I haven’t posted recently. Mostly this is because I have been desperate to finish the book my wife and I are writing on Pastoral Counseling (“Dynamics in Pastoral Care”). Additionally, I have been supervising several students in their thesis work. I also have been on the board reviewing theses and prospectuses (“prospecti”?) of numerous students at our seminary. Further, I am now serving as interim pastor at a churchplant here in Baguio City. That means I have to do less of some things. Right now it has been in doing my posts here.
During one of the theses reviews, an issue was brought up. One of the students had used some blogposts in his thesis as references. It was noted by the board that this is inappropriate. There were two reasons for this given. First, blogposts are commonly just the opinions of the individual writers. Second, blogposts are not peer reviewed.
I think the first point is quite valid. Blogposts are commonly just opinion posts. I have noted to some friends on more than one occasion that I have mixed feelings that people read my posts. On one hand, my posts are sort of like my personal diary of ministerial thoughts— my electronic doodlepad. Often what I write down on one day as pure gold becomes lead (or worse) when I look at it a few days, or a few months, later. On the other hand, the very fact that people may read it does motivate me to write… and write more thoughtfully. If I had a private notebook just for me, I would probably never write anything down… ever. Putting my thoughts and my opinions online give me a way of clarifying my thoughts. But I don’t think I should be quoted beyond something to the effect of “Bob Munson (for whatever it is worth) agrees with me based on his blogpost on _________.” Not a very compelling point, I think.
So since blogposts are commonly just opinion papers (at best) and bigoted rants at worst, they shouldn’t be used as formal references. On the other hand, I am not so sure about the peer-review issue. If peer-review was able to weed out nonsense and identify the beautiful truth, I would agree. However, I haven’t really seen that peer review does that. It can catch some misinformation, but probably the most important thing of peer review is identifying flaws in logic. Unfortunately, peer review can promote its own fallacies since peers often disagree as to what is compelling. One finds peers who will try to force grounded theory research to work deductively. Others will act like quantitative analysis is more precise than qualittative analysis even though both go through and equally imprecise process of interpretation of results. (Having experienced the process of so-called validation of instruments for quantitative studes, and seen how the resulting statistics are skewed, I mean interpreted, into nonsensical findings, I wonder how anyone call say that quantitative is better than qualitative in anything that relates to theology or ministry). Some people will reject research utilizing sources over 10 years old (in some fields this may make sense but in others, such as pastoral care, it is hard to find anything LESS than 20 years old of much value). Some will question the research not because of problems in the methodology, but because the results of the research were unpalatable. At the other extreme I have seen wildly questionable interpretations of results make it through peer review completely unscathed because the interpretation was consistent with group-truth.
Does that mean I am against peer review? No. It certainly can have value. However, I would argue things from a different position.
Consider a research paper like a court case. The researcher has a limited number of pages to demonstrate that the findings and interpretation of the paper is compelling (“illiative sense”). As such, one must choose the best supporting information. Blogposts should be well down the list, along with celebrity quotes. However, it is hard to imagine an source that is unimpeachable.
For me, at least, I find value in continuity. If history supports a present trend, that adds credence to the results. If history shows a trend that moves us towards where we think the truth now is, that is strong. Focusing only on the contemporary seems logically flawed. But so is using one’s electronic doodlepad.
<I this post seems a bit disjointed, I apologize. But I decided to practice what I preach. I am writing down my thoughts here before they are fully clarified. One day I may have it all figured out and will edit it. If this paragraph is still here, you can rest assured I haven’t updated yet.>