We are awesome, trust us

I was curious what folks would make of a list of the “The Top 100 Liberal Arts Professor Blogs.” KF writes about it here, and yes (phew!) I made the cut. But it seems to be the perfect mutual admiration society, and the only credence the list receives is in the quality of its in-links. Now, a fairly large number of reputable folks have linked to it, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. A prophecy with ads.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m certainly happy to be included, just as I’m happy to be in Who’s Who, and the like. And having assembled lists of academic bloggers myself, I know someone had to put a bit of work into writing out the list. But the commercial nature of the list makes it suspect: or it least it would if those on the list didn’t seem to endorse it.

And I’m not against awards or top X lists. I’ve made the point before that indicating the good stuff is a worthwhile venture. It’s just that this serves as an example of when peer review can get to be a bit self-serving. I actually read a bunch of these blogs, and they are good stuff. Heck, most of them were on the Crooked Timber blogroll before they did some recent paring, and no one complained about that. So what’s the problem?

Maybe it’s a question of method. No one voted. There is no citation analysis. (Actually, it might be interesting to run this against Technorati. Or maybe create an index from this list that included who they linked most heavily.)

Overall, I get this uneasy feeling that this case says something about how online trust works, including in places like Wikipedia and in major journals. I’m not sure what it says, exactly. I certainly wouldn’t suggest that any one of the blogs on that list doesn’t deserve to be there. But it makes me a bit uneasy in a non-specified way. Maybe it’s no more than the suspicion that they are wheezing the Googlejuice.

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  1. Posted 8/5/2008 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    I ended up linking to it, but I probably should have thought more carefully about the post I wrote when I linked. It’s not a bad list, but the context for it seems a bit off, as you suggest.

  2. Posted 8/5/2008 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Self congratulation is an awesome marketing tactic. Friend of mine’s dad in the 1980’s did a start up company of his own and took out ads in his regional media which declared “Company X is #1” at whatever they did. While the letters of Cease & Desist started pouring in, so did the business. Second round of ads… “You may have heard we were #1… now come find out for yourself.”

    There’s always a disconnect between quality and popularity. Or rather, always a hefty potential for a disconnect. ‘The race is not always to the swift…’ yaddi yaddi yaddi. Of course, it does get a little scary when you realize just how much money and time are being sunk into analyzing metrics of attention and worthiness. It gets a little eerie to think that the economy upon which we depend is based not on merit but on charisma, of one kind or another.

    The rise of the networked society, indeed. :-)

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