, just concluded (you should have been
there), Marilyn Deegan, editor of Literary and Linguistic Computing,
noted the importance of publishing conference papers especially for
those who are deeply involved in humanities computing but do not have
the opportunity or inclination to turn aside from the actual building
of objects to devote significant time to writing. Often all they have
the opportunity to do is to put together a conference paper or two in
a year. That may develop into something more substantial, but lack of
time and the pace of work may prevent further development. At the
same time it is all too easy in some venues to toss off a conference
paper, so perhaps a barrier to journal publication is no bad thing.
Are we, perhaps, looking at the need for a clearer distinction
between different publication streams?



Willard McCarty | Professor of Humanities Computing | Centre for
Computing in the Humanities | King's College London | Et sic in infinitum (Fludd 1617, p. 26). 


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