Recently in Academia Category

For the past five years I've been working on 'draft zero' of a PhD project on counterterrorism, intelligence, and the 'strategic culture' debate within international relations theory and strategic studies.

The project 'flew past me' during a trip to New York City, shortly after the September 11 attacks, and whilst talking with author Howard Bloom, culture maven Richard Metzger, Disinformation publisher Gary Baddeley, and others. An important moment was standing on the roof of Bloom's apartment building in Park Slopes, Brooklyn, and seeing the dust cloud over Ground Zero.

The 'draft zero' is about 240,000 words of exploratory notes, sections, and working notes; about 146,000 of these words are computer text, whilst 80,000 is handwritten (and thus different, and more fragmentary).

In the next couple of weeks, I'll write about the PhD application process, and the project when it gets formally under way, to share insights and 'lessons learned'.

For now, here's a public version of my CV and academic publications track record (PDF).

This is part of the background material prepared for the target university's formal application process. In the publications section, the letter and numbers relate to Australia's Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) coding for the annual, institutional process of Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC); and the 2010 final rankings of peer reviewed journals for the Australian Research Council's (ARC) Excellence for Research in Australia (ERA) program. Universities and research institutions in Australia use the ARC, ERA, HERDC and DEEWR codings for bibliometrics, inter-institutional benchmarking, and to inform the strategic formulation, development and review of research investment portfolios.
Generating a range of different grant and funding ideas for a client's 'program of research'.

Tony Boyd in today's Australian Financial Review ('How Myer float sprang a leak', p. 64):

The joint managers of the Myer IPO, Goldman Sachs JBWere, Macquarie Group and Credit Suisse, did a masterful job in locking up just about every broker in Australia.

Were there no 'contrarian' views or Monte Carlo testing of Myer's post-IPO valuation price?
Two separate meetings on career directions: Where do you want to be in 3-to-5 years? What actions can you take to move toward these goals?


Collaborator Ben Eltham has written a piece on how the 2010 final rankings for Excellence for Research in Australia (ERA) has affected his academic publishing record: 'When Your Publication Record Disappears'. A title reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails' song 'The Day The Whole World Went Away.'

For the past year I have been dealing, professionally, with issues that Ben raises.
Whilst outside academia, journal publications are often viewed as irrelevant, they are crucial to the academic promotions game, and to getting external competitive grants. A personal view:


ERA is the Rudd Government's evaluation framework for research excellence, developed by the Australian Research Council, to include a ranked list of academic journals and discipline-specific conferences. The ARC released the final ranked list in February 2010. It may be revised and updated in the future, but not this year.

The ARC's goal for this ranked list was to ensure it was comprehensive, peer-reviewed, would stand up to international scrutiny, and would provide guidance to administrators, managers and researchers on quality research outputs.


In the near-term ERA's 2010 final rankings will require adjustments to our academic publication records. Some of the journals we have published in such as M/C were revised down or excluded, probably because of perceived issues with their peer review process. More starkly, ERA's guidelines for academic publications filters out most of my writings over the past 15 years: magazines and journals that no longer exist (21C, Artbyte), websites (Disinformation), magazine articles with original research (Desktop, Marketing, Internet.au), unrefereed conference papers, technical reports, and contract research. It also does not usually include textbooks, research monographs, and working papers. The 'disappearance' effect that Ben describes also happens elsewhere: when Disinformation upgraded its site to new servers, we sometimes lost several articles during the transition that writers had no back-ups of.


Others are in a tougher position: mid-career academics who have taught and not published or applied for external competitive grants, or who understandably focussed on quantity of articles for DEST points rather than ERA's focus on quality ranked journals and 'field of research' codes. ERA has caused a dramatic re-evaluation for some mid-career and senior academics of their publication record, impact factors, and other esteem measures.

Burns, Alex & Eltham, Ben (2009). 'Twitter Free Iran: An Evaluation of Twitter's Role in Public Diplomacy and Information Operations in Iran's 2009 Election Crisis'. In Papandrea, Franco & Armstrong, Mark (Eds.). Record of the Communications Policy & Research Forum 2009. Sydney: Network Insight Institute, pp. 298-310 [PDF pp. 322-334]. Presentation slides here.

Social media platforms such as Twitter pose new challenges for decision-makers in an international crisis. We examine Twitter's role during Iran's 2009 election crisis using a comparative analysis of Twitter investors, US State Department diplomats, citizen activists and Iranian protesters and paramilitary forces. We code for key events during the election's aftermath from 12 June to 5 August 2009, and evaluate Twitter. Foreign policy, international political economy and historical sociology frameworks provide a deeper context of how Twitter was used by different users for defensive information operations and public diplomacy. Those who believe Twitter and other social network technologies will enable ordinary people to seize power from repressive regimes should consider the fate of Iran's protesters, some of whom paid for their enthusiastic adoption of Twitter with their lives.

Burns, Alex & Saunders, Barry (2009). 'Journalists as Investigators and 'Quality Media' Reputation'. In Papandrea, Franco & Armstrong, Mark (Eds.). Record of the Communications Policy & Research Forum 2009. Sydney: Network Insight Institute, pp. 281-297 [PDF pp. 305-321]. Presentation slides here.

The current 'future of journalism' debates focus on the crossover (or lack thereof) of mainstream journalism practices and citizen journalism, the 'democratisation' of journalism, and the 'crisis in innovation' around the 'death of newspapers'. This paper analyses a cohort of 20 investigative journalists to understand their skills sets, training and practices, notably where higher order research skills are adapted from intelligence, forensic accounting, computer programming, and law enforcement. We identify areas where different levels of infrastructure and support are necessary within media institutions, and suggest how investigative journalism enhances the reputation of 'quality media' outlets.

A 2008 academic publication that made the Top 25 downloaded papers of the past year on Victoria University's institutional repository:

Floyd, Josh
, Burns, Alex and Ramos, Jose (2008). A Challenging Conversation on Integral Futures: Embodied Foresight & Trialogues. Journal of Futures Studies, 13(2), 69-86.

Practitioner reflection is vital for knowledge frameworks such as Ken Wilber's Integral perspective. Richard Slaughter, Joseph Voros and others have combined Wilber's perspective and Futures Studies to create Integral Futures as a new stance. This paper develops Embodied Foresight as a new approach about the development of new Integral Futures methodologies (or meta-methodologies) and practitioners, with a heightened sensitivity to ethics and specific, local contexts. Three practitioners conduct a 'trialogue' - a three-way deep dialogue - to discuss issues of theory generation, practitioner development, meta-methodologies, institutional limits, knowledge systems, and archetypal pathologies. Personal experiences within the Futures Studies and Integral communities, and in other initiatory and wisdom traditions are explored.
My notes from Brian Eno's Scenius keynote talk at the Sydney Opera House on 29th May 2009 for the inaugural Luminous Festival as part of Vivid Sydney.

Eno goes out of his way to downplay his work and his public image; he also tape records every talk he does.

In response to a group of protesters outside who were angry about the Australian Government funding Eno's trip, Eno explores various governance issues about government arts funding. He felt uncomfortable about receiving government funds. Noting the public influence of scientists such as Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould and Daniel C. Dennett, Eno states that one of the problems artists faced is that they often did not make clear on their grant funding applications how the broader society would benefit from their work. A second problem was the deliberate mystification by artists of their craft and methodologies. Eno feels that artists need to detail with greater clarity their methodological approach.

Eno praises Charles Darwin's On The Origin of Species (1859) as a model of clarity which revolutionised our scientific worldview and challenged the prevailing theological interpretations of natural history.

He describes Western cultural history as the evolution and interplay of functional artifacts and aesthetic forms. Eno illustrated this by showing and talking about four different screwdrivers from the Sydney Opera House's maintenance department --- contrasting the functional ends with different handles. He also mentioned fashion and joke punchlines as examples of ornamentation and self-presentation.

'Scenius' is Eno's term for a proxemic subculture which diffuses from an aesthetic response and evolves into a unique design space to solve complex social problems. Eno describes late 1960s San Francisco as a space that was less politicised than is now portrayed, and in his view, was more about a group of people deciding to simply 'live' a different philosophy. He also describes the Manhattan Project in these terms, given that the scientists essentially solved the problem of nuclear fission through brute force. He then suggests that there were other scientific frontiers, potentially cold fusion, that were at a similar conceptual and epistemological stage as nuclear fusion was in 1935. 'Scenius' also describes Eno's role as curator/mentor in New York's 'No Wave' scene in the late 1970s.

In contrast to these successful large-scale collaborations, Eno suggests the Santa Fe Institute has been a failure, as nothing really has emerged, and its researchers continue to work on their individual projects rather than collaborative research programs. Eno omits that Citicorp's Walter Wriston tapped Santa Fe expertise so that its capital markets and trading division could develop complexity models of international and cross-border financial flows.
 
Eno thinks in terms of axes, continuums, and spectrums which are then layered in a possibility space (he uses an overhead projector to explore various axes and issues throughout his talk), and drew on ideas from product development and quasi-experimental methods of iterative, rapid prototyping.

He talks briefly about working with Danny Hillis to co-develop the algorithms and music for January 07003: The Bell Studies for The Clock of the Long Now (Opal, 2003), and the rationale and research design of the project for the Long Now Foundation.

Eno feels that climate change and the 'limits to growth' scenario means that artistic methods for problem-solving need to be diffused more widely, and that everyone needs to perceive themselves as having the abilities to contribute to solutions.

Author's note: Vale J.G. Ballard. This interview was originally published in REVelation magazine (Summer, 1994): 96-97. Archived links from Disinformation version (2000).


J.G. Ballard has a unique place in Twentieth Century literature. Imaginative fiction writer and cult figure, his life has often been as nightmarish as the stories he writes. Born on November 15th, 1930 in Shanghai, Ballard's childhood changed from living in a house with nine servants to being interned by the Japanese following the bombing of Pearl Harbour.

His experiences of surviving acute food shortages and dysentry formed the basis for the 1984 novel that brought Ballard widespread recognition - Empire of the Sun, later filmed by Steven Spielberg.

"As far as I was concerned, Empire of the Sun was a breakthrough book, but there have been people who have been generous to my material from the beginning," Ballard says, explaining the difference in his earlier styles.

"The real problem is that imaginative fiction unsettles a lot of people who prefer naturalistic novels that reflect everyday life. Imaginative fiction has never been too popular, but that's changing."

"When magic realism came from South America, people realised that it creates a wonderful, imaginative world, particularly as TV does the everyday stuff better than novels do. After Empire of the Sun, I was dealing with a whole new audience."

Congrats to QUT's Axel Bruns who now spearheads the Smart Services CRC's Social Media program and is likely to become a Chief Investigator in the ARC's Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation. The significance of these appointments is that Bruns has the academic track record as an internationally recognised expert to make a strong research business case to government policymakers, grant-making agencies and institutions for large-scale social media-oriented research.

Bruns' career illustrates how to navigate the academic research game: it has changed from conference papers and solo projects to team-based projects in competitive institutional contexts. Bruns co-founded the online academic journal M/C Media & Culture in 1998 which became an important open publishing journal in digital media studies and criticism. His PhD thesis cemented his academic credentials, and led to Bruns' produsage theory of user-created content. This work has underpinned a publications record, collaborations such as Gatewatching with emerging scholars, and streams at the Association of Internet Researchers and Australian and New Zealand Communication Association conferences. Thus, in a relatively short time, Bruns has positioned himself as an internationally recognised scholar on digital and social media innovation.

The next generation of digital and social media researchers can learn from Bruns' example and career-accelerating strategies.
Social-democrat economist John Quiggin fires an interesting salvo in the journalist-blogger debate: ethics and journalistic practices are perhaps the key distinction between the two.

Watching the hostility between 'old media' journalists and some Web 2.0 bloggers is often like watching Muzafer Sherif's Robbers Cave experiment. For bloggers, traditional journalists are constrained by objectivity, news values and institutional power, and traffic in biased op-ed columns and lightly rewritten corporate press releases. For journalists, bloggers don't understand the norms and practices of the craft, don't navigate the institutional shadow network, and vary greatly in the quality of their analytical insights. The two clashing stereotypes fuel a circular debate, which like Sherif's experiment, may only change when a frame-changing exogenous threat is introduced.

For me, Quiggin makes three key points: (1) journalists have a socially recognised role to "pick up the phone" and talk to strangers; (2) journalists may select material from their interviews into a story and do not have to report everything; and (3) journalists have "a formal code of ethics and a set of informal conventions" to do this whilst bloggers do not. In doing so, I believe Quiggin adopts a middleground position similar to Terry Flew, Barry Saunders, Jason Wilson (from their YouDecide2007 project) and my own thoughts on citizen journalism, with some new insights.

My personal experience of Quiggin's first point is that their role can empower journalists with Freedom to talk with anyone, and to view a situation through different, iterative stances. As I discovered during a 1994 student journalism stint and 1995 coverage of Noam Chomsky's Australian lecture tour, this is a great shock: in the right situation, people can tell you anything, and you can also become a a participant-observer who is now inside the unfolding events. It's a little like Jim Carrey's character in the romantic comedy film Yes Man (2008): you 'forget' the self-limitations of yourself and act beyond normal social conventions.  As Quiggin observes, few people can ask questions of strangers and expect to get revelatory answers.

This approach reaches its zenith in New Journalism as a methodology and repertoire of practices in three ways. First, the journalist may create the "story" through a catalytic, influential effect on the external environment. Second, the journalist can become part of the "story" through capturing their subjective consciousness, and trying to capture a similar stance from the other participants through internal dialogue, scene reconstructions and other techniques. Third, the journalist has more freedom in convention, methodology and practice, such as using fiction techniques in a non-fiction profile. At its core, New Journalism fuses autoethnography, anthropology and acting, which are facets that a blog publishing system might not capture.

Quiggin's second observation is a major flashpoint in the debate: how journalists hone a story and select the facts to report. Bloggers turn to critical media studies for many of their arguments: objective news values, op-ed columnists and other biased sources, institutional forces, and a conservative implementation of web publishing capabilities. In turn, journalists point to the chatter/noise factor in blogs: they may be alternatives to op-ed columnists and newswire press releases yet do not yet replace areas that are resource-heavy and have mature practices, notably investigative journalism. Bloggers counterargue they have more freedom to use nonlinear narrative styles and to publish the raw sources. Perhaps one of the lessons from YouDecide2007 and AssignmentZero was that the editorial decision process to hone and select material is more nuanced in practice than Twitter's role as a first responder in disasters and emergencies.

How do journalists navigate such decision processes? Journalists have discipline-based norms, practices and ethics as barometers. This acts as a check and balance within newsroom culture and its role only becomes clear in a go/no-go decision where the editor has to weigh up the competing interests of different stakeholders and the potential outcomes of publication. In contrast, many bloggers appear to be driven by normative-based anchors (Web 2.0 compared with institutional journalism) and commons-based advocacy (education, sustainability, future generations). But belief alone in noosphere politics and networks may not be enough to surmount the different manifestations of power. If bloggers want to influence the objective universe they can learn much from journalist ethics and strategic nonviolence.
Trent Reznor has released 404gb of raw, unedited HD tour footage from three shows on Nine Inch Nails' 2008 Lights In The Sky tour.  The footage is available as a peer-to-peer BitTorrent file.

An interesting pattern emerges about the reasons for Reznor's BitTorrent tactics and Christmas gifts to fans.  Several weeks ago Reznor indicated to fans that an official DVD project for the tour had fallen through after a negotiation breakdown with a production company.  Whilst researching this 2008 conference paper and presentation I found out that Reznor knew in December 2006 about the Pirate Bay leak of NIN's unreleased Closure DVD (Halo 12), a project still held up by licensing negotiations.

As I suggested in the paper, Reznor is using BitTorrent hyperdistribution to side-step negotiation breakdowns.  You can visualise the backward induction of decision tree payoffs or the real options analysis.  It's a win-win situation for Reznor and NIN's fans: Reznor breaks the deadlock and releases 'unreleasable' projects which probably have significant, unrecoverable sunk costs.  Fans get the raw, unedited material for user-generated content.  Behind this strategic rationale is a positive feedback loop that keeps NIN and Reznor relevant, generates buzz marketing and media coverage, and enhances Reznor's bargaining power in negotiations.  The losers in this reshaped value net are the traditional record companies, their retail distributors and music industry lawyers.
A few months ago publisher Ashley Crawford (of 21C and World Art fame) asked me to contribute to a Photofile Magazine roundtable about a mysterious bunny image.  I sent Ash a brief piece with in-joke references to the Discordianism movement, the horror author H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Adams' novel Watership Down, intelligent design, and the 1977 hoax Alternative 3 (in Photofile #84, Summer 2008, p. 60).  It was a lot of fun.  The image turned out to be Polly Borland's Untitled III (2004-04), and private collector David Walsh now curates a billboard version in Melbourne, Australia.

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