18 December 2021

On publishing half-baked ideas

One of the purposes of this blog, stated in the header ever since it started, is the publication of half-baked ideas. Perhaps something more needs to be said about that. The thought comes from an article that I read more than 50 years ago in a publication called Theoria to Theory, which advocated the publication of half-baked ideas. 

It noted that "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in any of the philosophies currently in use. Nil illegitime carborundum, which is hot dog
Latin for 'Don't let the bastards grind you down'".

In the article Irving John Good lists the kinds of people who might be against the publication of speculations: 

  1. People who are more concerned with development than research. This is a perfectly legitimate professional bias if it is not applied all the time; 
  2. Perfectionists. A perfectionist is a person who does not like to be slapdash on ANY occasion. This is the sort of person who says that if a thing is worth doing at all it is worth doing well; 
  3. People who think it is fatal to make a mistake, especially in print. Many senior civil servants;
  4. People without a sense of humour; 
  5. People who have been unlucky enough to suffer personally through too much credit being given to someone else's half-baked idea, which they themselves had baked.

And those likely to be in favour... 

  1. People who recognise the importance of vague thinking, including those who are incapable of exact thinking; 
  2. Zen Buddhists; 
  3. People who have more ideas than they have time to exploit, possibly because they are getting old, or cluttered up with administrative responsibilities;
  4. Cranks and geniuses (is a genius a crank who turns out to be right?); 
  5. People who think that if a thing is worth doing at all, it is worth half doing;
  6. People who see that their reading would give a better return for a given expenditure of time if the literature emphasised ideas more than technical details.

But it seems to me that we had to wait another 30 years from the publication of the article for the ideal medium for the publication of half-baked ideas to appear -- the blog.

So there is generally a difference between a blog post and a scholarly article that appears in an academic journal. Peer-reviewed academic journals don't usually favour the publication of half-baked ideas and those articles that contain half-baked ideas are rarely recommended for publication. I recently had to decline an invitation to write an article for a scholarly journal because to do it justice I would have had to do a great deal of research, including, probably, travelling to various parts of sub-Saharan Africa. But I no longer have access to an academic library (owing to bureaucratic bungles over renewal of books at the Unisa library) and can't afford to travel to all the necessary places, even if we weren't living in a time of Covid. 

But I think the publication of half-baked ideas in media such as blogs can stimulate discussion, and perhaps stimulate other people to bake them.  The discussion can begin in blog comments, and the debate can continue in other media, like mailing lists and other forums, online or offline. 

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