Generalized PageRank (Peer review, Quality and Open Access (3))

From a post on my art blog 4,5 years ago:

in the end what it boils down to, in my not so humble opinion (imnsho), is that we humans have not got a better `objective’ concept of quality than what i would call generalized pagerank. consider each human to be like a web page, having some pagerank. consider some humans to be expert, these get a high generalized pagerank (gpr). then see what kind of buzz (=gpr) a certain subject (for instance an art work, or an artist) generates to determine its `objective’ quality.

[i apologize to those readers who do not know how google calculates pagerank, but the web overflows with info on this]

obviously, there are many snags behind this way of determining quality. it yet is the current practice in almost all disciplines i know of. one obvious snag is that this gpr-business leads to hypes: things that create a buzz because they create a buzz because everyone is busy buzzing about it…until the hype moves on and people wonder: why was anybody ever truly interested in this for longer than five days?

and this is where i believe pirsigs approach is valuable, on the personal level. because if i drop the prerequisite that i should be able to communicate objectively what quality is, then i can explore quality on the personal, probably non-verbal level.

What I wish to develop from this post is that there are no objective measurements for quality. If you are familiar with Robert Pirsig‘s wonderful book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, you will see what I meant by the last paragraph quoted above.

Still, both as individual and as society, we need to identify quality and lack of quality. This is a complex philosophical issue, in my opinion. Although this is also a blog on philosophy, I wish to cut that corner in order not to lose the thread on open access and peer review altogether. So, let’s limit ourselves to science for now.

To me the first quality-relevant question in science is: are we asking the right questions? (Yes, this seemingly assumes that we know what questions are`right’, and it is also a sort of paradox, and yes I find that appropriate 😉 ).

I fuzzily remember a quote which was pinned on the notice board of our PhD-room: `A talented person discovers solutions, a genius discovers problems’. Which I like better than the related quote from Schopenhauer `Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.’ because the hitting of the target is less relevant than its discovery as a worthwhile target in the first place.

(to be continued)



About fwaaldijk

mathematician (foundations & topology in constructive mathematics) and visual artist
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