Next week I´ll be at the Historikertag in Mainz (German Historians Conference, literally “day for historians”), with about 3000 participants a conference you know, even if you aren´t a dedicated historian, like me. I was asked to go there to look after the booth of my institute & to write a protocol for one of the sessions, and somehow agreed without checking the date. Of course, I knew that the Historikertag lasts longer than one day but who could know that nowadays people already arrive on Monday and won´t leave until Friday? That´s a hell of a day!
Recently my girlfriend found a Brunch spread called “Indianer” and bought it out of curiosity. An arrow on the packaging and the fact that the brother Brunch of “Indianer”, is called “Cowboy” unambigiously revealed the reference to native Americans. “Cowboy´s” flavour (Bacon & Chili) somehow fulfills the cliché of a classical mexican vaquero lunch. “Indianer” apparently didn´t provide a stereotype with a suitable taste so the food designer decided to choose Curry. No idea whether that´s a joke, but checking the list of ingredients (main ingredients: yogurt, mashed potatoes, white cabbage, carrots, tomato purree) indicates that the native Americans must hide somewhere in the added aroma.
Btw. To me “Indianer” Brunch tastes like ananas, it seems to be a kind of global flavour. I should try to have it on a piece of grilled chicken as the packaging proposes to have it the real indian way
Peer review gives sense to publications by “affirming” their scientifical relevance and qualtiy. Recently the publishing company Elsevier launched a competition for “original idea[s] (…) that will significantly improve or add to peer review as it exists in its various forms for academic journals” with finalist to be announced in mid-august. Reffering to this challenge James Rosindell and Will Pearse presented a peer review model on PLOS Biology that very much resembles open peer review proceedings (OPR) and added some interesting thoughts. I was thinking about writing a critique on peer review from a radical democratic perspective. As some of my ideas matched up with the proposal of Rosindell and Pearse I want to discuss them shortly along their approach.
In short, the idea is to establish an online system in which commisioned scholars but also other volunteer can evaluate papers with a system comparable to Reddit. This way the authors intend to open the arena where science is produced, while keeping the review´s filtering function for a wider range of readers.
Breaking the consequences down:
- The process of filtering becomes visible to the scientific community, while today it is in most cases locked up in publishing houses.
- The review process becomes part of the debate.
- Generally, more and diverse actors are able to take part in the review process.
- Unpublished manuscripts would remain “in the orbit” and could be published later in case of rejection.
The decisive difference to current OPR might be the intention to head for a broad participation within the scientific community, by making it easier to give a vote. Recent OPR proceedings – at least as far as I see didn´t manage to massively activate co-readers, probably also caused by non-intuitive, sometimes old-fashioned systems. The proposal would allow in perspective the sepparation of professional review from publishing houses, because papers could be published on the platform independently on whether there is a call or not. As papers stay on the platform and can be published at a later point, the history of publications documented on the platform could also be read as a critique of prevailing knowledge structures.
While I generally agree with open peer review proceedings and the proposals made by Rosindell and Pearse, here are some of the problems I see:
- General overviews are a handy thing, but they don´t correspond to the sophisticated structure of scientific texts (there might be differences between disciplines). A comparable problem yet regards comments and reviews when summarizing or valuating the text in a rather general way. In this case the critique on specific aspects is not comprehensible to the reader.
- Overall-ratings suggest the validity of the scientific publications. However, looking back in time, we have to bear in mind that overall convictions of the past in many cases prevented a proper (from the perspective of the prevailing present) change of theory, methods or perspective (for examples of prominent peer-review-victims click here). Insofar I don´t agree with the idea of an advancing science – especially with the number of publications as index. Discoursive structures arise by producing a supposedly “general” opinion. It is important to enable the reader to construct an opinion on their own.
- Rosindell and Pearse propose the exclusion of participants that are considered to be “biased” or just “not qualified”. But who defines quality?
- The platform is replenished with a social network of (dis)trust. The overall rating of papers change depending on the trust attributed to the people within the network.. This doesn´t change the problem of arising discourses, however, it visualizes discoursive structures and thus makes them more permeable & open to criticism.
- The network of (dis)trust should not only relate to papers and reviews but also to parts of the text. Besides writing a full review, participants should be able to write comments and opinions within the paper (like in Google Docs, Zoho, aso). Full reviews can relate to these elements. This way review and text form a unit, which gives way to a scientific debate along the text.
- In a system of (dis)trust there is no need for restriction as the restrictions are being made by the users themselves. Again: that doesn´t solve the problem of exclusivity but it empowers the users to do it on their own. This way people can get an idea of how their scientific peer group changes their reception of science.
Recently I was thinking about the impact of realities presented in video games on the perception of our “not-virtual reality”. As a child of the 80s and early video game enthusiast I am probably not an expert on video games history but still aware of the development video games took especially in the 90s (and even though I am not an active “gamer” anymore I still follow gaming trends from time to time to see what´s going on).
There are tons of games referring to places, actors or events taken from the “real”, or rather “historic”, world, lots of them simulating war and conflicts. Since animation was a technical problem on early mainstream computers first examples can be found in real-time strategy games like Command & Conquer: Red Alert (1996). Like other games of this genre, Red Alert was designed as 2D environment controlled from bird-eye view with a limited set of colours and forms. More intensively than the original part of the series from 1995 the game features “real” individuals like Hitler, Stalin, Einstein, collective actors like the Soviet Union, China, European nations and of course the real world´s geographic appearance in an alternative scenario of history caused by time-travel featuring.
Before the first ego shooter in a real world environment appeared, history based 3D video games could be found e.g. in flight combat simulators that came into being in the early and mid 90s. Simulators inherently refer to a real experience, insofar there´s a small step from science fiction combat situations to historical war scenarios. An important brand in the 90s was Jane´s Combat Simulations publishing about 20 games, of which I particularly remember Jane´s IAF: Israeli Airforce (1998). IAF offers the replay of most historical war campaigns that determined Israel´s foreign politics until then: the Six Day War in 1967, the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the Lebanon War in 1982 and Operation Opera, in which the player has to bomb the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq. Like other simulators it also – and that´s a crucial point – offers future war scenarios in which Israel faces aggresions from the syrian, the iraqi and the lebanese border. Like in most other games of that time the campaigns are built as a one-track narrative with a fixed role for the player. This way history is affirmed by reproducing it while not calling into question the historical background. In context with the historic wars the additional campaigns create vectors that point to present and future assumptions about the character, moral, involvement and relation of certain actors (like “Iraq”, “Syria” aso) and of course: a moral habit to cope with them.This type of closed narrative very much resembles to the structure of books with the difference that here the “reader” is not a silent observer of but an actor within the narrative and thus described by the story itself in terms of character, moral, involvement and relation to other actors.
The problem of the closed historic narrative is even more visible in games that try to open it up and – instead of merely retelling a story – use history as a medium. This happens e.g. in Sid Meyer´s Civilization (first version 1991), in which (in short) the gamer as the ruler of a nation has to create an empire throughout human history by improving technology, regulating the economy and maintaining regional power. The game uses historical ethnic designations and political terms (monarchy, anarchy aso) as well as a timeline of technological improvements propped up to the “actual” history of technology. The game is not deterministic at all in terms of historical events but it is – like any other game – deterministic in terms of the code it is written in (which is basically “how the game works”) and deictic in terms of it´s clear reference to our “real” world. The idea of an open “real” world covers up it´s underlying discourse.
But what is the “real” world in Civilization? The best way to answer the question is to look for the most striking acting strategies and limits given in the game we can identify in comparison to our conception of the “real” world. Most interesting to me appears the position and role of the main actor, the player. One example: The developers did not focus at all on “internal politics”. There can be riots in cities, however, they are not actors but rather consequence of general conditions like poverty, taxes or danger. Same thing concerning politics: In the game the player can choose between different political systems (Despotism, Feudalism, Monarchy, Facism, aso) but never share decision-making powers as the system organizes the behaviour of the citizens and doesn´t create political actors but only pragmatic strategies for the player (check this summary of “political systems” in Civilization III). Insofar there is just authoritorian politics, interstate diplomacy and war in Civilization. History is determined by power politics of single persons representing or even personifying homogeneous, collective actors. This game mode is usually referred to as “God game” (Burns 2002: 2 quoted by Prensky 2000: 139). It also implicates the fact that the main actor in the game acts throughout time which – rather than producing the idea of god – produces the idea of nations or states as coherent collective and particularly historic actors. The actor design in Cilization seems to be strongly influenced by neorealistic perspectives that strategically understand states as the main decision-maker in an anarchical structure, where power is the decisive factor for whatever happens in the world.
Interestingly Cilization in it´s 3rd version had become a widely accepted educational tool to teach students about history, geography, politics, although this was not intended by the authors. This shows how much “virtual realities” and “reality” can be blended. In a text analysis of discussions between Cilization III modders Trevor Owens has stressed the fact that modders and players don´t just accept the way the game works but have their own critical thoughts on it and “freely discuss the same issues as professional historians, philosophers, and sociologists.” (10) However, the assumtions on “how the world works or worked” that can be found in games as in other historical representations are not arbitrary and – depending of the authority we internalize to attribute to it – structure the way we perceive the world and determine the actions we take. Of course games are not identical with our “real” world. In fact the word “game” implies an irreconcilable difference, but as we´ve seen virtual realities can and want to establish close links to the real world that break down thoughts on how the “world” or specific parts of it work, what is moral and immoral what can be done and what has to be done.
Waiting at a busstop in Berlin earlier this spring I spotted a commercial with the catchy slogan “Alltag aus, Leben an” showing a camera shot of a surfer diving into the shiny ocean. A translation of the slogan comes with some semantic problems. “Alltag” generally refers to whatever happens usually and can be translated as “daily life”. “Alltag” can be translated as “working day” as well and is probably in most cases closly connected to the idea of a “common life” heavily structured by a regular job and the dichotomy to non-job-time. “Leben” simply translates into “life”, however, depending on the situation, it can contain a notion of joy, delight and ease (check the contiguity in “das Leben [in vollen Zügen] genießen”). “aus-an” (off-on) creates an opposition between “Alltag” and “Leben”. Obviously the image shows the “an” part, not only metaphorically but also by showing what the enterprise actually offers: sunny holiday elsewhere at the blue sea, creating an additional “here-there” opposition – especially thinking ´bout Berlin in the springtime. The main slogan in the lower right of the commercial also focusses on a caesura proclaiming “Zeit für neue…” (time for new…). “Ziele” in this context can be translated to the localized “destinations/directions” as well as the individualist “plans/goals” and insofar fits the aspect of delight and ease of “Leben”. An interesting paradox is the fact that “Leben” in the slogan is actually not a compatible counterpart to “Alltag” even though in german it doesnt immediately catch our eye. “Leben” stays a holistic concept because we are also living in our daily life.
Following these thoughts the poster suggests that our “life” which is basically in a very tautological sense “daily life” is not really “life”, but “life” is what the enterprise offers.