Book Review: Hacking the Academy

Hacking the Academy is in an exercise in contradictions, a text aimed squarely at the entrenched humanities scholarly tradition. An open call was given for submissions along the theme (hacking the academy) but only a week, a speck considering the glacial timelines of academic publishing. The books subversive content culled from decidedly un-academic sources Twitter, emails, blogs, even a Ted talk, serve as exemplars to the goal of Hacking the Academy: academia as we have understood it is dead, we must evolve. The submissions were curated heavily and the final work stands as a testament to that process, a somewhat odd editorial approach considering a crowdsourced upvoting schema is more consistent with what the book proposes. The book may seem ready to undermine academia as we know it, but it is encapsulated in the very medium it purports to replace (academic print publishing). In this way Hacking the Academy acts as a bridge between world’s, that of the academia as it is, and academia as we can conceive of it to be.

Hacking the Academy is loosely organized on certain themes: conferences (or unconferences in this case), teaching, publishing, and infrastructure. Considering the books inclusive and unconventional sourcing, it can be repetitive at times, a fugue on its core themes. The varied perspectives serve more to echo and corroborate their fellows then refute them. Nevertheless the themes are relevant, and it in no way negates the import of modernizing academia.

The goal of this review is to consider the individual themes proposed, and evaluate their relevance in the context of STEM, as this work focused on the humanities, but most (but not all) of the themes translate well to the scientific academic environment. Perhaps our peers in the humanities can help lift the shade from our eyes, and together we can conceptualize an inclusive, adaptable, and modern re-imagining of academia.

Hacking Scholarship

Hacking scholarship, in the context of Hacking the Academy, really means reconceptualizing the academic journal, both in content and in execution.

Why be constrained by traditional print media when creating its digital counterpart. A pdf is not revolutionary. An organic aggregate of text, video, audio, and other supplementary materials, continuously evolving with improvements and additions just might be. This modernized journal might also be too revolutionary for STEM where clarity of communication outweighs flash presentation. In addition to re-imagining the journal itself, there is a reimagining of peer review as a process. The work proposes moving to a publish, then peer review model, where the number of peer reviewers is not artificially constrained by some editorial board but is instead opened to the academic community as a whole.

This model of publishing feels almost inevitable in the sciences, with repositories bioAxiv, and arXiv allowing researchers to publish on their own terms and open peer review to the entire community, not just two to three reviewers selected by some cabal of editors through some arcane, unseen process. This is at least one area where humanities and the sciences are agreed.

Peter Lawson
NSF Fellow and PhD Candidate in Bioinnovation

My current research involves applying topological data analysis to gain insights into topological differences in cancer morphology at the histological level and their importance in diagnosis and prognosis.