Monday, July 15, 2013

Larry Hurtado on Expertise

As already reported by James McGrath and Jim West, Larry Hurtado had a wonderful post on how to identify expertise.  While I find much-- indeed almost all-- that I agree with, one thing struck me:

I can hear the responding claim that scholars in the field are uninterested in new discoveries and/or even that they conspire to keep new ideas from gaining acceptance.  But any such claim only further reveals the lack of familiarity with scholarly processes.

I used to repeat claims like this a lot, and certainly charges of a vast conspiracy can be readily dismissed as the ranting of a nutter.  But I'm always reminded now of Thomas Thompson's powerful memoir.

There doesn't need to be a conspiracy.  Ideology is certainly a factor, as I'd be surprised if Larry hadn't experienced in his long career, and can limit options for publication. But equally important is the role of academic inertia.  These two factors eliminate the need for a conspiracy.

To be sure, this doesn't eliminate the simple fact that most material not submitted for peer-review is by crackpots.  But if Thompson had written Historicity today, when self-publication is much easier, we have to assume he would have given it serious thought.

Hurtado's advice is nonetheless solid. Expertise is important, especially for the non-specialist, and as a general rule worth following.

2 comments:

Richard Fellows said...

Hurtado's advice to submit everything to peer reviewed publications seems one-sided to me. Most peer reviewed publications suffer the disadvantage of not being available to the general public for free. Also, Hurtado rightly mentions the importance of receiving "critical engagement", but there has been virtually no critical engagement with my published peer reviewed papers. I get more useful feedback when I publish things on my blog.

I agree with you that Hurtado makes some good points. You make a good point about inertia and ideology. I wonder also whether the guild has cultural biases. For example, they tend to be trained in the humanities rather than numerate disciplines so they tend to dismiss statistical arguments and approaches.

Also, I think it is wrong to assume that published peer reviewed work is invariably high quality.

Rick Sumner said...

That's interesting regarding engagement. I hadn't thought it through fully, but of course its what should be expected. Hurtado can expect dialog with his work because, well, he's Larry Hurtado.