Monday, August 25, 2014

Maintaining the asexuality bibliography

When I first started my bibliography on asexuality, there were very few academic publications out there. Since then, the number of publications has increased enormously, and so has the rate at which articles are published. I've fallen behind in maintaining it. Partly, this is because there is a lot that has come out. Partly, this is because the whole thing is in need of a serious overhaul and I would like to develop a better method for maintaining it (especially now that, in my own writing, I've learned how awesome bibtex is).  I was curious if any readers would be interested in collaborating with me to help maintain the bibliography, and help make it more easy to update in the future.  If anyone would be interested in helping, that would be greatly appreciated.  If anyone who is familiar with bibtex and/or Python is interested in helping out, that would be even better.

Another reason that I've been behind on updating the bibliography is that I'm seriously questioning the value of having an exhaustive bibliography as the primarily bibliography for asexuality publications on my site.

For a long time, I attempted to treat all publications equally regardless of what I thought of the quality. I made a slight modification to this a few years later by putting a couple of recommended starting places at the top of the bibliography. But some of the publications on asexuality are so utterly awful that I feel the authors are doing a disservice to people by publishing them (i.e. they're wasting the time of potential readers), and I feel like I may be doing a disservice to users of the bibliography by even including these.

Something that has become clear to me from following the academic publications about asexuality is that the peer-review process and other quality control methods are failing miserably in at least some parts of academia. I've seen articles that do "history of asexuality" with virtually no use of primary sources. I've seen sweeping generalizations about the field of psychiatry by people who give no evidence of having ever read anything from that field. Probably the most epic example was that one paper who quoted the AVENites "Megan Mitosis" and "Asexy A-postle".*  Evidently, their understanding of AVEN was so limited that they didn't know the difference between the post ranking field and the username field.

More generally, I feel that a lot of the papers and chapters out there...basically fail to make any meaningful contribution to our understanding of asexuality. They don't present any original research (quantitative, qualitative, or historical/archival). They don't present any original ideas about asexuality.  They just...say stuff.

So my question for readers is what would be most useful to readers of my bibliography who are wanting to have a better understanding of asexuality.  Should it continue to try to be as exhaustive as possible (which will likely became unmanagable after a few more years)?  Should there be somewhat greater restrictions on what is included?  If so, what sort of standard would be fair?  (I certainly don't think that "Did I like that paper?" is a good standard.)  Should I have two bibliographies--an exhaustive-as-possible one and another for things that pass some sort of standard of quality control?)

I know that some of these issues are closely related to larger issues in academia today:  Many people feel that the peer-review process is not doing a good job of quality control, but quality control is vitally important for intellectually credible scholarship.


aceinlace said...

" I've seen articles that do "history of asexuality" with virtually no use of primary sources."

...This I find hard to understand. How do you do an article on the history of asexuality while using just secondary or tertiary sources? There are far more primary sources, even if they're only web-published and on blogs. Personal accounts far outnumber any other kind of source.

I'm not familiar with the programs you'd use to sort your bibliographies, but either two seperate lists ('all publications' and 'quality publications'), unless there was a way to tag or star quality publications in an easy and sortable way on one overall list.

ACH said...

For "history of asexuality", I mostly had in mind things talking about understandings/representations of (things at least sort of like) asexuality before the rise on online asexual communities.

Within social constructionism, there is generally this narrative of "homosexuality was first constructed in the 19th century by medical/psychiatric discourse (dominance)", and then later you get political organizing opposing this (resistance), such as with the declassification of homosexuality per say from the DSM in 1973. Many social constructionists want to smash asexuality into this sort of simplistic narrative: First asexuality is constructed by medical/psychiatric discourse (=dominance and therefore bad), and then later asexuals came along and opposed this (=resistance and therefore good).

One paper ("Asexuality: from pathology to identity and beyond") establishes the first part of this narrative by using a proof text from Foucault. Two articles by Flore talk a lot about the DSM, but cite no more than a single version of the DSM (even though looking at multiple versions side-by-side is rather helpful for seeing how things developed over time), and never cite anyone who was involved with making (any version of) the DSM. In their paper in "Psychology and Sexuality", they simply take the narrative of some of the DSM's harshest critics as unquestioned fact. In both of Flore's articles, a fair amount of time is spent critiquing the work of Masters and Johnson.

Now the fact is that M&J's classification of sexual dysfunctions didn't include a desire-based disorder. That was later proposed (independently) by Helen Singer Kaplan and by Harold Leif in 1977 as modifications to M & J's work, and adopted in DSM-III (published in 1980). But neither Kaplan's nor Leif's work is ever cited, nor is Spitzer and colleagues' work in which (in at least three different articles) they specifically discuss the reasoning behind including the sexual dysfunctions in DSM-III. Why is this? Well the criticisms of M & J's work are basically parroting criticisms made by Leonore Tieffer in a chapter in Sex is not a Natural Act.

My overall impression is that these papers aren't especially unusual in this regard (it's just that they spend more time on matters I happen to have done a fair amount of research on.)

In addition to academic sources for the history of asexuality, another good place to look is newspaper archives (which are often digitized, which makes research much easier than previously), but these are rarely (if ever) considered--even though there's actually a page on the AVENwiki with several examples.

ACH said...

With my above comment, I didn't mean to specifically pick on these authors. What bothers me a lot more is what the publication of these papers reveals about the processes that, supposedly, are for quality control/improvement. I don't know what all was involved in these processes, but I think it's clear that quality control pretty much failed.

To be honest, I was frustrated with the editorial/review process for my own article in Psychology and Sexuality failing to call me out on some of my own BS. At one point, I talk about some of the main controvercies/criticism concerning what to do with HSDD in DSM-5 (among those working in a framework close enough to the DSM to be taken seriously by those revising it). I list four, but provided no evidence or citations for the 2nd-4th of these.

When writing, I was didn't feel like double checking things to see which article said what and then update my references accordingly. I felt that, among those following those debates, my claims would be uncontroversial. When the article came out, I felt that this is something where the editors/reviews should have told me to give some evidence if I was going to make these claims about the academic literature.

Elizabeth said...

Well, looking at your source code I see that currently the bibliography is just an itemized list on a static page. That sort of structure will make it extremely difficult to maintain because every time, you're going to have to go in and edit the page directly. You also have to decide on a static way to organize the list, meaning that if you want it organized in a different way (for example, alphabetically instead of by publication date), you are going to have to create an entirely separate web page from scratch every time. If you decided to do that using your current method, that means you'd have to maintain multiple lists, and add each new publication to all of them every time a one comes out.

Instead of doing that, I'd recommend creating a database listing important information about each publication, and then creating a web page that calls up the entries in the database and displays them. That way, you can allow users to organize entries in the way that is most useful to them without having to do all the work manually. You can also create a web form to add new entries to the database, which could make it easier to do. You probably wouldn't want to allow access to a form that directly adds new entries to the general public, but you may want to give access to something like that to some trusted moderators to help you keep the list updated. You could implement a separate form open to the public where users can submit information to you about new publications, which you could then look over, edit, and copy/paste to add to the database.

As far as quality control goes, you can create a field for rating, and allow users to look at only publications that have at least a certain score if they want. Having a field where you can link to criticisms of a publication can also help.

ACH said...

Hi Elizabeth,

I think that the approach you suggest would work well. When I started this website (back in 2009), I did a lot less coding than I do now (i.e. I rarely did any, whereas now I use Python and LaTeX most days). There were also a lot less publications than there are now.

Part of what made me realize that the format needs to be overhauled is that, not only would storing it as a database make more sense, but I actually already had a database of most of these articles (as a .bib file).

Right now, the two main options that I'm looking at are

1) Moving the main/full bibliography to the AVENwiki, and base it off of the .bib file that I already have. In order to do this, we would need to get the webmaster to add mediawiki's Bibtex extension. This would make adding new documents relatively easy, it would standardize the formating, and (most importantly) is would make crowdsourcing easy (and Google Scholar automatically generates entries for articles, though these would need to be hand-checked). However, this could get unwieldy as the number of articles increases and it doesn't provide any simply means of sorting or filtering articles according to a specific user's interests.

The other main option would be more along the lines of what you've proposed. In the long run, I think that that would be a better approach. I've studied database management before, but that was over a decade ago and didn't focus on web applications, so I'd have to get up to speed on things. (On the other hand, those are rather employable skills...) Also, I don't know how long I plan to continue to own the Asexual Explorations domain.

Right now, I think I'm leaning towards using the AVENwiki solution in the short term, and possibly setting up a more user-friendly interface on Asexual Explorations a bit down the road.