sexta-feira, setembro 10, 2010

Epidemic of Vanity: "The Grand Design" by Stephen Hawking, Leonard Mlodinow

(Original Review, 2010)

At university, after spending thousands on tuition, I then had to spend a lot, over 3 years, on books for my courses. More than half were written by the very professors that were teaching me. Quite frankly, it's a giant scam. Those professors have already been paid for the first material through their salaries. Why should we have to pay them again for copies of their pretty badly written books? Yes, these books are very expensive, and many don't deserve to be read. A few years ago, I was asked to review a chapter in a research text. The friend who sent me the invite told me over a drink that I was the third person asked, and would I please go easy on the papers. I said yes. I'd do it (slow week and was curious). I wasn't prepared for just how poor the section was. Even simple things, such as the chapter discussing at great length a diagram that wasn't included in the manuscript. So, after going easy, I sent two pages of corrections stating they must be made or the chapter was not suitable for publication. After a couple of months I received an email asking for my address so they could send me a thank you copy. No mention of any edits being made. Still not received a copy of the book...It doesn't matter if it gets bought, as long as you have your name as an author next to a proper ISBN number then you are a published author and with your PhD can get in for the university interviews...along with your list of peer reviewed journal articles too of course...

Surely the point of being an academic is to be published well, stocked in university libraries, cited by students and fellow academics, and of course be paid for it. Not everyone can be Leonard Mlodinow (whose screen work is quite different to his academic work).

Bottom-line: Is hysterical publication caused by an epidemic of vanity? Don't be ridiculous. It is how the institutions that employ us measure our performance and the penalties for non-performance are severe. This is the only reason these publishers can do what they do. All over the world thousands of talented academics are wasting their time writing for non-existent readers: it is completely insane.