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August 16, 2007

Bad sources
Posted by Teresa at 10:55 AM * 578 comments

By popular demand: scholarly or reference works so bad that you must never, ever cite them, lest you be cruelly mocked by your fellows.

Also: how to spot a bad book when you aren’t already familiar with the literature in that field.

Comments on Bad sources:
#1 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:00 AM:

Gale Research Guides.

#2 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:08 AM:

The Debka "news" site.

Alas, the NYPD cited them as the source for a dirty bomb scare in NYC.

#3 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:10 AM:

In genealogy: Roderick Stuart, Royalty for Commoners. (The first edition was recalled by the publisher. The more recent ones are slightly better, but still bad. There's one place where he conflated three women, who thus has been given two marriages after her death.)

#4 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:12 AM:

Suetonius, uncorroborated, on historical infotainment.

#5 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:14 AM:

Anything published or endorsed by the Discovery Institute.

#6 ::: jennie1ofmany ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:15 AM:

Herbert Norris's Medieval Costume and Fashion". Norris's books are everywhere, they're wonderfully illustrated, and they generally contain few-to-no references to actual sources or artwork of the period.

#7 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:17 AM:

Bryson's The Mother Tongue.

#8 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:22 AM:

Anything that has won an Ignobel prize.

I'd be suspicious of anything that cited something in "BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine" http://www.biomedcentral.com/bmccomplementalternmed or any other similar journal.

Going on the evidence I'd be really suspicious of any article that involves statistics and where no author is a statistician. This applies to fields as diverse as climate change, sociology and biology but it is hard to identify such papers in advance, we just have to wait until some statistician has a look at them and finds the error.

#9 ::: Jess Nevins ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:23 AM:

David Foster Wallace's Signifying Rappers.

Norman Davies' Europe.

World Book Encyclopedia

#10 ::: Lighthill ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:24 AM:

I'm on a couple of program committees for academic conferences about computer security and privacy. This year I realized that this gave me advance notice of new bad sources, when I found a couple of really grotesque howlers in people's related works sections, only to find that they had cited the same incredibly misinformed survey paper, published last year in an obscure workshop that none of my colleagues had actually heard of.

Just to make sure I hadn't gone crazy, I showed sections from the survey paper to the authors of the original papers surveyed, to see whether they would recognize their own systems. None did, except to say, "That sounds a little like [my design], only broken and stupid."

The sad part was that, by relying on the Bad Survey Paper, the authors had failed to realize that others had done what they were trying to do years ago, and done it better.

On the off chance that anybody else cares about the field (hi, Xeger!), Chothia and Chatzikokolakis's 2006 survey of anonymous p2p is not to be trusted, and serves no good purpose other than spotting authors who don't read primary sources.

I'm not sure yet if there's a general way to spot unreliable sources of this kind.

#11 ::: julie ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:27 AM:

Anything with a PublishAmerica or AuthorHouse logo on the spine.

The sad thing is, there may be one or two decent works among the dregs, but there's no guarantee that the good stuff (rather though it may be) has been properly edited or reviewed.

#12 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:28 AM:

Also see http://www.badscience.net/?p=477

Citing anything in the journal "Medical Hypotheses" looks like a prime case for automatic junking

#13 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:31 AM:

What, nobody mentioned Wikipedia yet?

(Okay, so it's not a scholary work)

#14 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:36 AM:

Anything by Barry Fell.

#15 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:37 AM:

Re: #8: Ouch! I'd like to protest your proposed rule does not hold true for all IgNobel prizewinners. Some of them? Yes, absolutely. (L. Ron's on that list, after all.) But not all of them. Ig Nobel-winning reports have been published in journals like Nature and The Lancet. The research doesn't have to be badly done or actively misleading to win the prize. It just has to make you laugh -- and then make you think.

I've been involved with the Igs since 2000 or so -- and really, I promise, "objectively bad science" is not what gets looked at in selecting the winners.

#16 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:41 AM:

Every comp sci author (too numerous to mention) who cites Christopher Alexander's work on design patterns when they have obviously never read any of his books much less grokked their essence.

#17 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:41 AM:

The 21 Lessons of Merlin, and, for anything historical rather than spiritual, Starhawk's The Spiral Dance. She was unfortunately still using the "9 million dead witches" figure and suchlike silliness.

#18 ::: C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:45 AM:

Drabble, Margaret, ed. The Oxford Companion to English Literature (any edition) for anything after the death of Queen Vic. Some of it's ok, some of it's not, and only a specialist can really tell the difference.

Arguments about the exact progress of post-Civil War engagements involving the US military that rely upon the West Point Military Atlas series.

Churchill, Winston S. The Second World War.

Virtually any "constitutional history," particularly those by or citing Levy, that is not written by someone with a JD or LLB. Sorry, historians and political scientists, but procedural posture really does make a difference in understanding both constitutional texts and interpretation of constitutional texts, and y'all just don't have the background to understand it.

And here's one that I'll probably get in trouble for: any portion of Nimmer on Copyright that concerns itself with historical development. It's not a mark of shame, unfortunately — but it is unreliable for historical analysis (and even facts, but that's another issue entirely).

#19 ::: Mark Wise ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:47 AM:

Anything from Regnery Publishing

#20 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:48 AM:

Joseph P. Swain's The Broadway Musical: A Critical and Musical Survey

The problem is not that Dr. Swain treats the Broadway musical with academic rigor. When Stephen Banfield does it, the result is inevitably insightful. I wouldn't mind seeing more of it. The problem is that the book reads like Dr. Swain has no clue how a musical is actually written (or re-written, really).

Dr. Swain approaches each work as if its goal was to be a fully integrated, large-scale musical form. This means, in some cases, he's trying to discern a structure which isn't there. Or he takes authors to task for failing at something they never intended. e.g., the music which comprises the dream ballet in Oklahoma is a medley, most likely improvised by the rehearsal pianist while Agnes deMille was choreographing.

Not surprisingly, the works which actually are fully integrated, large-scale musical forms fare best under his analysis (and those chapters have some value). However, the book, taken by itself, may lead people to think that one writes a musical the same way one writes a symphony. Or that the ideal that musical writers aim at is an overarching large scale structure.

#21 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:50 AM:

The Reason Foundation is another group to avoid citing in anything approaching a serious paper or article.

A few years ago they published some "study" that they claimed would greatly improve safety on our interstates, by paving over all the medians and requiring large trucks to use those lanes. They'd be separated from all the other traffic by barriers and there would be one lane in each direction for them.

After looking at their "study" and its attached drawings, I sent a letter to their site listing my (many) concerns I had with it and how I felt that it had several critical and fatal errors in it. I got a response back from the author, who tried to handwave off my concerns, and when he couldn't, just labeled me argumentative and refused to talk with me any further.

#22 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:53 AM:

John (21): All the medians? With barriers? But that would ...

Oy.

#23 ::: Dorothy Rothschild ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:59 AM:

My thesis? :)

As for bad books - I would personally avoid anything that refers to the author of Pride and Prejudice as 'Miss Austen' because that sets my teeth on edge, though I realize that's throwing out many Grand Old Men Of Literary Criticism with the bathwater.

#24 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:00 PM:

Adelle Davis on medicine or nutrition:

Let's Eat Right to Keep Fit
Let's Cook It Right
Let's Stay Healthy
Let's Have Healthy Children
Let's Get Well
You Can Get Well
Crankery and rubbish.

#25 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:02 PM:

#10 ::: Lighthill commented:
On the off chance that anybody else cares about the field (hi, Xeger!), Chothia and Chatzikokolakis's 2006 survey of anonymous p2p is not to be trusted, and serves no good purpose other than spotting authors who don't read primary sources.

Heh. I was about to write and ask if we knew eachother... but I believe that solidly answers the question :)

I'm not sure yet if there's a general way to spot unreliable sources of this kind.

I've lately developed a profound irritation about people who can't seem to cite anything more recent than ~10 years ago on topics that change so much that work done 10 -months- ago may not be valid any longer. Again - it tends to mean that their work is based on functionally unreliable sources, as well as being painfully out of touch with the current state-of-the-... well - art will do.

#26 ::: Rymenhild ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:04 PM:

Scholars citing John and Caitlín Matthews on Arthurian literature make the baby Taliesin cry.

#27 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:05 PM:

Colin Wheildon, Type And Layout. Very bad legibility studies.

Gregg Easterbrook, A Moment On The Earth. Claims that the Exxon Valdez oil spill was no big deal because he took a boat trip throught the area a few years later, and it looked fine to him.

#28 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:07 PM:

"Das Ende des Hitler-Mythos" (various translations) Joseph Greiner, Zurich, 1947. A purported memoir. Greiner claims to have been a close friend of Hitler during the period 1907-1908, when they were both living in Vienna, and again in 1913. Many historians, notably Bullock and Trevor-Roper, relied on him for evidence of Hitler's family relationships and personal habits during this period. But detailed work with the Vienna records and conflict with other reliable sources has established that it's nothing more than a rehash of gossip Greiner heard before the war, plus hot air. He almost certainly never knew Hitler personally; yet Greiner is still quoted occasionally as "eyewitness" testimony. Worse, the works of the historians who relied on him and drew conclusions about Hitler from what Greiner said about his Vienna years, are still extant. There's no way to call them back.

Is that the sort of thing you mean?

#29 ::: r@d@r ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:07 PM:

as most of my own research is conducted in bookstores, i avoid the business, self-help, and bestseller sections for pretty much the same reason: conventional wisdom is seldom wise. books with "leaders" or "leadership" in the title are as bad as books with "prophecy" or "diet".

LOL about regnery - i'm currently clearing copy permission on one of their texts for a professor. the guilty shall remain nameless.

#30 ::: Misanthrope ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:07 PM:

Anything by:
David Barton, especially (a)historical quotes attributed to founding fathers.

Paul Cameron, anthing about teh gays

Concur with earlier posts on Discovery Institute and Regnery Press.

#31 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:09 PM:

Are there *any* books that are (say) over a century old and still useful as scholarly works? I'd imagine citing Gibbon would get you into trouble with an ancient historian; similarly, I'd be very suspicious of anyone that used The Golden Bough for a discussion of the development of religon.* Most science texts will have been superseded.

It also depends slightly on what you use these books for; The Second World War has its uses as a primary source, but you'd want to check its assertions very hard against modern scholarship or other primary sources.

C.E. Petit #18: Are the West Point maps off, or the descriptions, or both? And why only post-civil-war?

*Which reminds me: I gather that anything that Robert Graves wrote on mythology is deeply suspect, however good the *stories* may be.

#32 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:10 PM:

Anything by Herbert Norris, including Medieval Costume and Fashion, Ancient Costume and Fashion, and Tudor Costume and Fashion. Contrary to popular belief, Herbert Norris is not a primary source. Nor an accurate source. While as a field medieval textiles cannot use the stricter temporal guidelines common to other areas of study, if it hasn't been written in the last 30 years and isn't a translation/republication of a primary source, please consider throwing it out the window.

Boucher's 20,000 Years of Fashion - This is a lovely pointing book with lots of pretty pictures. However, the lack of citations for mass generalizations should drive many to drink. A citation to this book is not sufficent for anything. Find the primary source.

I should go find the working list. I think it got packed with the books to be sold back.

#33 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:16 PM:

Xeger, what you sometimes see in lit studies are scholars who are still unashamedly working from corrupt old editions. Some old editions of Shakespeare are remarkably bad.

I still have a bright spot in my memory for a critical edition of the poetry of John Cleveland where the first third of the book (and not a thin one, either) was a beautifully clear and informative discussion of the many pirate editions of Cleveland, the circumstances of their publication, how you could trace the descent of texts from one edition to another via typos and misattributed additional poems picked up along the way, and, finally, which poems they had included or excluded and why. It culminated in a sort of genealogical chart showing which pirate editions of Cleveland were typeset from which other editions. It was a lovely piece of scholarship, and I can't imagine any lesser effort making sense of and cleaning up Cleveland's variant texts and misattributed works.

#34 ::: shadowsong ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:18 PM:

so, those of you mentioning Norris: is the correct action in this situation to first see if Janet Arnold has written anything about the topic?

#35 ::: Dorothy Rothschild ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:18 PM:

Dave @ 28 - which reminds me, anything by David Irving. IIRC, even Wikipedia discounts him as a source....

#36 ::: Dorothy Rothschild ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:21 PM:

TNH @ 35:

what you sometimes see in lit studies

Well, yes, because you can't see anything in an unlit study....

*rimshot*

#37 ::: jennie1ofmany ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:22 PM:

Jakob @ 31

Are there *any* books that are (say) over a century old and still useful as scholarly works? I'd imagine citing Gibbon would get you into trouble with an ancient historian; similarly, I'd be very suspicious of anyone that used The Golden Bough for a discussion of the development of religon.* Most science texts will have been superseded.

Context is everything: We referred to Gibbon in my various Roman history courses not for his conclusions, but for his chronologies, which were just fine, and also because one of the themes in at least one of my courses was that the study of history is itself a product of the time and civilization in which the study takes place. I would say that if a scholar's research ends with Gibbon, he's not to be taken seriously. If it begins with Gibbon, and goes from there to the primary sources and more recent research, it may have some value.

Likewise, Frazer is a not-bad source for the stories and for a comparative look at certain myths; however, you can't just read The Golden Bough and stop there. Unless, you're analyzing Frazer's analysis, I suppose, perhaps. I'd say a serious look at the development of religion would not reference only Frazer, but it might reference Frazer among others. A book about the study of the development of religion might reference Frazer heavily.

#38 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:23 PM:

Jakob @ 31

Yes, there are. Many works were only translated into English by bored/interested Victorian/Edwardian scholars. So the most recent translation of the Seanchus Mor (mentally add leintions), the old Irish law text, was 1911. The seminal works on renaissance underwear are of the same era...full of errors, but there aren't many people intersted in writing about underwear and its still the acknowledged authority. When it comes to medieval/renaissance scholarship much has been done in the last 30 years, but we haven't covered everything yet. So we still use the old sources.

Someday, maybe, I'll get enough Old Irish to be able to translate the Seanchus Mor again. It might be a retirement project.

#39 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:24 PM:

Avoid any work on the Canterbury Tales that takes them at face value, and believes that Chaucer's opinions of his characters were the same as those of Chaucer the pilgrim narrator.

#40 ::: Misanthrope ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:24 PM:

Oo oo oo how about anything described by the author as "a very serious, thoughtful, argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care"

I think this is my favorite Making Light post in a while, thanks!

Regarding the "how to spot a bad book when you aren’t already familiar with the literature in that field" part of this post, I would love to see some comments. Aside from "google is your friend" and the always good advice "check for association with known white nationalists" (I'm looking at you Irving), what else do you do?

#41 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:25 PM:

In Tolkien scholarship, the never-to-be-cited works are:

Anything by David Day.

The Languages of Middle-earth by Ruth Noel.

The biography by Michael White.

The biography by Daniel Grotta, except for the few places he actually uses unique primary sources.

It is permitted to cite Robert Giddings and the anthology he edited (J.R.R. Tolkien: This Far Land), but only to point out how idiotic it is (except for the essay by Diana Wynne Jones, which is actually good and was evidently included by mistake).

#42 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:27 PM:

31: Clausewitz is still useful; at least, Gen Rupert Smith wrote an entire book (The Utility of Force) building on/disagreeing with him. But I don't think he's been superseded.

36: "You won't read anything better in a lit study. And in an unlit study it's too dark to read" - thanks to Groucho Marx.

#43 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:28 PM:

Robert Graves's The White Goddess as a critical or historical insight into anything other than How Robert Graves Thought About Writing Poetry (or, possibly, into of one of the more colorful ways to have post-Great-War PTSD.)

#44 ::: Vef ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:29 PM:

The White Goddess by Robert Graves. It's an interesting approach to history but 'fanciful' doesn't begin to cover it.

Can anyone tell me if the CIA World Factbook is generally reliable?

#45 ::: Misanthrope ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:30 PM:

Screwed up the html tag. The quote in gold is meant to link to a critisism of Jonah Gold's eventually-to-be-published Liberal Fascism (sub title unknown)

#46 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:32 PM:

I suppose that many of the books on this list may be good in parts; the difficulty for the non-expert is in separating the good from the bad.

jennie1ofmany #37: Indeed, the more meta you get the more use you can make of any text :) I meant rather works whose conclusions are still broadly substantiated by current scholarship.

Another thought: anything that uses the KJV as an accurate translation of the original scriptures - see the discussion above about good and bad parts.

#47 ::: Vef ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:32 PM:

Blast it, beaten!

DBratman @ 41

I've been stung by David Day myself. I'll stick to Shippey next time.

#48 ::: Pete Darby ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:34 PM:

#24: I'll have to add Gillian McKeith, who has, inter alia, claimed that raw vegetables help digestion through photosynthesis in the gut.

I concur with the trading standards authority, who have forced her to remove the title "doctor" from her dietary supplements range. Sadly, they seem to be impotent when it comes to books, web sites, TV programmes, etc.

#49 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:36 PM:

Who's Who in Science Fiction and the first edition of The Rolling Stone Record Guide are both riddled with grotesque factual errors. (The latter is also riddled with arrogance and judgmental laziness that is laughable in retrospect, but that's probably outside the purview of this discussion.)

#50 ::: Scraps ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:39 PM:

Teresa, have you read Marvin Mudrick's dissection of John Gardner's Chaucer "biography"?

#51 ::: Siena ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:41 PM:

William Manchester's A World Lit Only By Fire. A terrible, terrible book by an otherwise good historian. Alas, the enthusiastic reviews of it on Amazon as the cure for all that dry, scholary writing. I enjoy a good papal orgy story as much as the next person, but it's not a replacement for facts.

#52 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:42 PM:

#33 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden commented:
I still have a bright spot in my memory for a critical edition of the poetry of John Cleveland where the first third of the book (and not a thin one, either) was a beautifully clear and informative discussion of the many pirate editions of Cleveland, the circumstances of their publication, how you could trace the descent of texts from one edition to another via typos and misattributed additional poems picked up along the way, and, finally, which poems they had included or excluded and why. It culminated in a sort of genealogical chart showing which pirate editions of Cleveland were typeset from which other editions. It was a lovely piece of scholarship, and I can't imagine any lesser effort making sense of and cleaning up Cleveland's variant texts and misattributed works.

Neat! I don't suppose you'd happen to have a reference to that edition? I quite like the idea of chasing descent like that.

Come to think of it, #10 ::: Lighthill, it might be outright fun to do a geneology of privacy and crypto misconceptions...

#53 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:42 PM:

Jakob in 31 --

Saw a cite of Snorri's Edda recently which noted that Snorri had access to more and better material than any modern on the subject of Norse Myth.

Can't say as I'd disagree with that, and Snorri is 13th century.

#54 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:42 PM:

Pretty much anything in the fields of city planning and urban design, including Christopher Alexander's work on pattern language. (Apologies to Lance Weber @ 16.) Wonderful professions, both, but their theoretical underpinnings tend to reflect more hope than science....

#55 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:43 PM:

#40- Thought on how to tell things not in your field.

Partially a time thing. How fast is the field moving? The basic rule of thumb is 10 years, but comp sci, we all know that everything changes much more rapidly than ancient history. Adjust your time perimeters accordingly.

Other thoughts- not always true, but generally.

Amazon has a citation feature. If the book is widely cited, you're probably ok.

If it is published by a scholarly press, you're probably ok. University Of **** Press is the easy way, but make yourself familar with the other big, multidiciplinary publishers. Ashgate. Boydell and Brewer. Blackwell. McGraw-Hill. Harcourt? Brill. Wikipedia has a list of university presses that doesn't seem to be too bad.

Articles in journals- how long has the journal been running? Forever and a day? You're probably ok. Is it based out of an academic institution? Is it peer-reviewed? Again, probably ok.

#56 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:44 PM:

but comp sci, we all know that everything changes much more rapidly than ancient history should be "but we all know that comp sci changes much more rapidly than ancient history." My apologies.

#57 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:44 PM:

I suppose that many of the books on this list may be good in parts; the difficulty for the non-expert is in separating the good from the bad.

Along that line, I find it useful to approach with caution any book mustering copious amounts of primary-source data in the service of a Grand Theory of Everything. In my experience, Grand Theories of Everything mostly don't work (or, as the linguist Edward Sapir put it, "all grammars leak"), and a scholar in full pursuit of a Grand Theory of Everything is in a prime position to be seduced into over-interpreting his or her data. On the other hand, they tend to collect an awful lot of it, and can be downright obsessive-compulsive about their footnotes and bibliographies.

#58 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:47 PM:

Jakob (31): John Aubrey, Brief Lives. Over three hundred years old, and still cited.

#59 ::: Vef ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:49 PM:

Brewer's Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable. I'm sure much of it is accurate, but many of the entries are either misleading or completely inadequate. IIRC, Terry Pratchett was described as a writer of humorous fantasy whose characters often have unusual names. Not inaccurate, but not terribly helpful either...

#60 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:51 PM:

Lance Weber @16:

Every comp sci author (too numerous to mention) who cites Christopher Alexander's work on design patterns when they have obviously never read any of his books much less grokked their essence.

How true.

I say this as a computer scientist who has never even read any of Alexander's work, but is of the opinion that anyone who refers to it is just trying to detract from the success of Gamma, Helm, Johnson and Vlissides by pointing out that they borrowed the idea from somebody else.

Obviously said gang of four get a free pass on this one. :)

#61 ::: Natalie ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:51 PM:

Janet Hitchman's appalling biography of Dorothy L. Sayers, Such a Strange Lady.

Also, rather unfortunately, The Lord Peter Wimsey Companion--the second edition in particular. Not so much that the information is bad, but the citations to the LordPeter mailing list aren't done correctly (and the archives aren't available to the public so they're useless to non-members anyhow) and I know of at least one entry that was lifted wholesale from a post to the list and not given proper credit--and I suspect there are more, but don't own a copy to check.

#62 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:54 PM:

Scraps (50), I have indeed. Both works were amusing, though Mudrick is more reliably amusing than Gardner. (49) Was Who's Who in Science Fiction the subject of that memorable description, "More errors than words"?

#63 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 12:55 PM:

#24 - I always thought of Adele Davis as a faddist, but when I had my third kidney stone in 1991, and my sister offered me a bit of advice from Davis, I took it. Specifically, I was facing the prospect of giving up calcium, green vegetables, and most nuts in order to avoid that transcendent 5 am pain every year or two, and for reasons selfish (no cheese again? EVER?) and healthy (sacrifice the health of my bones to avoid some pain?), I had decided to keep on as I was and put up with the pain events.

Taking magnesium supplements, though, seemed worth trying. According to Davis, it allowed the calcium to pass out of the body in tiny bits instead of staying behind to form little planetoids. Perhaps it's a coincidence, but I haven't had another stone. (I've asked a half dozen doctors what they think of this, and they all seem to think it's interesting enough to make a hum sound while looking somewhere else.)

So I'm grateful to Davis, and glad that, for whatever reason, she had one piece of good advice in there, and that I took it. Oh, and stop me if you've heard this one.

Q: What did Euell Gibbons die of?
A: Natural causes!

#64 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:00 PM:

#34 Even Arnold has errors. I am told that this is because some of her books contain unchecked work done by graduate students--this applies mostly to some of the reconstructions and analyses of specific garments, or so my sources claim.

#55 on Amazon citations--a lot depends on who'd citing a book and what they know about the field.

In the area of historic costuming, almost all popular and widely-circulated books are suspect--in this field, the best sources do their own research using primary sources, do not repeat the work of others without some critical examination and discussion of same, and tend to be concentrated in a fairly narrow area, rather than being a general survey of historic clothing. This means that most of the books on this topic found in most non-academic libraries or for sale from non-specialist sources are dubious.
Also, beware of books on historic clothing by people whose primary credential is that they have worked for many years as costumers for movies, television and the theater. Some may be good, some may be good in specific areas where the author has done a good bit of work and weak in others, and some are bad all over. You won't know unless you already know a lot about the topic to begin with.

#65 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:00 PM:

Anything by Margaret Murray

Anyone who slavishly agrees with her.

#66 ::: Charlotte ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:01 PM:

In wildlife biology circles: Farley Mowat's Never Cry Wolf. He just made a lot of it up. My first day in field biology in the Boundary Waters, our prof filled us in on that one ... then years later I endured a panel of Lit profs who studied nature writing bleating about how betrayed the felt because it had a "nonfiction" label on it. My response was -- "If you're going to study nature and literature, shouldn't you have a basic understanding of the biology?"

#67 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:02 PM:

anything that uses the KJV as an accurate translation of the original scriptures

I once read a wonderful comment -- perhaps by Jaraslov Pelikan? I'm not sure -- which pointed out that it was unlikely that God and his angels and his saints actually sounded like 17th century Englishmen. The KJV is, however, marvelous poetry sometimes.

However, not being a scholar in the field, I am curious -- what English translation, if any, comes closest to accuracy? Is there such? I don't wish to hijack the thread, so a response to my e-mail would be fine.

#68 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:04 PM:

#34 Even Arnold has errors. I am told that this is because some of her books contain unchecked work done by graduate students--this applies mostly to some of the reconstructions and analyses of specific garments, or so my sources claim.

#55 on Amazon citations--a lot depends on who'd citing a book and what they know about the field.

In the area of historic costuming, almost all popular and widely-circulated books are suspect--in this field, the best sources do their own research using primary sources, do not repeat the work of others without some critical examination and discussion of same, and tend to be concentrated in a fairly narrow area, rather than being a general survey of historic clothing. This means that most of the books on this topic found in most non-academic libraries or for sale from non-specialist sources are dubious.
Also, beware of books on historic clothing by people whose primary credential is that they have worked for many years as costumers for movies, television and the theater. Some may be good, some may be good in specific areas where the author has done a good bit of work and weak in others, and some are bad all over. You won't know unless you already know a lot about the topic to begin with.

#69 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:04 PM:

#34 Even Arnold has errors. I am told that this is because some of her books contain unchecked work done by graduate students--this applies mostly to some of the reconstructions and analyses of specific garments, or so my sources claim.

#55 on Amazon citations--a lot depends on who'd citing a book and what they know about the field.

In the area of historic costuming, almost all popular and widely-circulated books are suspect--in this field, the best sources do their own research using primary sources, do not repeat the work of others without some critical examination and discussion of same, and tend to be concentrated in a fairly narrow area, rather than being a general survey of historic clothing. This means that most of the books on this topic found in most non-academic libraries or for sale from non-specialist sources are dubious.
Also, beware of books on historic clothing by people whose primary credential is that they have worked for many years as costumers for movies, television and the theater. Some may be good, some may be good in specific areas where the author has done a good bit of work and weak in others, and some are bad all over. You won't know unless you already know a lot about the topic to begin with.

#70 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:05 PM:

Barbara Walker's Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets and The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects.

OK, as I recall, on many things, but enough mistakes that I would verify anything I found in here before using it anywhere, let alone in an academic paper.

It should be noted that these are secondary/tertiary sources, and I've never met a book of this sort that didn't have some errors. I just remember being disgusted with some of the errors some twenty years ago.

#71 ::: cmbadams ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:09 PM:

I was in the middle of reading Atlas Shrugged when I went to the AHA convention with my dad while I was in college. He forbade me to mention it to any of the historians in attendance or to ask any questions inspired by it at any of the talks I went to.

as I've grown older, I've come to realize that that may very well have been one of the only two or three wise or helpful things he ever told me.

#72 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:10 PM:

There are, I think, three kinds of older texts that are still worth using/necessary to know.

First you have those essential works that have not yet been superseded -- grammars, dictionaries, concordances, scholarly editions of primary sources, and the like. Then you have the groundbreaking foundational works that aren't where the field is at any more, but that you need to be familiar with in order to understand how things got to where they are now -- Sapir and Whorf in linguistics, for example. And then you have the works that are literary artifacts in their own right -- like Gibbon or, in a perverse sort of way, Robert Graves.

#73 ::: Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:10 PM:

Biblical Archaeology Review

#74 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:16 PM:

On literature, anything by O.R. Dathorne on Caribbean literature (a reference to Elizabeth Bishop in one of Derek Walcott's poems, for example, was glossed as a reference to Queen Elizabeth I 'who also wrote poetry').

In my own (I admit, highly specialised) area of interest, one book that should not only be avoided, but pulped is Scott B. MacDonald Trinidad and Tobago: Democracy and Development in the Caribbean. When I was doing my dissertation field research, I asked one of my interview subjects, a former president of the republic, if he had read it. He told me 'no'. I said 'You might be interested to know that in it you're described as a white Creole'. When he stopped laughing he said 'I've been in the sun too long.'* And that was the least of MacDonald's errors.

I'd add that anyone reading J.A. Froude's The English in the West Indies, or The Bow of Ulysses for anything except Froude's beliefs and prejudices would be seriously misguided.**

On another subject dear to my heart: anything by Leo Strauss on Machiavelli should be highly suspect. Strauss's theory of exoteric versus esoteric meanings, and his applied numerology are gigantic problems. This goes double for Harvey Mansfield's work on Machiavelli. I should add Mark Hulliung's work to the list, though for different reasons: Hulliung sees Machiavelli as regurgitating Polybius.


* A Trinidadian sociologist of immense repute told me that his father had also been turned into a white man.

** That's not just because Froude is racist, though he is, but because he gets the most simple things wrong (for example, his description of the Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica and the execution of Assembly member George William Gordon manages to garble every single fact).

#75 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:17 PM:

Jakob @31

My Japan Studies library is sadly shut up in a box somewhere several states away. Ah the tragedy of going from five available bookcases (several double-wide) to two and a half smaller ones.

But until the last few years, there were huge gaps in cultural, folktale, and religious knowledge in Japan studies. A lot of the only original research and translation of this stuff had been done in the late 1800s. Heck, in the 70s there was a lot of stuff that existed only in those old British and German survey books... it had never actually been written down in Japanese, and only existed as oral tradition or common knowledge (Or worse: heavily biased Chinese scholarship about Japanese culture. As bad as the west might have been at understanding Japan, China somehow managed to be far worse.)

To illustrate, look for books on Shinto. Before the anime revolution in around '96, there is very little written on the subject.

Now I see that about eight or nine books on Shinto have come out in the last four years or so. I'm a bit frightened to go have a look at them.

What I find most tragic is when the most notable public scholarship on a work is extremely wrongheaded in a number of significant ways. I have a longstanding annoyance with Susan J Napier. She is a Japanese Literature scholar who has started to work on anime. Her work on anime is adequate, though it serves to reinforce some patently untrue stereotypes, and fails utterly to acknowledge, reference, or mention certain very important works and creators.

The main problem I have with her work is that she massively fails to understand fandom at all - how it works, how it started, what drives it, even such fundamental things as what the gender makeup of anime fandom is.

I remember nearly throwing her book up against the wall several times during my last research paper. At one point she described the anime fandom as 70-80% male basing this largely off the survey she did of a single anime club at a Texas technical college. This was during the late 90s/early 00s, when anyone actually IN the greater fandom could have told you the split was closer to gender equality.

An Otakon staffer from the years she reference in her book actually got me some of their registration numbers by gender breakdown: it was somewhere between 45/55 and 40/60. Hardly the overwhelming majority she had attempted to portray. I'm not saying con attendance is the clearest measurement for gender, but it's sure as heck going to be more accurate than club attendance at technical colleges.

I could go on and on. Most of Napier is quite respectable, but anything she writes on anime fandom is likely to be deeply flawed. Hopefully in ten years I'll be laughing at this post and pointing you towards a score of books with good information about the interaction between the Western Fandom and Japanese culture.

Right now I instead gape in horror at the fact that she has a book coming out soon on amazon called "From Impressionism to Anime: Japan as Fantasy and Fan Cult in the Mind of the West."

The fact that she uses the term "fan cult" rather than "fandom" sets off my warning buzzers. There's gonna be a lot of wall-throwing if I ever decide to read this thing.

#76 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:19 PM:

Stephen Wolfram's A New Kind of Science.

#77 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:19 PM:

I'd warn against anything published by University Press of America. They're an, ahem, subsidy publisher.

#78 ::: Betty ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:22 PM:

I've always found that when the first part is a long explanation by the author of how incredibly brave he's being by publishing such a revolutionary piece of work, and it will no doubt cause him to be shunned by the cowardly academic community who cannot allow such a radical overturning of their field, but he must do it all the same for Truth! that is a fairly good guide to works one ought not to trust overly.

#79 ::: JamesP ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:25 PM:

Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking has a justifiably terrible reputation. It's not as if you have to make up shit to make the Japanese look bad there, you know?

Equally, quoting Mao: the Unknown Story without *substantial* back-up or qualifications is not a great idea.

Much as I love them, you probably couldn't get away with citing Norwich's Byzantium trilogy in any serious conversation, I suspect, though I know very little about the field there.

Then there's the books which a serious student should have read, but which will fuck-up anyone who reads them as their first or only source. I'm thinking of Taylor's typically gadflyish and remarkably wrong Origins of the Second World War here, f'instance.

#80 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:29 PM:

In a lot of academic fields, a useful sign of crankery is gaps in the bibliography, particularly the absence of secondary sources after 1900, or 1920, or 1945, or whatever. If the main text has blanket dismissals of everything after such a threshold, it's crankery. Even in fields where one may disagree strenuously with some or all of the major trends, there's inevitably going to be good work going on that a genuine scholar will want to take into account.

#81 ::: Bill ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:30 PM:

#8: I'd be suspicious of anything that cited something in "BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine" http://www.biomedcentral.com/bmccomplementalternmed or any other similar journal.

And I suspect this is a kneejerk response to the phrase "complementary and alternative medicine". BMC-CAM is a peer-reviewed journal from a reputable publisher and has been around long enough to guess at an impact factor. It's also OA, so you can read any article it publishes and see for yourself what quality of work they accept. Having bothered to do that with the latest edition, I don't see what the problem is.

#82 ::: Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:31 PM:

Lizzy L @ 67: I'm partial to the New Jewish Publication Society translation, for two reasons:

(1) The footnotes point out where the Hebrew translation is uncertain (e.g., most of the Book of Job) or when significant non-canonical manuscripts (e.g., from the Samaritans) have different wording.

(2) The translation was done by a committee that included Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative Jews. Only Divine Providence could have prevented those committee meetings from degenerating into shouting matches.

I don't know what translations Christian scholars prefer, but I hear that the New International Version gets a bad rap for choosing ease-of-reading over accuracy, and that both the Living Bible and the Jehovah's Witnesses' translation (don't remember the name) were done by people who couldn't actually read the source language.

#83 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:31 PM:

If documentaries count, then surely Disney's "White Wilderness," with its suicidal lemmings, is a classic of the untrustworthy sources genre.

#84 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:31 PM:

Yikes! nailed by the double posting monster.

I shall type slowly so it doesn't happen with this post.

#31 Jakob

I concur with the responses in #s 37, 38, 42,53,58, and doubtless others, as experts in specialized fields speak out. There are people who have done work in specific areas who did so much, and such thorough, work that they can't be evaded by those who come after, no matter how long ago they worked. Among Roman historians, classical scholars have to consider not only to work of Gibbon, but also that of Theodor Mommsen: it is possible to disagree with their conclusions, but because they did so much research into the topic to begin with, you can't ignore them.

I would also add (for the benefit of the general reader, as Jakob knows this quite well, I'm sure) that some earlier scholars, like the Victorian translators mentioned above by Sisuile, may have done sound basic work, although some of the conclusions they derived from it have been called into question by later scholars, simply because the later workers were able to work with a larger body of information that the earlier scholar had access to--old documents are regularly being found or restored. In these cases, the translations are often quite good, even if the conclusions the earlier scholar drew from them about the society that produced them are now considered doubtful.

It's good idea, when looking at historical writing, to be careful around writers with a strong nationalistic bent--19th and early 20th century European scholars are often problematic here, especially ones who were operating as a minority in a larger state and had a particular axe or two to grind. American writers of history even now are not immune from this weakness, as has been noted by those who mentioned Regnery Press, although even good scholars have prejudices they fail to master--do not trust Bernard DeVoto on Mormons...

Even a good scholar can succumb to this, and see their material through glasses strongly colored by their angle on a topic, with some resulting distortion--see Basil Liddell Hart's works. It's easier to avoid being led astray when you know that writer has a specific preoccupation.

Also: Be wary of any book on an historical topic who announces Astonishing! Earth-shattering! discoveries that will Turn the World of ______________ Upside-down! Especially if they make it onto talk shows. I'm just saying.

#85 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:35 PM:

Leah, as someone who has started to become interested in anime, what are the good sources?

#86 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:45 PM:

Teresa @ 22:

Yeah, their proposal was on the long distance interstate routes, like I-95, I-40, I-75, etc, converting the grass medians into truck-only lanes separated by barriers would provide more efficient movement of goods and improved safety for everyone.

I pointed out the medians on many of those interstates was not wide enough for two lanes plus three barriers (one between the truck-only lanes, one between the trucks and cars on each side), and having only one lane for trucks in each direction (and no way to get out due to the barrier) meant a disabled truck stops everything.

Then I asked how the trucks would get OUT of these "truck only" lanes and onto the usual roads, what happens if there's no median at all (as in, a barrier already there due to widening), etc, and he first got defensive, then huffy, before just not responding to me any further.

#87 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:49 PM:

Also, in the field of classical studies--some of you may be familiar with the Loeb editions--small books (bound in red for Latin, and green for Greek) with side-by-side text showing the Latin or Greek original on the left page, with the English "translation" on the right-hand page. Do not trust any of the translations in the older editions of these books.

Ever.

Just don't.

These books were intended for use at the secondary-school level, and therefore all "impure" material was carefully adjusted in the translations so as to avoid bringing a blush to innocent cheeks and forcing teachers to make awkward explanations. Depending on the original text in question, much may be lost as a result. Most of Demosthenes' insults lose their verve, Ovid and Catullus become quite tame, and Aristophanes wouldn't know himself. Martial would probably deny authorship, and Juvenal would be looking into a lawsuit. Marcus Aurelius probably suffers less than these others, but none can be seen as reliable.

Recently, the editors have made an effort to replace old, dicey translations with more accurate ones, but it will take a while, and it's wisest to check the original publication date on all of these.

Also, any writer on classical studies who is named Victor Davis Hanson, or who references VDH with respect and high regard. See nationalist historians in my previous post if you're at a loss here, although why any in the fluourosphere would be, I'm not sure. I am tying to decide if I need to alter my opinion of Donald Kagan's work on Greek history, or if I should just dismiss his most recent writing as the result of brain toxixity from Koolaid consumption and let the older work stand on its own.

#88 ::: individualfrog ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 01:54 PM:

When I first got here I had little to read but my roommates' travel guidebooks to Japan. I've found that any book that tells you it will tell you "the real unbiased truth about Japan!" is sure to be a compendium of the author's prejudices--either Japan as a morally corrupt nation of racist, misogynist robots (and lots of mindless, sexually available women) or Japan as delightful cartoon wonderland of marvelous contrasts between the futuristic and the ancient (with lots of inscrutably polite, sexually available women.) Not that I like guidebooks anyway, but I immediately put one down if it promises "the real unbiased truth" about anywhere.

Um, what else? I think some of the things people mention here are things you shouldn't trust, but you should probably read, and Vasari falls under that category.

#89 ::: Janice E. ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 02:03 PM:

Seth Gordon@82: A committee with Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative Jews? I'm surprised they got past Genesis. Hell, I'm surprised they agreed on the shape of the conference table.

#90 ::: Tim Bartik ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 02:11 PM:

Any of the books of Carlos Castenada, at least if regarded as "non-fiction" books.

#91 ::: TChem ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 02:13 PM:

Kiewe, Heinz Edgar (1967). The Sacred History of Knitting, along with anyone who claims that figures in The Book of Kells are wearing Aran fisherman's-style sweaters.

#92 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 02:21 PM:

I'd advise against putting too much stock in anything that Richard Dawkins writes about the subject of theology. Like Christopher Hitchens, he's a clever and seductive rhetorical cheater who might convince you that Everyone with any religious faith is a frothing fundamentalist

#93 ::: Jim Parish ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 02:28 PM:

#87: Do not trust any of the translations in the older editions of these books.

How old is older?

#94 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 02:29 PM:

JamesP @ #79, I didn't know that Iris Chang's Rape of Nanking was suspect; I have a copy and got about four chapters in before I put it down for unremembered reasons. I'm sure none of those reasons was that I had an argument with the facts as presented, though.

Interesting.

#95 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 02:34 PM:

Index test for books on Washington State History:

Check for the words Vitus Bering, Hudson Bay Company, Black Priests, and Longmeyer Party. If they are missing, reject the source, as you are guaranteed to have in your hands a history of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the development of the City of Seattle, with, perhaps, an addendum explaining (badly, and with frequent reference to "Roll on Columbia" as a primary source) the Columbia Basin project.

Would that the Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction would use that test (although it would leave precisely no texts for the Washington State History class required for high school graduation).

#96 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 02:37 PM:

I was just surprised to discover that The Bell Curve -- a book unquestionably academic in origin and presentation, as well as ludicrously flawed on so many levels -- is not only still kept in print (thanks, CBS!), but ranks distressingly high in some sales subcategories at Amazon.

#97 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 02:38 PM:

Seth Gordon at 82: thanks.

Any New Testament scholars around?

#98 ::: Another Damned Medievalist ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 02:40 PM:

CE Petit at #18 -- I disagree vehemently. It depends, of course, on what you mean by constitutional history, but there are an awful lot of very good medieval (and ancient, too) legal historians and a ton of work on legal trials -- and how would a degree in law help with that?

Let's see ... Tuchman doesn't really count as scholarly, but just in case, A Distant Mirror at the very least. I distrust anything by Cantor. Anything that discusses 'feudalism', 'the feudal system', or 'feudal society' without the counterbalance of Reynolds, especially. Philippe Aries' book on Early Modern Childhood (I can't find the title, but it's the translation of L'enfant et la vie familiale sous l'Ancien Régime.) Argh.

#99 ::: robert west ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 02:42 PM:

CE Petit, at 18: I recently finished reading a constitutional history of England published in the 1930s, which was adapted from a series of lectures given by an English barrister in the 1880s; I would argue that items in that class are exceptions to your rule. :)

#100 ::: Another Damned Medievalist ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 02:45 PM:

Oh -- I also dispute the non-utility of the Loeb translations. They aren't as good as most Penguin translations (although most of the Thorpe translations of things Frankish aren't all that good), but if one uses them as one should -- reading the original language and using the translation to help with vocab or odd grammatical construction, they're fine. Anybody doing research needing Greek or Latin sources has an obligation to read the original language themselves, anyway -- or at least check the translation carefully when citing!

#101 ::: sharon ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 02:46 PM:

Just about any supposedly scholarly book entitled [Subject X] in Shakespeare's England should be approached with extreme caution. Completely meaningless periodisation.

GM Trevelyan, English Social History.

Gavin Menzies, 1421: The Year China Discovered the World (or so I'm told by historians who should know)

#102 ::: "Charles Dodgson" ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 02:46 PM:

Richard@54: There's plenty of bad urban planning literature going around, but I'm not sure I'd throw Jane Jacobs under the bus with the rest of it. (Then again, she wasn't really part of the establishment, when she wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities or after).

#103 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 02:52 PM:

Fidelio @ 64

Yes and no. Many of us do our own research using primary sources, but we use previous research as a guide. Janet Arnold is a wonderful resource for pointing at portraits and exemplars. Robin Netherton has some of the best articles on reconstructing the 14th c. fitted gown out there. Melanie Schuessler is doing facinating research on Tudor clothing and culture. I would be silly if I didn't use the resources availble to me. There is no need for me to rehash the French hood as a piece of headgear until and unless I find something that brings Melanie's research into question for me. I can use her research as a springboard, and am. The Tudor Tailor is very well done and is on the shelves of most researchers I know. It also has caught on as a pop book about Tudor clothing that is widely distributed and widely seen as extremely credible and citeable.

The type of attitude that says one should always only use primary sources leads to duplication of effort and frustration. Enough good scholarship has been done in the last 20 years on textiles to make the use of secondary sources acceptable, and probably partially because of the re-enactment community, some of it has become widely availble and distributed.

TChem @ 91

They WHAT??????????? I think I'm glad I missed that one.

#104 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 02:55 PM:

Will and Ariel Durant's "Story of Civilization" - for college-level and above history classes, and don't even think of a professional cite. High school might be acceptable. Junior high and below runs the risk of one being thought too advanced.

#105 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:00 PM:

JESR @ #95: Don't forget the all important Pig War and the role it played in Washington history.

I keep thinking of living scientists when I think of bad sources. It seems tacky to mention them by name.

#106 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:02 PM:

Richard Anderson #54, suggesting Christopher Alexander isn't such a great idea, at least in city planning

Alexander does have some utility elsewhere, as providing a vocabulary for architects and architectural historians to use. I've read an excellent dissertation, supervised by my art history graduate methods professor, analyzing the houses and apartment blocks of Ostia, Pompeii and Herculaneum in terms of pattern language.

He's also reasonably good on a more nebulous thing: phenomenology of individual pattern elements. I used him for that in my own dissertation.

I suspect that where things get out of hand is when Alexander is used as a code generator and not a parser, as it were.

#107 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:04 PM:

#93--See Harvard University Press's history of the Loeb editions, especially the last section. (Among other this, they give some, uh, clear and speaking examples of the dendency to clean up translations in earlier editions.) Staarting in 1989, they began re-doing some of the older translations, and plan to work their way though all of them, eventually. So I'd check the date of the original edition, using 1989 as my cut=off date.

#100. I'd say that anyone with a good knowledge of Greek and Latin can spot the weaknesses in the older Loeb translations on their own. However, there are a lot of people out there who have little or no knowledge of these languages, and won't realize where the flaws lie. Since the Loeb editions are often the only easily available translations for a lot of obscure writers that may be of interest to people outside the specific field of classical studies*, I feel like it's worth giving the warning.

*Fields like history of military tactics, medical history, history of botany, and so on. People working in the field of renaissance literature ought to have a good knowledge of classical literature, but don't always have much Latin, and rarely, much Greek--at least, I've run into several.

#108 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:08 PM:

Coming late to the thread.

abi@4:
Suetonius, uncorroborated, on historical infotainment.

Well, the same applies to most ancient sources, frankly. But the real killer here is the Historia Augusta - and better still, the extra lives in the new Penguin edition (Lives of Later Roman Emperors) which are explicitly invented by the modern editors on the model of an ancient biography. Whose idea was that? Anyway, the HA isn't evidence for anything except itself, for all that a late fourth-century hoax continuation of Suetonius supposedly written a century earlier by six authors who constantly abuse / vouch for each other has a certain literary interest.

Loeb translations: it's true that the older ones (1910s or so) tend to bowdlerise or else leave untranslated the prurient details; those editions which translate into verse also rarely convince as either translations or verse. But they are fine if you have the Latin or Greek to check them against the original; and even if you don't, they do frequently annotate and explain their decisions. They have their flaws, but they're far from credibility-killers.

#73: Biblical Archaeology Review

I found that there is some serious and scholarly stuff in that: I have in mind an excellent article about the church of S. Sepolcro in Bologna, but I think in general it's a lot more reliable than it sounds. I may have missed some of the bad stuff, though.


#109 ::: Annie G. ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:11 PM:

Lizzy L., #97: I am not any kind of biblical scholar (Talmudic, Tanakhic, or New Testament), so I quake and tremble at what the New Testament scholars who are on Making Light will say of my suggestions. But to share my experience: I took a few academically rigorous Bible classes in college and grad school, and the text we used was the New Oxford Annotated Bible. Lots of footnotes indicating the literal translation of a word in the original language, possible alternate tranlations, etc. It also includes the Apocrypha (which are Catholic texts, I believe).

For religious as opposed to scholarly needs, a pastor whose erudition I trust implicitly, suggested the NRSV (New Revised Standard, or Not Really Satisfactory, Version). Not poetic, but supposedly an accurate translation.

#110 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:13 PM:

#16" Every comp sci author (too numerous to mention) who cites Christopher Alexander's work on design patterns

I have heard, but call this unsubstantiated rumor only, that real architects do not think kindly about Alexander's work. Professional input is welcome here.

More comp sci: most of the "extreme programming" methodology, though some of the work on unit testing is valuable.

#74: This goes double for Harvey Mansfield's work on Machiavelli.

Absolute crap. Mansfield tries to invest the book's abrupt ending - one which all historical scholars believe is because it was left unfinished - with kabbalistic significance.

#79: Much as I love them, you probably couldn't get away with citing Norwich's Byzantium trilogy in any serious conversation

No original research. Relies on secondary sources: in particular, his account of the Crusades is lifted from Runciman.

Oh, one more: Jack Chambers' biography of Miles Davis, Milestones. A five hundred page work for which the author didn't bother to interview even one living primary source. I suspect he didn't listen to half of the recordings cited, too.

#111 ::: TChem ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:14 PM:

Sisuile 103: I haven't seen it in anything scholarly (and I'm not a textile scholar, anyhow, just nosy), though the Kiewe sometimes gets taken as such. But I've seen it in knitting books that should know better, and the Internet considers it common
knowledge.

#112 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:17 PM:

When I was reading everything I could find about dreams, lucid dreams, and astral projection, I came across Patricia Garfield's book Creative Dreaming. As a practical guide to working with one's dreams, I found it useful and inspirational. However. I got very interested in her chapter about the "dream culture of the Senoi," so I went from there to looking up everything I possibly could about the Senoi of Malaysia. And discovered that Ms. Garfield was, along with one Kilton Stewart, perpetrating some really unsound scholarship, which might in fact be called "lies" and "made-up shit." (Domhoff's "Senoi Dream Theory" goes into this in great detail.)

And speaking of Margaret Murry and Starhawk, I had to stop including Magickal Blend magazine among my materials for a show on spirituality that's part of our state's audio programming for the blind. It was full of articles with wide-eyed worshipfulness for that Primordial Cult Of The Great Mother, not to mention wide-eyed rage over the 9 million witches killed during the Burning Times. As I haven't read it in some years now, I can't swear that its nature hasn't changed. Maybe it's holding its contributors to higher standards of scholarship now?

#113 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:21 PM:

Oops, fidelio posted while I was still writing. I still think you can mostly trust the Loeb editions, but I suppose it's fair to warn people to be on their guard.

Lizzy: my understanding is that the NEB was an attempt to get close to the original Hebrew/Greek, and may have succeeded in that (although I seem to remember there are still some famous howlers). But it has a tin ear for prose style, at about the level of Dan Brown. If I want to quote, even in academic writing, I usually use the New Revised Standard Version or, actually, the King James. Mind you, I'm usually dealing with people whose Bible was the Vulgate or the Vetus Latina, or the Septuagint, and when I need to be exact I give those in the original, so I guess the point stands.

#114 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:28 PM:

Any work of literary criticism that contains the phrase "the subtext is..."

#115 ::: Jim Parish ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:29 PM:

#107: Thanks. And damn. All but one of my handful of Loebs, I bought while in college - i.e., no later than 1984. The exception is Procopius' Secret History, first published in 1935.

Sadly, I have little Latin and no Greek.

#116 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:29 PM:

candle! Long time no see!

those editions which translate into verse also rarely convince as either translations or verse

The only verse translation of anything that I found useful was Lattimore's Iliad and Odyssey. (not that that was Loeb).

But they are fine if you have the Latin or Greek to check them against the original; and even if you don't, they do frequently annotate and explain their decisions.

Thus did I retain my Loeb Vitruvius.

#117 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:31 PM:

I cannot speak well for anthropology, but I had one professor who taught us Black Elk Speaks by Neihardt... and then tore most of it to pieces because much of it is less genuine than it should be. That was great fun.

Another reason to use old/outdated-seeming sources is if you're working on something that hasn't been paid attention recently. I did some undergraduate research work on pterobranchs, tube-dwelling tentacled relatives of ours, and the ptero library was in a file folder two-three inches thick. Including things from 1910 and earlier; I think I cited an 1896 publication because there was nothing else to cite. Add to that that my findings did not support those of the other ptero researcher-- I don't know what they've found since then-- and there really wasn't much. But that's biology and original research, which may not always follow the same rules.

#118 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:33 PM:

#103--Sisuile--I apologize for not stating things more clearly; there's a better way to say what I'm trying to get across, but I'm not sure I can frame it so people outside that field will understand it, without making it seem as if all work that does not re-invent the wheel is suspect.

The history of clothing, like all other fields, is one where good scholars build on the work of other good scholars. And, like other fields, people who lack expertise in it are often at a complete loss to understand why one book is good and seven others aren't. When I said, earlier, that good work does not repeat the work of others without some serious examination, I was trying to say that good scholars don't just take the ball and run with it--they think about what they're reading, and how that work has interpreted the material they're using. For a serious scholar, this is so ingrained that it's automatic--which is why you know you can trust Netherton and Schuessler. You've read them, considered what they've claimed, and contrasted that with what they based it on, and decided you can accept their conclusions. For an outsider, this is often a new, radical and unsettling notion--because if it's in a book, it must be true. These are the people who are led down the garden path by the books by Boucher, Peacock, Lavery, and others--some very bad indeed (and the bad books are always easier for the novice to find than the good ones in this field.)

The gap between the serious scholar and the enthralled amateur in any field can be quite narrow--or very wide indeed; as one of my sisters once said about not asking my father a question about chemistry "The problem is, he has no idea at all of how much you don't know."

(Yes, I have judged too many costuming competitions in the SCA. I count myself an enthralled amateur, and I'm confident I know a really bad source when I see one. It takes me a little longer to be sure I'm looking at a good one, though.)

#119 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:33 PM:

Anything written by or translated by Montague Summers is somewhere between unreliable and laughable.

#120 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:36 PM:

TChem @ 111

They clearly haven't met Rutt's History of Hand Knitting, also known as 'the Bishop's book' (he was the Anglican Bishop of Leicester). Worth reading, especially if you can find someone who has the first edition with the color plates, which don't appear in the reprint of a few years ago.

#121 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:38 PM:

The Education of Little Tree is not an autobiography written by an American Indian recalling his childhood, but by a white man who was a segregationist, KKK member, and speechwriter for George Wallace.

#122 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:38 PM:

Me @ #105: What I keep thinking of is young Tania editing research proposals, and checking references. Starts to notice some people never get funded. Starts to connect that the people that never get funded never get cited in other proposals or articles written by colleagues. Knowing that academia is a rather "chummy" place, Tania goes and asks what's up with Xxxxx's stuff, why doesn't s/he ever get funded or cited. Tania is told (quoting exactly) "Xxxxx's work is shit, but s/he has tenure. You'll also notice that we don't allow Xxxxx to advise grad students."

I wish my friend the librarian/Russian Studies major lurked on ML. She has an extensive list of bad sources in her fields of expertise. For some reason controversies about St. Innocent come to mind, but I'm not sure why.

#123 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:40 PM:

Er, hi abi. *waves* I'm going to make up for my absence by posting incessantly on this thread for about twenty minutes and then getting distracted by work again. Well, hopefully not, but don't be surprised if I do.

#115: I haven't seen the precise edition, but a 1935 Secret History is likely to be one of the bowdlerised ones. Look up the section in ch.9 with the geese. If it isn't unpleasantly graphic, it probably isn't what Procopius wrote...

#78:... how incredibly brave he's being by publishing such a revolutionary piece of work, and it will no doubt cause him to be shunned by the cowardly academic community who cannot allow such a radical overturning of their field ...

True as a general principle, I think, but then you miss out on wonderful (and reliable) books such as Richard Reece's My Roman Britain. Also the works of Bill James as described in Moneyball.

#94: I was just surprised to discover that The Bell Curve -- a book unquestionably academic in origin and presentation, as well as ludicrously flawed on so many levels -- is not only still kept in print (thanks, CBS!), but ranks distressingly high in some sales subcategories at Amazon.

I was reading Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence - possibly itself not the most reliable of psychological treatises, but let's ignore that - and jumped a bit to find him citing The Bell Curve. People who know about this stuff: is there a case for saying that the statistical findings in that book are valid even if the explanations are flawed? I mean, it may be possible to accept that some ethnic groups generally score higher than others on traditional IQ tests, while resisting the conclusion that this proves one group more intelligent than another. Personally, I'd say it proves the creeping cultural bias of traditional IQ tests.

#124 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:41 PM:

Coming late to the thread

Meta: I would hope that posting four hours after a thread starts doesn't count as late. One thing I really, really miss about Usenet (compared to 99% of blogs) was that conversations didn't necessarily die in 12 hours. /meta

Since checking references is part of my job, I ought to dive into this thread*. A couple of quick thoughts.

1. when looking at the reference set, look at the publication years, and imagine them plotted on a graph. Does it look like a bell curve? That's often** the sign of healthy research. Even if it's an intensely new topic, if the bulk of the references are from 2006, I'd like to see a few early-2007 papers that review or corroborate the earlier works.

2. Use Pubmed and Google Scholar to check random references in the paper to see if the cites are useful or just gratuitous.

---------------
* Except that I have several deadlines, and there's no procrastination so dangerous as helpful procrastination.

** not always, exceptions, etc.

#125 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:43 PM:

I remember my father, a social psych professor, not speaking kindly about Myers-Briggs and its assorted relations.

#126 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:44 PM:

individualfrog @ 88

"things you shouldn't trust, but you should probably read" describes a huge portion of writings on Japan. Eep, this discussion makes me want to write more on the various eccentric and questionable qualities of different eras of Japanese scholarship.

The problem with the study of Japan is that it's been so heavily influenced by propaganda and nationalism (both from Japan and from the west) that very little can be taken at face value. I keep trying to write an article about the various filters you have to put on any Japanese scholarship you do, based on the era that your text originates from. It keeps turning into an essay, and I keep getting paranoid about overgeneralizing. My current problem is that a lot of my knowledge comes from listening to ex-pat American scholars of Japan Studies who've lived in the country forever complain bitterly... so I don't have sources for all of it.

One of the huge problems is that when the serious, less biased and less culturally propagandized work started to show up in the late 60s and early 70s, the "romanticism of the bubble" took over and all interest in/study of Japan began to focus on the economic miracle. So much mental, emotional, and scholastic energy was pumped into this idea that when the bubble popped the scholars left in droves. As one very cynical economics professor told me in 1999 "In the 80s, everyone wanted to know about Japan... but they mostly were just concerned about how they could get a piece or copy the successes. Now, nobody cares."

Thus the 90s were lean years for Japan scholars, though most of the best books I've been able to find are the very few sad tomes put out during that decade. Written by people willing to hang on in the face of extreme apathy, they have a quality of enthusiasm, honesty, and truth that I don't find very often today.

Then in around 2000, the anime boom reached phenomena proportions and brought with it a new obsession with all aspects of Japanese culture. While this will probably turn out to be ultimately fruitful, right now it's created a glut of texts that I think will turn out to be hastily assembled and ultimately disposable.

I was doing an Amazon search to try to locate some of the reputable and less reputable texts I used in the past, and I've found that in the last four years the number of texts available on many of the subjects I researched has tripled or quadrupled. I'm going to have to do another survey of the various anime and manga scholarship and find which bits ring true and which bits I can dismiss. This probably means I'll have to read the Napier again. Oof.

And for Emma @ 85
Samurai from Outer Space: Understanding Japanese Animation by Antonia Levi was the book I started with. While some have criticized it for being rambling and limited in scope, to some extent that prevents it from the pitfalls that plagued Napier's work.

I think it's a matter of where they started.
Levi was primarily a student of culture and history, whereas Napier seems to be primarily a literary scholar (this is based on quick googling, not any extensive knowledge of their scholastic backgrounds). Levi's book was written before the "gold rush" in the early 00s, and reads like a very intelligent and well-read person who has studied both anime and Japanese culture trying to explain their interrelationships to other scholarly folks and other fans. It was exciting and distracting to read, though it is structured something like a very long conversation with an extremely well-read person who likes tangents.

Napier's book reads like someone who is interested in anime trying to run it through the western literary criticism meat-grinder. Things that fit the stereotypes and blanket statements she's trying to make are carefully dissected with standard lit-crit aplomb. Things that don't fit are dismissed or not mentioned. When she's working with lit crit it's quite good at what it's trying to accomplish: namely making Anime seem like something that can be put in the 'literature' class and analyzed by the standard rules of lit crit. When she stumbles out into the sociology of fandom, let's just say it makes it very clear that her area of expertise is literary criticism.

Note that these are just my impressions as someone who has been an anime fan for over a decade, and who studied Japanese culture and literature for about seven years (both formally and informally). I've always been someone more inclined to approach most works from a mythological or sociological viewpoint, which may be why I identify more closely with Levi. Also, Levi doen't try to put her hands into things she doesn't understand, which means her book may come off as less thorough... whereas Napier tries to come up with a book that explains everything there is to explain about anime... which ultimately leads her to make statements based on insufficient familiarity with the text, and to venture into areas she obviously has limited knowledge about.

#127 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:45 PM:

Time for Kids. The White House could have written most of the material they printed about politics for the years HM was bringing it homr.

#128 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:50 PM:

I would hope that posting four hours after a thread starts doesn't count as late.

Mostly that was an apology for replying to message #4 with message #108, if you see what I mean. Does that really only represent four hours' work? It all goes so fast these days!

#129 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:54 PM:

A lot of libraries, academic and otherwise, picked up on the Loeb editions, partly because they do cover so many rather obscure writers, and partly because there's just something about a complete set of anything. Therefore they're out there in great numbers, and people outside the field often pick them up first. I wouldn't tell someone not to use Loeb editions, but just to be careful; if you are not familiar with the original language don't take everything on faith. In fact, since the Loeb editions are often the only easily available sources for some of the less famous authors, refusing to use them would be like trying to walk across town with a bucket on your head. As far as I know, the original language texts themselves don't have too many problems.

Most of the complaints I've heard have been based on the censorship issue; I suspect that most of the translations of technical works, like Vitruvius, Aeneas Tacticus, Cato on farming, and similar works, will be more reliable and have had less censorship in the translations simply because of the nature of the work. Naughty poets will be much more problematic; there's a lot to shock the shockable in some of them. Luckily, there are plenty of good, easily available translations of Aristophanes and others out there.

For the verse problem, I think you have to be some part of a poet to do such translations well; there have been plenty of efforts along these lines, by the Loeb translators and others, that are pretty painful to read, whether because the translator had a tin ear, or was too tightly married to the verse conventions of their own time.

#130 ::: jmnlman ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:59 PM:

Men against fire:the problem of battle command by S. L. A. Marshall contains the famous statistics about soldiers returning fire in combat. Too bad when interviewing soldiers he never actually asked them how often they returned fire. This one's been debunked since the 1980s but is still being referenced by people who should know better.

#131 ::: Tiff ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 03:59 PM:

Kill Without Joy. Because carrying a thermos of liquid hydrogen around with you in case your target happens to walk past underneath is such a sensible idea.

That said, it's an entertaining read. If you ever needed a really convoluted way for a Bond-style villain to fail to do away with someone...

#132 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 04:05 PM:

As those with an interest in exotic biology no doubt already know, Brian Froud is not a reliable source. Fool me once, shame on him.

#133 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 04:13 PM:

Hi candle, I was hoping you might respond. Good to hear from you.

Could you -- or anyone -- comment on the difference between the New Revised Standard and the Revised Standard? And, if possible, a comment on Richmond Lattimore's 1996 translation of The New Testament would be appreciated.

Accuracy in translation is important to me, but so is the aesthetics. The other thing I look for in any edition of a book I plan to use a lot is the size of the typeface. 10 point type is unfortunately too small.

#134 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 04:13 PM:

Another Damned Medievalist (#98) You said: "Tuchman doesn't really count as scholarly, but just in case, A Distant Mirror at the very least."

Could you expand on that a little? Having been bowled over by her The March of Folly, I've been reading and enjoying her other works, including A Distant Mirror, without necessarily taking them as Holy Writ (which, indeed, as mentioned passim, has its own problems). Because it's out of her usual period of study, or you're unhappy with her work in general?

I've read that some of Charles Darwin's experiments and scientific writings on specific subjects — not so much his big general books where a lot has been updated and expanded with new work — are still useful and relevant.

#135 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 04:24 PM:

In the realm of ancient history, there's Martin Bernal's Black Athena.

And in archaeology, there's Marija Gimbutas. (It's my impression that some of her archaeological work is considered OK, but the freewheeling interpretation of Neolithic Europe as all happy, peaceful goddess worshippers is not really supported by any actual evidence.)

Leonard Shlain, The Alphabet vs. the Goddess. (Did you know that the invention of the alphabet and literacy caused violence, misogyny, and the Patriachy? It's true! He's a neurosurgeon, he must know what he's talking about!)


Wait. There are so many bad books out there, and more being published all the time. How will this thread ever end?

#136 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 04:27 PM:

#97, 109:

For the New Testament, the RSV (not the NRSV) is fairly good.

I use a decent Greek NT with the current Nestle/Aland text as a check against readings in mass. I can witness that frequently the NRSV reads like a loose paraphrase, and sometimes is worse.

I'll give a simple example: in the Gospel of John, there is a point where the Greek says, literally: "If you release him, you are not Caesar's friend". The NRSV changes the proper name Caesar -- this is under Tiberius, when the name is very much still a family name -- to the title "the Emperor". This has reference to the same person, and but it replaces one term which is a proper name with another which is a title. I presume the change was made because they were worried that readers wouldn't know the meaning of "Caesar". There is no evidence of variants in the textual apparatus.

The AV is a bad source not because its translation principles were bad, but because it used the Textus Receptus as a base text, and that is not a very good text by modern textual standards (wrong text family, among other things). I do find that the translation is a good one in those cases where I have already determined that there are no variances involving the underlying Greek. (For OT it's much less usable, since the changes in understanding of the Hebrew text are far more substantial than the degree of variation between the current accepted NT text and the Textus Receptus.)

Of corse, there are areas where you pretty well have to use the AV -- where you're treating the influence of the Bible on non-Catholic English writers over a period of about three centuries and a bit. And those where it is unacceptable for the same reason (I remember doing a paper on influences of apocalyptic in Shakespeare as an undergraduate and carefully using the Geneva bible).

#137 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 04:32 PM:

@92 Richard Dawkins doesn't write about theology. He's an atheist. He's as interested in theology as I am about the precise Linnean classification of green with purple dots dragons in tutus singing the opera.

Richard Dawkins writes about religion, and while I think he has an overly narrow view of it, I can't say that his arguments are uninformed or unscholarly, because this is the kind of field where scholarship doesn't count.

Theology is something that you need to know about if you are a) religous or b) interested in the history and taxonomy of religion. Dawkins isn't either.

#138 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 04:34 PM:

In the category of "books that I am going to destroy/burn and not even recycle in fear somebody might take them out of the recycling bin" I'd put Bjorn Lundren's The Skeptical Enviromentalist, which pissed me off doubly since it's a big book and cost me good money to purchase.

#139 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 04:43 PM:

On Japan, anything by the prolific and vigorously biased Boye Lafayette De Mente. Also Conrad Totman's "History of Japan", which at first glance looks like a serious history book, but abandons reality before you reach the first chapter.

-j

#140 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 04:44 PM:

Anna@137:Richard Dawkins writes about religion, and while I think he has an overly narrow view of it, I can't say that his arguments are uninformed or unscholarly, because this is the kind of field where scholarship doesn't count.

Would you mind expanding upon/unpacking that statement a bit? Because considered as it stands, I find it absolutely mind-boggling in its wrongheadedness.

#141 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 04:48 PM:

Unreliable sources include me, apparently:

Could you -- or anyone -- comment on the difference between the New Revised Standard and the Revised Standard?

I didn't actually realise there *was* a difference, and bumped up my RSV to an NRSV in the interest of not recommending an obsolete edition. I should have thought about that a bit harder, really, given the history of biblical translation.

I think in future I'll follow James' advice and stick to the old RSV.

#142 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 04:49 PM:

24, 63: According to my aunt the nutritionist, Davis's recipes are fine, but her nutritional "information" is pure bunkum.

#143 ::: Lea ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 04:58 PM:

E.M.W. Tillyard's The Elizabethan World Picture -- at least, when cited uncritically as an illustration of how the Elizabethans thought. Actually, you can add his Shakespeare's History Plays to that list too as a fine and shining example of Getting It Wrong; there is a fair deal of distance between the dominant-ideology-driven ideal (which Tillyard describes fairly effectively) and the way people actually thought.

Also, I am reasonably fond of most of Stephen Greenblatt's criticism, though I disagree with a considerable amount of it, but I would be put off by any work that cites Will in the World.

#144 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 04:58 PM:

Tania, actually, the Washington State History book both of my kids used mentioned the Pig War, without discussion, in the paragraph which skated over everything from Lewis and Clark to statehood; there was more in it about Boeing than about the timber industry.

I was taught from a wonderous, ponderous, WPA project history which spent a chapter on Ezra Meeker, and am now in search of the dozens of small town histories published by the writer's project during the New Deal: not comprehensive nor authoritative but, at least, full of the kind of primary source gossip which makes sense of strange kinks in roads and city limits.

#145 ::: Rachel Brown ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 05:00 PM:

What is the general opinion on The Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind? Is there any actual evidence to back up the thesis, or it it just an interesting idea with no evidence whatsoever?

I ask because I have repeatedly had people tell me all about it, but have been unable to actually read the damn thing and so form an opinion based on fact rather than intuition. (Intuition says "crackpot," but I could be wrong.)

#146 ::: Jess Nevins ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 05:01 PM:

Can't believe I forgot this--Peter Haining's work, as "scholar" and anthologist.

#147 ::: Victor S ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 05:07 PM:

It won't get you laughed at, but in food writing, avoid believing anything in Last Chance To Eat. Every paragraph in that book contains at least one glaring factual error, excepting only the frequent paragraphs which contain no facts.

And yet the work got a lot of good reviews -- apparently nobody wants to question a book which claims that everything good is passing away, even when it's demonstrably not.

#148 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 05:08 PM:

Anna, I have trouble accepting that there is any such thing as "the kind of field where scholarship doesn't count". And it's also fairly evident that Dawkins is interested in religion, otherwise he wouldn't spend so much energy writing and talking about the subject.

Talking of unscholarly religious attacks and mockable citations: Blaise Pascal tried to demonstrate that Christianity is superior to other religions, but he did his research on Judaism in a tome called Pugio Fideii, whose title translates as "a dagger for the use of the faithful to slit the throats of the heathen". (If Suetonius is fair game, then I'm not letting Pascal off on grounds of anachronism either!)

#149 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 05:08 PM:

candle @ 141

I'd say that if you want a Bible just for reading, the NRSV should be adequate. It's probably still better than the Good News Bible or the NIV; dogemperor over at dKos had some things to say about those. (Dang - now I have to go find the box with the OAB in it?)

#150 ::: JoXn Costello ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 05:10 PM:

Nobody has mentioned Numerical Recipes in [C|Fortran]. These are okay texts if you want to get a basic (very basic) overview of the theory behind some common numerical methods. Do not type in the code and compile it into your important simulation code, though, or you will be very, very sad.

Not to mention the fact that are very smart people who have written very fast and robust libraries for practically everything in the books. Use those!

(Numerical Recipes in C does some insane things. For instance, they rebase all their pointers by subtracting 1, so they can have 1-indexed arrays like Fortran. Makes my eyes bleed.)

While I'm on the topic of math/science books that are full of mistakes, let me give props to Barnsley and Hurd for releasing Fractal Image Compression -- a book so riddled with errors I suspect that they accidentally sent the publisher LaTeX files of an un-proofread draft by mistake. They've got proofs that don't prove and typos by the score, including a limit proof that started, memorably, with "Let epsilon < 0 be fixed ..."

#151 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 05:15 PM:

Rachel Brown #145: I was also wondering about the Bicameral Mind thing...I read it as an impressionable maybe fifteen-year-old and thought it was TOTALLY COOL but further reflection (and my anthropologist father) made me reconsider. It seems pretty silly on the face of it, but then it seems some people take it seriously.

#152 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 05:30 PM:

Leah Miller @ 126: ""things you shouldn't trust, but you should probably read" describes a huge portion of writings on Japan. Eep, this discussion makes me want to write more on the various eccentric and questionable qualities of different eras of Japanese scholarship."

I'm with you there. I haven't thought of much to contribute to this thread because the idea of something being utterly unusuable is about as strange to me as the idea of something that can be unquestioningly trusted. In the realm of Asian Studies, everything is treated with caution, and the truly egregious material is actually studied extensively (which isn't the same thing a being cited extensively, but still). There's just not enough of a canon yet for there to be an anti-canon, I guess.

#153 ::: TChem ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 05:41 PM:

#124 when looking at the reference set, look at the publication years, and imagine them plotted on a graph. Does it look like a bell curve? That's often the sign of healthy research.

*scuttles off to poke my thesis bibliography*

Would you look at that. That's like a magic trick.

#154 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 05:41 PM:

National Association for Reparative Therapy, The American Family Association, Focus On The Family, Concerned Women For America, The Institute For Marriage And Public Policy...

You know. Assholes.

There's actually a conservative fake medical journal dedicated to faking peer reviewed articles, but I can't remember the name of it for the life of me.

#155 ::: James Killus ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 05:45 PM:

The Bell Curve could not appear scholarly without Mankind Quarterly, financed by The Pioneer Fund, an organization with an uh, interesting past.

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned The Hoover Institution (home of Dinesh D'Souza), the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, or the economics departments of Pepperdine and George Mason Universities. These are the heavyweights in the disinformation division.

Oh, and anything from S. Fred Singer on global warming. Or anything else for that matter.

#156 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 05:49 PM:

Jeffrey Schaeffer, The Geomorphic Evolution of the Yosemite Valley and Sierra Nevada Landscapes: Solving the Riddles in the Rocks.

#157 ::: Michael Martin ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 05:51 PM:

@123: People who know about this stuff: is there a case for saying that the statistical findings in that book are valid even if the explanations are flawed? I mean, it may be possible to accept that some ethnic groups generally score higher than others on traditional IQ tests, while resisting the conclusion that this proves one group more intelligent than another. Personally, I'd say it proves the creeping cultural bias of traditional IQ tests.

Later editions of Stephen Gould's The Mismeasure of Man have a chapter dedicated to taking apart the science in The Bell Curve. It's been awhile since I've read it, but the part that stuck in my memory is that Curve's data in the back of the book list R instead of R-squared when showing correlations. The R listed is around 0.4, meaning that the actual correlation was under 0.2. Their data is thus evidence against race and IQ correlating.

Again largely on distant memory, I recall Gould claiming the data set and basic methodology were defensible, and that the primary flaw was that they're lying through their teeth about what their data actually demonstrate.

#158 ::: Tesla ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 05:58 PM:

Richard @ 54:

Do you include Myron Orfield's work in this? I had heard his was a cut above and am considering delving into it.

#159 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 06:06 PM:

Do not cite lest you be cruelly mocked by me, at least:

The Natural Alien by Neil Evernden shocked me with its complete ignorance of how science is actually practiced and what it means to scientists.

A Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber contains not only facile evo-psych rationalizations for gender stereotypes, but also vapid misunderstandings of evolutionary theory ("something as complex as an eye must all have evolved at once!").

Damn near ANY middle school science textbook. See Middle School Physical Science Resource Center for considerable reviews and skewering.

#160 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 06:10 PM:

Anything by Ken Wilber. Or Bill Bryson.

#161 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 06:11 PM:

It's been years and years since I went through _Bicameral Mind_, but I recall it as a book which has a lot of interesting evidence and a lot of interesting ideas. I'm quite sure that the ideas are all utterly wrong, and the evidence doesn't support them. But -- *something* is going on, which Jaynes is misinterpreting. And it will be worth going back to his book every once in a while, until we figure out what it is.

#162 ::: martyn44 ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 06:18 PM:

Not exactly serious science, but anything by James Churchward on the topic of Mu, that Atlantis-like lost continent but so much cooler when you are 17. Way back then it took me weeks to gather the evidence it was all bunk. Now I expect I'd need about fifteen minutes. That's progress.

#163 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 06:25 PM:

While on the subject of Dawkins and religion, I recall being made very angry by The God Who Wasn't There. This is a documentary, or propaganda piece, that falls squarely in the category of "unsound logical processes used to advance the argument for atheism." As far as I could tell, one of its prongs were "Some Christians, especially those found at a Billy Graham revival, are ridiculously uncritical of their church and unaware of the tenets of the faith they claim to adhere to. Therefore Christianity is bunk." Another seemed to be "I have here data which leads me to believe that Jesus never existed. Therefore there is no such thing as a Deity of any sort."

The bit where he grilled his old headmaster and acted with extreme bad faith towards him made me fairly uncomfortable, too, but that falls outside of the topic of bad scholarship and unsound logic.

#164 ::: Another Damned Medievalist ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 06:34 PM:

abi @ 116 -- the Fitzgerald translation of The Aeneid is also pretty good.

Somebody -- Tuchman is just wrong on lots of things. Perpetuates ideas of the MA that medieval historians have long since rejected, etc.

Damn! I meant to mention Bernal...

I was actually very interested to note in Michael Grant's introduction to the Penguin Suetonius that he thinks Suetonius is fairly objective. I suppose that's true, in comparison to the HA and Procopius. But I can't imagine writing something on the period without referring to those three -- even if only to refute them. The sources are there and well-known; they can't be ignored the way we are talking about ignoring scholarly (and pseudo-scholarly) works. But if you want to talk about sources to take with a big chunk of salt, then Tacitus' Germania is up there, too.

OH -- anything on the Carolingians by Herbert Schutz (big explanation here)

#165 ::: CaseyL ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 06:45 PM:

This is a fascinating list. I wonder how many of the "never read this!" recommendations are for actual factual errors, and how many are because the commenter dislikes the book's writer, or the subject matter, or the writer's take on the subject matter.

#166 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 06:46 PM:

Wallace Budge. I've yet to read an Egyptologist who didn't sneer at him, and by the time I was two and a half chapters into my own studies of the language, I could find flaws in Budge.

Carrie 17: You're talking about the 1979 edition of TSD, right?

Jakob 46: I'd also include the KJV itself.

fidelio 87: The idea of making a Catullus translation suitable for young readers is absurd. What's left? "To whom shall I give my little book"?

#167 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 06:47 PM:

(Please note: I did not get beyond Chapter Six, so appropriate saltgrains apply, but still.)

#168 ::: Wim L ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 06:56 PM:

@124: I'd expect a healthy bibliography to look more like a Poisson distribution or the like (after all, you can't cite works from the future).

#169 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 07:02 PM:

Of course we all know to avoid Margaret Mead's "Coming of Age in Samoa", but I was proud (?) to learn recently that my late grandfather and many of his community took part in messing up her research by outright lying. Mom says that Samoans are a pretty sarcastic bunch. I knew it was genetic!

#170 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 07:06 PM:

#166--and yet they teach Catullus in low-level Latin classes, Xopher, and have for years. There are several poems of his that are safe for the young and innocent--the poem on his brother's grave is one (and much beloved of 19th century imperialists, that one was) as well as the dead sparrow poem, plus a few others. I have a small edition, intended for school use (it's practically a pamphlet) that includes such as these, but little that would bring a blush to tender young cheeks*.
I suspect the attitude in some circles on the others was along the lines of "When they begin to suspect it's dirty, they'll work harder to learn how to read it"--either that, or schoolmasters piously hoped most of the filth would fly over the heads of the young and innocent. They also cheated by giving the students lexica that didn't have the Bad Words, so you'd have to guess. If you could wrestle with the unabridged Lewis and Short you'd earned any lewdnesses you could decipher.

Needless to say, for many years, very little Catullus was deemed Safe for Young Ladies; my mother remembers being taught the dead sparrow poem, and the one on his brother's grave, but very little else by Catullus--and that was in the early 1930s. Much safer to bore them insensible with De Bello Gallico or the younger Pliny's letters. Advanced students could be exposed to Cicero, since they were, after all, going to grow up to be Leaders and needed to understand Rhetoric; or to Vergil and made to count meter, which would be sufficiently boring they might not notice the seduction of Dido, assuming they got that far; or limited amounts of Juvenal and very carefully selected epigrams of Martial.


*Don't even start on the cheeks, old son. You know what I mean, and it's not that.

#171 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 07:07 PM:

(after all, you can't cite works from the future)

You can according to my new book.*

*(forthcoming, 2011)

#172 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 07:12 PM:
I wonder how many of the "never read this!" recommendations are for actual factual errors, and how many are because the commenter dislikes the book's writer, or the subject matter, or the writer's take on the subject matter.

Answering for myself:
#160 Wilber — all of the above.
#156 Schaeffer — lovely writing, exhaustive knowledge of the area, conclusions that make him either a crank or a visionary and either way you don't want him showing up in your dissertation.
#160 Bryson — lovely writer, infinitely credulous. Example from A Short History of Nearly Everything:

"The rocks are viscous, but only in the same way that glass is. It may not look it but all the glass on earth is flowing downwards under the relentless drag of gravity. Remove a pane of really old glass from the window of a European cathedral and it will be noticeably thicker at the bottom than at the top."
#173 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 07:20 PM:

(after all, you can't cite works from the future)

Sure you can; we do this all the time in science. (The magic words are "in preparation" ;-)

Of course, it can be a bit annoying when you're reading a paper from 1982 that says, "The data will be presented in Blah et al. (1983, in prep)" and you discover that it never actually appeared. (Or else it's still "in preparation," 25 years later.)

#174 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 07:22 PM:

Charles Dodgson @102 and Joann @106: Actually, I really admire Jane Jacobs and Christopher Alexander as original thinkers, but their work is based on observation that's influenced by their own particular preferences regarding urban form, rather than upon the hard work of survey-taking, quantitative analysis, and literature review. I like what Jacobs and Alexander have to say, but I would never consider their recommendations as must-follow directives for community design.

Another urbanist I admire, Lewis Mumford, once wrote an essay for the New Yorker--collected, I think, in his book, The Urban Prospect--that critiques Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American Cities and presents an alternative prescription for housing density and the size of blocks in urban neighborhoods. His ideas seemed very attractive to me when I read 'em thirty years ago, as an undergraduate, but then so did those of Jacobs, and I was left scratching my noggin, wondering who was "right." (Both were, I suppose, inasmuch as they seemed to be describing the neighborhoods within which they preferred to live in.)

Alexander uses selective and skimpy citations--when he deigns to use them at all--in his A Pattern Language. That said, I like his vision and would certainly consider living in a neighborhood designed using the pattern guidelines he recommends. Being a shopkeeper there, however, might be a problem, because my impression is that Alexander has a weak grasp of the spatial relationships that underlie retail success.

#175 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 07:38 PM:

John Meltzer #110: I had to read that twice to realise you weren't accusing me of purveying crap!

Mansfield on Strauss's interpretation of Machiavelli is one of the most awful pieces of academic fellatio I've ever seen.

#176 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 07:40 PM:

Most stuff by Scarecrow Press that calls itself "A Historical Dictionary of X". It's possible that there's a good one somewhere, but the ones that we've run across have pretty uniformly been scattershot, incomplete, and based on no known principle of selection that I could discover (so someone very unimportant might have a very long article, and some very important concept a two-sentence definition).

I'm still not sure why libraries are buying them at all...

#177 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 07:41 PM:

OK, somthing closer to my professional field:

Eric Lerner, The Big Bang Never Happened. (Tries to argue for Hannes Alfvén's "plasma cosmology" model.)

Detailed summary of what was wrong with the book.

#178 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 07:44 PM:

In general I have a hard time trusting any book that makes Sweeping Generalizations.

For example, I gave up on Bryson's "The Mother Tongue" when it asserted that thesauruses do not exist in any language other than English. This is false. There are Japanese thesauruses and French ones. But even if I hadn't been aware of that-- that's the kind of statement that I don't want to trust unless I can get some independent confirmation.

(Truthfully? It's beginning to sound like any mainstream layperson's book is suspect. Which is depressing, but a little believable; getting a book to a manageable size with a lot of interesting stories may require editing out some of the complexities and ambiguities...)

#179 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 07:48 PM:

Candle #171: Not only that, you can get email from the future (I just got one from the Southern Political Science Association dated 'August 15, 2008'. I was deeply impressed since it was invitation to the conference next January.)

#180 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 07:55 PM:

Fragano @ 179:
Indeed. A friend once sent me email which was dated from 2 days in the future. I mock-complained to him; he replied by sending me email from 2025.

#181 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 07:57 PM:

We must include, for sake of completeness, some areas of a nefarious weblog called "Making Light".

#182 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 07:58 PM:

Dom Henry Benedict Mackey's translation of St. Francis de Sales' Treatise on the Love of God is bowdlerized in spots -- he omits or heavily edits some of St Francis' references to unsavory Bible stories, analogies comparing God to a nursing mother, and so forth.

#183 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 07:58 PM:

21st Century Science and Technology, the LaRouchite pseudoscience journal that originated many anti-environmentalist talking points that have since passed into the conservative mainstream (the general "volcanoes do more X than human civilization" argument came from there).

Some commenters have already mentioned some physics books; physics has a vast crank literature in popular books, to the extent that any argument originating in a popular book, or promoted in a popular book in opposition to the journal literature, is probably suspect. There are also huge numbers of self-help and New Age books that reference quantum mechanics in a meretricious manner.

#184 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 08:02 PM:

I read the last line as:
how to spot a bad cook when you aren’t already familiar with the literature in that field.

But that would be an entirely different thread.

#185 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 08:07 PM:

#9: World Book Encyclopedia

When I was nine or ten or so, I became interested in the Beatles. One day I flipped open volume "B" of the World Book Encyclopedia and read, among other things, that "Day Tripper" was a song about LSD.

It hit me like the "B" volume of an encyclopedia: the guy who wrote the Beatles article hadn't bothered to listen to the songs.

After that I was less likely to assume that a book, (or newspaper, or whatever) knew what it was talking about just because it was dressed up as an authority. I was hardly even surprised when, years later, I had a high school Literature teacher who had no idea Guy de Maupassant wrote horror stories.

#186 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 08:13 PM:

CaseyL, #165: Having read the entire comment string, it appears that well over half of the comments citing specific works or authors included either a notation of factual errors, or actual examples thereof.

Perhaps you should have read the comment string yourself before sniping; it would have saved you looking so foolish in public.

#187 ::: David Cake ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 08:19 PM:

A warning sign for me is anyone that treats Richard Dawkins 'meme theory' as if its actual science, rather than a speculative metaphor.

#188 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 08:19 PM:

Re Julian Jaynes and The Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind:

My impression, based partly on comments such as this one from Cosma Shalizi, is that the first part of the book -- a discussion of what consciousness is and isn't -- is rather interesting and insightful. The second part of the book -- the stuff about how no one had unified consciousness until about 1000 BC, and the "gods" ancient people claimed to hear were really the other half of their brain talking to them -- is probably nonsense and is not taken seriously.

#189 ::: Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 08:23 PM:

The journal Psychological Reports. It's often shelved right with real journals in academic libraries, but they charge per-page fees to authors. (I know this is standard practice in some of the sciences, but it's not standard in psychology.)

They claim to have a peer review process, but the big giveaway is in their general information for authors:

Our goals are: (1) respectful, timely, and consistent services to authors and subscribers; (2) excellent editorial service and rapid review and publication of accepted manuscripts; (3) lowest possible costs to authors and subscribers; (4) no influence by advertisers, large publishing houses, or professional organizations.
If the goal of your journal is to serve authors, rather than to serve science, you are an unreliable source.

#190 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 08:25 PM:

During the 1970s and 1980s, the C programming language became popular but divergent. In 1989 it became an ANSI standard and then in 1990 an ISO standard (identical enough for this version of the story). ISO, its US member ANSI and its various other national members were all geared towards selling a few copies of their standards for high prices, and wanted on the order of $150-$200 for a copy.

In 1993 or so, Herbert Schildt's The Annotated ANSI C Standard was published for about $30; the difference in price accurately reflected the value of the annotations.

#191 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 08:27 PM:

Richard Anderson #174:

As I pointed out, Alexander is useful in descriptive senses, but not in prescriptive or generative.

#192 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 08:27 PM:

A bad source is easy to identify: it's a source that quickly and reliably draws vicious mockery from your fellows and irreparable damage to the reputation of anyone who cites it. Yes, it really is that simple.

#193 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 08:28 PM:

#185: But the World Book was far superior to its competitor, Compton's Encyclopedia. Truly awful. One couldn't trust that one even for elementary school reports. Badly written, too.

Kids these days are so fortunate. They have Wik, uh ...

#194 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 08:30 PM:

#160 Bryson — lovely writer, infinitely credulous. Example from A Short History of Nearly Everything: "The rocks are viscous, but only in the same way that glass is. It may not look it but all the glass on earth is flowing downwards under the relentless drag of gravity. Remove a pane of really old glass from the window of a European cathedral and it will be noticeably thicker at the bottom than at the top."

And were it not for Making Light, I would still be going "And what's wrong with that?" especially considering I had the mis-remembery of a glass-blower telling me the same thing (he was actually only referring to still-warm creations, but having the urban legend already firmly in my head, the glass-blower's words slotted into that convenient but inappropriate mental pigeonhole.

OK, maybe I'd have stumbled across a Snopes page debunking this. But generally I don't Snopes something unless I'm already suspicious of it in the first place. Which I wasn't.

Making Light: Enlightening the previously credulous masses who didn't even know they needed enlightenment!

#195 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 08:39 PM:

#190: Herbert Schildt had about eight zillion other books, on just about every programming language known, and you didn't want to touch any of them ...

#196 ::: Hilary Heretzoff ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 08:46 PM:

Childhood of Famous Americans series. Entirely fictional and alarmingly still popular among certain groups of homeschoolers. Also still in print.

Anything by Beatrice Sparks. She's the author of Go Ask Alice among other similar works. In our library, we've got them all in the fiction section now. Complete fabrications.

#197 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 08:47 PM:

Wesley #185: I was hardly even surprised when, years later, I had a high school Literature teacher who had no idea Guy de Maupassant wrote horror stories.

I, being apparently less jaded than you, was considerably shocked when I had a high school English teacher who had never heard of "Jabberwocky."* This was the same teacher who thought that "jettison" was onomatopoeia,** that alliteration meant that words started with the same letter, not sound, and that didn't know what the word "sentient" meant.

*A friend of mine finished a test early, and, to occupy himself, turned the paper over and copied the poem from memory. It came back with COMMENTS AND CORRECTIONS, starting "Very creative, but could be clearer." For realz.
**You could make a case that it's an appropriate-sounding word for its meaning, but straight-up onomatopoeia? Please.

#198 ::: rams ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 08:53 PM:

Any anthology/textbook which cites Bianchi as a source for an Emily Dickinson poem -- even if she was her niece. Plenty of high school textbooks still have a question mark in "A narrow fellow in the grass" or children playing "their lessons scarcely done" instead of striving at recess in the ring....

#199 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 08:55 PM:

Peter Erwin #180: You have amusing friends, that's for sure.

#200 ::: David Cake ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 08:56 PM:

Also, while Roger Penrose's books on consciousness are only popular science that shouldn't be taken seriously, his prestige as a mathematician means they sometimes are.

I can attest that professionals in the field hold his work on consciousness in such contempt that it made a good conference ice-breaker.

#201 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 09:05 PM:

Time Life books.

#202 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 09:08 PM:

Re The Bicameral Mind, I have only two words to say:

Corpus callosum.

On a related note, I was enjoying The Face in the Mirror, which is about the neurological basis of consciousness, until the author blithely remarked that "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny."

Um, no it doesn't.

#203 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 09:16 PM:

fidelio @ 170:

Catullus' dead sparrow poem isn't truly safe for young ladies, given that 'passer' could mean either 'sparrow' or 'penis'. Considering his other poetry...

#204 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 09:21 PM:

Velikovsky.

#205 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 09:36 PM:

ethan 197: Wow. I'm amazed you got out of that school still able to think, much less write. What a marroon!

Renee 204: Von Daniken!

#206 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 09:45 PM:

Xopher #205: Pauwels and Bergier.

Almost everything Colin Wilson has written.

#207 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 09:46 PM:

RE: Time Life Books - their cookbooks are okay. I'm not so hot on the International series, it's confusing and hard to find the recipes (they are the ones that had a big, slick hardcover book then a spiral-bound recipe book). On the other hand, I swear by their Good Cook series, for which a dear friend found the last few volumes I was missing (I subscribed to the series when it was new, then we got to KC and got rather poorer and I had to let it lapse). Each volume covers one item segment like poultry or lamb or pork or etc. and aside from lots of recipes, has good basic info (I almost always consult the Poultry book, the instructions on roasting any fowl are Right On...)

On the other hand, even when I was a child, a dear friend's parents bought all the "informational/educational" books for their children, I remember glancing through one on a biological topic and went, "that is just Not Right." At about 10. (I was a junior naturalist already)

#208 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 09:55 PM:

Xopher #205: She was awful, but kind of nothing compared to the middle school science teacher I had who thought that the rotation of the Earth was where gravity came from, and that if it somehow stopped spinning we would all float away (in addition to his odd notion of where gravity came from, he seemed to think that the absence of gravity meant that things would "fall up"--the misconceptions piled upon one another so quickly it made my head spin, even at the age of thirteen). When I objected, he started to patiently explain: "Imagine you have a bucket with water in it, and you start spinning it really fast..." I tried to explain to him that we live on the Earth's surface, not its interior, but there was no getting through to him. God, it still frustrates me thinking about it all these years later.

#209 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 09:56 PM:

Oh, by the way, Xopher, thanks for assuming I can think and write, based on very little evidence.

#210 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 10:08 PM:

More seriously and generally applicable than my last contribution:

Anything by Peter Breggin.

For amusement one slow August, a group of us ADHD adults went through what was then his latest book and chased his references and citations; in about half of the cases, the cited publications either did not exist or were only weakly connected to his assertions; the other half pretty much said the opposite of what he said they did.

Also, on the other extreme, Thom Hartman, on ADHD: pretty much the Bill Bryson of the field.

#211 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 10:10 PM:

Casey L @ 165 - From what I can tell, these aren't so much "don't read!" as "don't cite!" I know my examples fall under this category. Many of these are books that the field views as...interesting and unsupported reads, though occationally useful as sporifics and/or good to read aloud at conferences as entertainment.

167- you can't cite works from the future

I'm with Candle. *grins* Seriously, I had two? three? sources for my thesis that said "forthcoming" on them. Granted, they'd been presented at Kalamazoo, but God knows that is no assurance of quality.

Rivka @ 189 - AMEN!

Now that I'm home and can look at my "to be sold" shelf- Janet Holmes, An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. The English major in my class and I took the book apart. It is the standard 100 lvl text and it was the prof's first time using it. She's also not a native English speaker. She has recommended that it no longer be used based on the discussions in class...

#212 ::: C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 10:11 PM:

31 Churchill is not useful as a primary source, as he was operating under the Official Secrets Act... and virtually everything for which one might refer to that six-volume series as a primary source was affected by that (e.g., Ultra).

The West Point Atlas series is notoriously polemical, because the post-Civil War material has/had a different set of editors than did the earlier material. Both the descriptions and the maps are at minimum questionable, particularly when there has been motion to the battle (that is, it's not a set-piece action) or significant logistics issues. The revisions during the 1950s and 1960s were, if anything, worse, because the prevailing wisdom of the time was that Real Soldiers Use Tanks... forgetting that every single extended conflict in the gunpowder era has been won by the side with the longer logistical tail.

44 I'm afraid that's classified. ;-)

98, 99 I'm afraid we'll have to agree to disagree, except when what we're dealing with is true primary sources (e.g., Kenyon's The Stuart Constitution) or is from a non-common-law jurisdiction (e.g., the non-English-speaking world).

New This will probably get lots of rotten produce thrown at me, because it's beloved of too damned many gurus on fiction:

Anything by Joseph Campbell putting forth the so-called "hero's journey" as a universal foundation for storytelling. It's bad anthropology, bad literary scholarship, and bad advice to writers.

#213 ::: MikeB ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 10:14 PM:

Also: how to spot a bad book when you aren’t already familiar with the literature in that field.

Google the book and see if it's mentioned in a thread like this one.

I've essentially stopped reading books that aren't recommended by an author, blogger, or podcaster that I trust. I occasionally read a book based only on its Amazon reviews - but I almost never read books that I haven't Googled first. Even library books.

So, for me, the problem of spotting bad books has been reduced to the problem of choosing which bloggers to trust.

#214 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 10:18 PM:
#100. I'd say that anyone with a good knowledge of Greek and Latin can spot the weaknesses in the older Loeb translations on their own. However, there are a lot of people out there who have little or no knowledge of these languages, and won't realize where the flaws lie. Since the Loeb editions are often the only easily available translations for a lot of obscure writers that may be of interest to people outside the specific field of classical studies*, I feel like it's worth giving the warning.
*Fields like history of military tactics, medical history, history of botany, and so on. People working in the field of renaissance literature ought to have a good knowledge of classical literature, but don't always have much Latin, and rarely, much Greek--at least, I've run into several.

I've found that Roman military history in translation has a peculiarly nineteenth- or early twentieth-century Anglo-American inflection. This is especially true of the Loebs. One almost expects to stumble across some legionary named Thoma Atkinsis.*

English translation misrepresents some aspects of the Roman army. In fact, classical historians know less about drill and etiquette than they would like. Latin ambulare (walk) is inevitably translated by the Loebs as "march," implying the modern cadenced step. Despite a much cited book by William H. McNeill, Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History (1995), there is little evidence for Roman close-order infantry drill.

Arguments for it tend to be inferential: "they conquered the known world at that time, so they must have. . ." In fact, ancient infantry armies traveled as slowly as their ox-drawn wagons, so the efficiency of the foot soldiers' pace was not an issue.

Whether McNeill's book and Barbara Ehrenreich's Blood Rites: The Origins and History of the Passions of War (1997) ought to be included in the Worst Books list is debatable, but their broad sweep should be regarded with caution. From prehistory to the present. . .

On the subject of Roman military etiquette, the Roman salutare (which means simply "to greet with respect") is popularly translated "salute," suggesting the nonverbal gesture. But the "Roman salute" was largely a modern invention, made notorious by Fascism (Italy preceded Germany).

This is also true of gladiators. Morituri te salutamus means simply "We who are about to die greet you"; it doesn't imply gesture, despite countless Hollywood films.


*The Latin form of Thomas.

Please feel free to correct me: I'm working on a book about the Roman army which, though I don't expect it to Revolutionize the Field and Sweep Away All Predecessors, does argue these points.

#215 ::: Naomi ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 10:22 PM:

A number of parenting books that promote attachment parenting cite a book called The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff. I checked it out of the library to read it. She was, I guess, doing participant/observation of this particular group of Venezuelan Indians, but she didn't really know what she was doing and makes all sorts of sweeping statements and leaps to conclusions that are not even remotely justified by what she describes observing.

And yet this book is cited as GOSPEL by dozens of parenting books.

#216 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 10:32 PM:

Sid Ceasar's autobiography.

Reports from ComScore Media Metrix. Some reports from Find/SVP.

The Illuminatus Trilogy. Including almost everything cited within it, as they were also written or edited by Shea and Wilson.

And anything from John Fund.

#217 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 10:35 PM:

Matt McIrvin @ 183: speaking of meretricious uses of quantum mechanics, I need to add Gifts of Unknown Things by Lyall Watson, which falls for that extremely hard.

I can wish all day for that electron to tunnel through the potential well, but it's not any more likely if I wish for it than if I do not. *grumbles*

I thought of adding "What the Bleep Do We Know?" but thought it wouldn't be considered scholarly or reference material. Then again, people think The Da Vinci Code is scholarly, so what the bleep do I know?

#218 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 10:42 PM:

While on the subject of cultural histories of warfare: Klaus Theweleit's Male Fantasies (2 volumes) also belongs in the dubious hall of fame. Translated from the German, University of Minnesota Press 1987-89. As literary reading of authors such as Ernst Jünger, stimulating; as accurate history of Third Reich social conditions, dubious; as psychohistory of Western culture from prehistory (he believes in Elaine Morgan's aquatic apes) to the present, well. . .

Theweleit has been very influential here, though, in English departments and with antiwar activists, and is easily the only academic work you'll find illustrated with R. Crumb cartoons (other than academic studies of R. Crumb?), also with Nazi-era posters.

#219 ::: Rachael de Vienne ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 10:42 PM:

There are several good New Testament translations. I'm partial to Ken Wuest's, The New English Bible, and The Jerusalem Bible. Wuest gives the flavor of Koine Greek rather well. Of the 19th Century translations, I like Tischendorf and a really obscure one by Andrews Norton. Rotherham's New Testament is still worth considering.

The JW Bible is called The New World Translation, and it is evident that the translator or translators could read the original languages. Sadly, their translation is often slavish and only marginally grammatical. Grammar counts. It did come in for some praise from the editors of The Interpreters Bible. Their New Testament interlinear is much better, but serves a different purpose.

An incredibly bad "translation" both for its handling of the Greek text and for its English grammar is that by Eugene H. Peterson.

It's sad that the American Standard Version went out of print.

I don't think that Biblical Archaeology Review pretends to be "scholarly." It's fun, and it does have some worthwhile articles.

Frazier? No one would support his premise today, but he's full of interesting facts and accounts. He is worth a read, and he is a legitimate source if taken in that context. Besides, Golden Bough is just a fun read. ... And yes, I did read the whole thing! Not just the condensed single volume.

#220 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 10:48 PM:

Chris Clarke @ 172, I know very little about Wilber himself or about his philosophies or theories, so I think I can safely say I have no personal vendetta. I started yelling at the book when the evo-pysch stereotypes showed up, and put it down for good when the total misunderstanding of evolutionary theory appeared. It's still on the shelf -- I don't know why exactly, since I don't intend to finish it. However, we also have a copy of Dianetics on that shelf. And two Society for Krishna Consciousness publications (The Journey of Self-Discovery and Sri Isopanisad), so I think we have a fairly high crackpot index on the religion shelf.

I have never been able to decide if Gregory Bateson was a crackpot or a visionary, but we have him, too.

#221 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 10:49 PM:

Glenn @ #216, I'd expand your mention of Sid Caesar's autobiography to "any Hollywood (or rock) star's autobiography." Read 'em, I say, but don't take 'em as gospel and use 'em as citations.

Isn't Milton Berle noted for being a jerk in person? I'd expect that would translate to any autobiography he'd write (or may have written).

#222 ::: midori ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 10:49 PM:

Do any of the literary historians have a rating on the quality of C.S. Lewis' Allegory of Love or the OHEL* volume he did? He tends to attract fanboi, so it's hard to get a reading on accuracy with a quick google.


*English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama for the Oxford History of English Literature volume whatever. 13?

#223 ::: Another Damned Medievalist ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 10:50 PM:

CE Petit @ #212

98, 99 I'm afraid we'll have to agree to disagree, except when what we're dealing with is true primary sources (e.g., Kenyon's The Stuart Constitution) or is from a non-common-law jurisdiction (e.g., the non-English-speaking world).

Well, er ... what else do you think mediævalists and classicists use? OK, we read scholarship and include it in our arguments, but you know, We're pretty much all about the primary sources. Me, I've got law codes, capitularies, and land transactions up to my nose at the moment. ;-) (and I'm not a legal historian -- social and institutional, me) So ... maybe you could clarify what kind of constitutional history you were talking about? 'Cos we may be meaning very different things. Er ... and even in common-law England, you'd be hard-pressed to call it English-speaking. I'm not an Anglo-Normanist any more, but I'm pretty sure that French was the language of the royal court till fairly late (from a Carolingianist's POV) and legal documents were mostly in Latin, I think.

On the continent, there's been work done on Germanic laws that suggests that some of the codifications were indicative of existing practice and a culture that had influences from both Roman and Germanic tradition. At least this seems to be true in terms of inheritance and dowry practices.

In the meantime, if you want to look at some very well-respected stuff, White, Davies, and Fouracre are names that come immediately to mind.

#224 ::: Another Damned Medievalist ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 10:53 PM:

midori -- I'm of the impression that AofL was reasonably well-respected for its time, but is now considered very much of its time. I think there was a discussion of it on the LJ medieval_studies comm earlier this summer, though.

#225 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 10:57 PM:

sara: Interesting. When the book comes out, please let me know, and where I can buy a copy.

I had always been under the impression - though I can't search out the reference here - that among the reforms Marius made was to remove the ox-wagon and to replace it with a mule per eight men to carry the tent and some communal gear, while the soldiers carried their own equipment. Hence the joke about Marius's mules. A mule certainly could move faster than an ox-cart, when in the right frame of mind.

As to foot drill, it is quite true that the legion worked in looser formation than the earlier phalanx, whether hoplite or pike, so keeping in lockstep might not have been such a priority. Nevertheless, I would be interested to see argument that there was no close-order drill in the Roman army; or at least in the legions. I quite take your point that the evidence is inferential, but on the other hand one must be wary of argument from silence, especially in ancient history. But I am certainly open to persuasion on the point.

(I beg pardon. Topic drift appears to have become a whitewater event, about here.)

#226 ::: midori ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 10:59 PM:

#224,Another Damned Medievalist,

Thank you!

#227 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:07 PM:

ADM @ 223
I'm pretty sure that French was the language of the royal court till fairly late (from a Carolingianist's POV) and legal documents were mostly in Latin, I think.

Hanging out also in the medieval genealogy newsgroup, this is also my understanding (lots of translation requests, and I can mostly follow the Latin myself). I've seen 17th century church records (pre-Commonwealth) in Latin, so really late. They argue also about source reliability, particularly the Visitations, and sometimes much less politely.

#228 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:12 PM:

how to spot a bad book when you aren’t already familiar with the literature in that field.

If the amazon reviews all give it either 5 stars or 1, with nothing in between, I usually regard it with caution.

If someone recommends it with "ohmygod, it's SO good, you will LOVE it, it's my favorite book in the whole world ohmygod," RUN. Even if it's not an empirically bad book, one reader's meat is another's poison. My SIL got stuck reading Natalie Goldberg's Banana Rose when a coworker recommended it this way. We all had a ball reading the worst passages aloud, because you have to make the best of these things, but eeuch.

#229 ::: Stephen Dedman ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:12 PM:

The Onion (believe it or not, some people have quoted their stories as fact)

Michael Crichton's State of Fear (given an award for journalism by the oil lobby)

Conservapedia, or any other creationist textbook (though to be fair, I don't know of anyone who has ever quoted these as reliable sources of anything except jokes)

I haven't read Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, but I haven't found anything egregiously inaccurate in his travel books, apart from his too-flattering description of Australian Prime Minister John Howard in Down Under. And though the university where I teach has ruled out using Wikipedia as a reference, I find it useful as a source of references.

#230 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:13 PM:

The Allegory of Love is one of those texts that it's necessary to have read, if you're working in the field; but at the same time, work in the field didn't stop with its publication, and its publication was quite a while ago.

The caveat that one of my professors gave me regarding Lewis was that one had to be careful reading him because "Lewis is a very seductive writer" -- by which she apparently meant that his stuff was well written and cleverly argued, so much so that if one wasn't careful, one might find oneself led down the garden path into conclusions one might not otherwise agree with.

#231 ::: FMguru ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2007, 11:27 PM:

One thing that sets off my bullshit detector is footnote padding. A book, usually aimed at a popular audience, that is just thick with footnotes and citations, only when you flip to the back, it's full of:

412 Cheatum, 1974, p.315
413 Ibid. p. 317
414 Ibid. p. 318
415 Ibid.
416 Ibid. p. 320

and so on, turning a single reference into five footnotes, with the seeming aim of impressing non-scholars with the sheer quantity of references ("this thing has over 2000 footnotes! the author really must know what he's talking about!") and trusting them not to dig deep enough to realize just how redundant and useless 80% of them are. I see this a lot in right-wing pseudoscholarship (Bjorn Lomberg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist was a particularly egregious offender).

#232 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 12:05 AM:

Rachel at 219, thank you for your comments regarding The New Testament translations. I cannot speak to Eugene Peterson's knowledge of Greek, but his contemporary language version of The New Testament, -- "The Message" -- is the clunkiest, most cliche-ridden version of The New Testament I've ever read, and we won't even talk about what he does to the Psalms. Oy. It's too bad. He means well....

#233 ::: Josh ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 12:10 AM:

Michael Gray on anything (and anyone) other than the objective facts of Bob Dylan's life, especially in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia.

Camille Bacon-Smith's Science-Fiction Culture. She engages in vast theoretical generalizations and presents as fact whatever was told to her by her last interviewee: actual research on living subjects is an undiscovered country to her.

#234 ::: Erin Kissane ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 12:18 AM:

Unless I'm mistaken, Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking contains several disputed and many, many undisputed points. I wouldn't say it's generally disreputable -- or at least that it wasn't a few years ago when I was still in Asian Studies.

#235 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 12:27 AM:

Any translations of Chinese or Japanese poetry or literature by Ezra Pound. (First clue: he didn't realize that he was translating one Chinese poet from a Japanese translation, under a Japanese version of his name. Second clue: he seemed unaware that "Edogawa Rampo" was a pseudonym based on "Edgar Allan Poe".) Not acceptible as translantions, that is -- of their literary or artistic quality in English I have have no standing for comment.

#236 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 12:32 AM:

Paula Helm Murray, #207, I had the Good Cook series up until about a month ago. I don't cook anymore and they were taking up room, so they went to someone from Craigslist.

#237 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 12:33 AM:

One odd case is Solomon Volkov's Testimony. My impression is that real scholarly works about Shostakovich do discuss it, but anyone who quotes it without major caveats will be laughed at.

#238 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 12:43 AM:

...

Oh, never mind.

I'll just make one observation:

Wow.

#239 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 12:48 AM:

Lately, I've noticed that John R. Lott Jr. is making the rounds again, counting on short memories to keep people from regarding his works as crackpottery after he was caught engaging in unprofessional conduct.

I certainly wouldn't cite any of his works outside the field of econometrics as credible sources of information, not after what he's done and where he's been doing it. I doubt have any idea whether his works in his professional field of interest are any more credible than his opinion pieces, but I confess to suspicions.

#240 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 12:57 AM:

I actually got into a minor argument with a coworker over something that happened a few decades ago... I was saying that primary sources (i.e. transcriptions) said that a public figure had said certain things, and she said that no, he hadn't... and cited a documentary. A secondary source.

I'd ask the rhetorical question of "do they not teach primary vs. secondary sources anymore?" if not for the fact that my high school's wonderful basic research paper course ("Term Paper") was considered unusual more than a decade ago.

My children will learn how to do a proper research paper if I have to teach them myself. They will also be taught to have legible handwriting.* Why are these things no longer considered important?

*Because we can't all be doctors.

#241 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 12:58 AM:

I wonder what the current scholarly consensus is on Noam Chomsky's work on linguistics?

#242 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:07 AM:

Any "architecture book" that contains only color pictures, without some hardline drawings to scale, or at least something to scale (computer models count). Any application of the work of Christopher Alexander to the engineering aspects of software design, as opposed to human interaction. Alexander himself has decided that Pattern Language et al are actually not very good (!); his current work, The Nature of Order is more recognizably aesthetics, and I think the better for it. Architectural opinion of Alexander, btw, is quite varied, with some designers of the opinion that he is interesting but perfectionist, others disagreeing with his aesthetics, and (many?) others feeling that it interferes with the serious business of bringing in buildings on time & under budget and generally manufacturing more buildings which almost everyone hates.

Any translation of the Tanakh which makes it appear biblical Jews believed that god would beget a son.

#243 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:07 AM:

Ooh, ooh, I know one! I was going to bemoan that being a non-academic, I knew nothing of such fine arts and matters, and then one in my own area of practical arts and craftsmanship hit me like a brick: beware citing an IETF Internet Draft as authority for anything.

(The rules of the IETF are such that pretty much anyone can write and submit an Internet Draft, solo or as a group effort. You will find among them brilliant proposals which are well on their way to standardization, and far more "brilliant" proposals written by some crank with an axe to grind, on their way to the dustbin. Some of them start citing their own Internet Draft as gospel, as soon as they've submitted it.)

Also, beware citing an Internet RFC which has been specifically superseded by a later one. For example, any person, company, or product citing RFC 822 for Internet email these days should be viewed with a jaundiced eye - it's been superseded by 2822 for a long time.

#244 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:15 AM:

Oh, and here's a cheap and effective tactic for discovering whether a source might be too controversial: look it up in Wikipedia.

There's often a section in articles for controversial sources that documents the controversy in flaming pedantic supremely wankerific detail.

+ Look to see how much of the revision history on the article is accounted for by changes to the controversy section.

+ Look in the discussion page for multi-level epic flame wars.

+ It's also a huge red flag when the article for the source has a neutrality warning at the head of the page.

The basic theory here is that if the Wikipedians are flaming one another over the source you might be about to cite, then odds are good that you'll get flamed for citing it yourself.

#245 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:26 AM:

Clifton Royston advises: "...beware citing an IETF Internet Draft as authority for anything."

Give particularly wide berth to Internet Drafts with names of the form "draft-author-title-00" as these are the drafts that 1) are not IETF working group (or IRTF research group) products; and, 2) have not been revised yet. These are very far from authoritative about anything except whatever the fevered imaginations of their authors have become fixated about lately.

Definitely don't cite an Internet Draft whose most recent revision has already expired without being accepted into the RFC Editor queue.

Finally, don't cite Informational RFC's as if they're standards-track documents, and be careful you know the difference between Proposed Standard, Draft Standard and Standard.

The confusion usually arises because "Internet Draft" is the total free-for-all category of document, and "Draft Standard" is actually a pretty solid specification, as such things go with IETF.

#246 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:37 AM:

Another Damned Medievalist @ 164: the Penguin Suetonius

Does anybody make a plushie of that yet?

#247 ::: Samuel Tinianow ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:43 AM:

The New York Times

#248 ::: Zack Weinberg ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:52 AM:

Dave @241: It depends which university you're at. One current school of linguists takes his work very seriously indeed; another considers it to be archaic at best, complete nonsense at worst. These are sometimes facetiously referred to as "East Coast" and "West Coast" respectively, since the chief proponents of Chomsky are at MIT whereas his chief detractors are at Berkeley and Stanford.

Myself, I cannot take the man seriously since the talk I saw him give (about five years ago). The bulk of this was concerned with drawing a specious analogy between the state of linguistics and biology nowadays, and the state of chemistry and physics in the late nineteenth century. He asserted that "just as" physics had to change then to accommodate discoveries in chemistry (which is already complete nonsense), so biology would have to change to accommodate discoveries in linguistics (by which he meant his own theories).

And then, in the question-and-answer session, he denied the existence of Eleanor Rosch.

#249 ::: Rachael de Vienne ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:54 AM:

To Lizy at 232:

You might enjoy R. M. Benson's The War-Songs of the Prince of Peace: A Translation of the Psalms Metrical and Literal ... 1901. It's out of print and a bit expensive when you can find it. Try interlibrary loan. It's well done, especially considering it's in rhymed English verse.

Archbishop Kendrick's Psalms is still excellent. It too is out of print. You might try one of the used book sites such as bookfinder.

#250 ::: Lawrence Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 02:01 AM:

Re: #9: What specifically is wrong with Norman Davies' Europe? Because I did use it as a research source on one project, and would like to know how much of a fool I made of myself.

#251 ::: Steve Jackson ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 02:02 AM:

The Anarchist Cookbook. Exception: If you wish to show that your characters are idiots, let them treat this book as a serious reference or, ghod help us, attempt to follow one of its "recipes."

#252 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 02:03 AM:

Jon Meltzer @ 110

I have been a software architect and, although I don't agree, most other architects I've met either don't know what Alexander's work is about or don't think much of it. I actually discovered Alexander long before I realized his work had any applicability to software (and before the gang of four as well). I chanced on A Pattern Language in a bookstore and was fascinated by the idea of a generative grammar for architecture. Of course, he didn't actually have one that works, as I discoved when I read the book. But the ideas there and in some of his later books are well worth reading for the thoughts they provoke.

Jules @ 60

Anyone who's been working in the field since at least 1990 is likely to be aware that Gamma, Helm, Johnson, and Vlissides had long talks and correspondence with Alexander while writing the Design Patterns book.* And they spent more than a year going through the patterns to make sure the ones they chose to present worked both individually and together, which is more than I can say for a lot of other authors in comp. sci. They involved a lot of other people in the conversations, too; they realized they'd need as much help as they could get if they were to get acceptance of so large a change in the way software is developed.

Oh, while I'm there: don't cite any book on software development methodology written by someone who makes his living selling methodology (snake, oil therefrom, sellers of). Booch and Rumbaugh spring to mind and do a little dance before running off stage.


* I went to lunch with the four of them while they were working on the book, and some of the conversation was about what Alexander had said about parts of their current draft.

#253 ::: Stephanie Zvan ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 02:05 AM:

On general rules for recognizing a reputable source in your field: in psychology, essentially any work that doesn't tell you what is still unknown is overgeneralizing. As a field of scientific study, psychology is so young. Even perceptual studies, one of the easier areas for eliminating testing bias, has huge gray areas.

Identifying a bad general psych textbook is even easier. Just look at whether it still takes Rhine seriously. If it does, it was written by someone who doesn't understand enough statistics and research design to evaluate their source material.

#254 ::: steve ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 02:07 AM:

things written in the English language
everything else

#255 ::: Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 02:11 AM:

Glenn Hauman #216: "The Illuminatus Trilogy"

Agree wholeheartedly, but...

Isn't that a little bit like warning against the citation of Terry Pratchett on the natural history and personal habits of world-bearing turtles?

My point being, I don't think there's a word in the Illuminatus books that was intended to be taken seriously at face value. The authors are explicit about the fact that everything they say is -- more likely than not -- a "mindfuck".

#256 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 02:14 AM:

Carrie @ 17 --

Starhawk's later editions have just reams of revisional appendices to the tune of "erm, I was young and naive when I wrote that, here's the better information..."

I wish they would be actual revisions and not flip-to-the-back, though.

On the Pagan front, Edain McCoy has been called out multiple times for inventing ancient Irish potato rites. (!) Quoting her on Celtic anything is likely to meet with some coffee spurted out the nose of whoever you're trying to impress. D.J. Conway writes a single, fairly spiritually solid if historically laughable book, and replaces poetry about Norse gods with poetry about dragons, and similar.

---

As for un-authorized health advice: -- when I or someone I know needs to figure out a health condition or something of nutritional significance, I Google it, flat, and click on links belonging to intelligent nutjobs (Ray Sahelian is reliably one of these: he's a doctor, but his website is put together with an eye to using exclamation marks and selling nutritional supplements...) until I find something pretty comprehensive.

Then I take notes on what the intelligent nutjob says, and search that on Entrez Pub-Med until I've figured out -- these ten supplements that are popularly supposed to be good for ADD: what do they actually do in neurochemical terms?

It's not foolproof, but it conveniently allows me to search from the bottom and the top in towards the middle.


--

To the Dawkins discussion upthread: I also quite agree that there's no kind of a field where scholarship doesn't count. If talking about religion isn't theology or history, it's sociology or anthropology. And scholarship definitely counts in sociology and anthropology. I know people who've been inspired by Dawkins and I have no problem with that -- I've been pretty well inspired by Bill Bryson.

--

Glenn Haumann @ 216, I really don't know where one would make a scholarly citation on the Illuminatus! Trilogy. And I'm not sure I understand the joke when you say everything cited in it is by Shea and Wilson; because I'm pretty sure they didn't write/edit all of William S. Burroughs, Aleister Crowley, H.P. Lovecraft and James Joyce... Although suggesting so is a nice play on the everything-you-know-is-wrong trip, perhaps?

#257 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 02:47 AM:

Anything on the ancient or medieval Celts by someone who can't read Latin and at least either Old Irish or medieval Welsh; ditto on Vikings for Old Norse.

Anything published by Llewellyn.

Anything by Miranda Green needs to be thoroughly double-checked.

Anything, at all, by Gimbutas.

#258 ::: nigel holmes ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 03:40 AM:

Not all old Loebs were bad, though some are dreadful, not so much for avoiding obscenity as for poor scholarship and fustian language. Duff’s Lucan, for example, was well respected. As to Martial, Ker did not mistranslate obscenities, he kept them from youthful eyes by providing an Italian translation.

The White Goddess has been mentioned, but The Greek Myths must have misled far more readers (it looks more like a real reference work). Graves also translated Lucan for Penguin; the translation is sometimes free invention.

#259 ::: Vef ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 03:57 AM:

Dave @ 241:

My psychology-grad friend informs me that Chomsky's argument for 'innate grammar' in humans has been debunked by an experiment which got the same results from a computer. That said, I don't have a citation for you and include myself in the category of Things That Should Be Quoted Only At Your Peril.

I don't think anyone's mentioned The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail yet, presumably on grounds of extreme obviousness.

I used to read a lot of espionage history, most of it complete rubbish. Another case where there are books you should probably read - say, Peter Wright's Spycatcher - but never ever take as your starting point.

#260 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 04:40 AM:

If four hours is late... oh well:

Francis @ 12: I've cited articles from "Medical Hypotheses" - all on the same subject, all by the same person. I then pointed out that there was no evidence for any of the theories stated, and gave cites of works in other journals disproving the theories expounded in said papers (but I cited the MH articles so I couldn't be accused of having just ignored them/not done my research).

Jakob @ 31: In anatomy, some of the best descriptions are more than a century old (and mainly in German, unfortunately for me) - e.g. (if I recall correctly) a description of the gutteral pounches of the okapi.

Fidelio @ 87 etc.: I got worried until your post @129. I've got old Loeb editions of Columella (On Agriculture), Celsus (De Medicina) and Cato and Varro (On Agriculture). Hopefully they're not too far off? They do get quite graphic - the description of doing a fetotomy to remove a dead fetus from its mother's uterus, for example. I guess they didn't worry about Celsus being read by adolescents?

#261 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 04:42 AM:

Anything on teaching reading that doesn't start with phonemes, particularly anything that promotes 'invented spelling', 'word shapes', or calls 'sight words' ones that are clearly phonetic.

#262 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 05:34 AM:

256: Edain McCoy has been called out multiple times for inventing ancient Irish potato rites.

Wonderful. Almost Wodehousian.

"As long as you've got your potato, you'll be fine," as Mr Tulip would say.

#263 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 05:46 AM:

FMGuru @ 231:

I'm not sure I'd automatically consider those to be danger markers; if a particular book being referenced is rather long, it's a kindness to your readers to specify where in those three or five hundred pages to look for what you claim to be referencing. (Indeed, an alternate form of footnote padding might be to misleadingly reference long books without more specific details, counting on your readers to be dissuaded from checking the accuracy of your references by the sheer length of the books.)

But since you've brought up Bjorn Lomborg and references, I'll suggest Another Possible Signature of Bad Works:

Works claiming to make scientific arguments which reference previous scientific studies in the form of newspaper and magazine articles. This is a pretty clear sign that you couldn't be bothered to actually read the original studies, and that you don't know or don't care about how studies can be simplified and distorted by the combination of press release + journalist + editors.

#264 ::: Zeborah ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 05:49 AM:

(after all, you can't cite works from the future)

Sure you can; we do this all the time in science. (The magic words are "in preparation" ;-)

Also "in press": do a search in ScienceDirect (Elsevier's database, and flippin' expensive so mostly only academic libraries will have it) and at the top you'll get all sorts of results dated 2008.

#265 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 06:36 AM:

Zeborah @ 264:
Also "in press": do a search in ScienceDirect (Elsevier's database, and flippin' expensive so mostly only academic libraries will have it) and at the top you'll get all sorts of results dated 2008.

That's certainly true, although in my field we tend to optimistically cite "in press" references as belonging to the current year, unless there are only a few months left. (The Smithsonian/NASA Astrophysics Data System doesn't list anything from 2008, though it does have a few journal articles dated "November, 2007." On the other hand, monthly magazines of all stripes tend to come from a month or two in the future, so that's not so strange.)

The difference is that "in press" generally means "accepted in its final form [barring last-minute copyediting] by a journal or conference proceedings volume or general publisher," so it really does exist as a completed work.

A work which is "in preparation" is still mostly or completely hypothetical. It actually be partly written, or it may just be a gleam in the author's eye.

#266 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 06:56 AM:

Curzio Malaparte: Kaput is good literature, but it certainly ain't a source on anything factual about the second world war...which makes you wonder about The Volga Rises in Europe as well.

What's His Name's The Arab Mind has, I think, been amply demonstrated to be less a source of information than a kind of memetic WMD.

#267 ::: Fernmonkey ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 06:56 AM:

Any etiquette, party-planning or cookery book that describes "high tea" as an elegant afternoon meal with tea, cakes and small sandwiches.

Also, the pumpkin pie recipe in The Joy of Cooking doesn't work. The filling never, ever sets.

#268 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 07:02 AM:

Bruce Cohen @ 252: don't cite any book on software development methodology written by someone who makes his living selling methodology

Ed Yourdon.

Not only bad, but actively dishonest (the Y2K hysteria).

#269 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 07:07 AM:

As editor of a collection of free online books, I often have to deal with the flip side of "how to spot a bad book": how to pick out the books that are still maximally useful, in an environment where a lot of the good books from the last 85 years or so can't be included due to copyright restrictions.

I'm not so much worried about including bad books: that's a given in any sizable research collection, where the main inclusion criterion is significance rather than reliability. But I do like to make sure that, in any important field, I've got good ones as well, or at least as good as I can manage.

There are some sources and rules of thumb that can be useful. For instance, the National Academies Press has lots of generally sound free online books on various aspects of science, medicine, and social science, which provide a useful complement to the often outdated public domain books in that area, now often of more interest as part of the history of those fields.

I'm not an expert in literature, but when I'm looking to add a new title that exists in multiple editions online, I try where possible to look for either the first edition or the last edition that the author is likely to have had direct involvement with, figuring that these may be more reliable than later reprints. For works originally in other languages, I try to include multiple translations where available (with translators clearly identified), figuring that people can either identify the translators that are more reliable, or at least compare independent translations to get an idea of parts of the texts that may be particularly problematic.

It also helps to be able to get more recent where possible: while projects like Google's are pretty much only including pre-1923 books in their "full view" selections, there are often many more recent books that are in the public domain, as well as copyrighted books that the authors have made available on their own. But finding these and establishing their status can be tricky, and the quality can be quite variable.

#270 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 07:57 AM:

#203 Renee--yes, but you have to know enough Latin to know that it has that second meaning, so that Young Students who track that down on their own (because no secondary-level teacher is likely to tell then that--and no college teacher at a women's college in the 1930s, either, per my mother) are Keen, and have earned the Right to Know about the Dirty Bits through their own hard work.

#214 sara, that's not surprising to hear. Like Dave Luckett, I look forward to hearing more about yur book as it becomes a finished product.

#258 nigel holmes--Ker's method reminds me of Gibbon, providng the support for all his salacious bits by quoting his sources in detail, but leaving the text quoted in the original language, whether Greek or Latin, so that ladies who happened to read his history would not be overexposed to the Dirty Bits.

#271 ::: Emily Cartier ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 07:59 AM:

Stephanie Zvan @ 253

I'm not sure why you're saying perceptual studies are one of the easier areas of psychology, only two of our senses can be described as "well understood". Visual perception is relatively easy. Aural perception is relatively easy. Touch... that gets harder. Once you get into smell and taste, it gets complicated. I'm an amateur in the subject, and I know just enough to have an idea of how complex it can get. I've learned to read popularizations on taste and smell research as humor.

There are all sorts of red flags that someone hasn't done any real research on smell and taste. Presuming that of course double blind studies work is always a fun howler. Ignoring the genetics of taste is also a good one. Ignoring sensory fatigue. Then there's things like unawareness of basic experimental methodology. An experienced test subject gives different results from an inexperienced one (that was where I learned to laugh at Chandler Burr). Not all test panels use identical rating systems (that was around the point where the Freakonomics chapter on taste and smell left me rolling on the floor). Descriptors are another fun area. If the author feels the idea of a fifth basic taste is likely to be news, that's worth a giggle all by itself.

I've learned through experience that if a popularization discusses smell and taste research and the author does not have chemistry, biology, neurology or psychology credentials, I'm likely to be rolling on the floor laughing because in the best case, they took a credible source as infalliable. Worst case, I could have done better at 18. If they do have decent scientific credentials, I usually get to have lots of fun giggling at them because they didn't do any of the cross discipline work needed.

Most journal articles get deep enough into the subject that I don't run into howlers. And I don't really have research background, so in journal articles it's easy for me to miss deeper errors.

#272 ::: sharon ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 08:12 AM:

I wonder how many of the "never read this!" recommendations are for actual factual errors, and how many are because the commenter dislikes the book's writer, or the subject matter, or the writer's take on the subject matter.

Firstly, I thought this was more a 'Don't trust this!' rather than 'Don't read this!' sort of conversation. Secondly, it isn't always simply about factual errors. In history, the primary sources provide the basic facts. But what a historian thinks they mean can turn out to be utterly wrong. For example, because there were many, many other sources that the historian didn't use, the few that s/he did use turn out to be isolated and misleading. Those facts still stand, but the interpretation the historian once drew from them becomes untenable.

This sort of links to the point about those books with a lot of ibids in the endnotes. A string of ibids is nearly always a bad thing because it means that the author is stringing together an extended discussion using just one source.* (You often find the same phenomenon in mediocre student essays.) It doesn't matter how good that source (primary or secondary) is, any substantial argument that rests on a single source is a very fragile construction. And a book constructed on a whole series of them is highly likely to be a bad book.

* Alternatively, the author and his or her editor don't understand a basic convention of academic footnoting (grouping together multiple references in one note). This is not a terrible offence, but it wouldn't fill me with huge confidence about the general academic standards of the book, somehow.

#273 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 08:22 AM:

Since Peter Erwin mentioned Black Athena, I'd want to mention Ivan van Sertima's They Came Before Columbus. This is a mass of purely speculative argument designed to 'prove' that Africans had made it across the Atlantic either long before or just before Columbus (or both). Where I work, suggesting that it is less than scholarly can bring howls of anger and accusations of Eurocentrism at the drop of an Olmec head.

I'm particularly annoyed by the 'Olmecs were Africans' argument because, like every other racist argument (Von Däniken on the pyramids, for example) it denies agency to a human community.

Oh, and while I'm at it, the undersea archaeology of Robert Marx seems rather dubious to me (certainly his book on Port Royal is despised by Jamaican archaeologists).

#274 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 08:26 AM:

One general rule I've found useful: if the blurb on the back has the word "controversial" in it, be willing to either check the author's working, or patch the plasterwork on the wall. "Shocking" is another hot button word.

Oh, and while we're at it: for gender theory/feminism, I would strongly disrecommed Lords of Creation: The Demented World of Men in Power by Margaret Cook. The writer is/was a consultant Haematologist at St Johns' Hospital, Livingston, and an Honorary Senior Lecturer in the faculty of medicine at Edinburgh University (I have no idea whether she still holds these titles). Presumably she had to display some skill in scholarship in order to attain both of those titles - all I can say is that there is no evidence of same in this book, save for a rather extensive bibliography at the back.

#275 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 08:41 AM:

I've seen some howlers in Masterplots. It's particularly bad for anything containing ambiguity or metaphor--many summaries seem to have been assembled by obtuse Lit 101 students* going for the most literal view of things. The summaries will say characters die when they don't, or that they don't when they do, or that people got married when they just had an internal monologue about love, etc.

Obtuse students in Lit 101, that is. I wish there was a class called Obtuse Lit 101.

#276 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 08:44 AM:

ethan @ #208, I had a world history teacher in high school who told us that Napoleon's troops found the Sphinx buried in the sand because the Egyptians built it on the sand and it sank. He also told us that when a semi passes you on the road and your car gets pulled towards it, that's because of the larger vehicle's gravity (the thought experiment which immediately leapt to my mind was, "then why can a bird fly past a mountain?")

Lest you think he was pulling our legs, he also told my English-teacher mom that he loved the sound of the King James Bible, but he "just couldn't understand Old English".

Re Senoi dreams and Venezuelan parenting, I submit that anyone who wants you to model your life after some obscure tribe somewhere should be taken with a large scoop of salt.

Also, people (usually politicians, not scholars) KEEP citing Cyril Burt on the heritability of I.Q., despite strong evidence that he made up his "data". (A quick Google informs me that "the recent work of two independent researchers, Robert Joynson and Ronald Fletcher, has reopened the issue and raised doubts about the accusations of fraud." I'll believe it when someone shows me his 53 pairs of identical twins reared apart.)

Bruce Cohen @ #252: we have the same problem in physical therapy: research on proprietary equipment/protocols funded and/or conducted by people who make money selling them. Not entirely convincing, to my mind.

Emily @ #271, my anatomy textbook referenced umami as a "new" basic taste, while simultaneously acknowledging that it had been discovered in 1909. (Sidenote: the actual receptors for umami were indeed discovered pretty recently, so calling that information "new" isn't a howler.)

#277 ::: oldsma ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 08:53 AM:

Germanic Religion DO NOT CITES.

H.A. Guerber's Myths of the Norsemen is notoriously free with the facts, although it makes a great read. It was the first popular book on the subject after the Poetic Edda was translated into English, as far as I can determine, and C.S. Lewis points to it as a big early influence on his pre-Christian worldview. Guerber, however, uses Tennyson as a source, includes a lot of infobits for which no source has ever been found, and many engaging infobits which are just plain wrong.

Anything published by Llewellyn, except the first edition of Teutonic Religion. Although KveldulfR has changed his mind on some of his interpretations, it is a useful guide to the early days of the reconstruction.

Anything by Rydberg. His arguments usually start out on solid ground, but then (as described by a scholarly colleague who chased down every detail in one of the books), he "goes out on a limb, and saws the limb off behind him".

Edred Thorsson's A Book of Troth may be cited with asterisks. His ideas were heavily influenced by Wicca, ceremonial magic, and the Temple of Set. You can reputably cite and agree with him, but you need to acknowledge that you know his work has that bias.

H.R.E. Davidson's Roles of the Northern Goddess. After a long career of top-notch work, the often-cited HRED jumped the shark, IMO. The title alone should warn you to cite with extreme care, since she has somehow gotten bitten by the pantheism bug. Still the finest book ever written regarding the Asynjur, collecting practically everything that is known about the Norse Goddesses, but look out for cowpies.

Dumezil and Gimbutas. They may be absolutely on the mark for other religions, but their theories don't work for Germanic religion. That accreted in very interesting ways and was never systematized at all until Snorre's Prose Edda, which was post-conversion. Their ideas look lovely, but are a Procrustean bed. Back away slowly.

Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon. Her chapter on modern Germanic reconstructions is just plain wrong in alarming ways. If you have DDTM, tear that chapter out and use it as tinder or insulation, so you at least get some positive use out of it.

Barbara Walker's The woman's dictionary of symbols and sacred objects. Out in space somewhere for Germanic religion. Her knitting books are great, though.

Caroline Larrington's The Woman's Companion to Mythology. (She edited the book.) She herself wrote the section on Norse mythology and her facts are solid, but she seems to be very angry about it. I she does manage to cast everything in a negative light. I recommend this book so you can see a more pure and reasoned form of what uninformed neopagans think of Germanic religion. And also because the other essays are pretty good as far as I can tell.

Any fiction, even American Gods, no matter who wrote it or how cool it is. I mean, puhleeze.

That will get you started on avoiding things.

MAO

#278 ::: oldsma ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 09:07 AM:

Oy. I missed one of big big big significance.

Hollander's Poetic Edda. He decided to make his translation poetry without any words of Latin or Greek origin. This has value as a stunt, but it just sucks as a translation. (Go with Dronke if you can get/afford it, but Larrington is a good, affordable, light-duty alternative.)

MAO

#279 ::: Eve ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 09:07 AM:

Barbara Walker's The woman's dictionary of symbols and sacred objects. Out in space somewhere for Germanic religion.

That's really disappointing. I've always been such a fan of her knitting stuff.

#280 ::: oldsma ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 09:33 AM:

Has anyone every double-checked Rutt's History of Hand Knitting? He says he personally tracked down the origin of modern Aran-style sweaters, and I would like to know if that is sound.

FWIW and IIRC, he says a couple of sisters from Aran went to America for a while and swapped knitting ideas with Central European neighbors. When the sisters went back to Aran, they introduced some classic CE stitches there, which then got blended into the classic gansey seaman's sweaters.

MAO

#281 ::: Jess Nevins ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 09:51 AM:

#185: The World Book entry on the Rosicrucians claims that the Rosicrucian Order "originated in ancient Egypt." In, I don't know, eight point font at the end of the entry are the words "Critically reviewed by the Rosicrucian Order." Well, of *course*.

#250: For starters, Davies' numerous errors of fact--at least one per page, on average.

#282 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 10:07 AM:

James Killius #155:

But are you saying that every book by a person at those organizations is wrong? This seems more like a "I fundamentally disagree with these guys' ideology" comment than anything else.

#283 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 10:14 AM:

Michael #157:

It's not my field, but the people I know in psychometrics have a very low regard for _The Mismeasure of Man_.

The race/IQ correlation is really well established. Explaining it is a research question, but the difference in average scores isn't in doubt at all. I've seen a lot of discussion about possible explanations, like cultural bias in tests, environmental differences, and stereotype threat, but I don't have enough understanding of the underlying field to evaluate them.

#284 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 10:22 AM:

#212 CE Petit:

Wouldn't the Churchill book still be a primary source? After all, many historians wrote at times when there were things they couldn't say in their books, things they wouldn't say for fear of harming friends, etc.

#285 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 10:29 AM:

General Comment:

In my own field (cryptography), I'm less likely to worry about someone citing bad works than about those being the only things cited. There are overtly dumb or wrong papers out there, and even some overtly wrong books, but I wouldn't generally think less of a paper or book because it included some weak papers in a bibliography with strong papers, too.

If you see a crypto paper that cites only Schneier's _Applied Cryptography_ and/or the _Handbook of Applied Cryptography_ (van Oorschot, Menezes, and Vanstone), this is a big red flag. But that's just another instance of Don't Write a Research Paper Without Reading and Citing the Original Papers.

More generally, I agree with several other posters that there are some nice obvious warning signs of quackery. Grand sweeping explanations of everything, persecution complexes, amazing claims of revolutionariness, all are sometimes found in good work, but are more often found in crap. (Maybe the Establishment is persecuting you because you're smarter than they are and they're jealous. But more likely, they have correctly identified you as a crackpot and aren't returning your phone calls.)

#286 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 10:41 AM:

Fernmonkey @ 267

Neither does the lemonade recipe in not-the-most-recent editions. Cut the sugar to a half, or even to a third, of the amount called for.

#287 ::: Matthew ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 11:01 AM:

#97, 109, 136

I know I'm really late to the party, but I did want to add something about bible versions/translations.

I think as long as we are talking modern translations, good introductions and footnotes are more important than which version you use. "Caesar" vs "the Emperor" seems like a minor issue compared to something like a short essay giving context to the letters of Paul and addressing basic issues of authorship.

In defense of the NRSV, they did get some things right. I'm a big fan of the gender-neutral language.

I do secretly miss the idea of God being old fashioned enough to use "thees" and "thous" while everyone else has moved with the times. It reminds me of my wife's family, some of her grant uncles and aunts are old time Quakers who use Plain Speech. It leads to great conversations filled with things like "I tried to send thee an email last Second day. Did thee receive it?"

#288 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 11:09 AM:

oldsma @ 280

Well, if we had their names, we could look for immigration records for them.

Actually, given the similarities between Bavarian twisted-stitch patterns and Aran cable patterns, I'd be surprised if he were wrong.

---
I remember seeing a description of Loeb books as being facing Latin and English, except for the 'dirty' bits, which were facing Latin and Latin.

#289 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 11:11 AM:

oldsma @277 wrote;

"since she has somehow gotten bitten by the pantheism bug."

Ok, I have to ask... what is the "pantheism Bug?" and how is it destructive to scholarship? As far as I'm aware, 'pantheism' is the belief that all gods are valid or that everything in the world is holy. Am I defining it wrong in this case? Or just not seeing an obvious conflict?

#290 ::: Zack Weinberg ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 11:18 AM:

#287 reminds me of an amusing personal anecdote: In my impressionable youth I had only ever encountered "thee" and "thou" in things God says in the Bible... so I thought they were the formal pronouns. Because of course God speaks formally when addressing humans.

I have since learned the virtues of dictionaries.

#291 ::: Jesper ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 11:32 AM:

A useful rule of thumb: your main reference for a field should not be written by someone whose expertise is in an unrelated field. (Yes, this should be obvious, but it seems not to be.) If you're unlucky, the author has decided that since the experts in field X are obviously wrong, they can invent a better version of X themselves.

(Lomborg is a very good lecturer in his field of expertise, I'm told.)

#292 ::: C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 11:37 AM:

223 What we have here... is failure to communicate.
* First of all, legal historians — particularly those of us based in the common-law tradition — have a very different conception of what constitutes a "primary source." For example, despite their general treatment as such by other historians, neither Coke nor Blackstone is a primary source, or even a secondary source. The Stuart Constitution barely qualifies as a primary source, despite its usefulness, only because it includes the actual text of many of the statutes being debated.
* Law-trained legal historians generally distinguish between "constitutional" and "legal" history; unfortunately, political scientists and humanities-based historians don't. What you described is not constitutional history, but the broader sense of legal history, in which all bets are generally off anyway. Law-trained legal historians generally limit "constitutional history" to the level of fundamental limiting and enabling principles of government power, usually stated in a set of documents with official imprimatur distinct from routine government business (whether called "statutes," "decrees," "regulations," "codae," or whatever) and to which routine government business defers as authoritative. In short, we're not talking about the same thing at all.

What I was trying to get at is the distressing tendency of non-lawyer constitutional historians to treat what is properly commentary as authoritative. Current debates on the US Second Amendment are an excellent example (and Levy is one of the prime culprits): They treat post hoc rationalizations by some actors in the debate (while ignoring others) as definitive indications of intent, and then treat intent as the definitive indicator as meaning, without going back and reading the different versions of the text as text before jumping to their preconceived notions of "meaning." And this is just one particularly obvious example.

284 Not when the writer was also working through his bitterness at losing office during the first post-war elections; not when the writer was ordinarily three sheets to the wind while writing several years later, and at least a jib to the wind during many of the critical "meetings" recounted; not when the writer worshipped at the feet of the biggest idiot to make Field Marshall in the history of the British Empire (and that's up against some pretty stiff competition, including Haig). Bluntly, Churchill's history is very much a self-serving diatribe that he was able to get away with primarily because of the Official Secrets Act, not in spite of it; some of the alleged "conversations" he recalls, particularly in the first two volumes and the last volume, appear to have been made up from whole cloth.

This is my polite, unclassified take on it. Unfortunately, my NDA prohibits me from going into detail on some of the specific objections (such as his complete whitewash of exactly why Tobruk fell, and on the naval disaster at Singapore, which avoid placing any blame on several relatives).

#293 ::: oldsma ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 11:38 AM:

P J Evans @ 288: It is obvious for technical reasons that the Aran sweater is a gansey with Central European stitches (and cheaper undyed yarn). If it were one stitch or two, you might say "invented twice", but there are too many for coincidence.

The puzzle is how the stitches got transported, since there is no sign of any transmission straight from Bohemia to Aran. That was the puzzle Rutt set out to solve.

MAO

#294 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 11:42 AM:

Lila #276: Well, duh. Didn't you know that Egypt rests almost entirely on quicksand?

The truck gravity thing made me almost fall off my chair.

#295 ::: oldsma ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 11:42 AM:

Leah Miller @ 289: Re HRED and pantheism

The problem is that she is describing a resolutely UNpantheist religion, both historically and in its modern incarnation. When she is reporting on primary sources she is great. When she is interpreting, you get cowpies. Read it, love it? Sure. Cite it? Exercise caution.

MAO

#296 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 11:43 AM:

#283 albatross: It's not my field, but the people I know in psychometrics have a very low regard for _The Mismeasure of Man_.

There's a lot of animus against Gould in general, or so I've read/heard. It's very hard for a non-professional to know what to make of it.

#79, #110: I'm curious about Norwich on Byzantium. I read the one-volume and then the three-volume version (and enjoyed them), and my recollection is that he makes no claim to have done any original research: he's writing a survey based on others work, and says no fairly often. So, the question is, is he suspect, or are his sources suspect, or is it just that he's not a primary source? I would guess that he's the Byzantium book a well-read person is likely to encounter.

#258: Negative comments about The White Goddess inoculated me somewhat against Graves, but is The Greek Myths that bad if you ignore the editorializing and euhumerism it's rife with? I.e., are his facts wrong as well as his opinions?

#164: I've heard Suetonius described as being what future history books will be like if only the National Enquirer survives.

As for Procopius (perhaps the late, lamented Weekly World News?), he writes with a totally straight face that Justinian and Theodora were literal demons, and cites witnesses. Great fun.

One has to take a lot of history with a grain (if not a whole cellar) of salt.

In any case, a thread like this makes me wonder if all the people who are disrecommending sources are themselves to be trusted! I'm a professional computer guy and have lots of negative comments even about such classics as the Gamma book or K&R on C, but they are still worthwhile and even citable...

#297 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 11:44 AM:

Zack Weinberg @290,

I once read a preface to a translation of the Bible that claimed they had use 'thee' and 'thou' for references to God because of the greater formality, along with capitalizing pronouns referring to Him and so forth.

This was my first introduction, as a young teenager, to the concept that a Biblical translation could be that...well, wrong. Because I knew better about "thee" and "thou"--they worked just like the "tu" form in Spanish, after all--and went back and reread that preface about five times in sheer bogglement.

I'm also discovering in this thread that my preferred Bible translation for "original source accuracy" is, in fact, not all that amazingly accurate. This is a touch depressing, but just means I have a good excuse to go try out one of the other translations recommended here.

#298 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 11:52 AM:

#258, Nigel Holmes:

Thank you! I've been trying to dig the Loeb translation with the facing Italian bits out of my memory for weeks now, ever since it came up in a conversation in another context.

#299 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 11:57 AM:

C.E. Petit #292: So I gather you're not a Monty fan then? I am also intrigued to know what kind of NDA applies to events that happened long ago and in another country...

#300 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 11:57 AM:

albatross @283:

It's not my field, but the people I know in psychometrics have a very low regard for _The Mismeasure of Man_.

The race/IQ correlation is really well established.

This is something of a non sequitur, as The Mismeasure of Man does not dispute the race/IQ correlation.

#301 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 11:58 AM:

#s 296, 164, and whoever, waaaay back up there, brought up Procopius first:

Especially WRT to Procopius' secret history (although Suetonius does not escape)--isn't it interesting to think the fine folks at Regnery Press et al. have historic precedent for what they do?

However, I do wonder--while The Secret History is entertaining but unsafe for scholarly purposes, what's the current critical and scholarly take on Procopius' book on buildings and monuments?

#302 ::: BKA ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 12:07 PM:

Fidelio @ 170: I suspect the attitude in some circles on the others was along the lines of "When they begin to suspect it's dirty, they'll work harder to learn how to read it"

I have a soft spot for the old loeb of Daphnis and Chloe, in which the translation switches to Latin for the juicy bits.

DCB @ 260: I've got old Loeb editions of Columella (On Agriculture), Celsus (De Medicina) and Cato and Varro (On Agriculture). Hopefully they're not too far off? They do get quite graphic - the description of doing a fetotomy to remove a dead fetus from its mother's uterus, for example. I guess they didn't worry about Celsus being read by adolescents?

I haven't used the Celsus, but I've read the Columella and the Cato and Varro loebs and found them generally reliable. (Though they could stand to be updated; better texts of all three authors, iirc, have been done.) If you're interested in Cato, also try Dalby's more modern text and translation, which has a lot of good notes (although much of it is a rehash of Brehaut's older and harder to get translation and commentary). My main caution about any loeb (or, frankly, most translations) which discusses plants is to not trust their translation of plant names, which are usually howlingly wrong.

#303 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 12:23 PM:

Am I the only person who, having not encountered Suetonius before, wonders if there's a Bobtonius, Jimtonius, and Liztonius to go along? My reading list is expanding just so I can follow the discussion here.

#304 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 12:25 PM:

Just stumbled across another one while cleaning: Harold G. Henderson's "Introduction to Haiku". The general background information on the poets looks solid, but his translations of the actual haiku are unreliable. The occasional mistranslated word isn't too bad if you can read the romanized Japanese originals he includes, but the thing that really hurts is that he tried to make them all rhyme.

-j

#305 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 12:27 PM:

Is Who's Who in Science Fiction one of those sources that identifies Jack Vance as one of Henry Kuttner's pseudonyms? I know I've spotted that one in the wild (or the El Paso Public Library, to be more specific), but so long ago I'm not sure in which reference work. A good marker of unreliability, to be sure.

When I was going to school in the Deep South, teachers would occasionally hand me helpful pamphlets explaining the reasonableness of the South's outlook on slavery, or disputing the case for evolution. One of the latter claimed a carbon-dating of a live oyster showed it was millions of years old, which suggests a fatal misundertanding of the nature of carbon dating, for starters.

Speaking of the Deep South, while in college I picked up a "translation" of Aristophanes which gave the Spartans in Lysistrata horrible stage Suthrun accents.

#306 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 12:31 PM:

Illuminati:
Even though I know it's fiction, it can leave lingering misleading impressions of real people and things I otherwise don't know about.

Adam Weishaupt was a real person, for instance, even though Shea and Wilson turned him into an unreal person. Same with the Illuminati, the Rosicrucians, some things about ancient religions, the JFK assassination and lots of stuff.

So if I am asking the question, "what is real and what is pre-existing legend and what is made up by the authors?" how will I sort out the parts?

By the way, the guy mentioned upthread who applied numerology to Macchiavelli-- did Illuminati get the idea of the Law of Fives from him?

#307 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 12:36 PM:

Sharon @ 272

Yes and no. I know that in my thesis I had a long string of ibids when I was laying the groundwork, in the things you need to have to understand the rest of it. It was a problem because my advisor and the people in the discussion section had no clue about my topic. I just pulled out one of my authoritative sources on Jacobian embroidery stitches and dye sources* and just went about quoting/citing bits, with some explination of why it applied. And we weren't actually supposed to use ibids, but to repeat the cite with the page number change. No combining of citations either.
History/Chicago has moved away from the ibid, and the rest of my group had no issue with this. They were all using more modern sources. *sigh* I am so used to the ibid as the proper form in everything *I* end up using. ;)

*the one from the Ashmolean, for those who care

Oldsma @ 278

The Hollander was what got this discussion going in the first place. Drop me a line would you? I want to get your advice on a few other books in germanic religion.

#308 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 12:36 PM:

Erick Nelson, I know a person who utterly, sincerely, believes that the Illuminati Trilogy is factual. He is not much fun to talk to.

#309 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 12:48 PM:

#303 on Bobtonius, et al.: Suetonius is a standard, but these other writers you suggest were not known when I was an undergraduate. New manuscripts are being identified all the time, from the papyrus dumps at Oxyrhynchus to the ruins of Pompeii to obscure archives anywhere in the world, so who knows? We can always hope.

It's worth noting* that the rhetorical device we call "As you know, Bob--" was not unknown among the ancient authors.

*well, YMMV, but I'm noting it because I find it amusing. So there.

#310 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:05 PM:

#296: Nothing "wrong" with Norwich (as you said, he doesn't make any claims), but you aren't going to get away with citing him in a college research paper. The instructor will send you to his sources or to more recent scholarship.

(I cited Durant once, as a sophomore. Ouch. )

#311 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:06 PM:

Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain is great fun, but History, it ain't.

#312 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:07 PM:

#272, #307: when I was a naive high schooler I kept wondering what this "Ibid" book was ...

#313 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:11 PM:

Diatryma @ 303: Mary Suetonius?

#314 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:12 PM:

Any genealogy that names European rulers (or anyone else) before about 500AD, possibly excepting Roman families; however, beware if it claims a connection to anyone more recent than about 300AD.
You'd be surprised how many people claim a connection between Irish/British families and Franks/Romans and even Trojans, Egyptians, and Israelites, based on Ghu knows what sources (other than Geoffrey of Monmouth). (Details can be supplied, for those who want a really good laugh. The Biblical stuff is amazing; so is the one that linked a person as their own grandparent.)

#315 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:16 PM:

JESR,

I too know someone who took the Illuminati Trilogy seriously, if not necessarily as factual. I laughed at him. This is not the reason we broke up. (Yes, Serge, that ex.)

#316 ::: Anders Thulin ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:16 PM:

Books that must not be quoted: Alfred Wegener's book The Origins of Continents and Oceans on the theory of continental drift and plate tectonics.

Well, up to 1950 or so at least. After that, anyone who didn't quote it was probably considered as suspect as Wegener once was.

Difficult to spot that kind of badness.

#317 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:20 PM:

Dave 241: I don't know what the current scholarly consensus is, but linguistics is one of those rapidly-changing fields. My opinion, formed while getting my undergraduate degree in linguistics, is that Chomsky's work up to that time (1981) was largely nonsense, and could be considered linguistics at all only if you don't think linguistics has any business considering what actually happens in the brains of humans when they use language.

I happen to think that's exactly the central matter of linguistics, so I diskard him uterly, to put it Deglerly. Zach @ 248 gives more reason to give a raspberry when anyone cites Noam.

Note: I studied with David Lockwood at Michigan State University, and therefore I am a Stratificationalist. Corollary: I consider Chomsky the embodiment of Pure Evil in the (academic) Universe. Apply salt by grain or truckload as you see fit.

#318 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:25 PM:

Jakob@31

You mean I have to throw away my copy of Charles Mackay's "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds"? Sure it's longwinded, but it still seems pretty relevant.

If only I'd read it *before* the internet bubble...

#319 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:29 PM:

Nancy Mittens @ 315...

Yes, Serge, that ex.
How many of those do you have out there?

Is the Illuminati Trilogy entertaining, as a work of fiction? I was tempted to give The Da Vinci Code a try on those grounds, but I then heard it wasn't particularly well written or entertaining.

#320 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:34 PM:

I wonder what the current scholarly consensus is on Noam Chomsky's work on linguistics?

I can't speak to actual human linguistics (other than to note that Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct is firmly in the Chomsky camp). But in computational linguistics, Chomsky is pretty much taken as revealed truth.

#321 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:38 PM:

Richard Brandt @305: Speaking of the Deep South, while in college I picked up a "translation" of Aristophanes which gave the Spartans in Lysistrata horrible stage Suthrun accents.

Usually American translations try to make the Spartans sound like some sort of backwoods hicks (Southern, Texan, whatever) while Brits turn them into Scots, although there are some exceptions-- iirc there've also been some more internationally-contexted versions with Russian or German accents. There's surprisingly little readiily-available information on what translators into other languages do with them; frex this French translation, among other name changes, turns Lampito into "Brunnhilde".

#322 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:44 PM:

Alex 320: Chomsky's work is useful if your goal is to generate the sentences of English. If your goal is anything that actually concerns humans, however...

#323 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 01:45 PM:

Nancy Mittens @ 315, this person doesn't also collect Studebakers, perhaps?

(Fearful of an answer in the positive).

#324 ::: C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 02:07 PM:

299 There's no such agency as issued my NDA. I'd say that "overreaching" is its middle name, but the initials don't match up.

And a caution about excessive ibids.: This caution does not apply to scholarship on law; in fact, rather the opposite. Legal scholarship encourages a gross excess of pinpoint citations to particular pages for particular statements. The stated reason is to ensure that one has an accurate record of who said what, when, and exactly where. The sarcastic response is that it's merely a demonstration that legal scholarship is meaningless unless one can prove that someone said the exact same thing before.

And, of course, in legal scholarship we say "id.," not "ibid.," just to be different.

My point is that a "scholarly" work on legal issues — regardless of their origin — that does not contain several passages with consecutive "id." citations is unlikely to contain worthwhile analysis. This may seem counterintuitive, but there it is; it's one of the ways that one can tell that recent editions of Nimmer on Copyright do not do a very good job on legal-historical scholarship...

#325 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 02:12 PM:

DaveL@296:
is The Greek Myths that bad if you ignore the editorializing and euhumerism it's rife with? I.e., are his facts wrong as well as his opinions?

Well, it's not clear what the facts are when dealing with the Greek myths: Graves reconstructs and interrelates the stories based on his own interpretations of what the originals must have been. Nick Lowe has a nice hatchet-job for you.

fidelio@301:
However, I do wonder--while The Secret History is entertaining but unsafe for scholarly purposes, what's the current critical and scholarly take on Procopius' book on buildings and monuments?

I think Averil Cameron has the Buildings (like the Wars) being primarily intended as panegyric for Justinian; I think the upshot then is that it represents what he thought the ideal ruler and builder should be like, and wasn't straight reportage. Not sure what Kaldellis makes of it: I seem to remember he just dismisses it as irrelevant sycophancy.

#326 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 02:18 PM:

Xopher at 317: you may be right about attitudes to Chomsky now, but I remember listening to Chomsky's lectures on linguistics -- he did a lecture series at Case around 1970 -- and his material was received by both the linguists and the philosophers (at least, by the folks teaching philosophy of science at Western Reserve University) with tremendous respect. Transformational grammar was in some circles considered pretty close to revealed truth. How are the mighty fallen.

#327 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 02:20 PM:

Oops, sorry. That lecture series at Case was actually in 1966 or 67. Syntactic Structures was first published in 1957.

#328 ::: Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 02:36 PM:

Xopher at 322: Chomsky's work is useful if your goal is to generate the sentences of English....

I'm not taking a position on that one way or another. But my point is that Chomsky's work is inescapably necessary to generate statements in formal computer languages. Chomsky:compilers::Bernoulli:airplanes.

#329 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 02:54 PM:

Serge at 315:

I have several exes, but only one is that ex. If I had more than one like him, I'd probably have given up on dating altogether.

JESR st 323:

No, this person has nothing to do with Studebakers. Speaking of old cars, I got to ride in a 1939 Cadillac limousine a few weeks ago. I rode in the front because of my hoopskirts.

#330 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 03:02 PM:

Tim #300:

Sorry, I should have been clearer. Those were two independent statements.

#331 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 03:12 PM:

Random comment: You sometimes see this phenomenon in which X is regularly cited by one group of researchers, and never by others except as something they're proving wrong, attacking, etc.

It's pretty common that this has to do with different researchers looking at somewhat different problems. I gather that Gould, for example, is rather highly regarded among paleontologists, but not most evolutionary biologists. (But I'm at best an informed amateur here, not able to really make any strong statements.) I suspect this has to do with the usefulness of his ideas for people approaching different problems. It can also have to do with the kind of academic rifts that occur over time--different bunches of researchers who go in different directions and each are convinced the other group are idiots, groups who build on different fundamental theories or assumptions, and then can't really make much sense of each others' work, etc. I can see some of this in cryptography--the cryptanalysis and theory people have relatively little overlap and tend to be pretty dismissive of each others' work ("Black magic"/"Proofs with no relationship to the real world") Different starting assumptions, different notation, different references, and only a few people who overlap. And those aren't hostile groups, mainly just people who don't think each others' work is all that interesting or relevant.

#332 ::: Howard Peirce ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 03:17 PM:

Is anyone else here involved in what I'll call (for lack of a better term) Early 20th Century Popular Music? (That is, jazz, blues, pop, folk, western, country and ethnic music from c.1915 - 1940.)

I have yet to read a word of scholarly or popular history of this music that wasn't completely contradicted by contemporary accounts (primary documents like studio logs, oral history and memoir, etc.) or the corpus of surviving recordings. There's a general tendency to view the history of a style or genre by looking backwards from some specific current genre (hence the horrible term "roots music," which I find only assigns value to early 20th c. music insofar as its influence can be traced to some current genre).

It's a real mess. None of the relevant disciplines (musicology, music performance, cultural studies, American studies, etc.) talk to each other. Prescriptivism and dubious standards of "authenticity" are pervasive. The musicologists ignore cultural and social forces; the culture studies crowd knows nothing about performance praxes. Everyone ignores the day-to-day experience of working musicians. Urggh.

The only consolation I have is that so many collectors and institutions are now digitizing their pre-1927 cylinders and discs and putting them online, so that a new generation of historians and musicologists can begin to hear a representive library of music, and see how it contradicts everything in their books.

Rant disclaimer: It's been about eight years since I was plugged into the state of this area of scholarship. I was very close to enrolling the Jazz History program at Rutgers, when I realized that I did not want to be a hero, banging my head against institutional walls for two years. Maybe everything's changed since then, but eight years is not that long a time.

#333 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 03:29 PM:

317, 326-327: I think y'all have pretty much pinpointed the years when Chomsky was The Latest Hot Thing (which is to say, they tally with my experiences as well); not long after that he got heavily into crackpottery the pursuit of linguistic universals, and after that into politics, which is where you mostly hear him talked about these days.

The thing about the progress of scholarship in the humanities is that it's less a "stand on the shoulders of giants" sort of thing and more like "the Fastdraw Kid meets the Old Gunslinger at high noon on the main street of Academia City." No matter who has the big reputation at any given moment, there are always grad students and postdoctorate fellows and assistant professors hungry for tenure, lurking in their offices and cleaning and oiling their theories and waiting for their chance at a showdown.

#334 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 03:31 PM:

317, 326-327: I think y'all have pretty much pinpointed the years when Chomsky was The Latest Hot Thing (which is to say, they tally with my experiences as well); not long after that he got heavily into crackpottery the pursuit of linguistic universals, and after that into politics, which is where you mostly hear him talked about these days.

The thing about the progress of scholarship in the humanities is that it's less a "stand on the shoulders of giants" sort of thing and more like "the Fastdraw Kid meets the Old Gunslinger at high noon on the main street of Academia City." No matter who has the big reputation at any given moment, there are always grad students and postdoctorate fellows and assistant professors hungry for tenure, lurking in their offices and cleaning and oiling their theories and waiting for their chance at a showdown.

#335 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 03:34 PM:

Ack! Wonky DSL connection! Apologies for the doublepost.

#336 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 03:39 PM:

Nancy Mitten @29... only one is that ex. If I had more than one like him, I'd probably have given up on dating altogether.

Glad to hear he's out of your life.

#337 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 03:39 PM:

Alex Cohen said (#320):
I can't speak to actual human linguistics (other than to note that Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct is firmly in the Chomsky camp). But in computational linguistics, Chomsky is pretty much taken as revealed truth.

Note, however, that Pinker is a coauthor on a series of papers which criticize Chomsky's recent "Minimalist" program.

Chomsky's peculiar opposition to evolution (he apparently thinks language ability could never have resulted from evolution, but instead may proceed from some undiscovered principle of physics) is sui generis and, I think, generally ignored by other linguists.

(Now, referencing Chomsky on some subject outside linguistics, particularly Cambodian history, would not be a good sign...)

#338 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 03:46 PM:

Deborah Doyle said (#333/4):
The thing about the progress of scholarship in the humanities is that it's less a "stand on the shoulders of giants" sort of thing and more like "the Fastdraw Kid meets the Old Gunslinger at high noon on the main street of Academia City."

Except that linguistics isn't really in the humanities. It's much more of a genuine science, which may explain why English departments generally have nothing to do with it.

It's not "Chomsky = Derrida"; it might be the case that "Chomsky = Hoyle".

#339 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 03:53 PM:

BKA @ 302:

Thanks for this. I'll probably sick to the Loeb versions, since they're already on my shelf. However, it's good to be warned about the plant names. My Latin is limited to the remains of what I learned in three years flogging through the subject at highschool, plus medical/veterinary/scientific terms rooted in Latin, so there's a lot of vocabulary missing. I am not, and never will be, much of a linguist, I'm afraid.

I do find the medical writing fascinating, particularly its mix of the mixture of stuff which was totally wrong with effective surgery - if primitive and without modern anaesthetics (ouch!) or asepsis, antisepsis and antibiotics.

#340 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 03:54 PM:

Howard Pierce @#332: I don't know if it's good, but this book about Jazz Age music looked interesting enough that I bought it for my pianist brother for xmas. It just came out last year so maybe it's not guilty of the sins you describe? Despite having the word "influence" in the description about 80 times? One can hope, anyway.

#341 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 03:58 PM:

Carrie 17: You're talking about the 1979 edition of TSD, right?

Well, I read the updated version and as, AJ Luxton said, it would've been nice if the updated version had actually changed that infomation in the body of the book rather than being sheepish about it in afterwords.

On the Pagan front, Edain McCoy has been called out multiple times for inventing ancient Irish potato rites.

Makes me very leery of her book on the Sabbats, I gotta say. Which is too bad, because I liked that book when I first found it.

As for Rutt's knitting history, I can do no better than to quote the Samurai Knitter on the subject:

Richard Rutt (growl, snarl) is an ANGLICAN BISHOP for his day job, and will never, in a million years, admit that Arabs/Muslims invented knitting. This does not mean Europeans invented it, it means that Rutt is a Eurocentric, racist dipshit. His history book is one of the worst examples of ignoring facts that I have ever witnessed. He lays out all those facts stated above, and then claims there is no reason to believe Arabs invented knitting. ??!

#342 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 04:02 PM:

Carrie 17: You're talking about the 1979 edition of TSD, right?

Well, I read the updated version and as, AJ Luxton said, it would've been nice if the updated version had actually changed that infomation in the body of the book rather than being sheepish about it in afterwords.

On the Pagan front, Edain McCoy has been called out multiple times for inventing ancient Irish potato rites.

Makes me very leery of her book on the Sabbats, I gotta say. Which is too bad, because I liked that book when I first found it.

As for Rutt's knitting history, I can do no better than to quote the Samurai Knitter on the subject:

Richard Rutt (growl, snarl) is an ANGLICAN BISHOP for his day job, and will never, in a million years, admit that Arabs/Muslims invented knitting. This does not mean Europeans invented it, it means that Rutt is a Eurocentric, racist dipshit. His history book is one of the worst examples of ignoring facts that I have ever witnessed. He lays out all those facts stated above, and then claims there is no reason to believe Arabs invented knitting. ??!

#343 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 04:25 PM:

Carrie S @ 341

Samurai Knitter thinks Rutt shouldn't know anything about knitting, when he's been doing since he was a kid? (Rutt is now an RC canon, but that's another matter entirely.)

Rutt quotes textile authorities on the presumed ancient Arab knitting as being nålbinding, which looks similar but is apparently nothing like it in construction. (My copy is in one of the Magic Boxes, not immediately accessible.) It's pointed out that some of the things that appear in those ancient pieces can't be done in knitting without going through a lot of contortions.
On the other hand, he also doesn't claim that it existed in Europe before the middle ages, there being (AFAIK) no solid evidence much before c13/14.

Maybe we should just say that the origin of knitting is lost in a tangle of stories, and best described as a knotty problem?

#344 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 04:42 PM:

Michael Behe on evolution. --Ew. Just... ew.

#345 ::: Howard Peirce ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 04:56 PM:

Mary Dell #349: Well, that looks like a work of western classical musicology, which is much further developed as an academic discipline. The influence of jazz on early 20th c. "classical" (you know what I mean) music literature is a well-trodden path. And it's a fun topic to explore, so no complaints from me -- IIRC, when Stravinsky wrote L'Histoire du soldat, he thought he was writing jazz, based on what he'd read. A great piece of music, but the connection to actual jazz is pretty tenuous. On the other hand, I think that Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand is one of the most pure expressions of the Blues I've ever heard, and was a huge influence on the future direction of jazz. (God -- or Barbara Meister -- only knows how he was able to distill something so wonderful from such limited exposure.)

But I'm not really complaining about classical (oh, there's that word again!) musicology, which, as I say, has its own tradition and standards of scholarship going back centuries. I'm more interested in the study of American vernacular music qua music, which I mostly do by digging up old source material when I can and listening, listening, listening (and performing).

#346 ::: L.N. Hammer ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 05:01 PM:

@304: ... ow. Just, ow.

I think I must find Henderson's book for my collection of bad poetry.

@258: Graves' The Greek Myths can be used for an initial survey of varient myths (ignore his interpretations unless you're looking for ideas for novels), but be careful and check the sources he cites. Sometimes there's mistakes in the citation, and sometimes he misrepresents what the source says. I've caught him saying things that are in none of the listed sources.

A much better guide to varient myths is Timothy Gantz's Early Greek Myths or Karl Kerenyi's Gods of the Greeks/Heroes of the Greeks.

---L.

#347 ::: L.N. Hammer ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 05:04 PM:

Oh, and ignore Graves's translations of names. (They're beyond fiction and into poetry.)

---L.

#348 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 05:05 PM:

Howard, you might be interested in this, where I relate a bit of conversation between Jack Casady (bassist for Airplane and Hot Tuna) and Nick Spitzer of American Routes. Spitzer asks what the inspiration for the bass line in "White Rabbit" was, and Casady says immediately, "Maurice Ravel."

#349 ::: Seth Morris ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 05:05 PM:

On Ed Yourdon, if you go back to his "state of the industry" from the Guerrilla Programmer days, they're pretty good. He clearly indicates the regional and industry-specific sources of his information and his biases are clear from the start. Anything where he was selling his consulting services (Y2K, etc.) is marketing material and should only be cited as such.


"The Caecilians of the World, A Taxonomic Review," by Edward Harrison Taylor, but if you're citing this you probably already know its limitations. Use it only for generailities (and never for taxonomy) if you need to talk about caecilians in a non-herpetological context. While we're on the subject, anything you got from the web site caecilians.org (mostly written by some loser named Seth Morris) is astoundingly suspect if it doesn't reference the researcher who sent in the information.

In software engineering, any computer science reference unless you're demonstrating the difference. Presumably the same in reverse.

Re: Christopher Alexander. ATWoB doesn't really try to be scholarly. It's a proposal for a way to think about construction, building architecture, and urban design in one framework.

(Same with Paolo Soleri, but he's even clearer about not writing reference works.)

I'd say anyone using "Design Patterns" without a reference to the pattern language they extend or create, but the ship has sadly sailed on that one. The main value of Alexander's approach was lost in the early days of adoption in the programming community.


Re: Illuminatus. It is a *great* game to open to a random page in a good library and start fact-checking. The Roberts were great at confounding your expectations as to what was based on (amusingly distorted) fact and what was invented.


Anything in the field of Neurolinguistic Programming that purports to reference history (as opposed to present new technique or models--and these are as suspect as any new techniques or models should be in any field!). The (chummy) NLP authors are chock full of stories, history, and references to "studies" that someone once made up as a joke and everyone bought it. See the murder trial, the 5-plus-or-minus-two number, and the (well-known outside of NLP as well) story about a (nonexistent) Yale study on writing down life goals.


I'll ignore Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code, etc. Anyone reading this site knows about those.

And, of course, anything citing Wikipedia directly. Shudder.

#350 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 05:07 PM:

Debra Doyle, #333: Chomsky was always into politics; he's said he was embarrassed by an anti-fascist essay he wrote when he was 12 or so--I forget whether it's actually still out there somewhere. The view of language as coming from essentials is similar to the Platonist view of the reality of mathematical concepts, which is in good odor with many excellent mathematicians, though also hotly disputed.

#351 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 05:38 PM:

Debra 333: The problem I have with that is that Transformational Grammar IS crackpottery. It is manifestly not how human language is processed or represented in the brains and minds of speakers, or in society, or anywhere else except in TG papers (and computer programs).

Contrast two studies: One measured linguistic processing time for simple and "highly transformed" sentences; it found no correllation between the number of transformations allegedly applied and the time the sentence took to process.

The other was a spreading-activation network model based on Stratificational theory; when speech speed was increased, it yielded exactly the number and kind of slips of the tongue observed with real speakers under similar conditions.

The Generative linguists I studied under (and some of them are fine people, I must say) all said "It's not a performance model." They're right about that; in fact, it's nothing from which a performance model can possibly be constructed. What on Earth is the point of that?

I think the real difference is that Chomsky's theories were misapplied. They belong entirely in the world of computers; as computer science they're fine. They have no relationship at all to human language, and for him to call himself a linguist is absurd.

Peter 337: I don't think it's right that Chomsky's opposition to evolution should be ignored by other linguists. It should be taken as evidence of what kind of thinker he is: an anti-scientific crackpot.

Peter 338: More like Chomsky == Lysenko.

Carrie 341: I agree about Starhawk. As for McCoy, it's a Do Not Cite, but if you like the material, use it! Just don't tell anyone it's ancient.

#352 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 05:44 PM:

Carrie, from what I recollect, PJ Evans is right. The arab form that looks like knitting can't be done with two sticks. It is, however, easily done with one stick. The series of loops made with two sticks that we consider knitting doesn't have any evidence pre-15th c. * Anne Marie Decker goes into this pretty deeply iirc and various people have talked about the Elizabethan clockwork stockings as one of the earlier examples of knitting.

While we're on the subject of unsupportable facts until I get home (and most of my historical knitting knowledge)- The first knitting machine was Elizabethan, but she didn't want it because it would mean that the people who were currently knitting in the poor houses wouldn't have anything productive to do. Also, in the Manchester Leet Court records is a reiteration of a sumptuary law requiring all men to wear a cap made by the Guild of Knitters and Cappers on Sundays. So once it appeared, it evidentally took off like the Great Fire.


*take this with a grain of salt, since I'm at work and knitting isn't really my area. I can't call my authoritative sources from here or go pull the books off my shelves, so I'm going from memory. On a Friday afternoon.

#353 ::: Iain Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 06:03 PM:

345 Howard Pierce

when Stravinsky wrote L'Histoire du soldat, he thought he was writing jazz, based on what he'd read. A great piece of music, but the connection to actual jazz is pretty tenuous.

The connection to jazz is probably closest through Frank Zappa's sort-of cover version, Titties and Beer.

#354 ::: Iain Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 06:07 PM:

I have to mention John V Allegro's The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross. A philological proof that Jesus Christ was a mushroom. Amanita Muscaria, to be precise. One of those books where you start off thinking "this is total bollocks", then a couple of chapters in you start to think "hmm,maybe there's something in this after all", but by the time you get to the end, after God knows how many iterations of "here's how the philological root of this common Biblical word refers to the mushroom / the glans penis", you're thinking "no, it really is total bollocks".

#355 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 06:13 PM:

Iain 354: That has to be a joke, right? Please tell me it's a joke.

Useless, random fact: 'glans' is Latin for "acorn."

#356 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 06:18 PM:

More like Chomsky == Lysenko.

What, used state power to crush all opposing theories?

#357 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 06:41 PM:

Venturing a bit afield from academe, and not so much "do not cite" as "do not count as credible": any gardening/horticulture/arboriculture manual that speaks favorably of:

- topping trees
- using special "compost starter" or "transplant solution"
- sterilizng pruners between cuts with bleach
- sealing or painting tree wounds.

#358 ::: patgreene ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 06:49 PM:

Generally speaking, does anyone know if the Facts on File books are good? Not as cites, obviously, but for information. Also, what would be a good book on English word/phrase origins?

It seems to me that any encyclopedia is bound to have at least some factual errors. In the Britannica 2006 CD-ROM edition, they stated that "[Roald] Dahl's first book, The Gremlins (1943), was written for Walt Disney and later became a popular movie." In fact, the movie Gremlins has nothing to do with Dahl's book. In the entry on the Grateful Dead they referred to the band as being "sui generis," and while appropriate, the use of the high-falutin' term to describe the Dead had me giggling like crazy. (I would also tend to dismiss as hyperbole their statement that the Dead created a new form of American music, but that's just me, and what do I know.)

#359 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 06:57 PM:

Keir 356: I was speaking of the degree of wrongheadedness, not the power context.

#360 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 07:14 PM:

Todd Larason: That page detailing the mistakes in the annotated C standard just got more and more infuriating as it went on. I'd keep thinking "hey, I didn't know that--wait a minute, that's exactly the kind of thing I'd buy such a book in order to know".

#362 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 07:23 PM:

Samurai Knitter thinks Rutt shouldn't know anything about knitting, when he's been doing since he was a kid? (Rutt is now an RC canon, but that's another matter entirely.)

No, she thinks that his opinion on whether Muslims might have invented knitting is biased by the fact that he's a high official in a Christian church.

Carrie, from what I recollect, PJ Evans is right. The arab form that looks like knitting can't be done with two sticks. It is, however, easily done with one stick.

The "one stick" to which you refer is a technique that is these days called "nalbinding". The thing about nalbinding is that you have to draw the entire length of your yarn through every stitch, which means it's impractical to work with lengths longer than roughly twice your reach (or shorter, given the propensity of string to misbehave when given the slightest chance). The early Egyptian knitted socks (such as pictured here or here) do not have evidence of many many knots on the inside, nor do they use any techniques that can't be accomplished with two-stick knitting, and most importantly they're all cotton, a fiber which does not lend itself to the kind of knot-free spit splicing nalbinders use when working in wool.

The series of loops made with two sticks that we consider knitting doesn't have any evidence pre-15th c.

I'm sorry to flatly contradict you...but I pretty much have to flatly contradict you. For example, the Buxtehude Knitting Madonna is a) using a pretty sophisticated technique for something that's just been invented and b) from the (granted, late) 14th century. The Lorenzetti one is from 1345.

Anne Marie Decker goes into this pretty deeply iirc and various people have talked about the Elizabethan clockwork stockings as one of the earlier examples of knitting.

I don't know as I'd call a technique that had been around for 200 years by then--that's if one assumes the Lorenzetti madonna was painted the very year knitting was invented--"new", nor objects made using it "early".

#363 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 07:41 PM:

Carrie, my apologies. I was pitching the vocabulary for a person who had only a partial clue, which is my default these days. I should have inferred from your previous comments that you're past that, but it's what I use as a matter of course.

As I said, knitting is not my thing. I am happy to learn that I was wrong, it's just I only become aware of knitting when agencies like the Guild of Knitters and Cappers starts to show up, and Elizabeth gets those stockings. The references now behind me tell me I was wrong also, and I should have checked them before posting.

From conversations I've had, I'm still not convinced that what the Egyptians had is actually knitting. Peg Deppe had a theory about what it was other than knitting or Norseish naalbinding, but I can't remember what it was. Again, not my area, my library tends more towards the embroidery/embellishment side of things with a side of fashion/clothing culture.

#364 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 07:49 PM:

Sisuile @ 363... agencies like the Guild of Knitters and Cappers

Sounds like the title of that Zelazny novel, Knit of Coats and Chapeaux...

#365 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 07:53 PM:

Iain Coleman @ 361:

Good Lord. I particularly enjoyed the review by one Mark DeBolt:

It is one of the great crackpot books of all time, ranking with When Worlds Collide, The Day after Roswell, and The Lost Continent of Mu. It is a work of sheer genius. It is also absolute nonsense. Christians misunderstand the New Testament because they don't realize that Jesus was really a mushroom. Why hadn't this occurred to me before?

My god -- that never occured to me, either!

#366 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 07:55 PM:

Carrie, #362, I've been looking for someone to ask this question: what do you (and the other textile scholars here) think about Elizabeth Wayland Barber's Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years? I enjoyed reading it, but it isn't my field and I've been curious about how scholars in the field react to it (and possibly to Barber's other work, which I haven't had a chance to look at yet).

#367 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 08:14 PM:

Linkmeister @#348:

Spitzer asks what the inspiration for the bass line in "White Rabbit" was, and Casady says immediately, "Maurice Ravel."

Ooo, yeah, I can hear that. The opening of White Rabbit definitely sounds like Bolero (the only Ravel I've heard, because I am a pleb). Cool.

#368 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 08:16 PM:

#221: Not all Hollywood autobios are bull, but anybody who states in them that they were high on various drugs for long periods of time-- well, I tend to believe that, and I take all their recollections at the time as unreliable.

#369 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 08:23 PM:

More comp sci: most of the "extreme programming" methodology, though some of the work on unit testing is valuable.

I'm not convinced. Extreme programming seems to attract a lot of detractors, but on examination it seems that very few of them actually seem to know what they're talking about. Many of them base their criticisms on a strawman version of the methodology (which does, admittedly, seem to be widely misunderstood).

I'm strongly of the opinion that criticising something like that until you've given it an honest try is counterproductive, and I've yet to see a negative view of it published by anyone who is able to show that they have given it that chance.

Still, I speak as somebody who hasn't given it a proper chance, yet, because I mainly work on projects that are too small to apply it to.

In 1993 or so, Herbert Schildt's The Annotated ANSI C Standard was published for about $30; the difference in price accurately reflected the value of the annotations.

Ah, yes. I'd forgotten about Schildt. Schildt has also published a number of other books. I've also seen criticisms of innaccuracies in his "Beginner's Guide to Java" recently.

#370 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 08:26 PM:

Linkmeister #348: My father and I just simultaneously re-fell in love with Surrealistic Pillow, and oddly just a few days ago he called me to ask if I'd ever noticed the similarity between "White Rabbit" and Ravel's Bolero. I hadn't, and now that I have I don't understand how I missed it.

#371 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 08:35 PM:

Stephen Dedman #229: The Onion (believe it or not, some people have quoted their stories as fact)

Oh, I've done that a lot, with sarcastic intent. The impact of such a citation is improved by using the tinyurl.com service to conceal, until after the link it clicked, that the article is from The Onion. Good times!

#372 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 08:51 PM:

Xopher, #351: "it's nothing from which a performance model can possibly be constructed. What on Earth is the point of that?"

Some mathematical problems don't have generative solutions, and must be addressed in other ways. Whether human language is such a problem is itself an interesting problem.

#373 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 08:57 PM:

Xopher, #351: "it's nothing from which a performance model can possibly be constructed. What on Earth is the point of that?"

Some mathematical problems don't have generative solutions, and must be addressed in other ways. Whether human language is such a problem is itself an interesting problem.

#374 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 09:36 PM:

Mary Dell @ #367, ethan @ #370, after hearing that I immediately went to the vinyl collection, pulled out Worst of Jefferson Airplane and played "White Rabbit."

I too wondered how I'd missed it, although my first exposure to Bolero by name was Torvil and Dean's performance.

#375 ::: geekazoid ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 09:39 PM:

Famous math problems often attract cranks that produce dense, lengthy tracts written in their own peculiar notation. Usually this notation obfuscates simple arithmetic errors and confusion about definitions. The reader can usually spot such a paper after reading one page or less.

But sometimes the trained eye can detect a crank based on the title alone. Sometimes the titles are written in a way that no person who had gotten past day one of any course or past chapter one of any textbook would ever write. For example, "P does not equal NP and P does not equal coNP" was making the rounds for some time.

More broadly, you can pretty much always discount any solution to a big math problem that does not use (reasonably) standard notation or definitions.

Narrowly, because the arxiv preprint server is completely unrefereed, you have to be leery of the literature you find there about the "Big Problems".

#376 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 09:39 PM:

Chris Clarke, the bleach-your-secateurs part of you list is preached as gospel by most Master Gardener programs, which is a symptom of why I have yet to ask a question on a Master Gardener helpline which was not answered by something I already knew was wrong.

(Wishing all writers of garden books recommending topping might be stuck in a small space with Cass Turnbull for an hour or so).

#377 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 09:40 PM:

Linkmeister... my first exposure to Bolero by name was Torvil and Dean's performance

Lots of people got exposed to Bolero by way of Bo Derek. Not me, thank goodness. My first exposure to it was in 1973's Italian spoof/homage to Fantasia that's known as Allegro Non Troppo.

#378 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 10:09 PM:

Randolph 373: The trouble is more fundamental than that. Human language is not a mathematical problem.

#379 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 10:22 PM:

Carrie, my apologies. I was pitching the vocabulary for a person who had only a partial clue, which is my default these days. I should have inferred from your previous comments that you're past that, but it's what I use as a matter of course.

No problem. :)

As I said, knitting is not my thing. I am happy to learn that I was wrong, it's just I only become aware of knitting when agencies like the Guild of Knitters and Cappers starts to show up, and Elizabeth gets those stockings.

Have you seen any of the reconstructions of Eleanora of Toledo's stockings? They're fab.

Alas, the story about Bess's stockings appears to be fodder for the 16th-century version of Snopes--it was written something like 20 years after the fact. Which is too bad, because it's a great story.

From conversations I've had, I'm still not convinced that what the Egyptians had is actually knitting.

The Egyptians in the sense of "the folks who built the pyramids" didn't; Muslims living in Egypt in roughly 1000 CE appear to have invented it.

Carrie, #362, I've been looking for someone to ask this question: what do you (and the other textile scholars here) think about Elizabeth Wayland Barber's Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years?

I should make clear that I'm not a textile archaeologist or anything, just a fiber-arts enthusiast who's done some reading in the field. Also the book focussed a lot on weaving and my area of expertise is knitting.

That said, I thought the book was quite nifty when she stuck to actual fiber stuff. She has some really solid research on things like how much effort it actually took to keep people clothed and why Penelope was able to fool folks with the whole weaving-a-shroud thing for years; I am less clear that some of her sociological suppositions are correct.

#380 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 10:23 PM:

Forgot to add: Eleanora died in 1562.

#381 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 10:42 PM:

Peter Watts' "Notes and References" to Blindsight cites among other works The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size by Tor Norretranders; which in turn not only cites Jaynes' Bicameral Mind approvingly, but cites some other work (not a book but an article; can't recall title or author) for the notion that consciousness, having appeared in the Classical period, then disappeared in the Middle ages until it reappeared in the Renaissance. As best as I can recall, Norretranders says nothing about the history of consciousness in non-European cultures, which is probably just as well.

I am not sure how much credence to give to what Norretranders says about other topics, given this spot of credulity/crankiness. E.g., has he correctly understood the studies he cites for a half-second delay between perception and consciousness?

#382 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 10:45 PM:

Xopher @ 378... Human language is not a mathematical problem.

A bird in the hand is better than two birds in the bush.

You can kill two birds with one stone.

Which two birds does the stone kill? The two in the bush? Or did the person with one bird in one hand also have have one in the other hand? Or maybe there was also a little old lady next to him also with one bird in one hand and, when the stone hit her bird, the old lady fainted.

#383 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 11:01 PM:

Carrie S

I'm impressed with Eleanora's stockings, and the modern version thereof.

The photos I've seen of the surviving blue-and-white cotton stockings from the Middle East seem to me to show that knitting has been around somewhat longer than the surviving pieces - color knitting isn't that easy even for someone with experience (my color-pattern tension sucks, but it's a little uneven even in just one color), and those are fairly complex patterns. The shaping seems simpler than the patterns; maybe they started out with patterned tubes and then started trying to make them fit better.

#384 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2007, 11:39 PM:

Sorry, should have said Cass Turnbull.

#385 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 12:06 AM:

Fernmonkey: Any etiquette, party-planning or cookery book that describes "high tea" as an elegant afternoon meal with tea, cakes and small sandwiches.

I am not afraid to show my ignorance! ...What does "high tea" describe, then? And what should I be calling the afternoon meal involving tea, cakes, and small sandwiches?


oldsma: Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon. Her chapter on modern Germanic reconstructions is just plain wrong in alarming ways. If you have DDTM, tear that chapter out and use it as tinder or insulation, so you at least get some positive use out of it.

Again, I flaunt my foolishness! Does this apply to the latest edition of DDTM? I was always under the impression that Adler corrected a lot of bad scholarship for the latter edition, but my recollection is that it was stuff to do with The Primordial Universal Cult Of The Mother Goddess (I think this is related to that pantheism bug you were talking about), so this may be a different ill than that perpetrated by the chapter you cit.


Serge: Which two birds does the stone kill? The two in the bush? Or did the person with one bird in one hand also have have one in the other hand? Or maybe there was also a little old lady next to him also with one bird in one hand and, when the stone hit her bird, the old lady fainted.

Almost. What actually happened was, that was the old lady whose swallow she let fly. (She died, of course.)

#386 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 12:09 AM:

Xopher, #378: "All is number." :-)

#387 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 12:27 AM:

Nicole @ 385... that was the old lady whose swallow she let fly.

That's a reference to a fairy tale, isn't it? Which one?

#388 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 12:29 AM:

Serge #382: You're reminding me of Look Around You: Maths.

"Problem 1. Jean is shorter than Brutus, but taller than Imhotep. Imhotep is taller than Jean, but shorter than Lord Scotland...."

Look Around You: not to be cited.

#389 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 01:15 AM:

JESR: #376 :

The bleach-your-secateurs thing might have some standing because there _are_ bacterial plant diseases against which this might be effective. But mostly it's just Feel Good Theare. From a practical standpoint, people working with plants ought to be able to recognise such plants and destroy them. And most of the bacteria & fungi are air-borne at some stage in their life-cycle.

Virus diseases are much more insidious, and bleach is ineffective against them. [Warning! citation to verbal tranmission from a non-academic practitioner follows.] Earl Ross, Orchidist at the Los Angeles County Arboretum during most of the 20 years I worked there generally used a propane torch to sterilize secateurs & knives used when dividing orchid plants. "It's more to impress people with how Careful we're being than to protect plants", he'd say, holding up his (unsterile) hands and adding "if you have more than about five orchid plants -- we've got several thousand species & varieties -- you have virus, and given enough time all of them will get it. All you can do is keep them growing vigorously enough that they'll keep ahead of the disease."

I strongly suspect that Master Gardener types are especially keen on the "Impress people" aspect. Mind you, basic sanitation is A Good Idea, but the best form of this consists of learning to recognize diseased plants and ruthlessly destroying them.

And, yes, very few trees can be topped successfully -- one of the first things a gardener learns is to work with the plants genetic programming, not against it. (Okay, bonsai partly excepted.)

#390 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 01:24 AM:

Carrie S., 379: Thanks! I'll take the reaction of an intelligent enthusiast (aka independent scholar, in my opinion) any time. It was just that the discussion that you and others were having about the history of knitting seemed to dovetail with Barber, and I figured it couldn't hurt to ask.

#391 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 01:25 AM:

Seth, #349: references to "studies" that someone once made up as a joke and everyone bought it

Oh ghod... this is a little off-topic, but I think the audience here will appreciate it. Some 15 years or so back, I had a subscription to The New Republic, and one issue had a leading article about "Higher Dimensions" and an interview with the writer of a book on said topic. I was reading along thinking it was all rather interesting, until I came to the point where the author cited, apparently completely seriously, "the curious experience of an architect named Quintus Teal."

... at which point I did a *facepalm* and immediately got the mental image of a faculty party, at which this guy was droning along at massive and boring length about his theories of Higher Dimensions, until some smartass assistant professor ran the basic plot of "-And He Built a Crooked House" past him as a FOAF tale. Because it was all there, in unmistakable detail.

I still wish I'd saved that issue. But it got tossed in a cleaning frenzy at some point, and I couldn't even begin to remember when to look for it in an archive -- "sometime in the early 90s" is as close as I can recall.

#392 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 01:30 AM:

Linkmeister @#374:

my first exposure to Bolero by name was Torvil and Dean's performance

Me too! I'd forgotten that. Here's video.

Serge @#387: Nicole has cleverly twisted a nursery rhyme:

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly.
I don't know why she swallowed a fly;
Perhaps she'll die.

The old lady swallowed a number of things (by all means, fellow commenters, write some new verses!) culminating with a horse. She died, of course.

#393 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 01:36 AM:

Mary Dell @ 392... Oh, a nursery rhyme... That's one of the things that, even though I've been living for decades in an environment other than that of my birth, there are still things that trip me. For example, back in the early days of our marriage, I had to ask my wife to explain the Far Side cartoon where a female robin was chastising her hubby for again going out bob-bob-bobbing along.

#394 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 01:45 AM:

Matt McIrvin @ 360: In that case, the book on C you want is Harbison and Steele's C: A Reference Manual, currently in its 5th edition.

This is the book you refer to if you're writing a C compiler validation suite (which the authors used to do professionally, and which I had worked on at one time), or you're debugging a C compiler, or you're attempting to port highly hacky and non-portable code from a very old C dialect forward to portable ANSI C, or you want to write C code which may look insane but is guaranteed standards-compliant and portable, or if you just want to get all legalistic on some programmer's ass. It's the only book on C worthy of the name.

#395 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 01:59 AM:

Jon Meltzer @ 268

You've reminded me of an old and nasty joke about Yourdon. Peter Coad and Ed Yourdon form a partnership to promulgate their new methodology of software developemnt: Code, You're Done.

#396 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 02:27 AM:

Mary Dell @ 275

I've always wondered where those awful film critics got their education. The ones who seem to have been watching a completely different film from the one you saw. The best theory I could come up with was that they were terminally unobservant or incredibly high, but having been taught to write incorrect synopses makes much more sense.*

* It does? Is that other personality of mine that thinks he's a film critic writing again?

#397 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 02:38 AM:

Hi Serge. Yes, Mary's pegged it. Thank you, Mary--and you are very kind to call my feeble attempts at punnishness clever. *blush* (I think "who let a swallow fly" might have been a more graceful way to run with that, now that I reread it.)

#398 ::: Toru Ranryu ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 02:51 AM:

Alex Cohen at #328: Chomsky:compilers::Bernoulli:airplanes.

As far as I know Bernoulli's work had no influence on the development of airplanes. A dependable way to recognize a bad source is that it tries to explain the lift of an airplane using Bernoulli's principle.

#399 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 02:52 AM:

Richard Brandt @ 305

One of the latter claimed a carbon-dating of a live oyster showed it was millions of years old, which suggests a fatal misundertanding of the nature of carbon dating

Though not fatal to the oyster, it would seem.

#400 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 03:21 AM:

Clifton Royston @ 394

Absolutely. I own 2 books on C: a copy of Kernighan and Ritchie, which I bought in about 1979, and has the tears and dogears to prove it, and a copy of Harbison and Steele. I spent a couple of years on the ANSI C++ Standards committee*, where having an accurate C reference was a necessary basic defense.

Guy Steele should be recognized for his invaluable roles in the writing of the definitive reference manuals for three languages: C, Common Lisp, and Java. He's also the author of one of the funniest index items I've ever seen. Look up the page reference for "hyperspace" in the index of the Common Lisp Reference Manual, and you'll find it refers to the page just after the last page in the book.


* I'm still trying to determine what horrible crime I committed to deserve that.

#401 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 03:24 AM:

The latish afternoon entertainment with tea, little sandwiches and cake (one large or plates of small) is called "afternoon tea". "High tea" is more like a meal, with a substantial meat dish - which can be cold - served about 6 pm, and therefore timed to going out to the theatre or the opera. (The theatre may then be followed by supper, classically described as "a large cold bottle and a small hot bird".)

The full sit-down-at-a-table evening meal is described as "dinner" if you're U, or "tea" if you're non-U. "Confusin', isn't it, Dutchy?"*

*from "Zulu". I don't mean to imply that anyone is Dutch, except those that, you know, are. And the line was spoken to a bloke who immediately stated that he was, in fact, Swiss.**

**Confusin', isn't it, Dutchy?

#402 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 03:30 AM:

Randolph Fritz @ 386

"God invented the integers, all else is the work of Man" - Leopold Kronecker

Although I think he was wrong about geometry; it's far too beautiful not be divine.

#403 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 03:47 AM:

Dave @401:
The full sit-down-at-a-table evening meal is described as "dinner" if you're U, or "tea" if you're non-U.

Of course, if you're non-U, then dinner is eaten at midday or thereabouts.

But the usage of "tea" varies widely throughout Britain, even within a single family. My grandparents in law once ended up calling all the hospitals in Aberdeen because my husband didn't show up for tea at 1:00. He (a teenager at the time) was aiming to arrive at their place at about 5:00.

Bruce @402:
I think he was wrong about geometry; it's far too beautiful not be divine.

Amen, as it were.

#404 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 03:48 AM:

Jules @ 369

There's been an immense amount of nonsense spouted about extreme programming, and its Liberal Democratic cousin agile programming. Having tried to do both the way the nonsense says you're supposed to, and having also done it the way the inventors intended*, I think I can confidently say that within the domains and realms it was developed for, and at its natural scale, extreme programming works quite well. Agile programming is an attempt to sell extreme programming to waterfall managers; ignore it and it will go away.

Still, I speak as somebody who hasn't given it a proper chance, yet, because I mainly work on projects that are too small to apply it to

I think you've got it backwards; extreme programming works best in relatively small scales, say in teams of 2 to 20, with timescales of a couple of weeks to a few months. The whole point is to take advantage of the quick reactions and extensive communications of a small team. Read Kent Beck on the subject, it's hardly worth reading anyone else.

* Standard disclaimer: Kent Beck and Ward Cunningham are both one-time colleagues and friends of mine. They, Ward in particular, are the ones who taught me object-oriented design back in the dark days of the Third Generation.

#405 ::: Mikael Johansson ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 04:30 AM:

There was a debacle a couple of years ago, that even made the international news, about a mathematical publication from a student at my alma mater who claimed to have solved one of the Hilbert problems.

This debacle is to a large extent my reason for never cite Nonlinear Analysis.

The basic story - as told by the insiders - was more or less as follows:
The student, EO, wrote a Master's thesis on dynamic systems, and then continued to fiddle around with her results. She managed to convince herself that she had something Very Important - on the scale of solving the Hilbert problem - nailed down, and approached her (female - this'll be important later) ex-advisor about it. The advisor told her to take it careful, and warned her against accidentally going public with a wrong result.

A couple of months pass. Then EO approaches the University press office, and asks them to publish a press release regarding her newly accepted-for-publication article in Nonlinear Analysis. The press office contacts the department of mathematics, who informs them that they have already been approached themselves and asked to get the press office to release this, and advised against it on the grounds of it not being made clear to the mathematicians there that it's solid enough.

EO then sends out the press release herself. And with a slight slant of the little student that could fighting against the big bad professors who only want to steal her results. The release hits the Swedish news with a huge success, and the more papers take on the story, the worse it gets. Pretty soon it's no longer about right or wrong results, it's about the patriarchal mathematical society oppressing the brilliance of the poor poor student, and some magazines make it exclusively into a gender issue.

At the same time, those able to read the paper (including me) point out that the arguments in the paper are wildly incomplete, do not prove anything, and basically on the size of "I wish it were so. Thus it is so." EO fuels her side of this debate by repeating the fact that Nonlinear Analysis accepted the paper, and therefore it must be correct.

The story ends with Nonlinear Analysis retracting the paper from publication.

#406 ::: Hector Owen ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 04:31 AM:

New handle to go with new blog.

Mary Dell @ 392: Not so much a nursery rhyme in the Mother Goose folklore sense, but a (relatively) recently written song, lyrics by Rose Bonne, music by Alan Mills, made famous by Burl Ives. Many illustrated versions available from Amazon; this one looks particularly appealing, for the artwork.

And re Chomsky, @ various: The New Yorker is not a scholarly source at all, but this article about the Pirahã tribe might be an early surfacing of the exception that could disprove all his theories about "deep structure." If one natural language exists that does not follow his rules, then the rules cannot be as universal as he would like.

#407 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 04:51 AM:

Serge@319 asks:

Is the Illuminati Trilogy entertaining, as a work of fiction?
I read it at least twice when I was a teenager, and I found it extremely entertaining. Whether I'd have the same opinion now isn't certain, but I think so.

#408 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 05:25 AM:

Toru Ranyu @ 398: Bernoulli's theorem can be used to explain wing lift pefectly well; alas, it is all too often misapplied.

#409 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 05:56 AM:

Bruce Cohen, #402, abi, #403: integers, geometry, abstract algebra, isn't that where the Pythagoreans started? Or got to very early? Hunh. I suppose mathematics is one of the few fields where very old references are still of current value.

#410 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 08:08 AM:

I read the Illuminatus Trilogy in college and think that it did me good. There's a tendency among those who fancy themselves skeptics and seers-through-of-illusion to stop questioning when it gets to their own particular deepest-held convictions. Illuminatus encouraged in me a more universal habit of doubt, which ended up leading me to further rounds of self-questioning that I think put my worldview on a more solid foundation than it had been before.

We seem to have wildly different standards of acceptable possible off-ness. (In other news, water remains wet, experts agree.) I admit to being bugged by oldsma's #277, with its:

Any fiction, even American Gods, no matter who wrote it or how cool it is. I mean, puhleeze.

...and more broadly by what sometimes comes across in some folks' posts as the attitude that you're just really not entitled to settle for any approximation but the current best scholarly consensus, and if you don't have the time or interest to keep up with that, you should just go sit in the corner and feel grateful you're allowed to ask questions. I'm undoubtedly overreacting in places, but still. What do we do about situations where really extensive research is not practical, and not really what's desired?

This is not to say that I want to champion even a skeptical, careful reliance on works that are just too full of the wrong stuff. But for msyelf, at least, there's a huge swath of work in many fields that I find it more useful to think of as "handle with care, good as far as it goes in some regards" than "beware!". I also admit to a real concern that too high a standard for the absence of troublesome stuff ends up conceding all the popular turf to cranks, and I don't want to say "the only good writing on this is hard-core professional scholarship" unless I really, truly have to.

I don't quite know where I'm going with this. I'm bugged, but don't see any really good way out of it.

A separate question is whether people are actually reading works of fiction looking for scholarly truths. In some cases, alas, yes. See otherkin for an intense example. But I'm thoroughly unconvinced that the average reader is expecting Neil to be any more super-accurate about Germanic gods than a Holy Grail story is about the meaning and foci of Christianity. It's grist to the mill. As Clive Barker puts it at the beginning of Weaveworld:

Nothing ever begins. There is no first moment; no single word or place from which this or any other story springs. The threads can always be traced back to some earlier tale, and to the tales that preceded that; though as the narrator's voice recedes the connections will seem to grow more tenuous, for each age will want the tale told as if it were of its own making. Thus the pagan will be sanctified, the tragic becomes laughable; great lovers will stoop to sentiment, and demons dwindle to clockwork toys. Nothing is fixed. In and out the shuttle goes, fact and fiction, mind and matter, woven into patterns that may have only this in common: that hidden amongst them is a filigree which will with time become a world.

It seems to me that a work's intended purpose ought to have a lot of bearing on how we evaluate it. Not everything is scholarship; fiction shouldn't get free rides; invention can be signalled in various ways; and on and on.

#411 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 08:36 AM:

I admit also to having an ongoing struggle with books that say something I believe useful and important but that stake out a lot more than I think they can back up. Barbara Ehrenreich's Blood Rites is a great case in point. I don't think one can read it now without feeling that she's absolutely nailed down a critical part of the internal experience of the world that fuels our current war hysteria. (For those who don't know, Rosebud is her sled. I mean to say, she argues that the organization and cultural glorification of war originated in the early human experience of being prey, and of banding together against superior foes, and that this has become sufficiently ingrained that we do it even when there are no actual superior threats, no modern equivalent to tigers in the night.) On the other hand, there's a lot going on in and around war, and always has been, that her thesis doesn't deal with at all well. "True as far as it goes, and that's not as far as the author thinks" is a tricky category.

#412 ::: Toru Ranryu ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 09:25 AM:

Jakob at #328: Bernoulli's theorem can be used to explain wing lift pefectly well; alas, it is all too often misapplied.

Could I ask you to elaborate on that? I'm sure we both agree that the equal transit time model is not an adequate explanation. How do you calculate the flow velocity, and do you assume that there is no flow separation?

#413 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 09:52 AM:

Dave 401: if you're U, or "tea" if you're non-U.

[*]

Am I correct in thinking that if I don't know what U and non-U are, I must be non-U?

#414 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 10:01 AM:

Xopher @413: Am I correct in thinking that if I don't know what U and non-U are, I must be non-U?

I'm not sure where the terms originated, but back in the 1950s, Nancy Mitford wrote a book on the differences between U and non-U vocabulary, where U is English as she was then spoken (more or less) by the hereditary aristocracy.

So does Brit English no longer use the term "supper", then? These days in the US, I hear supper/dinner being used more or less interchangeably, but iirc "supper" was originally the lighter meal eaten in the evening, made by turning the leftovers from midday dinner into soup.

#415 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 10:01 AM:

Xopher @413: Am I correct in thinking that if I don't know what U and non-U are, I must be non-U?

I'm not sure where the terms originated, but back in the 1950s, Nancy Mitford wrote a book on the differences between U and non-U vocabulary, where U is English as she was then spoken (more or less) by the hereditary aristocracy.

So does Brit English no longer use the term "supper", then? These days in the US, I hear supper/dinner being used more or less interchangeably, but iirc "supper" was originally the lighter meal eaten in the evening, made by turning the leftovers from midday dinner into soup.

#416 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 10:07 AM:

Nicole @ 397... "who let a swallow fly"

"Help me, help me!"

And since that movie involved David/Al Hedison, of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea fame, you just allowed me to bring up Irwin Allen into this thread too.

Bwahahahah!!!

#417 ::: maidstragedy ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 10:08 AM:

ethan@294: "Truck Gravity" is a wonderful expression and succinctly describes everything this blog has been discussing. I propose a motion that it immediately pass into the vernacular as an apt description of all such reprehensible behaviour.

Teresa’s comments @39 about the Canterbury Tales and Chaucer prompt me to add a similar assertion about works on Shakespeare:
a) any work that claims to pull biographical data from the plays and poems
b) any one who claims they know who really wrote the plays (perhaps this one almost goes with saying)
c) theatrical productions that waffle on about The Tempest being his final play and Prospero’s soliloquy about book drowning being Shakespeare’s final farewell (saw one 2 years ago that went on and on about this fallacy – pure truck gravity at its finest).


#418 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 10:20 AM:

Truck gravity, across the universe,
always going forward cause we can't find reverse.

#419 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 10:37 AM:

Toryu Ranyu # 412: To elaborate: Bernoulli can be used to explain the phenomenon of lower pressure on the upper wing surfaces due to higher speed. I wouldn't use it to actually model stuff, as it is an inviscid model, so it wouldn't handle separation. I seem to remember you can derive the theorem from the potential stream function, so you might be able to use that to actually model pressures.

I personally would talk about a converging nozzle to explain the higher flow speeds on the upper surface, and about the total stagnation pressure to explain the lower surface pressures.

Any explanation that claims! to! disprove! other models of lift generation tends to be wrong-headed in that it is usually a re-statement of the problem in other terms (if not just wrong like equal transit time). A while back there was some debate about Bernoulli vs. Newton's 3rd law sparked by John Anderson's book (not to be confused with the extremely eminent aerodynamicist John D. Anderson.) The basic issue is that any flow must obey conservation of mass, momentum and energy. Nature provides flow solutions that obey these; arguing (for instance) whether pressure gradients drive flows or vice versa is a pointless chicken-and-egg argument.

#420 ::: Flourish ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 11:02 AM:

This is not to say that I want to champion even a skeptical, careful reliance on works that are just too full of the wrong stuff. But for msyelf, at least, there's a huge swath of work in many fields that I find it more useful to think of as "handle with care, good as far as it goes in some regards" than "beware!". I also admit to a real concern that too high a standard for the absence of troublesome stuff ends up conceding all the popular turf to cranks, and I don't want to say "the only good writing on this is hard-core professional scholarship" unless I really, truly have to.

I strongly agree with this statement, #410!

I'm in the field of religious studies and while I wouldn't cite The Golden Bough as my basic source for any of its contents, I think it is valuable to read and cite it to understand one way that Western people have historically thought about X myth or Y myth. Similarly, I think that everything Mircea Eliade has ever written is absolute BS. Nonetheless, I need to know it and be able to talk about it. By showing how Eliade's theories don't fit well with what I'm studying, I can better support the theories that do fit well.

I like the original point of this thread, which was to talk about books that are popular but blatantly wrong about many things. There's a difference between that and "once the best in the field, now discredited." The former is uninteresting; the latter isn't.

#421 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 11:05 AM:

I tend to look at development methodologies as occupying a spectrum between People Oriented (left side) and Process Oriented (right side). Obviously XP, Agile, Scrumm, et al occupy the far left while RUP ends closer to the middle (mid-rightish) and waterfall/CMM land over to the far right.

While you can certainly make the point that people oriented methodologies have scaling issues, you can also argue that process oriented methodologies have tremendous inefficiencies.

The choice really comes down to an organization's cultural outlook: Do we bet on our people or our processes? Smaller organizations tend to make the former bet, while larger one's make the latter.

#422 ::: C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 11:15 AM:

419 But don't tell the aircraft maintenance community that! It worships Bernoulli as the Source of All That Is Right and Good About Aerodynamics.

I distinctly remember getting yelled at by the PhD who was guest-lecturing on fabrication and repair of lifting-surface parts when I pointed out that his calculations for upper surface planform rigidity — in other words, determining what materials might be acceptable for repairing battle damage to an F–15/F–16's hybrid composite/metal wing — wouldn't work in the transsonic region because they neglected to correct for nonuniform air density. I think he was pissed off primarily because lieutenants who didn't have a degree in aeronautical engineering (or, in fact, any engineering at all) weren't supposed to understand about "boundary conditions" of what is, after all, some pretty basic physics. If he had asked, he would have found out that my undergraduate degree was in biochemistry... which, almost by definition, is about (or, at least, in the 1970s and early 1980s was about) boundary conditions and behavior near them. It's shocking just how close to "impossible except under very rigid conditions" a lot of critical biological chemical pathways really are.

#423 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 11:35 AM:

After reading all these experts and well-informed folks putting down all manner of "scholarship", I was just starting to feel very glad I only review fiction -- and then I came across oldsma (#277): Any fiction, even American Gods, no matter who wrote it or how cool it is. I mean, puhleeze.

Actually American Gods did rankle me, taking such liberties with "local"religion, but as long as we're acknowleging that fiction *is* fiction.... Oh well. Bad fiction is something else entirely from bad scholarship, though it's sometimes written by equally annoying/reprehensible people.

Pardon the hasty post. It's nearly time to go grocery shopping.

#424 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 11:44 AM:

Faren, I don't think fiction is a "get out of responsibility free" card and am happy to listen - and sometimes to heed :) - thoughtful criticism of the uses to which creators of fiction have put the raw materials of reality.

#425 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 11:47 AM:

Serge @#393: Songs are tricky because they fade from the popular culture so fast, but everyone remembers them forever. So if you didn't grow up with them, chances are you'll never hear them.

I grew up listening to Allan Sherman records, without having heard many of the songs he was spoofing. Once I got to library-going age I checked out a bunch of big band records and laughed myself silly comparing the originals to his versions.

#426 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 12:04 PM:

Bruce at 411: I agree; just because a particular book tries to do too much, or alternately, does not address or answer all issues raised while looking at a subject, doesn't mean it shouldn't be taken seriously or read respectfully. Thoughtful people are almost always worth reading even when they stumble -- hell, even when they get something dead wrong, they may get something else dead right, and their willingness to put it all out there is laudable. Don't misunderstand me -- nonsense is nonsense and should be recognized as such. But the more I read these days, particularly in such subjects as political science, history, ethics, and the intersections of the sciences, the more I am faced with my own lack of certainty. It's humbling, and I think that's a good thing.

#427 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 12:04 PM:

So does Brit English no longer use the term "supper", then?

The word supper is a bit out of fashion, but most people would understand it to mean the meal you eat after going to the theatre/opera etc. Or if you're offering to feed someone, but it isn't going to be as large and/or formal as dinner.

Also, if you turn up at my relatives in Northumberland in the evening stating that you're alright foodwise as you've had high tea somewhere in Yorkshire, Supper is the dozen or so different types of sandwiches, cakes and biscuits that come out about half an hour after you arrive.

#428 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 12:06 PM:

The thing about fiction as a source is that you have to be careful in terms of what it's a source for. Terry Pratchett is not trying to provide a factual reference on, say, the history of either big-city police forces or semaphores, for example.

More generally, it's reasonable for a novelist to include a character who spouts invalid theories about something as part of characterization, or someone who lies about the location of a silver vein as part of a con job. The book isn't actually saying "the world works this way" or "there's X amount of silver under the White House" or what-have-you.

Most of us here are science fiction and/or fantasy fans. That means we grant writers leeway on things like FTL drives, elves, and magical rings. Realistic novelists also make things up.

#429 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 12:07 PM:

Bruce Baugh, #410: I think the problem with citing fiction as a scholarly source is actually two-fold. The first half is that yes, there are people out there who will cite books like DaVinci Code for facts about Renaissance art, among other things. Those people--the ones who trust badly researched fiction--are easy to dismiss: if a fiction writer gets his facts wrong, he is obviously not a trustworthy source. On the other hand, what about the novelist who does meticulous research, who gets his facts absolutely correct? There is still a problem with "trusting" that author. Using historical fiction as the example, again--frequently historical fact is not an absolute, and the novelist has to make choices.

I suspect I'm going to regret using this example, and if anyone can come up with a better one, I'll be grateful, but try this: WWII historians have, I believe, argued for years about what Franklin Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbor before Dec. 7. Historians can present the evidence on one side or the other (or the others), arguing in favor of this or that interpretation of the known facts. A novelist can't argue in favor. A novelist writing a piece of historical fiction with Roosevelt as a character, especially a main and/or pov character, has to decide: what did Roosevelt know and when did he know it? Most good historical novelists will try to add an afterward or something, indicating their possible choices and the reasons for those choices; not all do, and not all readers pay attention to those brief afterwards, anyway. (And they are brief, which makes them at best sketchy sources.) More importantly, the bottom line for a novelist is: what will make a better story?

All of which makes trusting fiction for information about anything other than itself, what the novelist has to say about human condition--or, in some cases, popular culture and social attitudes in the time contemporary to when the novel was written, as a primary source--an extremely tricky business.

I'm not sure if this really has all that much useful to say in response your post, now that I get to the end of what I have to say, but it is something that I have run into a LOT with my students lately, so I've had to think about it. Even if I thought Dan Brown were the Greatest Writer in the Western World (which I don't, obviously) I'd be annoyed with him after having to spend the past several semesters trying to convince my students that they can't use his books as research sources . . .

#430 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 12:17 PM:

In no particular order:

Mary Dell, I was barely old enough to be somewhat familiar with the source texts for Allen Sherman, and some of his songs have overwritten my knowledge of their models- Notably "Dr. Prentiss" and "Grow, Mrs. Goldfarb."

Don Fitch@ 389, I am of the opinion, with most things, that the secret to keeping them healthy is pruning out the bad bits and giving the rest sufficient water and the right amounts of light and (mostly) nitrogen. The thing about roses is that neither blackspot nor powdery mildew (the twoailments most amateure growers are most distressed by) are spread by pruning contact, and the actual big killer, "rose virus" (systemic infection from a number of viruses, according to Malcolm Manners, (like Cass Turnbull a Good Source) the person who's given this the most serious study) is spread through budding on to infected root stocks. The fine and proper disregard for sterile pruning tools does damage when it extends itself to going cheap and dirty on plant materials. The fact that Dr. Huey (a R. wichuraianna climber on which new world commercialroses are budded) suckers like crazy when infected, added to US-owned growers dislike of the slow process of seed-propagation of root stock led to an entire generation of gardeners being convinced that roses are just too fussy to grow.

#431 ::: Fats Durston ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 12:33 PM:

Most Western Civ I textbooks regarding the pre-Roman history of the Levant/Canaan/Israel/Palestine. They typically use the Old Testament as a source almost uncritically and ignore the recent work of archaeologists and textual scholars. Only Abrahamic religious texts get a pass as reliable historical documents in your general college-level Western Civ textbooks.

And regarding "Western Civilization," the endless parade of books defining the "European Miracle" (including The European Miracle) that claim to culturally or geographically explain the rise of (mostly Western) Europe to (mostly) dominate the globe are typically full of spurious claims. (e.g., "Goldilocks" theories that suggest China was too X and India was too Y and Europe was just right.)

#432 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 12:35 PM:

Mary Frances @ 429:
I suspect I'm going to regret using this example, and if anyone can come up with a better one, I'll be grateful ...

How about Richard III? (I say this both because I don't think there's really a serious or meaningful historical controversy about FDR and Pearl Harbor, and because Richard III has certainly been a fertile source for fiction, from the time of Shakespeare on.)

#433 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 12:35 PM:

Julie 415: U is English as she was then spoken (more or less) by the hereditary aristocracy.

Oh, so the U stands for Unspeakable (as in "The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible," Wilde's description of foxhunting)?

maidstragedy 417: any one who claims they know who really wrote the plays

This reminds me of the classic (and possibly apocryphal) statement from a teenage English essay: "Shakespeare's plays were not written by Shakespeare but by someone else of the same name."

Vicki 428: More generally, it's reasonable for a novelist to include a character who spouts invalid theories about something as part of characterization, or someone who lies about the location of a silver vein as part of a con job. The book isn't actually saying "the world works this way" or "there's X amount of silver under the White House" or what-have-you.

Just so. It drives me crazy when people say that "Shakespeare said 'Neither a borrower nor a lender be.'" No, a pompous ass and deeply unsympathetic character says that. (If Hamlet had been a novel, Polonius would have whined shortly before the arras scene.) I even heard of a case where Milton was accused of having said "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven"—and the poor teacher was accused of having taught his students that it was true!

(I hate Milton for his stupid idea that Lucifer and Satan are the same being, but that's OT.)

#434 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 12:37 PM:

Lance Weber @ 421

[It's nice to be caught up with this thread, so my responses aren't coming 200 posts after the original]

I've heard that characterization about type of methodology and scaling before, and while I think there's some truth in it, I also think it's misleading, in the sense that it leads us to talk about XP and such as "guerilla" methodologies, best for small groups with flat management, and waterfall and other traditional models as "corporate" or "engineering process" methodologies.

To some extent, I think this came out of a case of "Professional Engineering Envy" that the software field started to suffer in the 1980s: the feeling that we were rather immature amateurs who need to imitate the techniques of the real professionals in our older sibling fields.*

The concept that Kent Beck brought to the table with XP was that methodologies aren't just management practices; that programmers and engineers** need to care about methodology and how it affects the way they do things. It's still the case that many methodology failures are the result of the methodologies not actually being applied because the people doing the work think that they're just window dressing for the manager's status reports. For that matter, a lot of managers never got that the methodologies had to refer to something concrete in the development, and will thus affect milestones, deliverables, and schedules.

One thing about waterfall versus agile: whether it really is a question of people versus process†, there is a major difference between them in the very definitions of their component parts and the way they interact. Trying to combine them (and I've been subjected to such attempts several times), is a difficult and dangerous proposition, and will certainly fail miserably if not with care and delicacy. I've never seen it succeed.

* The attitude is encapsulated in the joke about how if bridges and buildings were built like software systems, the first woodpecker to come along would destroy civilization. It's simply an untrue and unfair comparison, and if you want me to support that statement I'll be glad to write a separate post, but the margins of this comment are way too small.

** If there's a difference; I think we had a bad case of job title inflation back in the 80s and 90s too. And still do, come to think of it: what in the name of indirect indexed variables is a "Data Model Architect"?

† I agree that there is an aspect of this to what distinguishes the two; I think the full range of distinctions is much broader than that, but again, that needs a post of its own.

#435 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 12:46 PM:

On second thought: Don't cite Milton in Biblical scholarship. He didn't read Isaiah 14 carefully enough. Or even do anything except jump off verse 12 and make up a story.

#436 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 12:50 PM:

Most Western Civ I textbooks regarding the pre-Roman history of the Levant/Canaan/Israel/Palestine. They typically use the Old Testament as a source almost uncritically and ignore the recent work of archaeologists and textual scholars. Only Abrahamic religious texts get a pass as reliable historical documents in your general college-level Western Civ textbooks.

That seems like kind of a sweeping condemnation. Do you have any specific books in mind?

#437 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 12:51 PM:

Xopher (433): This reminds me of the classic (and possibly apocryphal) statement from a teenage English essay: "Shakespeare's plays were not written by Shakespeare but by someone else of the same name."

My college Chaucer professor pointed out that we don't know for a fact who wrote The Canterbury Tales, etc. There is a Geoffrey Chaucer of the right time period, but no proof that he wrote any poetry. There could be another Geoffrey-Chaucer-the-writer. Note that my professor did not subscribe to this theory; he was just pointing out the limits of our knowledge.

#438 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 01:03 PM:

Mary Frances: Yeah, I absolutely agree about the kinds of truth claims fiction makes. There's a tradition of bogus didactic stuff, and Dan Brown is a fine example of it. When the book's making claims about the real world (history, theology, science, whatever), then it's perfectly fair to judge them as we do any other claims of the same sort. Part of the art of fiction is making it clear when you're not doing that.

#439 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 01:13 PM:

Vicki #428: You're saying there's silver under that thar White House? Well, what're we waiting for? Let's go!

#440 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 01:13 PM:

So far, I think we've established three main kinds of bad -- or at any rate, less than dependable -- sources: the ones like Holy Blood, Holy Grail, that are not just wrong in certain particulars but wrong in stereo, Sensurround, and glorious technicolor; the surveys and popularizations and introductory texts that, however useful they may be for familiarizing a new reader with the basic outlines of a particular subject, are nevertheless bound by their very nature to be wrong in some particulars and outdated in others; and the sources that are hazardous to use because they're located right where your discipline's current controversies are, and citing one of them rather than another is the equivalent of deciding which gang colors you're going to wear.

#441 ::: Fats Durston ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 01:14 PM:

#436

From my shelves:
Lynn Hunt, et al The Making of the West
Brian Levack, et al The West
Mark Kishlansky, et al A Brief History of WEstern Civilization
and a Donald Kagan, et al, that is somewhere around here...

#442 ::: Luthe ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 01:16 PM:

To Richard Anderson (all the way up at 54 and 174) and "Charles Dodgson" at 102":

As one who majored in Cities, I, too, find that most books on city planning are based more on hope that substance. I will defend Death and Life up to a point, as Jacobs did base her ideas on actual observations of how people use and interact with space. However, many of her points are becoming increasingly outdated as urban life and form change in ways that didn't exist when she was writing*. But then, Jacobs always said she wanted independent thinkers reading her books, not disciples.

Moving on, I will defend William H. Whyte, as he do actual studies to support his urban planning conclusions. He actually reached my favorite conclusion in all of scholarship: "People sit where there are places to sit."**

In general, I find most planners and planning schools of thought to be extremely hope and theory based. I intend to be no such thing, because cities are for the way people actually are, not how I wish them to be. If more planners thought like this, the field would be much improved.

To Vicki at 428:
When I Am a Professor (a mystical date twenty years hence), I will have my students read selected passages of Pratchett's Ankh-Morpork books, because while Pratchett is not writing to be factual, his descriptions remain one of the best examples of how cities actually function I have ever seen. One of my favorite scenes in Night Watch is Vimes contemplating the city as an economic process. It's beautiful and far more easy to comprehend than any scholarly work on the subject.

*iPods and cellphones do not encourage interaction with one's neighbors.

**Yes, he was given funding by a major university to study this and reach that conclusion.

#443 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 01:16 PM:

JESR @#430:

Every time I hear La Marseillaise I think

He was worse than Louis the fifteenth
He was worse than Louis the fourteenth
He was worse than Louis the thirteenth
He was the worst
Since Louis the first!

#444 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 01:27 PM:

Debra Doyle, #440: Well-organized. I'd add a further distinction for Category 1, though we're getting into the area of authorial motivation here: "sloppy" bad vs. "deliberately deceptive, ax-to-grind" bad.

Peter Erwin, #437: Yeah, Richard III would do. So would any number of rulers, I suspect. Thanks!

#445 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 01:45 PM:

I haven't plowed through the whole thread yet, but I'm betting nobody's mentioned Meg Bogin's The Female Troubadours. It was the first survey on the subject, and was therefore useful until superseded, but OMG don't believe her translations...

#446 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 02:03 PM:

Mary Dell@ 443

You're not alone. I also get 'Camp Granada' running through my mind ... or its parody, 'Larry's Rad Lab'
All the buildings
are well guarded:
every morning
you get carded

#447 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 02:04 PM:

Mary Aileen 437: But no matter the limits of our knowledge, the statement I quoted would be absurd. The "someone else of the same name," if he wrote the plays, would BE Shakespeare!

If the student had said "The plays appearing under Shakespeare's byline were not written by the William Shakespeare who presented them in the Globe Theatre, but by his cousin William Melvin Shakespeare, who lived in Shrewsbury and was too afraid to come to London," it would be all kinds of silly and wrong, but not patently absurd as the original statement is.

#448 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 02:17 PM:

Xopher @#447: I dare you to put William Melvin Shakespeare into Wikipedia.

And I double-dare you to cite Making Light as a source.

#449 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 02:27 PM:

Xopher @ #447, imagine the fun historians of conspiracy could have with that. There's been a (now) 425-year-old plot to deprive poor Mel of his rightful place in literary history.

Come to think of it, I suppose Mel's proponents could take cues from Richard III's fans. (I hastily add, I like Richard III! I think he got jobbed!)

Talking about fiction expressing a point of view, Rex Stout had Nero Wolfe removing Thomas More's books from his shelves because Wolfe felt More had helped frame Richard. This was done after Wolfe had read Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time.

#450 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 02:31 PM:

I believe his cousin's proper name was William Irwin Allen Shakespeare, Melville was a bad translation from second sources.

#451 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 02:47 PM:

And, while we're at it, there is some fairly extensive critical discussion of whether or not the works of William Malory were in fact written by the Malory everyone thinks wrote them or by another man also named William Malory . . .

#452 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 03:02 PM:

Despite all the arguments about whether fiction can convey truth - of course it can! - or untruth - of course it can! - or things never meant to be taken as truth, but which some readers will - yes, of course! - please reread and consider the context of the original question.

If you cite a fictional work as a source, for anything but a literary discussion of itself and related works in its genre, I'd say you most likely do deserve to be mocked and laughed at.

There might be exceptions, in the form of historical fiction that was so meticulously researched as to put to shame most academic books on its period, but surely they are few and rare.

#453 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 03:03 PM:

As a Making Light thread grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Irwin Allen approaches one.

#454 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 03:11 PM:

As a Making Light thread grows longer, the probability of the invention of a new variation on Godwin approaches one.

#455 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 03:11 PM:

Xopher : #413 :

"Am I correct in thinking that if I don't know what U and non-U are, I must be non-U?"

That, or not sufficiently an Anglophile, I guess. U = British Upper-Class/Aristocracy. And maybe, nowadays, some Middle- & Working-Class(*) U-wannabes, with caveats about British regional usages for kinds of teas and meals sometimes coinciding with U-usage regardless of class.

Cf. American regional & class usages of "dinner" & "supper" -- often interchangable (in the midwest/northern Ohio) during my childhood, c. 70 years ago) for the major meal of the day about the time the family wage-earner (most families got by reasonably well with just one of those, back then) gets home from work, except that "[insert name of Holiday (maybe including "Sunday") here] Dinner" would start at about 1 or 2 in the afternoon. Alternatively, in my flavor of "middle-class", a "Dinner" (upper-case perhaps not optional) would involve the presence of a table-cloth, among other things.

(*) I think there are some major differences between British & American usage & understanding, here, with Americans tending to define "middle-class" much more broadly as including quite a lot of both white- and blue-collar working-people.

#456 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 03:14 PM:

his cousin William Melvin Shakespeare

Not his evil twin?

And is that really Xopher who makes these comments or his evil twin, who has the same name, email address and writing style?

Xopher @#447: I dare you to put William Melvin Shakespeare into Wikipedia.

And I double-dare you to cite Making Light as a source.

Do I need to go on with my evil twin theory of authorship?

#457 ::: Zack Weinberg ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 03:31 PM:

Speaking of Jane Jacobs, I wonder if anyone here has an opinion on Cities and the Wealth of Nations. It's interesting to me because it tries to make a principled argument for something that I feel intuitively ought to be true -- that cities and nations ought to strive to produce their own goods for local consumption first, rather than becoming ever more dependent on global trade. I know nobody in mainstream economics takes the book seriously, because nobody in mainstream economics tries to argue that. But I don't know why.

#458 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 03:33 PM:

Xopher #355: It's a fact, alas. I can remember when Allegro had his fifteen minutes. Amanita muscaria does seem to attract crackpots (cf. Graves's references to them in The White Goddess).

#459 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 03:34 PM:

Don Fitch @ #455, heh. And here I was thinking I was clever in surmising that "supper" = "U" while "dinner" = "non-U."

#460 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 04:21 PM:

I wrote a sort of rant regarding suggestions for Neo Pagan scholarship here; it's useful in terms of what authors should know if they are writing about ancient Celtic peoples, history, or myths.

#461 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 04:45 PM:

I'm impressed with Eleanora's stockings, and the modern version thereof.

I have not ever tried to do a pair of my own because I make modern clothes by knitting and I don't have several hundred hours to devote to a pair of socks that isn't in my persona's period to begin with and wouldn't be worn more than a few times a year if it were.

The photos I've seen of the surviving blue-and-white cotton stockings from the Middle East seem to me to show that knitting has been around somewhat longer than the surviving pieces - color knitting isn't that easy even for someone with experience (my color-pattern tension sucks, but it's a little uneven even in just one color), and those are fairly complex patterns.

And just try doing stranded color in cotton; it's much less elastic than wool and therefore less forgiving of tension errors. Those pieces are part of a mature technique, I'm pretty sure, and they're from around 1150-1200.

The shaping seems simpler than the patterns; maybe they started out with patterned tubes and then started trying to make them fit better.

Entirely possible. The nice thing about knitting (and nalbinding, for that matter) is that since it's reasonably elastic you can get adequate fit with plain tubes. Makes sense they'd go for visual appeal first and then start worrying about better fit.

#462 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 04:52 PM:

Mary Dell, I can't hear Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours" without singing "Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah...."

And regarding "Western Civilization," the endless parade of books defining the "European Miracle" (including The European Miracle) that claim to culturally or geographically explain the rise of (mostly Western) Europe to (mostly) dominate the globe are typically full of spurious claims. (e.g., "Goldilocks" theories that suggest China was too X and India was too Y and Europe was just right.)

Fats, would you include Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel in that?

#463 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 05:01 PM:

Mary Frances (451): Thomas Malory, surely?

#464 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 05:51 PM:

Mary Aileen, #463: Argh! (Beats head repeatedly against nearest wall.) Yes. Thank you.

#465 ::: Argon ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 05:52 PM:

#451: "... William Malory ..."

Er ... who?

#466 ::: cap ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 06:07 PM:

Maybe this is an obvious one, but Ward Churchill.

(It wasn't obvious to me until a few months ago. I'd never heard of him when I started reading one of his books, and made the mistake of implying to a research librarian that I was taking that book seriously. Not something I will do again.)

#467 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 06:19 PM:

Bruce @ 404, 434 et al, I'm finding your comments on software development approaches (I think it's unfair to call some of them "methodologies") extremely interesting.

In particular, I appreciate seeing someone recognize that the approaches which work depend on factors like the size of the organization (or development group), the maturity of their existing practices, their present level of formality, the kinds of experience the programmers have had so far, etc. But this is straying further and further from this thread.

To make one comment which does belong on this thread, I finally got around to reading one of the eXtreme Programming (sheesh!) books, Kent Beck's Extreme Programming Explained, and reacted to much of it with "Of course, this is the kind of thing I've been doing for years and trying to sell others on doing." Other parts such as the "pair programming" bit had me going, "Hmmm, I don't know if this really would works better or not." However, my overall reaction was that there's not much to cite there, because as presented there's not much in the way of evidence, just untraceable anecdote. "We did this, and it worked when we did it, here's a story about it, so if you do it it'll work for you too because we say it will." (Not to mention that it proposes changing a whole lot of factors/approaches at once, while attributing the success to every single one of them.) It's very much in the flavor of self-help psychology books.

This is not to say it's wrong, just that there did not seem to me to be enough evidence presented to confirm the claim that it generally works - as opposed to working if you happen to be exceptionally brilliant and experienced and to have a stack of projects that certain approaches would work well on.

#468 ::: maidstragedy ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 06:21 PM:

Thank-you Xopher@433:

I'm going to have to make that quote my email signature for a while. Priceless.

#469 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 06:24 PM:

I think Mary Aileen was referring to the little known William Malory twins, both of whom, due to some confusion by their parents, the sherry consumption of the vicar, and the senility of the church secretary, were named William.

#470 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 06:35 PM:

cap at 466: I had to do some research to find out who Ward Churchill is. Ugh. A true con man.

#471 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 06:56 PM:

Mary 448: Are you trying to get me in trouble? Or just use me to needle the Wikipediphiles?

While I could have worse enemies than that jackhole SwatJester, I could also have fewer.

But you tempt me, you really do.

#472 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 06:59 PM:

John 469: But one of them was named William Melvin Malory.

#473 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 08:01 PM:

John (469): That was Mary Frances.

#474 ::: Sian Hogan ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 08:03 PM:

Linkmeister @ 459:

As a Brit, I have always regarded the terminology pertaining to the day's various meals as of vital, if fraught, significance.

Lunch can only happen in the middle of the day.

Dinner MAY happen in the middle of the day, depending on local custom, dialect and class, and possibly the content of the meal itself. Personally, I would only call a midday meal dinner if it happened on a Sunday, or on Christmas day. However, older members of my family would pride themselves on the fact that they had always "had dinner in the middle of the day". (Old-fashioned working-class / Irish)

Tea (often called, unsuprisingly, "afternoon tea") may possibly happen in the afternoon, and may well involve toast / scones / cake / the fussier sort of sandwich. It is not a daily occurence for most Brits, but there are those who partake of it regularly.

"High tea" is even rarer nowadays (almost non-existent) and tends to have a more substantial savory portion than "afternoon tea". A pork pie might be involved, or perhaps some thick slices of cold ham with buttered bread, although cake might still make an appearance. This meal used to be eaten early enough (5pm?) that it was possible to pair it up with a later supper.

"Tea" is the meal that most of my school friends went straight home to. It is a main meal, usually followed by what I'd call pudding, many would call "a sweet" and Americans and the young, I suspect, would call a dessert.

"Dinner" is, as a meal, virtually indistinguishable from the last-mentioned tea, except that I suspect that those who call their evening main meal "dinner" may eat it slightly later in the evening, on average, than those who call it tea. The two groups will argue pointlessly about which term is "correct". This, like the gr-ass/gr-arse debate, is carried out in a lively, but non-acrimonious style, probably because everyone genuinely believes themselves to be clearly in the right, and no-one has an inferiority complex.

Supper might happen later on. Traditionally, as someone else mentioned, it might very probably be soup, or sandwiches made from leftover cuts of meat. In these cases, it was generally not compatible with a formal late dinner, unless people were staying up very late indeed. Currently, I am aware of a number of children who have a before-bed "supper" of a bowl full of cereal or a slice of toast. I don't know anyone who has supper as a main meal.

WRT the Great British Class System, I am probably lower-middle class, although it is difficult to be sure. Definately non-U, although I'm not sure how far my word usages reflect this.

On books to avoid citing: any slim volume with an impossibly ambitious or generalised title, especially one that refers to any non-local (in a spacial or a temporal sense) group of people as a unit. "The Chinese" is a bad title for a slim book. So is "The Romans."

And any book with the word "mysterious" following the definite article. Even if its about the Picts, who were.

#475 ::: Ariella ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 08:11 PM:

As a general rule, I am immediately suspicious of any book whose publishers felt the need to include the letters Ph.D. after the author's name on the title page.

Also, it's prudent to assume that all books on the Templars are complete hooey until proven otherwise.

#476 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 08:59 PM:

Xopher @ 433: My high school Greek teacher mentioned at one point that he had read a paper titled "Homer: Who Was She?" The author wasn't arguing "Homer is a woman and this has been concealed by the patriarchy" or for that matter "Homer is a woman, it's obvious from these two lines of the Odyssey," but pointing out that we know absolutely nothing about Homer-the-person, including whether s/he existed. Existed in the sense of being a single person, that is. We know that the Iliad and Odyssey exist; we have some textual evidence of possible dating; and we know they were in their final form by around the time of Pisistratos, but that's partly because his project of collecting as many variants of the texts as possible more or less defined the final forms of those works. How many people's work went into those texts, we cannot know.

#477 ::: Stuart ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 10:51 PM:

Herschel Shanks, the publisher of Biblical Archaeology Review, uses controversy to sell magazines. The articles in the magazine are written by reputable, recognized scholars of the field. It happens there is enough built in controversy that he doesn't need to do much to keep the pot boiling.

If you read the magazine long enough you will develop a feel for whose work you trust and who you do not.

The range of opinion runs from the minimalists who believe that the Pentatuch was written during the Persian period to traditionalists who believe that it was written fairly early with information embedded from the time periods described in the text.

No reputable scholar believes the Pentatuch was written by Moses and this leads to frequent cancel my subscription letters from fundamentalists who think that only their point of view should be allowed in print.

My daughter attends the annual scholarly meetings of the SBL, ASOR, etc. and she assures me that the field is every bit as contentious as Shanks makes it appear in the pages of his magazine.

#478 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 11:09 PM:

About getting any truth out of fiction... There are movies that I enjoy greatly, for example Yankee Doodle Dandy, even though it apparently took so many liberties re the life of George Cohan that it should have had the disclaimer (uttered by Joe Friday) "This is a true story, only the events have been changed."

#479 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 11:48 PM:

Vicki 476: Let's put in a Wikipedia entry claiming that Sappho wrote the Iliad and the Hymn, but not the Odyssey, which was written by Simonides of Samos (Sim Sam to his friends).

#480 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2007, 11:55 PM:

Scholarly criticism of fiction by necessity cites fiction.

#481 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 01:15 AM:

Clifton Royston @ 467

If I can clear my head out a bit I'll try to continue the software development discussion on the open thread tomorrow.

You're right, though, Kent's not a scholar or a scientist, never claimed to be, and his books are not citeable works of scholarship. The whole area of software development is not really a scientific discipline (though some day maybe it will be). In the meantime, citing of any work in the field would best be done in anthropological studies, where you're interested in what is done, rather than why it's done or what would be better to do.

#482 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 01:49 AM:

JESR@430: Huh. I've heard some of Allen Sherman's songs, but didn't previously know of "Grow Mrs. Goldfarb". I like that one, for certain non-textual reasons.

#483 ::: Toru Ranryu ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 04:59 AM:

Jakob at #419:

What is the title of that book? I recently read parts of "A History of Aerodynamics and Its Impact on Flying Machines" by John D. Anderson, Jr., and I believe he advocated Newtons 3d Law. Web search found several other books seemingly by the same author but no other John Anderson in aerodynamics.

It seems to me that the explanation based on Bernoulli works for a streamlined wingshape but doesn't explain the lift force on a flat plate with a non-zero angle of attack, because it doesn't handle separation. Newton seems more intuitive in this case.

#484 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 11:13 AM:

A British cryptic crossword I was doing yesterday uses a clue something like "at lunchtime" for the answer "atone". For this American (and early riser), lunch comes at noon (if not sooner). Is it different in the UK?

#485 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 11:27 AM:

WRT the aerodynamics subthread, I recommend today's APoD.

#486 ::: Sian Hogan ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 11:38 AM:

Faren Miller @ 484 - In the UK I can't imagine any meal eaten earlier than 12 noon being called "lunch". Between 1pm and 2pm is the most usual time, I think, although anything between 12:30pm and 2:30pm doesn't seem unusual.

#487 ::: Sian Hogan ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 11:38 AM:

Faren Miller @ 484 - In the UK I can't imagine any meal eaten earlier than 12 noon being called "lunch". Between 1pm and 2pm is the most usual time, I think, although anything between 12:30pm and 2:30pm doesn't seem unusual.

#488 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 11:48 AM:

Faren 484: For me, any time from 11AM to 4PM (on a BAD day) is possible. But since 'ateleven', 'atnoon' (or 'attwelve'), 'attwo', 'atthree', and 'atfour' are all nonwords, 'atone' wins.

It's a clue, not a formula.

#489 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 12:06 PM:

David Goldfarb, be carefull: the break for that song goes

Have another dozen shrimp
My lovely little blimp,
Don't count a calorie!
I have just received a stub
I owe the Diner's Club
A whole year's salary."

(To the tune, obviously, of "Glow Little Glow Worm")

#490 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 12:16 PM:

Xopher #479: Or claim that Homer was indeed a woman, citing Graves's Homer's Daughter as proof.

#491 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 12:38 PM:

Faren@484, Sian@486: lunch break at my former UK place of employment was one hour taken between 12 noon and 2 pm, but the canteen had its main surge at 12 with another at 12:30. If you turned up at 1, you'd be getting the dregs of the food, although the canteen didn't actually close for meal service until 1:30. 12 noon was common in the area for day workers and most day shifts in the various industrial sites. But our sister lab elsewhere seemed to be typically 1 pm.

Earlier than noon would have been extremely unusual

#492 ::: Sylvia Drake ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 01:23 PM:

Mary Aileen @437:

The only logical explanation, then, is that the Canterbury Tales were actually written by Roger Bacon...

#493 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 02:13 PM:

There's something about husband & wife teams authoring health books that I think is a big warning sign for woo or a scam.

#494 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 03:09 PM:

Anything by Graham Hancock
Anything by Norma Lee Goodrich
Sociobiology believers
User interface books sponsored by Apple and/or written by Apple evangelists (I was at a tradeshow years ago, and someone there told me that while Xerox had intended to do some actual research on efficacy of WIMP-GUIs with icons versus command line and other user interfaces, the research never actually got done.. the -second- edition of a user interface book by Schneiderman, was it, with a title something like Designing the User Interface, actually had studies done on user interfaces, and icons are NOT an efficient user interface for people doing repetitive tasks on computers who need to keep donig the same sorts of things over and over and over again... there are later editions, which however I have not really looked at, because the later editions came out after my income crashed....)

[Different people use computers differently, I typically have at LEAST 30 windows open, which drives most folks stark raving bonkers, they can't deal with multiple windows, and the first thing they do is shut down the windows that I very DELIBERATELY have open, so I can keep track of what I was doing and why I was doing it... I want the COMPUTER to keep track of what I've been doing, as opposed to trying to -remember- it without clue... who, me, ADHD, how did you ever guess.... Macs for me have been machines from hell, especially back in the single tasking single teensy window and nothing other than name of the file on the file open/file save dialog box... I arrange things on virtual desktop in ways that the relative locations of windows, furnish reminders to me of connection between things, so that there both kinaesthetic reminders AND there are -words- involved, which are synergistic for me to then remember what I was doing and why and why I have that window open (sometimes it's because I just didn't bother to close it, but that, too, is data that the location and window content, give me information about.... icons rarely contain information that makes kineasthetic and/or relational sense to me, it's "what the fuck is that supposed to mean/do and what the fuck is whatever it's pointing at, when was the file created, how large is it, what's the content, what OTHER files are related to it?" etc.

[Oh, no, it's the Soviet May Day Parade Stand method--one could tell who was Most Important in the old USSR by where they were standing on the review stand and who was standing next to whom!]

#495 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 04:31 PM:

Toru Ranyu # 483:

The Anderson book you mentioned is by the reputable one; I seem to remember the other one was active in the gliding community. I had the privilege to be working at the same institution as Prof. Anderson for a while, and somewhere I've got some notes on lift generation he wrote. As I remember, he says that 3rd law is an effect of lift generation, rather than a cause, as the wing pressure distribution is upstream of the downwash.

For a flat plate (or indeed an upside-down aerofoil at large alpha), Bernoulli works if you look at the streamlines - there is a stagnation streamline somewhere on the lower surface downstream of the leading edge. All streamline forward of this will curve round onto the upper surface, giving an effective flow contraction and a suction peak. The flow may well separate after this point due to the adverse pressure gradient, but for a qualitative explanation Bernoulli still suffices.

#496 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 04:37 PM:

Paula@#494: I believe that the sociobiology people have rebranded their discipline as "evolutionary psychology" these days.

(Somebody will now undoubtedly check in to explain that no, they're actually two quite different things . . . but observed from the outside, they certainly quack like the same duck.)

#497 ::: wintersweet ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 04:56 PM:

@139/J Greely--Anything by Boyd de Mente on ANYTHING.

@75/Leah--Are you on AMRC-L? It's a good mailing list for people (mostly) serious about academic investigations into anime and manga.

The recent book by Roland Kelts, _Japanamerica_, that all but claims 9/11 is responsible for the popularity of Evangelion in the US, which is a very, very interesting timeline indeed. And that's when I put the book down.

#498 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 05:08 PM:

Paula @494: " Macs for me have been machines from hell, especially back in the single tasking single teensy window and nothing other than name of the file on the file open/file save dialog box"

Given that Apple's now selling 30" monitors, and computers that will run more than one of them I don't think this will be a problem anymore on the Mac.

#499 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 05:15 PM:

Dr. Edward Hallowell, who wrote Driven to Distraction (about ADHD) with Dr. John Ratey, recently put out a sequel called 'Answers to Distraction' with minimal participation by Ratey.

While the first book was pretty decent, the sequel went astray into the land of woo and promotion of questionable therapies by name (particular brand of fish oil capsules, frex). I returned it to Borders, and I never return books.

Looking at his website, it looks like Hallowell's getting into the business of Extruded Woo Product.

#500 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 05:32 PM:

Sian Hogan @ 474

As another Brit (middle class), I just thought I'd compliment you on your descriptions of/distinctions between meals - nicely described.

#501 ::: Fats Durston ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 06:27 PM:

#462

Fats, would you include Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel in that?

Though a lot of Diamond's arguments about Eurasia's historical dominance are convincing, his explanations as to why (Northwestern) Europe rose to recent prominence are often regurgitations (or reformulations) of really old dubious reasons, usually resting on some flawed claims about geography. For example, the assertion that Europe's mildly difficult geography naturally encouraged small--but not too small!--states ignores the huge plain that runs from the Pyrenees into Russia, and ignores the quite similar terrains that comprise "India" and China.

With regards to his linchpin argument about continental axes, Diamond glosses over all the Eurasian deserts, badlands, and mountains that would've limited agricultural diffusion, and ignores the fact that North America and Northern Africa are indeed quite wide. Other recent evidence from throughout the Americas--archaeological and agricultural ruins on gigantic scale--suggests that his claims to Amerindian "backwardness" [and he's not overly harsh here] are way overstated. This, too, would undermine his "continental axis matters" argument.

That said, Diamond's not the triumphalist that, say, David Landes is. (And I liked Guns well enough to read it twice.)

#502 ::: Toru Ranryu ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2007, 08:04 PM:

Jakob at #495: I think I'm starting to understand what you're saying. Thanks!

P J Evans at #485: Great recommendation!

#503 ::: FS ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2007, 02:46 AM:

Lee @ 391: The TNR article you're talking about looks to be The Newer Paradigm by Jim Holt, 7/12/93.

#504 ::: Porlock Junior ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2007, 02:52 AM:

Anything by Arthur Koestler having to do with history of science.

And, #78: obviously, any work that compares its author (or its author's hero) to Galileo. But maybe this is too obvious.

#505 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2007, 07:57 AM:

The Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California by Lansford Hastings.

#506 ::: oldsma ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2007, 08:59 AM:

Re: Many comments

I had thought it would be obvious that my plea was about citing fiction as a resource on Germanic religion (which I have actually seen, give me strength). Obviously, I was wrong. Please accept my earnest apology for the pain you suffered from this gaffe.

It occurs to me now that the Icelandic sagas are a special case of "fiction", since you can find some information in there. Very difficult to interpret and cite, however.

I am not an expert in literature, so I would not venture a statement on whether or not one should be comfortable citing fiction as a resource in that field.

MAO

#507 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2007, 09:38 AM:

Toru Ranyu #502: Thanks - I'm afraid a lot of this stuff isn't very clear without pictures. If you're interested, drop me an email, and I'll see if I can dig out the notes I mentioned earlier.

#508 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2007, 09:56 AM:

oldsma (#506): I don't know about the others, but my response was an attempt at a joke. No pain here!

#509 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2007, 11:30 AM:

oldsma, #506: No pain here, either--just, the whole conversation make me think of something that I've been having to cope with offline, lately . . .

#510 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2007, 12:43 PM:

B. Durbin@240: It is not always physically possible for people to learn to write legibly. They tried to make me write legibly for ten years, trying positive and negative reinforcements combined with lines like `if you can't learn to write you'll be unemployable'. They failed.

Writing requires fairly good coordination. Not all of us have it.

#511 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2007, 12:54 PM:

Nix, I would have come down on the comment at #240 if I had noticed it; handwriting is a complex dance of physical and psychological processes, and incurably illegible handwriting is (finally, and too late for my son to have received instruction in K-12) a recognized expressive language disorder. Some people who have a perfect Spencerian hand for transcribed work can't write a legible grocery list, because as soon as the part of the brain that creates new language kicks in the handwriting goes down the tube.

#512 ::: S. Lynn ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2007, 12:55 PM:

You'd think that by this point, it wouldn't ever happen, but I still see students cite Schindler in papers--at face value. Way to make the baby Beethoven cry.

#513 ::: Knecht Ruprecht ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2007, 02:21 PM:

Are there *any* books that are (say) over a century old and still useful as scholarly works?

Walter Bagehot's The English Constitution (1867).

#514 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2007, 07:41 PM:

Knecht Ruprecht #513: When I was in grad school, at the end of the 1980s, two of my professors included Woodrow Wilson's Congressional Government in recommended reading lists.

I have to add that in political theory, as opposed to the empirical study of politics, a vast array of texts, going back 2,500 or so years, is in use.*


* At the end of this week my political theory students will have read Book one of the Iliad, which is a little older than that.

#515 ::: Chesh ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2007, 09:42 PM:

Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin's

The Buccaneers of America

I still see authors citing his "history" even though it is the source of the first libel suit and contains accounts that have been contested by several other reputable sources

#516 ::: riskman ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 01:27 AM:

Strunk & White, The Elements of Style.

Anything by Charles G. Leland, whose work influenced Gardner, and has oozed into other places.

Most anything written by anybody from elsewhere about southeastern forests. Odd things happen when you try to apply attitudes about fire learned in don't-ever-let-them-burn Europe or if-they-start-they-go-up-like-torches U.S. north to southern fire forests that need to burn almost every year to stay healthy; most of a century of bad management and 90% of an ecosystem, for example.

@67: Try reading Misquoting Jesus, by Bart D. Ehrman. I'm not a specialist, but it seems like a good overview of the problems of Biblical translation. His direct answer to your question is that most of the modern translations that have footnotes are pretty good, and mostly record where there are problems. However, he also details four or so major items where he thinks they're all still wrong.

Anything by Richard Dawkins on religion; he's like a strip miner writing about ecology, or a blind man writing about sunsets, or an English major denying the existence of imaginary numbers. The problem is not that he denies deity; it's that he thinks that's all religion or theology can be about.

Regarding Internet history, anything by Ronda Hauben, and anything written or funded by any telephone company.

@306: "So if I am asking the question, "what is real and what is pre-existing legend and what is made up by the authors?" how will I sort out the parts?" I thought that was kind of the point of Illuminatus: shouldn't we be wondering that about almost everything we hear or read?

Wilber gets a bit of trashing, I see (@159, @160, @172, @220), and even he trashes his earliest work as romantic. However, @322 "The musicologists ignore cultural and social forces; the culture studies crowd knows nothing about performance praxes. Everyone ignores the day-to-day experience of working musicians." These are exactly Wilber's four quadrants of internal and external collective, and external and internal individual, which he first starts in on in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. He probably is wrong about a number of details (e.g., his infamous assertion somebody cited about evolution of eyeballs), but he keeps reading his critics and revising his opinions to incorporate them (later he says that people who want to claim evolution doesn't explain a lot as far as mechanism don't have much if any ground left to stand on, and these days he's big on pointing out that while there probably are gender tendencies, that as people develop they get to where such aren't very important). I'd be more impressed if his critics in these comments didn't say they know little about him. If evolutionary psychology is the main objection, I don't think it's really Wilber they're arguing with.

@415: It depends:
http://www.history-magazine.com/dinner2.html

#517 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 01:42 AM:

Anything in the free online resources of the LDS genealogy projects should be doubted and verified using other sources. I've seen several problems, mistakes, and outright contradictions in data involving various persons in my personal tree (some of whom I knew personally), enough to cast the rest in serious doubt.

On the other hand, sometimes they have the one fact that springboards you to a whole new line of research. Does that qualify them as a bad source, or merely a very irritating one?

#518 ::: Katherine ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 03:13 AM:

On Bjorn Lomborg, here's another red flag: books whose promotional materials repeatedly give the number of footnotes they contain as evidence of reliability.

#519 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 03:17 AM:

#496 Debra:

I think they sprang from the same root, but the evolutionary psychology people seem to have a pretty distinct set of assumptions and methods built up.

On the other hand, I don't really buy the idea that sociobiology or evo psych is something that ought never to be cited. This strikes me as "I don't like these ideas" rather than "these are obvious quackery." Evo psych seems to me to have a bad tendency toward just-so stories, at least in the popularized versions, but I don't think that disqualifies a whole area of research.

#520 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 03:26 AM:

#501 Fats: (Guns Germs and Steel comment)

It seemed to me that when he was discussing constrained environments (islands, say) with limited food supplies, his argument was at its strongest. As he got broader (Europe/Asia vs America, Europe vs Asia), his argument seemed to me to get successively weaker.

If you could rewind the tape and run the whole history of the Earth from 20,000 BC till today a few thousand times, it seems very unlikely that the natives of New Zealand would have taken over the globe, just because of constrained population and resources. On the other hand, it seems to me that NW Europe was not at all guaranteed a dominant position; if we could run the experiment thousands of times, perhaps China, India, the Arab/Muslim world, etc., would dominate as often as Europe or more so. Perhaps we'd even have American Indian empires expanding out to dominate the world in some experiments, though I'm not all that clear on how the chronology works out for that. It seemed to me that he tried to explain far beyond what his model could provide. But I'll acknowledge I don't have any background in archeology, ancient history, etc., so maybe I'm missing something.

#521 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 03:30 AM:

Knecht #513:

Math and philosophy, for opposite reasons. Math because people 200 years ago had methods that produce useful, correct results we can still use. Philosophy because we still don't have methods that produce useful, correct results we can count on.

#522 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 04:28 AM:

Oldsma @ 506: oh, okay! I would certainly approach skeptically any citation of fiction for research purposes stronger than "for an interesting treatment of this idea, see Book X" or an introductory note like "Book X made me curious to know more about the subject, and so I went to learn about the real thing."

#523 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 05:13 AM:

"I had a high school Literature teacher who had no idea Guy de Maupassant wrote horror stories."

how about high school literature teacher that said that B.C meant Before Christ and A.D meant After Noah?

There was also something about Beowulf being an Anti-hero, and that the part in Macbeth where somebody discovers that Duncan is murdered and comes out lamenting it and Macbeth acts surprised and asks if he means the King is dead was because Elizabethans really talked like that and as a consequence didn't understand what each other were saying (the speech being somewhat convoluted) and often had to ask several times for clarification.

#524 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 05:22 AM:

"Are there *any* books that are (say) over a century old and still useful as scholarly works?"

I suppose many books in philosophy, sociology, art or literary criticism.

#525 ::: Adam Stephanides ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 01:04 PM:

Herbert Mayes' "biography" of Horatio Alger, which was mostly Mayes' invention, and anything that relies on it.

Re the anime discussion upthread, the plot summaries in the first edition of The Anime Encyclopedia are riddled with errors. I don't know to what extent the second edition is an improvement.

349: Re "'studies' that someone once made up as a joke and everyone bought it.": can you go into this in more detail, or refer me to a source that does? It sounds very interesting.

478: Inside Warner Brothers, edited by Rudy Behlmer, contains a fascinating exchange of memos regarding the script to Yankee Doodle Dandy.

#526 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 01:25 PM:

bryan (523):
He thought that A.D. stood for ante diluvium, perhaps?
Or maybe he was just ante dilirium?

#527 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 01:37 PM:

I used to believe that B.C. stood for "Before Christ" and A.D. for "After Death", with the calendar stopping for the duration of the life of Jesus and picking up again after he was dead.

In my defense, I was in elementary school at the time.

riskman @ 516, what's wrong with Elements of Style? While I don't think it's the be-all and end-all to writing style advice, it's been recommended to me by so many people (including my employers, who do publish books) that I'm surprised to see it listed as a bad source.

#528 ::: y ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 01:54 PM:

At one point in a string theory class I ended up referring to original works of Jacobi on elliptic functions (early 1800s, in Latin). Typically in mathematics most of what one needs from before 1900 has made its way into textbooks and doesn't need to be cited directly, but there are exceptions.

#529 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 02:02 PM:

Renee @ 517

Possibly both. I'm tracking my nephew-in-law's family, and just found a piece there that may or may not be completely correct, but it's usefully pointing to other locations. The submitter's names may be the best part. (I put my public stuff up on Worldconnect, where it's also free, but not linked to everyone-else's-data.)

#530 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 02:51 PM:

"He thought that A.D. stood for ante diluvium, perhaps?"
She, and undoubtedly that was what she thought but it was still pretty irritating. Especially when she did it the first day of class, and began it by asking if anyone knew what the definitions of these terms were, a question which I answered, and was roundly corrected for.


grrrrrrrrrrr

still pisses me off.

#531 ::: riskman ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2007, 03:15 PM:

@527:"what's wrong with Elements of Style? While I don't think it's the be-all and end-all to writing style advice, it's been recommended to me by so many people (including my employers, who do publish books) that I'm surprised to see it listed as a bad source."

If you like being told exactly what to do, nor that it's the idiosyncratic opinions of a couple of pedants, feel free to use Strunk & White. If you actually want to learn to write English better, try Fowler's Modern English Usage, look things up in the OED, and read the types of writings you want to write like.

An old source but still good: William Bartram's Travels, from 1791. For many locations, it's just about the only source for what the flora and fauna of the SE U.S. was like before most of it was destroyed.

#532 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 02:07 AM:

B-b-but ante diluvium should have meant BEFORE flood, not AFTER, right? If she thought A.D. meant after Noah...

*shudder*

#533 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 02:29 AM:

Hey! I wouldn't have had my double degrees in History and in English if it wasn't for The Elements of Style! Every time an assigned paper came out too short I pulled my copy off the shelves and violated as many rules in it as needed until I'd achieved the proper length and amount of bloat...

#534 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 08:12 AM:

#518: If number of footnotes were evidence of veracity, then _Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell_ would be a fine history book.

:)

#535 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 10:19 AM:

#523 Bryan: maybe he was thinking "Apres [moi le] Deluge"?

#534 Nix: or better yet, Good Omens.

#536 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 03:47 PM:

240

re handwriting. Make sure your kids aren't dyspraxic.

I am, except in those days that diagnosis didn't exist (1970s). I only finally had that diagnosis in the mid 90s, and it explained an enormous array of things for which I had serious complexes, having been heavily criticised since childhood (various signs of visual disorganisation across the board). The prevalent view in the 1970s was that I was wilfully disobedient, and with a little more pressure, more threats, more punishments, I would, of course, cease to be so.

I went through years of trauma through grade school, what you would call middle school and high school over my handwriting, or inability to handwrite. Eventually a teacher taught me to go back to printing-- to this day, my printing is more legible than many a folk's handwriting.

But I shuddered when you wrote that- -it was seriously traumatic.

Fortunately my mother made sure I could touch type (on a manual machine), a skill which still amazes people (in a boy).

#537 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 03:57 PM:

292

Which Field Marshall was a complete idiot?

Alanbrooke? Alanbrooke's talent was in keeping Winston under control, and his loonier ideas from becoming strategy.

Montgomery was a solid commander. Maybe not a genius, but then other than Slim, there weren't any British geniuses in field command (Dowding?). He like spending the lives of colonial troops over British troops, but that's a virtue to some.

#538 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 03:59 PM:

sorry that's 292 (re Churchill) not 294. mea culpa

#539 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 04:14 PM:

Another really uselessly bad source; anything on bankruptcy with Elizabeth Warren's name on it.

#540 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 04:42 PM:

520

No natives in New Zealand. The Polynesians settled it about 1400, from memory. That's why it has no native mammals (only introduced).

One thing Diamond gets right, the invention of the outrigger canoe changed the world: the Polynesians then spread all the way from the Malay peninsula to Easter Island (and Madagascar, apparently) with huge impacts on the natural flora and fauna (extinction of the Dodo, etc.).

One serious factor which Diamond gets right about North America is no steel. Why is an interesting question. But iron ore isn't that common in North and South America (Michigan, Minnesota, Labrador and somewhere in Brazil). And no horses (probably the ancestral horse like creature extincted by early hunters). And most importantly, no resistance to smallpox. George Vancouver in his journey up the Pacific Coast in the 18th century, wrote of finding whole villages wiped out by smallpox.

A lot of good work has been done showing how advanced the New Worlders were in plant breeding. Most of the world's staple plants (potatoes, tomatoes) come from the New World (I forget the exact count, but something like 9/14 key plants) and most of those were actually toxic in their natural form: human intervention made them edible.

You might say the post 1491 clash was European material technology against New World biological technology.

I think a key factor in European development was probably the steady dissemination of knowledge along the Silk Route. The Chinese invented it, or the Indians did (printing, gunpowder, the number 0 etc.) and the Europeans eventually received it.

Adding to that, Europe got the diseases but not the invaders. Except the Mongols. So by the time we did contact these Eastern civilisations, we had the disease resistance.

The only disease Europe didn't develop a resistance to was the bubonic plague. And we're not really sure what happened to the bubonic plague: best guess is it evolved itself into something a little less hostile to its host.

If the Mongols hadn't turned round and gone home in the 13th century, due to domestic politics, I suspect they would have overrun at least to the Pyrenees and established another great Khanate. Certainly after Leipzig and the one in Hungary, there were no armies in Western Europe capable of defeating them, and no terrain north of the Alps capable of stopping them. Even the English Channel was well within their technological grasp. Europe would have looked like Russia did: a totalitarian state perpetually 200 years behind, and trying to catch up.

(Glen Cook more or less takes up this idea in the Dread Empire series, especially the early books where the moslem empire overruns what is 14th century Europe).

So I think it was down to chance. When Europe had its second dawn in the 14th-15th century, after the near collapse of medieval civilisation, the Roman and Greek learning was available via the Arabs in Cordoba (algorithm and azimuth are Arab words). China had pulled its explorers back from the coasts of Africa. There just wasn't a threat that could overrun Western Europe, but the new nautical technology enabled a different approach to the normal Malthusian crisis. Instead of tearing itself apart like it did in the 14th century, Europe exploded outward.

It was that moment in history when we had steel from the Arabs, gunpowder from the Chinese, mathematics from the Orient, navigation from half a dozen sources, and we carried in our bodies 1000 years of established resistance to disease. The world was our oyster.

And Spain was possessed by a maniacal and evangelical religion, that looked outwards to save (and conquer) the world.

In his masterful history of the American Civil War, James Macpherson reminds us of the power of chance in determining human outcomes.

Africa I am (somewhat) more persuaded of the geographical determinism. The key in Africa is that humans and diseases have coexisted for nearly a million years, giving parasitic diseases (and megafauna like elephants and rhinos) a long time to adapt to human beings. However if you look at the (non literate) sophistication of African civilisations (eg Benin in the 13th Century) that may just not be enough to explain it.

#541 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 04:47 PM:

There is a journal (peer reviewed) called Energy and Environment, which has played host to some key global warming denialist papers, thus allowing those papers to have the sanction of 'peer review'.

http://www.multi-science.co.uk/ee.htm

It's current editor is a noted global warming sceptic. Dr. Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen

The editor and the editorial board resigned over the publisher's acceptance of one of those papers. I think Tim Lambert at Deltoid had the whole gory story.

So anything re global warming in that journal has to be treated with extreme caution.

#542 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: August 22, 2007, 05:25 PM:

If you like being told exactly what to do, nor that it's the idiosyncratic opinions of a couple of pedants, feel free to use Strunk & White. If you actually want to learn to write English better, try Fowler's Modern English Usage, look things up in the OED, and read the types of writings you want to write like.

Sure, but that rather misses the point of a book called The Elements of Style. It's not a course of study intended to lead you into developing a distinctive literary style of your own, and it doesn't contain the magic recipe that will turn you into a good writer. It's a handbook intended to direct inexperienced writers towards useful tricks and away from bad habits - and it explains and illustrates its advice at every opportunity. Fowler's is wonderful if you are an interested browser in the language - I love it - but it isn't going to get you very far if you have an assignment to finish, or you don't know what a clause is, let alone a restrictive clause.

I know Strunk & White isn't a popular book on this site, but I like it - and I continue to recommend it to my students. If they ignore every one of its suggestions and still produce good prose, that's great (although I'm unlikely to have recommended it to those students in the first place). But if they follow the advice - and *treat* it as advice, and not as the last word on the English language - then they are likely at least to produce work that I can make sense of. And for some of them, that's a step up.

We're all very literary on this site; most of us will have internalised the basic rules in Strunk & White and will quibble with some of the others. But I don't want us to lose track of the value of a style handbook to people who didn't grow up with a love of reading and writing.

This stuff sometimes gets put in terms of descriptivist vs prescriptivist views of language, which I think is a mistake. But in any case, while a descriptivist approach to language seems clearly the right choice for a dictionary, a usage guide is surely prescriptivist by definition. If you don't like being told what to do, then you're not going to like *any* usage guide. Perhaps think of it instead as a recipe book, and adjust according to taste. Or as Xopher said in a different context upthread: it's a clue, not a formula.

(Reading through again: I suppose one still wouldn't want to *cite* Strunk & White for very much. You can't defend a piece of writing by an appeal to authority - the final test is whether it communicated what you were trying to communicate in the most effective (=efficient?) possible way. And that, I guess, is between you and your readers.)

#543 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 02:22 AM:

539

Sam Chevre. What's wrong with Elizabeth Warren? I'm not sure anyone else has done that work on consumer bankruptcy.

#544 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 07:47 AM:

520 albatross re 501

Another point about our putative New Zealanders conquering the world.

Well, maybe. The Huns, and the Mongols, probably numbered no more than 100,000 in their whole invasion force.

And the Vikings likely even fewer. And the Dutch never really settled anywhere in their seaborne empire, except marginally New York, Ceylon and a few settlements in Indonesia.

If you had the superior technology *and* you had the disease vector, you could do huge damage and wind up ruling big chunks of the world (in the Viking case, most of the British Isles, plus Iceland, Greenland).

Which opens up the question of what went wrong in the New World. Maybe the Vikings didn't bring all the biological nasties that Eurasia has, or maybe the climate was too harsh, or they just didn't have enough of a military edge over the local natives. They certainly made no effort to cooperate with the local natives, whereas the British and the French did.

The Maori are an apt comparison to the Vikings. Warriors with a high level of social organisation. Other than the Afghans, I can't think of anyone who actually beat the British Empire in battle (OK the Boers). Or think of the Kingdoms of Hawai-- very close in spirit to Homer's Odyssey or the Viking Sagas.

A lot depends on who opposes you. The maoris reached New Zealand in about 1400 I think (it could have been much earlier? but not before 1000). By which time there was no way they were going to pry the world away from the advanced civilisations that had already emerged.

If you ever read Poul Anderson's 'Maurai and Kith' it's about a polynesian civilization taking over the world (with competitors) after a nuclear war.

#545 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 09:29 AM:

@536, quite. Note that dyspraxia as a diagnosis strongly clusters with a lot of other stuff, and there is a complex web of kludges to ensure that people don't end up diagnosed with half of them at once. Autism and Asperger's often come with all the symptoms of ADHD and dyspraxia and sometimes dyslexia extra free, but even so you don't diagnosed with them if you have Asperger's instead.

(assuming they even knew Asperger's existed. I was diagnosed dyspraxic too, but these days I wouldn't be: it'd be subsumed by Asperger's.)

#546 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 10:21 AM:

Valuethinker #544: "And the Dutch never really settled anywhere in their seaborne empire, except marginally New York, Ceylon and a few settlements in Indonesia."

Surinam? Curaçao? Aruba?

#547 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 10:26 AM:

Eek, I completely forgot South Africa.

#548 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 10:55 AM:

Wikipedia suggests the Maoris arrived in New Zealand in several waves between 800 and 1300, which corresponds with my memories of what various museums etc. were saying when I was out there; some of them put the earliest date back to 700. I also note that as well as continuing migrations, it appears the Polynesians were still developing and improving their ocean-going technologies at the time that Europeans began to arrive in the Pacific.

#549 ::: Erin ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 11:08 AM:

@#358/patgreene -- many, many books on word and phrase origins are collections of funny stories that have little or no basis in fact ... a good debunking book is Dave Wilton's Word Myths (where he talks about my favorite insidious cabal, CANOE -- The Conspiracy to Attribute Nautical Origins to Everything). A good book on How Etymology Works is Anatoly Liberman's Word Origins (And How We Know Them) -- he shows how & when you can 'know' where a word came from, and gives examples of Bad Etymological Practices to Avoid.

Disclaimer: I nagged both these guys to write their books, so I am probably not the most unbiased recommender.

And on the "avoid citing" list: any dictionary of slang that primarily cites OTHER dictionaries of slang, or that gives no citations at all, merely a list of terms.

Any dictionary that capitalizes all of the headwords, regardless of whether they are capitalized in use, is a Not-As-Useful-As-It-Could-Be book.

Anyone who uses Strunk & White as an excuse to edit all the entertaining bits out of other peoples' writing should be taken out behind the library and beaten to death with a copy. Which would take a long time, as it's so small ...

#550 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 01:13 PM:

546

You are quite right. I tend to see the Cape Colony as a bit like Quebec (only 70,000 inhabitants after nearly 2 centuries of colonisation, when Wolfe died on the Heights of Abraham and ended French North America).

The other ones you mention I don't know a lot about. Did they have a lot of Dutch settlers, or just a few overlords and lots of slaves?

I think the basic point holds, that you don't need huge populations to run a big Empire, *if* you have superior technology and/ or organisation.

Disease is an enormous help in wiping out troublesome locals. Shades of David Gerrold and War against the Chtorr.

#551 ::: Melanie ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 02:11 PM:

Anything by Kevin Trudeau, i.e., "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About" and "More Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About"

Anything by Matthew Lesko, i.e., "Free Money to Change Your Life"

#552 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 04:43 PM:

551 Melanie

On money books, anything by Robert Kiyosaki. A very dangerous customer.

And extending that, the bestsellers 'The Millionaire Next Door' and 'The Millionaire Mind'
by Thomas J. Stanley.

The books make a valid point (if are consistently frugal, spend less than you earn, and invest the difference, then by the time you retire, you should have a decent wodge of money).

However they purport to be a scientific study of how to become a millionaire (I kid not: down to calculating that American millionaires pay less than average per pound of car they drive).

It is anything but. There is no control group of people who practiced what the millionaire group practiced, but did not become rich (or did).

So all the conclusions therein are entirely suspect (other than the trivial ones) because we don't know if there is not another group of people, who tried the same methodologies, but failed to become millionaires

#553 ::: Edvado ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 06:03 PM:

If referencing The Beatles, and specifically George Harrison, please avoid anything by Geoffrey Giuliano. The man mixes unrelated quotes, manufactures material to fill gaps he can't justify, and sells himself as an "expert." The late George Harrison once sarcastically said "The Guy knows more about me than I do" and Giuliano used it as a complimentary quote!

#554 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 08:54 PM:

In food history:

  • Fabulous Feasts, a most unreliable source, capable of "redacting" recipes four centuries apart into one dish while introducing radically out-of-period ingredients (chicken with rice, honey, and carob!)
  • The Vehling translation of Apicius De re coquinaria, and anyone who follows it, like John Edwards. liquamen is the test case; like nuoc mam, it's fermented fish sauce. Vehling translates it "broth".
Like costume history, food history contains more bad sources than good ones, and the bad are easier to get.

#555 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: August 23, 2007, 10:50 PM:

wrt 552, someone should really write a book about how the best way to become a millionaire is to write a book claiming to explain how to become a millionaire and then get everyone to buy it. Rather like the way that the surefire method to make millions from eBay is to get lots of people to pay entrance fees to your seminars that purport to tell them how to make millions from eBay.

#556 ::: Fats Durston ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2007, 02:54 AM:

If you had the superior technology *and* you had the disease vector, you could do huge damage and wind up ruling big chunks of the world (in the Viking case, most of the British Isles, plus Iceland, Greenland).

The Vikings were part of the same disease pool as British.

Which opens up the question of what went wrong in the New World. Maybe the Vikings didn't bring all the biological nasties that Eurasia has, or maybe the climate was too harsh, or they just didn't have enough of a military edge over the local natives.

There's not much in the way of sources for the period, but the Viking efforts in North America were limited and the American populations they encountered were probably pretty thin on the ground--thin enough that the diseases could've killed themselves off by eliminating their hosts too fast to spread. Hmmm. There's an alt-history: Vikings take Old World disease that cause massive destruction ~1000, but create an America immune to Spanish microbes in 1500...

Other than the Afghans, I can't think of anyone who actually beat the British Empire in battle (OK the Boers).

Hello. U.S.A. (And Zulus, Germans, Ottomans...) [insert winking face]

#557 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2007, 06:48 AM:

Fats Durston

Agreed re Vikings and disease and northern Europe (as far as we know!).

On British Empire:

- Americans were Brits. George Washington had a commission in the colonial Army.

Better example would have been the Mohawks and Montcalm. But I'm not sure the natives, on their own accord, ever beat the British Empire? The fact that Canada and the United States are, prima facie, pretty much all white suggests the British Empire won its war against the Amerindian.

But I was thinking of the 19th century British Empire ie the Second Empire, rather than the First (technically you could Ireland the First Empire-- certainly the anglicisation of the Scots, Cornish, Welsh and Irish was a great triumph of the Anglo-Saxons over their Celtic brethren).

But before WWI. I should have qualified that. (Actually in WWI, outside of Europe, the British won everything: although I think you would call Tanganyika a draw, and the Iraq campaign was a disaster, but offset by a subsequent victory and by the Palestine campaign).

Zulus are a pretty good example, except it was one battle, they lost the next one (at Rorke's Drift, eh Duchy?), and they lost the war.

Ottomans? Do you mean Kut? Obviously not Palestine.

Germans-- not before WWI? Again I was thinking of forces outside of Europe.

French at Fontenoy. But not, AFAIK, outside the Continent of Europe (except Ticonderoga the first time).

#558 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2007, 06:52 AM:

I should add Nial Ferguson is someone to be careful of, at least his later, more synthetic works, not founded on primary research. You want to go back and read what economic historians are specifically saying.

He's also become a neoconservative icon, which should make anyone instantly cautious. A big part of neoconservatism, intellectually, seems to be a 'pick and choose' approach to history and political theory, to make historical events fit the framework of how they see the US behaving and acting now. See Victor Davis Hanson for an extreme case (and don't ask how a conservative keeps a California farm with so much state-subsidised water).

Neocons remind me so much of the old university Marxists-- fact follows theory. Perhaps the left wing roots of many of the original neocons (Barbara Amiel, for example, a former English Communist) shouldn't surprise me.

#559 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2007, 07:24 AM:

Valuethinker #550: Not a lot of Dutch settlers, but enough. In the case of Surinam there was a small settlement of Dutch farmers (boere) in the early 20th century.

#560 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2007, 08:10 AM:

Anyone who uses Strunk & White as an excuse to edit all the entertaining bits out of other peoples' writing should be taken out behind the library and beaten to death with a copy.

Well, yes, but anyone who edits the entertaining bits out of other people's writing (at least when entertaining is part of the purpose) shouldn't be in a position to edit writing in any case. It's hardly the fault of Strunk & White if they are: they could just as easily be using Fowler, or Eric Partridge, or the OED. And it would be easier to beat them to death with the OED.

More specifically, anyone who uses Strunk & White to edit the entertaining bits out of other people's prose hasn't been reading Strunk & White. E.B. White specifically says so in the introduction:

Style rules of this sort are, of course, somewhat a matter of individual preference, and even the established rules of grammar are open to challenge. Professor Strunk, although one of the most inflexible and choosy of men, was quick to acknowledge the fallacy of inflexibility and the danger of doctrine. "It is an old observation," he wrote, "that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric [etc]"

White also talks about the book as a "dusty rule-book" and about Strunk's "peculiar stance" on some issues, and justifies it explicitly as a guide and not a diktat. And he reduces it to the crucial point that every word and rhetorical trick should have a function in the writing: that is, if it helps the prose be entertaining then it ought to be left in.

I don't think we can entirely blame books for people misreading them; and this book seems to me to be far too much misread.

#561 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2007, 10:18 AM:

559 Frangano

I still think my point holds. You don't need a huge population base to run a world empire if you have superior technology and organisation. The Dutch Empire was big, and it settled nowhere with huge numbers.

In the case of the Vikings, of course, they managed to create a genetic empire: apparently one man (Viking chief) is the x to the nth grandfather of most of Ireland?

#562 ::: Fats Durston ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2007, 10:28 AM:

Yes, Kut, but also Gallipoli.

Japan count for you (Burma, Malaya, Singapore)?

The Black Hole of Calcutta?

Opening stages of Pontiac's War count?

Zulus...lost the war.

Better example would have been the Mohawks and Montcalm. But I'm not sure the natives, on their own accord, ever beat the British Empire?

Oh. You didn't write that the Second Empire British never were beaten in a full war by darkies between 1783 and 1914. You can see why I'd make a mistake.

The fact that Canada and the United States are, prima facie, pretty much all white suggests the British Empire won its war against the Amerindian.

And--what the hell?--we were just talking about the role of disease in the depopulation of the Americas. That's how North America is "pretty much all white"... (why not phrase it, "a lot bigger population of Euroamericans than Amerindians"?)

As an Africanist historian and the husband of someone whose skin would get her lumped in that "native" catch-all, I'm a bit sensitive to certain bullshit classifications, the sort of language that's supposedly neutral (and often invisible to whites), the sort of language that your Niall Fergusons might use.

And yes, Niall Ferguson deserves a good slagging for some of his interpretations.

#563 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2007, 11:52 AM:

Valuethinker #561: A lot of empire-building depends on building alliances with some of the 'natives'. Organisation is important, technology is important, but so is diplomacy.

#564 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2007, 12:01 PM:

Valuethinker #561: A lot of empire-building depends on building alliances with some of the 'natives'. Organisation is important, technology is important, but so is diplomacy.

#565 ::: Fats Durston ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2007, 03:37 PM:

#557

!

The Fuzzy-Wuzzies! Khartoum! General "Chinese" Gordon!

Stupid Brain.

#566 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2007, 05:31 PM:

557, 565

Khartoum. good example (and I'd forgotten completely about Gallipoli: now there's an anglo-centric memory loss ;-).

Other than Khartoum and Islandhawa I can't think of any other examples in Africa? And the British did win the Zulu Wars (in the end).

Asia I can think of the 2 Aghan Wars, and not any others (although the Ghurkas told it that the British allied with them, because they realised they couldn't beat them).

(the Brits were defeated in Buenos Aires, but by Europeans -- 1807?). Ditto of course the Boers nearly defeated the British.

Pontiac's war is beyond me, it's a black hole in my knowledge of history.

I think the British 'won' the wars in India, and the Mutiny. Maybe not all the battles but the wars.

New Zealand I think the British 'won' but again, they signed peace treaties, so it wasn't a total victory.

Yes they won the war against the Amerindian (to be precise, I think it is the case that the only Indians who never surrendered to the US Army were the Seminole?). As you say (and I started with) the role of disease is likely critical in the conquest of North and South America.

WWI and post it all goes to hell in handbasket. Different kind of warfare.

I think the basic point is about the supremacy of military organisation and technological lead, which was only overcome relatively late in the period by people like the Boers, (and the Turks-- was this still Ottoman rule, I think the colonels had taken over?), who had access to modern European weapons and tactics.

#567 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2007, 10:18 PM:

Naturally I'd thought of Gallipolli when the Ottoman Turks were mentioned. Kut doesn't figure much in Australian school history. Although the sultan had been deposed before the Great War by the Young Turks, it's still called the Ottoman Empire until the break up of imperial territories after the end of that war.

We are also told that Mustapha/Mustafa Kemal (aka Kemal Pasha) was the successful commander of the Turks against the Allied/Imperial forces in that battle, and that this was a part of how he eventually became the great reforming leader called Kemal Ataturk.

#568 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2007, 10:12 AM:

This thread was just cited in Neat New Stuff by Marylaine Block. Whoo-hoo!

#569 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2007, 10:46 AM:

(568): And the link for Neat New Stuff:
http://marylaine.com/neatnew.html

It looks like a site that a number of people here would be interested in.

#570 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 03:08 AM:

Don't trust any book that claims to be a guide to "the occult" if Dungeons & Dragons is listed in the index.

#571 ::: John Desmond ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 11:38 AM:

Salutations, gentlefolk,


In #130 ::: jmnlman ::: on August 16, 2007, 03:59 PM, said:

"_Men against fire: the problem of battle command_ by S. L. A.
Marshall contains the famous statistics about soldiers returning
fire in combat. Too bad when interviewing soldiers he never
actually asked them how often they returned fire. This one's been
debunked since the 1980s but is still being referenced by people
who should know better."

And in #334 ::: Debra Doyle, on August 17, 2007, 03:31 PM, said:

"The thing about the progress of scholarship in the humanities is
that it's less a "stand on the shoulders of giants" sort of thing
and more like "the Fastdraw Kid meets the Old Gunslinger at high
noon on the main street of Academia City." "


In the case of S.L.A. Marshall, it's more like "The Slowdraw Kid
meets the Safely Dead Gunslinger".

_Men Against Fire_ was serialized in the _Infantry Journal_ in the
spring of 1947, and published as a book later that year - within
four years of the battles he discussed. The book was republished
in several editions, including mass-market paperback, in the 50's
and 60's, discussed at high levels of the Army and Marine Corps,
inspired major changes in the Basic and Advanced Infantry Training
programs, and was cited frequently, formally and informally, in
the late 60's-early 70's arguments about the Vietnam War and the
'natural aggressiveness of human nature'

Marshall went to Korea in 1950 as an 'operations analysis', to
Israel in 1956 and to Vietnam in the '60's as a journalist. He
wrote over 15 books on military history, theory, and practice, and
died in 1977. During these years, while many eyewitnesses to the
events he described were around, his reputation among 'people who
knew the subject' was very high.

The works 'debunking' him were published in 1988-89, fourty-five
years after the events he wrote about, based on studies of
surviving notebooks and papers. It is difficult to accept their
conclusions as authoritative.

One might want to seek out _SLAM - The Influence of S.L.A.
Marshall on the United States Army_, written by Maj. F.D.G.
Williams and published by the Office of the Command Historian, US
Army Training and Doctrine Command, for an overview of the
controversy.

Yours, John Desmond

#572 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 12:12 PM:

571

David Hackworth, the most decorated American soldier, certainly had some very negative words about SLAM after accompanying him on a tour of Vietnam in the 1960s. SLAM openly boasted to him about rewriting history, about being more powerful than his witnesses. However that was at the end of a very distinguished career.

The weapon discharge issue is hotly debated. You probably remember those guns found on Civil War battlefields which were loaded by nervous soldiers without ever having been discharged? ie it's not a new problem. David Grossman, the psychiatrist who invented the US Army's training programme to get their soldiers to use their weapons, had a piece in the UC Berkeley alumni magazine, recently about it.

His view is that there was a real problem with soldiers not firing their weapons, and he and the US Army fixed it, with techniques used almost universally around the world, now. Which centre on depersonalisation.

One British para after the Falklands memorably described the Battle for Mount Tumbledown as 'Firing at a succession of Number 2 paper targets, on a windswept rainy hillside'.

The fact that the Army spent so much time during the Vietnam era trying to fix the problem, leads me to think there was a real problem.

The behaviour of street gangs in Brazil and the US with automatic weapons and 'drive bys' might argue the other way... ie young men don't find killing that difficult.

#573 ::: John Desmond ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2007, 05:19 PM:

Salutations, gentlefolk,

Might I recommend a couple of books, somewhat relevant to the
topic of this thread ?

The first is _Historians in Trouble_, by Jon Wiener, a somewhat idiosyncratic look at some recent academic controversies.

The second, _Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial_ by Richard J. Evans, is the story of what it takes to turn 'reputable historian' into 'BAD SOURCE'. It's also a great view of the work of the historian and the nature of historical evidence.

Yours, John Desmond

#574 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2007, 04:06 AM:

Re: knitting (a slightly odd thing to get into on this blog!)

My #1 nomination for Something Not To Cite: anything by Irena Turnau, especially not her full-length book _History of Knitting Before Mass Production_.

Evaluating Irena Turnau's work is complicated by several factors, the most obvious being that she wrote in Polish, and depended for the English versions of her articles on translators -- who also apparently were not well versed in needlework. For instance, apparently there are two completely different Polish words that are both translated "crochet" -- and no one seems to know whether either of them actually means that. (Any manuscript whose introduction says, as her book does, "I would like to thank to my translater [sic] Agnieszka Szonert and Chris Broomfield to his help in correcting the English translation of this book" definitely has problems!)

The copyediting of the English versions is also ghastly and full of typos. There are several glaring typos in nearly every paragraph. At one point she refers to a knitted "cape", which, if that's what it is, would be a highly unusual and very interesting piece. Or it could be a "cap" -- the copyediting is that bad, and nowhere else in the book is a "cape" mentioned.

She is also not addressing the same questions that most knitting historians are interested in. She is writing primarily about the _economics_ of producing textiles at home, rather than about thread structure and techniques, and she is not very precise in her terminology. There are, for instance, several places where she does not clearly distinguish knitting, crochet, nalbinding (aka "knotless netting") and sprang from one another.

Unlike Rutt, she generally does not give the location and details of the actual textiles she mentions, nor the names of other authors who have published them. This is partly because (due I think to language and political barriers) she was more or less working in isolation from any other scholars of the history of knitting. Her book came out not very long after Rutt's (IIRC) and she's clearly never heard of him.

Unlike Rutt, she also does not explain what she sees when she looks at a piece and why she came to her conclusions about how it is made. She merely mentions the piece, where she saw it, and says it is definitely knitting (or not) without further explanation. She also contradicts herself in places and is not always clear abut exactly what piece she is talking about or where it is. This makes it next to impossible for anyone else to track down her sources and check her conclusions.

And among other things, she has come up with her own hypothesis about the origins of knitting and how it developed, which as far as I know, no other scholars agree with. Unlike everyone else who's studied the subject, she seems to think flat knitting back and forth on two needles came before knitting in the round on four needles.

As for Rutt, he gives evidence of being a good and careful scholar and weigher of evidence, even though his book is sometimes rather disorganized. The only thing I can fault him on is that in a couple of places he's clearly relied on someone else's published description and hasn't examined for himself every piece he discusses.

I don't think that he does deny credit for the invention of knitting to Islamic cultures; he merely says (with some justice I think) that we don't have enough evidence to be certain, since even our earliest evidence of true knitting is clearly not the beginnings of the craft. The earliest pieces that survive contain some very complex color patterns. (I don't think it's due to prejudice -- and BTW, what I heard from people who have known him is that he had left the Anglican church to become a Buddhist).

It _is_ possible in most cases to tell whether a given fragment is nalbinding (the earlier craft) or true knitting, but it takes careful analysis of the thread path. Based on that, and on the literature I've seen, it appears that while Dorothy Burnham was correct to point out that a good deal of what looks superficially like knitting is really nalbinding (including all the really old Roman and Egyptian stuff), we do see true knitting appearing in Islamic culture regions somewhere between the 8th and 11th centuries, and it spread to Europe around the 13th century, perhaps through the Islamic culture in Spain.

BTW, Sisuile and Cassie, I'm reasonably sure I know both of you under other names, but I can't quite figure out who :)

#575 ::: Hank Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 05, 2008, 01:40 AM:

Jaynes, _Bicameral_Mind_

Google Scholar finds much still being written, including
http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=18851007

And I really liked _Blindsight_.

For bad sources, there's
www.oism.org/pproject/

#576 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 12:56 PM:

fidelio @118 said: The history of clothing, like all other fields, is one where good scholars build on the work of other good scholars. And, like other fields, people who lack expertise in it are often at a complete loss to understand why one book is good and seven others aren't. When I said, earlier, that good work does not repeat the work of others without some serious examination, I was trying to say that good scholars don't just take the ball and run with it--they think about what they're reading, and how that work has interpreted the material they're using. For a serious scholar, this is so ingrained that it's automatic--which is why you know you can trust Netherton and Schuessler.

This is perhaps expandable into a general-case 'how to critically read your sources and try to figure out if the writer is serious about accuracy' test.

It certainly describes my uneasiness with a set of documentaries put out under the rubric "Mysteries of the Bible" (by the Discovery Channel, I think?) [Yes, I know, why was I watching patent dreck? Because I was chairbound and Netflix had it on streaming, that's why]. They had pretty good info in them along the lines of 'the Bible says that events A, B, and C happened, and this makes a cracking story.' Unfortunately, they were PORTRAYING it as, 'Events A, B, and C happened, and isn't that a neat piece of history?'

I was so exasperated with them I couldn't even speak. I posted a capsule review including the phrase, "More worship than history," and had a very-'christian' relative jump on me for being anti-religious. I'm not! I just want them to demarcate things that they're reporting that are DOCTRINE from things they're reporting that are FACT.

It was actually pretty watchable, as documentaries go -- not full of the overemotional DUH-DUH-daaaaaaanh music and hype that seems to be common in 'popularizations' nowadays. If they'd just put one or two sentences in the beginning stating that they're reporting the stories told in the bible without reference to any other sources, I'd recommend it wholeheartedly.

#577 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2011, 03:50 PM:

Xopher @ 433

Shakespeare's plays were not written by Shakespeare but by someone else of the same name.

The truth is more complex. In fact, it was not Shakespeare's plays, but Bacon's Essays
that were written not by Shakespeare, but by someone of the same name.

#578 ::: David Goldfarb sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2014, 04:14 AM:

Inane comment, obvious commercial name (although no obvious payload)...with a "view all by" of 173 comments, all unpublished!

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