Saturday, March 06, 2010

Fail: Why Do Some Book "Reviews" Collapse and Self-Destruct?

It's pretty amazing that Nature editors screwed up in offering to Jared Diamond the job of reviewing Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire, a collection of academic essays that question -- actually, attempt to demolish, going by these commentaries -- the thesis of his own book Collapse.

If you didn't know anything about Collapse, you would need eagle's eyes while reading Diamond's piece to see the conflict between him and the book he's 'reviewing'. This situation has 'unfair' written all over it!

What could have mitigated it is a clear and explicit acknowledgment (preferably right at the beginning) of the fact that Diamond is writing about a book of critiques of his own work. And this, Diamond does not do and, strangely, Nature's editors do not seem to think is necessary.

* * *

Molika Ashford of StinkyJournalism.Org is on the case. In a follow-up, she offers a brief overview of 'reviewing ethics' practiced by other journals, including Science.

Hat tip to Janet Stemwedel, who has a fun poll that asks you to vote on the kinds of expectations you have when you read a book review in "large circulation science periodicals."


  1. RhondaRShearer said...

    Thank you for adding your voice to this important issue of academic fairness. We have added an update that links to this post.

    Rhonda Roland Shearer, publisher, Stinky

  2. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    The review notes that Diamond is the author of "Collapse", but the complaint seems to be that the book "Questioning Collapse" specifically attacks Diamond's book and Diamond doesn't note that. But it seems hardly surprising or noteworthy to me that a book called "Questioning Collapse" would attack Diamond's book. If the book is in fact solely devoted to attacking Diamond, then it's rather childish, and while Diamond's rebuttal is equally childish, I think it's fair game. Meanwhile, Diamond does make some points in his review that the contributors to "Questioning Collapse" should, I think, prefer to focus on in their replies.