Carnivalising

Noted at Science and Politics, everything you ever needed to know about carnival hosting.

And it’s worth taking special note of this:

One of the more poorly kept secrets of the blogosphere is that there is very little quality control in blog carnivals. For the most part, if you submit a post on topic, you’ll make the cut. This is as it should be. Few among us are really qualified to judge which writing represents the very best of the web. Furthermore, a great carnival appeals to a wide variety of tastes. So, you are not responsible for judging for quality, but you need to judge all the same.

I’ve read a few things lately that make me fear a little that enthusiasm for (academic) blog carnivals might start to outrun what they’re actually capable of delivering. Can they really become a significant form of academic peer review? (Not that I’m really criticising that if:book post; it carefully stresses that it’s not talking about the formal peer review of the academic journal.)

We might need to be careful not to raise expectations impossibly high, or to risk creating misconceptions about what is really possible with the carnival format – that it’s somehow authoritative, “the” place to find “the best” (the implication being that what is left out has been judged to be inferior, when it might equally be a matter of chance, a lost email, the peccadilloes of a particular host, whatever). This possibility makes me oddly uncomfortable. (And apart from anything else, I don’t want to frighten off new hosts…)

To be sure, some selectivity is applied by the host of an academic carnival (they’re not free-for-alls); and, as in the case of the latest History Carnival, some choices can prove controversial and that can lead to useful discussion and debate. That demonstrates that there’s potential for that kind of peer review function, to some degree. But there are limits to what they can achieve, I think.

Still, I’d be interested to hear from you if you have ever responded to something that was included in an edition of History Carnival or Carnivalesque (perhaps especially if it was something that you wouldn’t have read otherwise). Maybe you’ve had doubts about an included post and commented on it – at the carnival itself, in the post’s comments or on your own blog; or maybe something gave you a positive stimulus to write something in response (not simply a criticism). On the other hand, maybe you have experienced some disquiet about an inclusion but never actually said anything about it. (Why not?) What do you think?

5 thoughts on “Carnivalising”

  1. There was a storm of comments once when Pharyngula hosted a Skeptic’s Circle and included an entry while stating why the author of that post was wrong.

    Likewise, a lot of people felt strongly (and negatively) when one of the hosts of the Carnival of Vanities decided to rate all entries on a 0-10 scale.

    Once, a host of CotV commented on all entries (I agreed with the comments, actually) and it created such a furor that another blog posted an alternative, no-comment edition of the same carnival.

    I have hosted a dozen carnivals or so, so far. I have quietly NOT included two posts so far, mainly for not addressing the relevant topic, as if a non-history post was submitted to the history Carnival. That is an easy decision to make.

    I have once actually sent an entry to two bloggers knowledgeable about the topic to ask them if I should include it. Pure peer-review (BTW, they both said “yes”, but with reservations)!

  2. I’ve often (not often enough, but more than average) left comments at stuff I read because of carnivals, and it’s not always been positive. What I don’t do enough is go back to blogs I don’t read often to see what, if any, response my comments engendered.

    In carnivals I’ve hosted, there’s often been a disagreement, and presenting both (or several) different opinions could open up space for discussion… but it never has.

    The community (history, at least) isn’t big enough for comments or carnival inclusion to qualify as peer review, yet. But it’s not worthless, either: as with peer review, it depends on the commenters and editors being people whose judgement matters.

    I was very pleased that TigerLily handled the Mars Hill issue the way she did: with clarity and dignity. I was actually a bit disappointed that there’s been so little discussion of it, though, in part because carnivals are often “read once” items and many of the initial readers may not even know that a change was made.

  3. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot — there are a couple of posts that have been submitted for the next Carnivalesque that I don’t think are really great examples of history blogging, but what I want to do rather than leave them out entirely is frame them in a sort of “open for discussion” kind of way. I think.

  4. I just thought of something else — although I like the idea of peer review, and can see a series of peer-reviewed carnivals (maybe Carnivalesque?) being a really good thing, the current form of all the history carnivals is that they are open to anyone. That kind of buggers the idea of peer review, in terms of guaranteeing expertise. OTOH, if it’s all historians and historians-in-training, it might be good experience for all concerned.

  5. Well, I do hope that hosts will weed out anything obviously not suitable for HC – it’s not meant to be like a general carnival that would include everything that’s submitted, but they’re not expected to have the expertise to be able to evaluate the range of different topics that can be covered. Carnivalesque is a bit different in that being more specialised and held less often, (hopefully) hosts will be in a position to be a bit choosier. I don’t think carnivals will ever be pre-peer-reviewed in the way that print publications are; the possibilities for peer review seem to be more in terms of discussion and feedback afterwards – but that seems to be a very underdeveloped thing so far (although clearly it does happen sometimes) and we’d need to more people actively doing that (rather than just skimming them quickly and leaving the host a comment saying ‘Thanks for all your hard work!’ *cough*)

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