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Publishing and People in Need

This morning I received news from my postdoc adviser that an article she wrote (with help from the rest of the team) has been published in Environment and Planning A.  I have mixed feelings.  I’m super happy that the work has been published.  Everyone on the ALCCAR team has worked hard and what we’ve discovered about how scenario-building in rural Africa can help folks plan for future climatic uncertainty is important.  On the other hand, the peer-reviewed publishing process is frustratingly long.

From how long it sits in an editor’s inbox, to the time it takes for reviewers to do their thing, to the editing and resubmitting, potential re-review, and then all the final typo, image, and type-setting stuff.  The time from submission to final publication can be 1-2 years in the social science world.  Reviewers don’t get paid, so understandingly reading someone else’s paper is low on the priority list.  And don’t get me started on the page fees some journals charge.  Again, I understand costs – particularly if they are open access, which I support.  What I don’t understand is where they expect the money to come from.  At least for anthropologists, you don’t write publication fees into your grant proposals.  There is barely enough funding to go around with the government cuts to NSF budgets.  Perhaps this is ignorance on my part, but if so I’d like to be enlightened.

You might suggest skipping peer-reviewed publication.  As a relatively new, assistant professor on the tenure track I can’t do that.  I get no scholarly credit in my tenure portfolio for blogging or writing for a lay public or writing government reports for politicians and land/resource managers.  It still is “Publish or Perish” in the academy.  Sad, but true.  I teach, and certainly some of my students will go out and help others.  As a teacher though, there are days I feel like a stormtrooper on the Death Star firing my laser gun in the off chance I might actually hit something.

Publish or Perish – AWIS Blog

Environmental change is an ongoing process that people are constantly coping with and adapting to.  Given the things that we could potentially learn and share, so that others might reduce their risk and uncertainty, the peer-reviewed publication process seems way too long.  Actually, the peer-reviewed publication process – given who is impacted by changes – seems really inappropriate.  The farmers and fishers I work with are not going to surf online journals looking for adaptation and coping alternatives.  Not all have access to electricity, let alone the internet or the ability to read the dominant language used – English.  The aid workers who help them out probably won’t read online journals either.  And politicians?  That is a big known, unknown for me.  Perish or Publish?

How do we get what we’ve learned out to the people who need it most?  This is a question that wakes me up at 3am, and keeps me from really relaxing on weekends.  In the meantime, I will enjoy the fact that I’ve been published again and hope that someone, somewhere will find our work useful.


2014. Tschakert, P., K. Dietrich, K. Tamminga, E. Prins, J. Shaffer, E. Liwenga, and A. Asiedu. Learning and envisioning under climatic uncertainty: an African experience. Environment and Planning A 46: 1049-1068.

Abstract. Learning about and embracing change and uncertainty are essential for responding to climate change. Creativity, critical reflection, and cogenerative inquiry can enhance adaptive capacity, or the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to adverse future impacts. However, precisely how learning about change and its driving forces occurs and how experiences are combined with envisioned yet indefinite prospects of the future are poorly understood. We present two linked methodological tools—an assessment of drivers of change and participatory scenario building—used in a climate change adaptation project in Ghana and Tanzania (ALCCAR). We discuss opportunities and challenges of such iterative learning. Our findings suggest that joint exploration, diverse storylines, and deliberation help to expand community-based adaptation repertoires and to strike a balance between hopelessness and a tendency to idealize potential future realities.
Keywords: scenario building, drivers of change, coproduction of knowledge, possible futures