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January 3, 2010

Scholarly works to avoid citing at all costs
Posted by Teresa at 05:03 PM *

We missed an opportunity back in August 2007, during a discussion of Wikipedia’s structural defects, when a series of comments by Emma, Sisuile, Oldsma, and Sisuile again gave rise to a great idea:

Sisuile @163: I gave up on Wikipedia when someone kept changing the articles on fertility/sex gods and goddesses to reflect Victorian social mores. The best bit was from the talk:freyja page: “Uhm, you’re talking to someone who reads mythology books intended for high-schoolers and over…” After that? Even though response was required and given, I lost hope in the editing process. God forbid someone come along and cite the Eddas.

Oldsma @216: Oy, I can imagine if some Wikiwanker got hold of the Holldander Poetic Edda, which changes the sex of Sun and Moon. Or Guerber’s Myths of the Norsemen, which uses (e.g.) Tennyson as a source and has bits that no one has ever found any source for. But it’s in print! It is citeable! It must be true!


Sisuile @273: There is a reason the Holldander in the university library gets “vandalized” every so often with a tag on the front cover—“Do not use for scholarly research. Do not cite. You will be laughed at.” We aren’t particularly certain who does it, but the librarians seem to object.

The prof who does the Norse Myth class has a list of “Books to Avoid” for each of his classes and commentary about why one should avoid them. Since he’s generally quite witty, this list has been the source for much amusement.

Now that is a Making Light thread I’d love to see: Scholarly works to avoid citing at all costs.

Who’s game? I’ll volunteer to start it with the Gale Group’s “Contemporary Authors” biography series, an unending font of misquoted excerpts and erroneous citations. My favorite example: I once saw a chapter in one of their volumes that combined excerpts from criticism and reviews of librettist Robert Wilson, author of Einstein on the Beach, with criticism and reviews of novelist Robert [Anton] Wilson, co-author with Robert Shea of the Illuminatus! series. When the person editing the chapter can’t tell that those are two different authors, you have to figure you’re not getting the benefit of careful scholarship.
Comments on Scholarly works to avoid citing at all costs:
#1 ::: Steve Burnett ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 05:32 PM:

I personally cringe whenever I notice someone reading or citing Margaret Cheney's biography of Nikola Tesla.

#2 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 05:36 PM:

Anything published in Energy and Environment or Rivista de Biologica

#3 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 05:36 PM:

Please do not cite Gifts of Unknown Things by Lyall Watson as a source on the workings or implications of quantum mechanics. Please.

#4 ::: Sentient Librarian ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 05:39 PM:

The librarians object not because they're stupid or anti-intellectual, but because vandalizing a library book is a crime. As for why such a book might be in an academic collection, libraries are responsible for keeping books on multiple points of view, even if some of those points of view have since been debunked or proven fraudulent--not to mention that there are other reasons to cite this source than one's thinking it is accurate. Such a text might well be useful to students doing research on, for instance, literary forgeries or faulty manuscripts.

#5 ::: Wesley Osam ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 05:41 PM:

Not quite a scholarly work, but I recently read Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges--one of those "western civilization is doomed" books--and, while bloviating about how literature isn't as good as it used to be, he says “It was Sinclair Lewis who took us into the stockyards and shantytowns of Chicago in The Jungle.”

#6 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 05:45 PM:

Wesley Osam: Ouch! I just read that aloud to Patrick, who said "The true author is of course the Sinclair Dinosaur."

#7 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 05:47 PM:

Steve, Guthrie, Caroline, what's bad about them?

#8 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 05:47 PM:

Babbitt was a meatpacker?

#9 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 05:49 PM:

It's not a specific work to avoid citing, as much as a specific behaviour to avoid when citing, but...

Please, please, please... if you're writing in a computer science related field, cite works more recent than 10 years past[0], and do NOT cite user manuals (never mind user manuals that are 10 years out of date, or more), unless your paper happens to be about HCI (and tbh, probably not then, either).

[0] As in "if the most recent publication that you're citing is more than 10 years old, there will be some skepticism about your currency in the field..."

#10 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 05:49 PM:

In a hole in the ground there lived a Babbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat...

#11 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 05:50 PM:

Sentient@4: So librarians also universally object to jay-walking, and driving in excess of speed limits? All of them? Really?

I think maybe some of your personal attitude is hanging out into the discussion.

And, in any case, a label applied to the book, probably to the plastic protector over the dust jacket, which appears to be easily removed, is not something I would consider to be "vandalism".

I can see a pretty good argument for the librarians not wanting that sort of commentary to become a common habit, and feeling that removing it even in a case where it's clearly correct is a necessary part of that. Which is probably what you really mean anyway. I hope.

#12 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 05:54 PM:

I'm not sure this was ever a scholarly work, as such, but I've seen it cited in otherwise respectable journals: Meg Bogin's The Women Troubadours. The mistranslations are horrendous, and she rearranges the strophes to suit her wildly improbable ideas, rather than getting her ideas from the manuscripts.

#13 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 06:06 PM:

Steve Burnett @ 1... Why is that?

#14 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 06:13 PM:

David, Sentient Librarian was making a statement about books.

Have you ever had to do research in a library that sees heavy use by students? Horrible things happen to the collection. I'll never forget trying to research Dylan Thomas in the wake of some vandal who'd done his or her own Dylan Thomas research in the bound periodicals with the help of a razor blade.

#15 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 06:13 PM:

Teresa, I am desolated to have to contradict you, but the opportunity was not missed. On the contrary, your August 16, 2007, Bad Sources thread has 575 comments as of this writing.

#16 ::: Liz Ditz ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 06:14 PM:

Anything by Ken Goodman or Yetta Goodman on the neuroscience of reading, but particularly K. Goodman's "Reading: A psycholinguistic guessing game".

The Gift of Dyslexia by Ron Davis (unless you are attacking his pseudoscientific claptrap).

Evidence of Harm by David Kirby on anything having to do with autism causation, but particularly on autism & the Amish. (Again, unless you are attacking his pseudoscientific claptrap).

Almost anything published in Medical Hypothoses

#17 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 06:16 PM:

Wesley Osam (5): I once made that error on a history (or was it government?) exam in high school. Fortunately, I was sitting right there when the teacher was grading it, and not only was I able to tell him who wrote The Jungle, but I knew immediately what mistake I had made. He gave me full credit for the answer.

#18 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 06:16 PM:

Well, Revista de Biologica has been guilty of publishing papers by intelligent design proponents. I'm a bit hazy on the details, I've not been involved in the evolution wars for nearly 3 years, and a search is not throwing up as many leads as I would hope.
Ah, found something:

I think that constitutes a suitable charge sheet.

As for Energy and Environment, it is a crank venue for global warming deniers. WEll, ok, maybe it does publish some good stuff, but what else am I to make of something which publishes work by Beck:
which is so wrong its not even wrong. (He takes at face value the old air fraction of CO2 measurements and claims they show various things, which of course they don't given that the old measurement methods are good for the time but rather vulnerable to experimental error)

Or botched attacks on Mann et al (funny how they usually ignore the other authors) and their hockey stick graph:

Or indeed the views of well known climatologists Nigel Lawson and Valerie Giscard De-Estang.

#19 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 06:16 PM:

Watson fundamentally misunderstands the concept of a system collapsing into a single state only when it is observed. He assumes that the observer chooses which state this will be. What the observer wants to observe is what will be observed.

I quote:

…the observer, concerned with the choice of which among many possible states of a system will be the one to become physically manifest. It involves free will. (p. 191 of 1991 edition)

Argh. I can sit here all day wishing for the electron to tunnel through the potential well, but that's not going to change how often I observe it doing so.

Scientists would be unlikely to cite this book as a source, but non-scientists writing about the philosophical implications of quantum mechanics might consider it a reasonable popularization and cite it.

#20 ::: Chris Lawson ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 06:28 PM:

DARKNESS IN EL DORADO, a book that has been praised for being well-referenced despite the fact that almost all of the referenced works are misrepresented, often to point of exact opposition to the original text.

#21 ::: Chris Lawson ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 06:31 PM:

Ian Plimer's HEAVEN AND EARTH, a book so full of factual errors that it just can't stop being quoted by right-wing pundits.

#22 ::: Chris Lawson ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 06:34 PM:

As already noted, anything in the journal ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT, a rag that is not peer-reviewed, is carried by about 15 libraries worldwide, is edited by someone with no scientific qualifications at all, and is never cited as primary research except by Republican politicians.

#23 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 06:37 PM:

Scholarly works that ought not to be cited? Anything by Margaret Murray that doesn't deal with Egypt, and anything at all (including translations) by Montague Summers.

#24 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 06:40 PM:

How close to the edge of scholarly are you wanting? For example, many works of amateur historians are good quality work, others, such as those dealing with the Templars, the origins of Jesus etc etc, are more cod-scholarly, and it takes being knowledgeable about the field to be able to glance at the given references and say "This is rubbish".

And certainly within the field of alchemical studies it is advisable to steer clear of the popular treatments, the latest being by P G Maxwell-Stuart, which merely summarises others research, not necessarily getting it quite right in the process. (In his case swallowing the myths about the Frenchman Nicolas Flamel, and possibly also getting stuff about Ripley wrong)

#25 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 06:40 PM:

Peter Ellis The Druids
Peter Ellis Celtic Myths and Legends
Anythings at all by Caitlin or John Matthews on anything Celtic or Arthurian or medieval
Douglas Monroe 21 Lessons of Merlyn
Douglas Monroe The Book of Pheryllt

These are books by authors who can't read the primary sources they are writing about, who cited known forgeries, and, just plain make stuff up.

There's the problem too, especially now, of works from two hundred years ago that, at the time, weren't all that wretched, but that are now being reprinted as scholarly works.

We're going to see a lot more of this.

#26 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 06:42 PM:

Teresa at #10:
was the lining of the hole plated with babbiting?

#27 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 06:45 PM:

Too late now, Mary Aileen. At least I'm consistent in my tastes.

#28 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 06:53 PM:

An important category: books you haven't read.

#29 ::: Wesley Osam ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 06:55 PM:

Teresa, #14: One of the few really expensive books I bought back in college (other than textbooks) was Bill Warren's Keep Watching the Skies. I'd been reading it in the university library and discovered that someone had razored out all the photographs.

This weekend I was browsing in the public library, opened a book, and found something along the lines of "Don't bother, egotistical rubbish" scrawled on the title page in ballpoint pen. I wondered what sort of ego the writer had to think that his or her random, anonymous evaluation of a book needed to be permanently registered within.

#30 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 06:55 PM:

Caroline @ 19... the observer chooses which state this will be

"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more."

#31 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 06:57 PM:

Caroline @19, is this a new iteration of "...and therefore magic works"?

#32 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 07:02 PM:

Wesley, I've found witless ballpoint annotations scrawled in 200-year-old books.

I'll cop to having physically modified copies of books, but only ones I owned.

#33 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 07:05 PM:

In my own, very specialized field: Eithne Wilkins' 1969 _The Rose-Garden Game_ on the history of rosary beads. A perfect example of a thoroughly mixed stew of bits from good sources heavily interspersed with unsubstantiated mystical hand-waving, within the same paragraph and sometimes the same sentence. It was the only substantial source in English on the history of rosary beads for nearly thirty years, so even reference books quote it. (There are lots of works on the rosary *prayers* and a lot of them aren't so hot either.)

Tooting my own horn here, but there's a better bibliography at my website (

#34 ::: Chris Lawson ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 07:14 PM:

Slightly off-topic, but *any* work can be bad for scholarly quoting due to a brand new fallacy of the internet era: The Fallacy of Representation by Search String in which an author is represented as believing something because a search string brings it up in the author's text. (This is, of course, a subset of the more traditional Quoting Out of Context.)

The most recent example I can think of was Charles Darwin being quoted as an anti-Irish racist when in fact Darwin was quoting an anti-Irish racist before going on to argue against him. That is, Darwin was quoting someone to disagree with them, and this quote was then attributed to Darwin's own beliefs. The author of the article had checked the search string but did not read the entire letter.

#35 ::: Steve Burnett ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 07:19 PM:

Teresa @7, Serge @ 13 : Good question, and I should have included at least a little of my "why' with the statement. Thanks. I thought the book was badly organized (jumping around between events in Tesla's early and later life with almost no dates specified, often just vague referents to "earlier" or "later") and the explanations of Tesla's work seemed to suffer from a lack of understanding of the science.

#36 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 07:26 PM:

Anything written or lectured about Vodún by anyone who doesn't know kreyole, hasn't been to Haiti, and thinks it's the same thing as Santería or what happens in New Orleans. And vice versa. Particularly if they haven't had any work done themselves by those who are from particular places in Africa or have been taught by particular groups of Africans or Cubans or Haitians. Particularly if they don't anything about the drums, the songs and the dancing.

Love, C.

#37 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 07:27 PM:

@#28 Thomas

Yes. I hate it when people review or evaluate a book they haven't read, as if they HAD read it. Particularly when it's very clear that they didn't read the book.

You see a lot of this when you teach, of course, but I'm astonished at how very very common this is online. I invented a fake rhetorical name for the trope; scatosyntheton.

#38 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 07:28 PM:

Steve Burnett @ 35... Thanks for the explanation. Overall though, were there gross inaccuracies?

#39 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 07:31 PM:

Colin Wheildon, Type And Layout. "Proves" that sans-serif type is less readable than serif type by comparing 6pt Garamond to 6pt Helvetica on a 300 dpi laser printer. (i know that some of y'all don't like sans-serif type, but I hope you'll agree that a better standard of evidence is necessary if you want to ascribe that to something other than taste.)

#40 ::: Steve Burnett ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 07:46 PM:

Serge @ 38: I recall that there were, but it has been a long time since I looked at that book and I am afraid I cannot recall any specific details.

#41 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 08:08 PM:

I think I've mentioned this before. When I first started menopause, I went to the library and got four books on it. Three were okay, but one (I don't remember the name, it's been a long time), besides being mystically feminist, was old enough that HIV/AIDS wasn't known yet. So all through the book, the author talked about how wonderful it was that you could have sex anytime you wanted because all sexual diseases could be fixed.

I filled out a form at the library asking them to remove the book and I got a letter back saying they weren't going to, but no reason. So I took a pad of little yellow Post-its and sat down with the book and marked all those places mentioning HIV/AIDS and that they should always use condoms. I don't know what happened after that, but I did my best to alter the information without changing the book.

#42 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 08:32 PM:

WRT the originally-quoted posts, would someone please add corrective reviews for those books to Amazon so unwary readers will know better? (Though I'm weirdly disturbed by the existing Guerber reviewer who describes herself as doing "outreach to odinist[s] in prison"... and is "Holldander" just a persistent typo for "Hollander", or is that book different from this one>)

#43 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 08:35 PM:

A couple of months back, in a private online discussion on the "Willie Lynch speech/letter" someone cited a book I had hitherto never come across Willie Lynch: Real or Imaginary? by one Rahim Muhammad. To call this bad scholarship would, I fear, really insult some of the stuff I've seen on the obscurer pages of Wikipedia (I think the Paul Bogle article was cleaned up eventually).

For example, he insists that "negro" does not derive from "niger" but from the Greek "nekros". So the Spanish word for the colour black comes from the Greek word for "dead"? What he does, quite interestingly, is prove that at the time of the alleged speech, there was a planter in Antigua named William Lynch. On this basis he spins a great deal. As scholarship, it's less than compelling.


The first thing you come to when you hit the link is the etymology.

#44 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 08:40 PM:

the second book of aristotle's poetics.

#45 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 08:43 PM:

Teresa (27): It's a fun topic; no harm in doing it again. And so far these all seem to be fresh titles.

#46 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 08:49 PM:

Revising a comment in the earlier Bad Sources thread: Don't trust any book on "the occult" that lists Dungeons & Dragons in the index *unless it lists it in order to dismiss the usual pernicious rumors. Of course, that doesn't make the book automatically reliable.

Don't trust a book on the Tarot written by Barbara Walker because the sheer unsupported crogglement of her other arguments permeates the book and casts the solidity of her statements about the actual topic into serious doubt. Assorted words that happen to contain the syllable /ma/ in English all trace to an ancient matriarchal culture that was erased by patriarchy? Really? Nine years of spelling bees taught me more about etymology than that!

#47 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 08:53 PM:

Amity Schlaes's The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression.

Thoroughly debunked by mainstream economists and economic historians as a total misreading of what the Fed did and did not do in the 19302, and deemed by most of them, I think, as yet another attempt to slander FDR and his responses to the Depression.

#49 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 08:54 PM:

I think sometimes whole disciplines go into "do not cite" territory for periods of time. To take a fairly non-controversial example, little of the early 20th-century material on the human inheritance of psychological traits can now be cited as anything other than a bad example. To take a more recent and more controversial example, it appears that much of the work of the "freshwater school" of economics from the past several decades is destined for similar discrediting; several economists, including Krugman, Delong, and Jamie Galbraith have remarked on this.

#50 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 08:57 PM:

Oh, man, it gets even more annoying. The second review of Schlaes's book is by Newt Gingrich, praising it to the skies.

#51 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 09:25 PM:

A World Lit Only by Fire, by William Manchester, full of poorly-researched and misleadingly-interpreted blather about the Middle Ages, with a great title if you ignore that the world was lit only by fire right through the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Victorian age, and possibly further, depending how one interprets incandescent lighting.

Also - they conflated Robert Wilson and Robert Anton Wilson? Confusion or ... conspiracy?

#52 ::: gaukler ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 09:26 PM:

Disregard any history of fashion, jewellery or metalwork that claims there were no faceted stones until the Renaissance.

#53 ::: onymous ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 09:26 PM:

I just want to say that the phrase "seminal works on Renaissance underwear" from the older thread is cracking me up.

#54 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 09:33 PM:

Teresa @31, yes, with the explicitly stated corollary (p.189) that any given experimental method is a magical ritual which must be performed exactly to yield the correct result. Science is a special case of magic.

I gave an impromptu lecture to the rest of the class where we were assigned this book, on classical physics, quantum mechanics, and the scientific method. For some people in the course -- a mid-level undergraduate religious studies course -- this book was the first they had heard quantum mechanics discussed.

#55 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 09:45 PM:

Paul Cameron's writings about homosexuality are basically anti-gay propaganda disguised as scholarly research. He's either resigned from, or been kicked out of (depending on who you believe), the American Psychological Association.

#56 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 09:48 PM:

Hmm, Avram, perhaps we can generalize to "anything, on any topic whatsoever, that comes out of the Family Research Council."

#57 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 09:49 PM:

Dammit, I meant the Family Research Institute. How did I fuck that up between reading it at your link and posting about it???? Meh.

#58 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 09:55 PM:

Don't trust a book on the Tarot written by Barbara Walker

Rephrase: Don't trust a book by Barbara Walker on any subject other than knitting. She gets all weird about, as noted, ancient matriarchy.

When it comes to knitting histories, remember that Richard Rutt was a serious Christian and any suggestion that knitting was invented by non-Christians bugged him.

#59 ::: sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 10:02 PM:

Gaukler @ 52 - I honestly believed that one until visiting, I think, though it may have been up the row with Lyn, at my first Pennsic.

Re - original post and Sentient @4 the label when I first saw it was a post it with the non-adhesive parts cut off. Both Lit and History depts have this thing about...damaging books.

I used to keep some particularly good howlers on my shelves just as examples, but in the last move I discarded them as needing another box and more space in my car. *sigh* However, I can categorically say that if you turn in to me/ have me edit/review a paper citing "X for Dummies"*, we have gone past having issues, past subscriptions, and firmly into memberships. (Unless, of course, you're doing something in comparative sociology, and, in that case, why are you handing it to a historian?)

*Full disclosure: I have a stack of D&D for Dummies beside me. They were $1 at Big Lots, and are perfect for geek White Elephant exchanges.

#60 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 10:05 PM:

gaukler, #52: Oh, yes! There was an Authenticity Nazi in the Nashville SCA group for years who took that as one of her pet peeves. Well, excuse me, I think a book published by the American Museum of Natural History trumps your spook source, whatever it might be.

I was very proud of myself for not dropping to her level to excoriate her for using heavy vibrato in her vocal performance (completely non-period; early-music singers used straight tone).

#61 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 10:05 PM:

#59: Which edition of D&D for Dummies?

#62 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 10:06 PM:

Hm. I've occasionally corrected errors in library books -- with a sharp pencil, I crossed out the error with a single line, and (where the text needed to be amended rather than merely deleted) carefully wrote in the correction nearby. This is usually for typographical errors, incorrect source code examples, or other things of that sort.

#63 ::: Throwmearope ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 10:56 PM:

My pet peeve is taking studies from other countries and applying them to Americans. The cancer folks (American Cancer Society) de-recommended breast self-exam based on a study done in China. Where the risk of breast cancer is considerably lower than in the states.

Chinese women, looking for a cancer that is relatively rare in China, rarely found it. But how does that relate to women checking themselves for a common cancer here in the USA?

I have two patients who found cancers on BSE (med speak for breast self-exam, we're a lazy bunch) that were missed by the mammogram. And dozens who found something on BSE that prompted them to get a work up that ultimately saved their lives.

Sloppy recommendations like that one make me crazy.

#64 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 11:15 PM:

I was going to suggest anything by Mary Daly after Beyond God the Father, but I'm not sure that'd count as scholarly in the first place. (It was her technophobia that drove me away.)
I think Marilee's idea of using sticky notes to counter dangerously misleading information is a good one, at least they can't get you for permanently damaging their books. But I still think that the retention of books containing potentially lethal misinformation is problematic. If this country actually educated folks to think critically, and evaluate what their eyes lit on, that'd help a lot, but I too have found myself asking the local librarians to get rid of some book that says something that just wasn't true, the writer just hadn't done their homework. Said library did not always do so, and I consoled myself with the knowledge that this library had at least been pretty good about getting the books I did want.
In the rare-books collection of a university library, I once found a 250-year-old book with what must have been a 250-year-old doodle inside the front cover (a man in the costume of the era.)

#65 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 11:32 PM:

How about a Wikipedia article about sources you should never cite?

#66 ::: S. Frost ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2010, 11:42 PM:

Anything published in the Journal of Scientific Exploration. They are, among other things, willing to publish AIDS denial. Also, the drugs let them see aliens.

#67 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 12:03 AM:

I don't know who wrote the data card abut the Santos Dumont Demoseille at the aviation museum in San Diego, but they'd better not have written anything else! I used to have the plans fr it that were reprinted in the 1910 Popular Science and still have Building Planes from Those Magnificent Men... The museum card said it was weight shift, apparently based on the fact that Dumont had one of the controls hooked to a pocket in his suitcoat so he could move it by moving side to side, and ignoring that it had a full flying tail. This is right up there with saying your grandmother must be a subway car because her roller skates have wheels. That's the occasion that convinced my wife that if there's ever An XKCD T-shirt of #386 she would have to get it because I was in a snit for hours.

#68 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 12:12 AM:

Anything by Norma Lee Goodrich. Her book about Arthur is particularly anti-reliable, even I who have a certain low taste (or along a different axis, willing to listen to things that sound peculiar--it's an openess to "what you think you know may not actually be true, or may be a limited or specific case or there may be exceptions....") for wacked out woo-woo warpage found it to be far too credulity-stretching....

The White Goddess by Robert Grave, what a farrago of nonsense that is!

I think I may have mentioned these months ago in the Bad Sources thread someone mentioned above.

#69 ::: jmnlman ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 12:34 AM:

A few from military history Men against fire: the problem of battle command S. L. A. Marshall he claimed that only 15% of U.S. soldiers fired their weapons in combat in WWII. Too bad he didn't you know actually do the research.
Anything by David Irving even before coming out as a holocaust Denier infamously "cooked" sources.

#70 ::: sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 12:40 AM:

Stefan @ 61 - I'm sorry, I pulled them out of the bag and it's actually DM for Dummies. I can't find an edition on it, though.

#71 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 12:43 AM:

Alex #65: How about a Wikipedia article about sources you should never cite?

Oh, crud, you just divided by zero; must escape to another timel--

#72 ::: Zora ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 01:23 AM:

Anything by P.N. Oak, an Indian "historian" of the raving Hindutvadi variety. Christianity is derived from Hinduism, the Kaaba was once a Hindu temple, the Taj Mahal was once a Hindu temple, etcetera.

I ran into his disciples when I was editing Wikipedia.

#73 ::: Dan ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 01:33 AM:

#64 -- I think I can make a good case for citing late Mary Daly within my field. When doing liberal theology, one may have to trace out the history of a theological movement in order to make sense of the present state of that movement. So I can see citing late Mary Daly in a useful discussion of what happened to second wave feminist liberation theology after the initial successes of the 1960s and 1970s, in order to tease out how second wave feminists tried to confront (with varying levels of success) the problems inherent in that particular liberation theology movement. Such a citation would not be for the sake of proving Daly wrong, but rather to trace out what is and is not of value in her late work. This would be doing something like Kaufmann's third-order theology, rather than the first-order theology which you seem to assuming -- one of the things I've learned from Anthony Pinn is that sometimes you have to describe what's out there in order to move forward.

I can't believe I just talked seriously about doing liberal theology in an online forum.

#74 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 01:36 AM:

Any study with John Lott's name on it.

He was the "concealed weapons reduce crime" guy, but that's just one of the controversies he's engendered with his research.

#75 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 01:40 AM:

John Lott.

Hey, he's helping feed us corvids. Maybe we'd be better off if I kept my beak shut.

#76 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 01:41 AM:

Well, there's The Onion, and anybody who accidentally cites The Onion.
And there's anybody who cites The Necronomicon, except Lovecraft and a few of his near-contemporaries, Robert Anton Wilson, and people who cite it on purpose and have techies juggling plushie Cthulhu toys. And anybody who cites facts they learned from the Illuminatus Trilogy, unless they're doing it to keep the fnords from eating them.

Anybody who refers to "The Law of Attraction" unless they're doing a sociological study of adherents to that sort of thing.

My real pet peeve is people who cite dictionaries as authoritative (except for Scrabble or e.g. using the OED as a source for early word usage.) I once had an elderly relative who'd cite somebody's "Metaphysical Dictionary" articles as if they were authoritative or even meaningful.

#77 ::: Lighthill ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 01:51 AM:

Thomas @ 28: An important category: books you haven't read.

An important subcategory: books you have read reviews of, but which you have not actually gotten around to reading yourself.

I've read too many articles where the author cites both a document and a summary/review of that document, and where it becomes quite clear that they never actually read the original document itself. Repeated mistakes and perversities are the easiest way to notice this, but it also becomes pretty obvious when you notice that the article doesn't have any quotations not found in the review.

#78 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 01:53 AM:

I would not recommend counting on the bibliographic information in Owings and Chalker's Index to the Science Fantasy Publishers. Which is a pity, because well over 90% of it is accurate, but there were significant errors in the article on Chalker's own press (Mirage), for example. It's usually right, but it's not gospel. It's better than anything else attempting to cover the same material, unfortunately.

Not that it's likely to be cited very often anyway; most often by book dealers.

#79 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 01:55 AM:

Kraw... I think Linkmeister and I wrote our posts at the same time...

Any work done by the "scholars" of the American Enterprise Institute.

#80 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 02:01 AM:

Raven, s'alright. We're equally contemptuous of the guy.

#81 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 02:07 AM:

If you are planning on writing about the history of Islam, avoid Patricia Crone. (I once watched a graduate student get roasted alive for using her theories as a starting point for an AAR paper. It was NOT pretty.)

#82 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 03:01 AM:

#72 Zora
Yoicks! The Ka'aba a Hindu temple?! You mean that Cahokia and Mystery Hill aren't!?!! And what about Malta and Stonehenge and Blue Henge and Kuala Lumpur and Tenochtilan, they weren't either, or Macchu Piccu??!! Alas and alack, oh woe, oh woe!

Maybe the person and the Westboro Baptist Church parish could be locked in a pyramid together....

#83 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 03:04 AM:

Juli Thompson #81: If you are planning on writing about the history of Islam, avoid Patricia Crone

...and Naa Pbhygre.

#84 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 03:27 AM:

Is there some reason to ROT-13 or otherwise fig-leaf Ann Coulter's name?

#85 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 03:33 AM:

#84 Avram

It's name magic, or rather, being aversive to the name invoking attention to her and more coverage of her....

#86 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 03:59 AM:

<rolls eyes> Another way to avoid talking about her -- for those who are concerned with that, which I'm not very -- is to actually not talk about her.

#87 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 04:08 AM:

Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy. Though a fascinating philosopher in his own right[0], he simply can't be trusted on other philosophers. The entry for Nietzsche in that book is entirely constituted by a couple of pages of very lazy characterisations of Nietzsche's thought, and then an imagined dialogue between Nietzsche and Siddhartha Gautama in the afterlife. I shit you not.

Apocryphally, Russell would read other philosophers only once, making notes, and when he came to write about them - perhaps decades later - would refer to his notes rather than the source.

[0]although sadly, I think, slightly diminished by having his greatest legacy be Wittgenstein

#88 ::: Per Chr. J. ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 04:32 AM:

#72 Zora

Reminds me of the "Indian!" character on the British comedy show Goodness Gracious Me...

#89 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 05:04 AM:

Paula Lieberman at #68

> The White Goddess by Robert Grave, what a farrago of nonsense that is!

Well yeah, but I'd hate to miss out on the first stanza of the poem in the frontspiece - that excuses a fair amount of nonsense for me.

I found a book at the local library which I suspect may not be the very soundest of theology: "The Millionaire from Nazareth". Yikes.

#90 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 05:13 AM:

This one is based on what I've been told, not what I've read myself, so take it for what it's worth:

I've heard from a few different directions that 'The MUP (Melbourne University Press) Encyclopedia of Australian Science Fiction & Fantasy' is a fine mix of snubbing, gladhanding and logrolling, driven by who was friends with the editors and who was not.

Never actually come across a copy of it myself.

#91 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 05:34 AM:

"Almost anything published in Medical Hypotheses

Unless, of course, you're citing along with the evidence against, or pointing out the flaws in the paper. This may be done to avoid anyone saying that of course you didn't do your research properly, because you didn't cite this excellent paper in this journal by this wonderful scientist, saying the opposite of what all the other papers say (or going off at some weird and wonderful angle) and which must therefore be correct...

#92 ::: Jane Smith ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 06:35 AM:

A book I avoid is The Tolkien Encyclopedia, by David Day, which I worked on as a "researcher". Day told me that he had made up a few in-jokes for some of his other non-fiction books, and I am pretty sure that he did the same for this one: and the research methods he insisted on were not the best.

I collated entries from sources Day provided, and helped write the first draft. None of it was produced with any reference to the original text; we depended entirely on similar books which had already been published, at times literally cutting those books up into paragraphs and pasting the pieces into various research folders and then rewriting each pasted paragraph later.

I was very uncomfortable working in this way, and began checking Day's text against Tolkien's original text (which I had to go out and buy--funnily enough, he didn't have a complete set to hand). I found several contradictions: Day told me that such checks were not necessary, and if I persisted I would make him miss his deadline and be personally liable to refund his entire advance (£20,000, if I remember rightly: a lot of money in the late 1980s). Soon after, I was told my assistance was no longer required.

The book had a lot of money behind it: most of the illustrations it contained were commissioned specifically for the book. It sold well, but had gone out of print by the time the LOTR movies were made and I don't think Day could find a publisher willing to reissue it then. It's probably just as well.

#93 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 06:51 AM:

re 73: I cite Daly all the time, but it's always footnote 47 of chapter 10 of Gyn/Ecology. (returns from checking our copy: yep, that's the passage)

#94 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 07:01 AM:

Wesley @ 5: I gave up on that book halfway through the first chapter. It was especially disappointing since Hedges' War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning was so powerful.

#95 ::: Peter Darby ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 07:46 AM:

Jane @92: I was given that book a couple of years ago... I like the pictures. I understand it made regular appearances at clearance bookshops at the time of the LOTR films: guess there were some warehouses of remaindered stock from the earlier printings, and hostility from the estate over subsequent releases.

#96 ::: Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 08:48 AM:

No Colin Wilson? grumble grumble young folks forget the classics

#97 ::: Sam Clark ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 08:56 AM:

I've just spent a happy half hour skimming the earlier thread on this topic. A suggestion for a partial taxonomy:

1. Books to be avoided except for purposes of debunking, cultural history, etc.
1a) Books which are just foolish, because author is foolish.
1b) Books which are just foolish, because author is a liar.
e.g. works of global warming 'scepticism', holocaust denial, creationist geology, etc.

2. Books it's worth reading, but which should be approached with care.
2a) Classic, discipline-shaping works e.g. (for my own discipline) Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy.
2b) Radical reinterpretations and grand narratives, e.g. Bernal, Black Athena.
2c) Refreshing interventions by writers outside their discipline, e.g. Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel.

It would be a shame - and in some cases unprofessional - just to ignore category 2 books, but it would be unwise fully to trust them.

#98 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 09:30 AM:

dcb @91: Unless, of course, you're citing along with the evidence against, or pointing out the flaws in the paper.

I think this exception goes for nearly everything here. I mean, I did cite my Uncitable Book to illustrate what I thought was wrong about it.

(P.S. If anyone should get the impression that I'm a citable expert on physics, I am not. I only have a bachelor's degree in physics, and took only one course in quantum mechanics. This equips me to tell when someone's physics are extremely silly, but not to be an expert myself.)

Bill Stewart @ 76: My real pet peeve is people who cite dictionaries as authoritative

ARGH YES. Someone taught us that as a reasonable introduction to a paper in eighth grade or so, and most of my peers never grew out of it. I'm not even sure why it was considered reasonable in eighth grade.

Tangentially, I learned the hard way recently that you should always double-check numbers even from peer-reviewed papers and respected authors before putting your full trust in them. I am implementing a computer model of a particular heart condition that I studied experimentally, down to the ionic-channel level, and wanted to use some equations and parameters from a recent paper -- from a respectable journal and a known group. So I implemented them, and the model blew up.

After much headache, I and my advisor discovered that the published parameters had been swapped around (so that, for example, where it said A1 you should put A2 and vice versa), and given in the wrong units (some inverse units). The rest of the paper, which derived these model equations and parameters from experimental data, seems to be correct. But neither the authors nor the reviewers doublechecked the units of the derived parameters before publication.

So yes. Always verify one source against another, and if you can't find a second source on the same topic, then check the main claims against the primary source yourself.

#99 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 09:39 AM:

And Dan @ 73: Making Light is the sort of online forum where things like talking seriously about doing liberal theology are completely normal and acceptable (and you can expect at least one other commenter to be knowledgeable enough to engage you in conversation).

Also, I personally enjoy it. I took a course on liberal theology, including feminist theology and various liberation theologies, which was one of my favorite courses in religious studies. In an alternate life, that's what I would have pursued a graduate degree in. So I like hearing people talk about it, though I'm not well-read enough to really participate.

#100 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 09:39 AM:

Unended private correspondence email, such as the climate researchers' emails, which were illicitly and maliciously accessed and released by what seems like Dick Cheney appartchiks or emulators of them. Someone I went to college with who's a climate scientist said, "I know the principals...and believe they are not guilty of the evil conspiracy that the Wall Street Journal editorial page alleges. In my opinion Climategate is just another case of people using e-mail to vent, as if it were a private conversation, even though we should all know by now that what we send by Internet gets saved all over the world's computers."

Unedited first drafts as examples of someone's writing for posterity--the unedited first drafts are examples of starting points and of generally not-ready-for-public-distribution-needs-a-lot-more-work materials, not examples of "professional" work generally....

#101 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 09:59 AM:

Any historical work that doesn’t cite original sources, e.g. states that Henri de Blois wrote something in 1141 without saying how we know – is there an original MS, if so where it is it, or are we relying on someone else quoting a MS which is lost, or did some 19th-century antiquary make it up?
[In the case, it emerged that the MS is extant, though an assistant wrote it, not Henri himself, and not in 1141 but later in consequence of something that happened in 1141.  Muddle, muddle, toil and trouble.]

#102 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 10:03 AM:

A variant on xeger@9:

Any statistics textbook in an edition later than second. Actually, textbooks are not great for citation anyway, but even reading a text that's in its sixth edition is a bad idea.

This suggests an addition to Sam Clark's taxonomy

3) Books that were useful but are now only of historical interest.

#103 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 10:05 AM:

There was a veterinary nutrition text that referenced an older text, but miscopied the information (left out a "not", or put one in, I forget which), thus resulting in a text that said the exact opposite of the truth.

Luckily for me, the vet school library had a copy of that older text.

#104 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 10:07 AM:

Chris Lawson @34: God, yes. Oh lord, yes. I know that the ability to search within texts was touted as the next coming of literature studies back when I was still a reference librarian... a decade along and the monstrosities have arrived.

#105 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 10:26 AM:

Paula #100:  with respect, I do agree that the so-called “Climategate” e-mails shouldn’t be cited in scholarly research, but I don’t agree with your characterization of them.  Yes, those messages are private conversation, but they reveal bad science.  Suppressing or fudging data, blocking FOI requests, or subverting the peer-review process are what politicians do, not scientists.  Many scientists do, I hear you say?  True, but that doesn’t make it acceptable behavior.  This episode doesn’t disprove the science of climate change, I hear you say?  Of course it doesn’t – naturally the wingnuts leapt to claim that it does, but in reality the evidence is overwhelming – but that’s no excuse for concealing evidence that might seem to be adverse, which is not the action of a scientist.

#106 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 10:40 AM:

Teresa... librettist Robert Wilson, author of Einstein on the Beach, with criticism and reviews of novelist Robert [Anton] Wilson

What about novelist Robert Charles Wilson?

#107 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 10:42 AM:

John @105 --

Demonstrate that actually happened, please.

The much-talked up bit about suppressing the post-1960 model input (or whatever year it actually is) is perfectly legit; they're replacing the input from a model with actual, you know, numbers from direct measurement, which are to be preferred in any case, and are especially to be preferred when the model and the measurement disagree. Correctly identifying the point at which an otherwise useful dendrochronological temperature proxy model goes off the rails, so they can stop using it as part of their derived model, is also perfectly correct; that's what you're supposed to do with informational proxies. (You can't, for instance, use oxygen isotope ratios from fossiliferous limestone as a paleo-temperature proxy if the limestone has been heated too much.)

If recognizing that a long -- thousands of years -- series of tree rings suddenly stops being a good climate proxy in or before your lifetime doesn't blanch your tripes, you're not paying attention.

Keeping evil but well funded material out of the peer reviewed literature is important; this shows up with the creationists, too. They need something to demonstrate their legitimacy; since they don't have any, the brute persistence and deep pockets become a political problem. Science does not get to exist in splendid isolation from politics; it's a co-operative venture between many people, of course it's political.

#108 ::: Feòrag ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 10:44 AM:

Talking of Mary Daly, as many here were, it turns out she died yesterday.

#109 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 11:16 AM:

Oh, wow. And here we have Daniel Davies linking to a Jamie Galbraith article on who got it right and wrong in the economics of the past generation.

It seems to be the time for reassessment.

#110 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 11:17 AM:

Wow. An icon passes. The linked article says "Even those who disagreed with her are in her debt for the challenges she offered;" I can certainly agree with that.

I found Gyn/Ecology an eye-opening book back in 1979 or so. She really lost me with the Wickidary, especially when she used the term 'final solution' for what ought to be done with researchers like my dad who used experimental animals. But the earlier book opened my eyes to what is hidden, and what is known only to the oppressed about their own struggle, and that not knowing about these things is itself a privilege of the ruling class.

On the other hand, she also helped perpetuate the Gimbutas/Budapest nonsense about ancient matriarchies and the "Burning Times," which I believed for years and had to be de-stupidized of comparatively recently.

On the gripping hand: a critically important figure, even if we must ultimately reject her solutions to the problems of sexism.

#111 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 11:41 AM:

There's a big difference between sources you ought not to trust (or build a big argument on), and sources you ought not to cite. Stuff whose results you're drawing on, even if only to point out that it's nonsense, you have to cite. There's nothing at all wrong with citing some pretty weak work, if, for example, you've read it and are drawing from it in some way, knowing its flaws.

#113 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 12:27 PM:

I like Sam Clark's taxonomy, and Thomas's 3). I've seen lots of books in bookshops which would just be nice books to have (well written, nice binding, look good etc) but are 50 years old and well out of date.

Like the one I did buy called "The electron microscope", by Burton and Kohl, published in 1946. It has some nice photos which are just as good as you can get nowadays out of a bog standard SEM. The discussion of the science is still accurate enough, but much of thespecific discussion uses examples and instruments which are no longer so relevant.

Oddly enough it also has, on the first page you come to when you open the cover, what appears to be a hand drawn optical thingy, whereby the object is stretched so you have to view it from an angle rather than straight on. It says 'G H GRAHAME. F.I.M.T.A.M.I.B.E.

I assume the letters are some sort of professional qualification or institute membership.

#114 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 12:51 PM:

110: [googles...]

The movie is inaccurate in other respects, placing Trier in France instead of Germany, dating a stone cross there that is recorded to have been erected in 958 AD to 1132 AD without further explanation. The cross is shown as a "symbol of a new religious cult that was sweeping across Europe," despite Christian presence since 286.

Oh. *head...desk*

Using Niall Ferguson as a source on the history of the British Empire (but I am reliably informed that his work on the history of banks is serious). Ferguson didn't publish very much about the Empire before he discovered "empire" was a sexy subject for US publishers in the Early Bush Age.

Using James Lovelock's work since the 1980s would probably lose you a grade or three in most places.

Anyone who's ever been published by Regnery?

#115 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 01:02 PM:

Avram #86: Another way to avoid talking about her -- for those who are concerned with that, which I'm not very -- is to actually not talk about her.

It was simply a way to refer to her without blessing her with too much of Making Light's googlejuice.

#116 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 01:10 PM:

Perhaps not in the same league as much of what has been mentioned above, but in geneological research, ALL sources should be viewed with care, if not outright suspicion, whether they are primary or secondary or whatever.

I personally find anything out of the LDS church records or any publication associated with them to be rife with errors. Also, handwritten censuses are often at the mercy of the spelling ability of the census-taker involved--and that's when other issues, such as innumeracy, aren't also raising their unlovely heads.

All that said, I would never say, 'Discard this source entirely,' because I have found useful clues in even the most obviously garbled sources. IE, just this last week I found an online photograph of a great-great-great-grandmother while tracking down wtf the researcher was doing marrying her off to a nephew who died in Andersonville Prison...

#117 ::: Vlad ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 01:15 PM:

Approach with caution any of Jay Robert Nash's many publications on criminals and the history of crime. I loved his books as a 13-year-old boy, but he's admitted to liberally salting them with falsehoods to prevent illegal copying, and there's obviously no way to tell the information from the disinformation without consulting additional sources, which sadly renders them fairly worthless as anything but casual entertainment.

#118 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 01:20 PM:

Any reference that you have found in a source but have not looked at yourself, because you assume that your source is reliable.

I had one experiment in a third-year physical chemistry lab which gave me results that were slightly but consistently different from the experimental results cited in the information folder that went with the apparatus. I thought it would be a good idea to check the paper that those results came from, to see what their experimental conditions were and see if I could find some difference from my own conditions that would justify the shift. When I went to the library to find that paper, I discovered that it did not exist: the journal in question had not yet reached that volume number; the authors had never published in that journal; none of the other phys-chem journals in that library had that paper. The professor for that lab course didn't believe me, checked for himself, and confirmed my discovery. And told me that as far as he could determine, the results and citation in the information folder had been taken from a student lab report on that experiment at least a dozen years earlier. And that in all that time, every student who'd gone through that course and done that experiment had cited that non-existent paper and compared their results to it.

#119 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 01:23 PM:

Oh, and to those people who think Post-It notes in books are a good, non-damaging way to correct information: DON'T. Just don't. I work in a tech library and I cringe every time I see a sticky note or flag or whatever in the stacks. Those things lift the ink on shiny papers, fade the ink on non-shiny ones, and discolor inks on others, as well as leaving gummy residues either immediately or later, after the chemicals have interacted with the paper for a couple of years.

Want to study information in depth? Photocopy the page and mark that up. Or get your own copy. Or, better yet, find the scan we made of the thing in the online database (we're going as paperless as possible in my library) and mark THAT up to your heart's content.

Just because you see something inaccurate or incorrect in something doesn't mean the next user is so stupid they won't see it, too--or that the incorrect information is not being kept, deliberately and with lack of malice aforethought, precisely as a means of comparison to more accurate data. If you absolutely cannot live another instant without correcting something... a note in the margin with a pencil (light pencil, damn it) is sufficient. Seriously.


#120 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 01:25 PM:

Sam #97:

Do "books to be avoided because the author is just plain sloppy" fall into "author is foolish" or "author is a liar"?

#121 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 01:31 PM:

Graydon (#107), I have to admit that I haven’t ssen the actual e-mails in question;  the archive is quite large.  Perhaps that means that I ought not to comment.  Many people do seem to have read them, however, and I doubt if all those commenting can be dismissed as climate-change deniers.  If you really think that the people involved did nothing out of the ordinary, I’ll say no more.

Keeping evil but well funded material out of the peer reviewed literature is important
Maybe I’m an innocent, but I find “evil” a strange word in a scientific context.  Are all people who don’t agree with you “evil”?

Science does not get to exist in splendid isolation from politics;  it’s a co-operative venture between many people, of course it’s political.
Certainly co-operative ventures tend to be political, and certainly scientists are only human.  But surely we must have some standards?  Politicians routinely distort the truth, trumpet information that fits their cause but suppress information that doesn’t, fiddle statistics or present them in dishonest ways, or base their views on faith (broadly defined) rather than reason.¹  Scientists should not do any of those things;  if they do, surely we must keep saying that they’re wrong.

¹ I’m not saying that the UEA people or their friends did any of the above;  I’m talking about politicians now.&nsbp; I decline to waste time providing examples.  If you really think that none of that happens, good luck to you.

#122 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 01:45 PM:

Point taken, #102, about the sticky notes.
#97 and 102, good taxonomy.
So Daly is dead--well, I will still always remember how "Beyond God the Father" turned the lights on for me. Even though there were problems with her later works, I am grateful for that.

#123 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 02:04 PM:

Renee, not to mention censustakers missing people completely. (I discovered that the 1820 census missed an ancestor, but not his older brother, and both were under 15 at the time.)
Mangled names are par for the course.

(I particaularly abhor the records that are 'contributed' with no other source information available. How can you verify something like that, never mind trust it?)

#124 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 02:06 PM:

John @121 --

I have read the specific emails in question; there is nothing the least bit objectionable about them in their context and if you speak science. ("I believe my learned colleague has neglected to consider" = "look, you bloody fool", etc.) The portion of those commenting who have obtained both the context and the facility with scientific language is lamentably small.

Evil is a perfectly reasonable word in a scientific context. This is why there are ethics boards, after all; questions of ethics regularly arise in the conduct of science.

In the two specific cases I cite, there are people at two different scales of concern (in terms of the amount of money involved) publicly asserting as true what they know to be harmful lies where their purpose in doing so is to obtain the greatest profit they can. I'd say that was pretty obviously an evil category of act.

People doing science do and will do all of those things you list, and more (quite eminent scientists have wound up keeping the brains of their deceased rivals in jars, for pity's sake); it doesn't really matter. Science as a system is not dependent on the contents of any one person's head, which is why it works. It will go right on working so long as there is peer review, a requirement for falsifiability, and a real concern for facts.

The folks on the denier side of anthropogenic climate change are trying very hard to extirpate the concern for facts. So they're not doing science. (They're more or less up to "OK, it is happening, and it is us doing it, but we can't/don't really need to do anything about it".)

The folks in that particular bunch of emails were doing their best to get a composite model to work; they're also doing it in a context where people with effectively arbitrary amounts of money and power are trying hard to suppress their research, because if anyone took the research at all seriously there would be a global total ban, backed by whatever degree of military force it took, up to and including instant sunshine, on fossil carbon extraction. Everybody, them included, would be better off; they'd probably have a lot less money and power, though, however much their situation was improved by the lack of 300 mph winds.

#125 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 02:19 PM:

Vlad #117: there's obviously no way to tell the information from the disinformation without consulting additional sources, which sadly renders them fairly worthless as anything but casual entertainment

That sounds like a reasonable description of The Anarchists Cookbook as well.

#126 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 02:27 PM:

#76: "And anybody who cites facts they learned from the Illuminatus Trilogy..."

Expand that to include any factual sources quoted in The Illuminatus Trilogy. Many of the the sources cited, including various Playboy articles, etc. were actually written by Shea and Wilson in the first place, and knowingly included to add a layer of verisimilitude.

It's like trusting a biography of Stephen King by Richard Bachman. On the one hand...

#127 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 03:13 PM:

Caroline @ 98 Tangentially, I learned the hard way recently that you should always double-check numbers even from peer-reviewed papers and respected authors before putting your full trust in them.

Oh yes. Been there, done that. Found a table in a very respectable and useful book (which I still use), which was totally correct so long as you realised that the codes "a" and "b" to represent "virus isolated" and "antibody demonstrated" had been inadvertently reversed i.e. the codes should have read "a" antibody demonstrated, "b" virus isolated. I realised because I was checking the original papers.

Problem is, checking takes time. I recently spent a full day checking numbers (drug doses) and references in tables (contributed by a co-author) of a paper I was first author on.

Ginger @103 (left out a "not", or put one in, I forget which) Yup. I spotted one of those in a respectable review of toxoplasmosis while writing up my PhD - I'd recently read the original paper referred to and thought "hold on, didn't that state exactly the opposite?" Only made sense if the word "not" had been missed out in the sentence in the review paper.

#128 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 03:25 PM:

John Howard Yoder on Anabaptist beliefs.

He's thoughtful, and thought-provoking, but he's often used to state the Anabaptist position(s) on issues, which he does poorly.

#129 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 04:03 PM:

PJ @ 123: Not to mention 'helpful' transcriptionists who make 'corrections'. I have a g-grandfather named Clare; transcriptionists routinely mark him 'female', even if the census says his relation to the head of the household is 'son'. Another could not read antiquated handwriting, and got a script L out of the upper loop of an old G, thereby making 'Louzo' out of 'George'.

This is another reason why I say 'light pencil for corrections if any corrections are made', because at least the original stands, so you can figure out what the well-meaning fool following up was actually looking at.

#130 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 04:24 PM:

Graydon #124:  OK, I see where you’re coming from.

if anyone took the research at all seriously there would be a global total ban, backed by whatever degree of military force it took, up to and including instant sunshine, on fossil carbon extraction.
Yes!!!  Although, whether the world could sustainably support its current population – let alone predicted growth – without fossil fuels, is another matter...

#131 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 04:42 PM:

Earl @115, first, are you sure that using her name in plain, unlinked text gives her any googlejuice at all?

Second, Google currently reports over 2 million hits for "ann coulter", and fewer than 700 thousand for "making light". This is sort of like worrying that you could cause a flood by emptying a bucket of water into the ocean.

I'm all for depriving Ann Coulter of attention. I'm not for treating her like some kind of magical boogeyman whose name we can't speak aloud.

#132 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 04:43 PM:

There's another whole category -- people who are reliable in some places and unreliable in others. I bemoan the fact that it's very out of fashion to cite Wilhelm Reich at all, even though much of his social commentary is really good.

Not that I think he was right about orgone energy.

#133 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 05:00 PM:

John @130 --

The problems with going off the fossil carbon economy are almost purely social and political. The technical problems are for the most part[1] either solved or obviously solvable.

[1] I don't think anybody's beat road surfacing or lime reduction as yet, but those don't strike me as hopeless, either, and even if they are we don't actually *need* high speed road surfaces, and while concrete is very handy there's almost certainly a get-the-carbon-from-sewage polymer substitute. (There are certainly polymer substitutes.)

#134 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 05:15 PM:

Well, this falls under xeger@9's rubric of not citing as your most recent citation papers older than 10 years, but:

H. Schildt's The Annotated ANSI C Standard.

This had the ISO C standard with annotation and commentary on facing pages. It was considerably less expensive than buying the standard from ANSI or ISO. The reduction in cost is due to the additional value of the commentary.

#135 ::: Dan ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 05:17 PM:

Caroline @ 99 -- Yes, that's why I read Making Light; I should have completed the sentence thus: "and not be jumped on by people who know nothing about theology."

I should add that when I wrote comment @ 73, I didn't yet know that Daly died yesterday morning. I've been leafing through Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy (1984) and realizing how much I like the book, even though much of what she writes pisses me off. Yes, she didn't engage adequately with womanists and third-wave feminists, yes her binary definitions of gender seem quaint, yes her work in ecology gives off the faint stench of privilege (animal rights is nothing compared to toxins in the environment, unless you're white and live in the 'burbs) -- nevertheless, much of her late work is indeed worth citing.

I was going to provide another example something not worth citing, but I think I need to go spend some time with Daly's writing.

#136 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 05:32 PM:

Any work on Nietzsche which relies heavily on the Nachlass should be subject to scrutiny. Any work on Nietzsche which relies heavily on the Nachlass to draw conclusions about his work which contradict the material he published [0] should be subject to heavy scrutiny. Any work on Nietzsche which relies wholly or mostly on the Will to Power[1] should be, as the saying goes, thrown aside with great force.

[0] for instance, the claim that Nietzsche thought postmodern-
sounding things about truth.

[1] mostly a disease of early-20th-century Anglophone Nietzsche scholarship, before much else had been translated into English.

#137 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 05:35 PM:

Any work on Nietzsche which relies heavily on the Nachlass should be subject to scrutiny. Any work on Nietzsche which relies heavily on the Nachlass to draw conclusions about his work which contradict the material he published [0] should be subject to heavy scrutiny. Any work on Nietzsche which relies wholly or mostly on the Will to Power[1] should be, as the saying goes, thrown aside with great force.

[0] for instance, the claim that Nietzsche thought postmodern-
sounding things about truth.

[1] mostly a disease of early-20th-century Anglophone Nietzsche scholarship, before much else had been translated into English.

#138 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 05:39 PM:

Avram 131: I don't think it's so much a magical bogeyman as that her name is too obscene to include. Refusing to include her name in full is a way of dissing her, as it would be for me* to always refer to her in all-lowercase.

In other words, for me it feels not so much like fear as like disgust.
*Not everyone capitalizes names (or anything), but I generally do if they do (so 'Avram' but 'abi' etc.).

#139 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 05:43 PM:

Any electronic resource of questionable provenance, especially a strongly ideological source, without independent validation. Yes, I mean the the stolen e-mails from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit, which have been, at least, cherry-picked and may have other alterations. Also, the ACORN video, which turns out to have an altered audio track.

Of course, this also means large parts of Wikipedia.

#140 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 05:52 PM:

Also, the ACORN video, which turns out to have an altered audio track.

While I'd love this to be true, before I can use it in arguments with people who are wrong, I need a citeable source. Where'd you get this?

Not that I don't believe you. It's completely unsurprising, in fact. The US right has absolutely no ethics at all.

#141 ::: Andrew M ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 05:55 PM:


The White Goddess by Robert Grave, what a farrago of nonsense that is!

Not to mention The Greek Myths by the same author, which actually looks scholarly in a way The White Goddess doesn't.

#142 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 06:01 PM:

Avram #131: Earl @115, first, are you sure that using her name in plain, unlinked text gives her any googlejuice at all?

Yes, for the same reason that some spammer payloads are merely clear text search targets; I also try to avoid mentioning some religions by name. Some of those have professional internet bogeymen on staff.

#143 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 06:04 PM:

kid bitzer 44:

Henri Mensonge's 'La Fornication Comme Acte Culturelle'?

May need to extend Sam Clark's taxonomy to deal with yours and mine...

#144 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 06:11 PM:

John Stanning #105, Graydon #107, John Stanning #121:

I haven't read them either, but Skeptico points out some nasty quote-mining in the supposed scandal.

#145 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 06:18 PM:

Xopher @140 - The alteration is mentioned in the report by Scott Harshbarger, former Attorney General for Massachusetts. There's a synopsis on Talking Points Memo which links to the 47-page report in PDF. Naturally, Harshbarger is a Democrat, which means that the report will be instantly rejected by anti-ACORN nuts.

#146 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 06:34 PM:

Xopher #110 mentions Gimbuta - have her theories been comprehensively refuted? (I know the ancient matriarchy ones are old hat, but apparently there's the Kurgan hypothesis to contend with and no doubt others I don't know of)

With my greater knowledge now I can see some problems with the Kurgan hypothesis and the idea of matrilinearity amongst the Picts has effectively died out amongst serious researchers in the last 20 years or so.

Oddly enough in a world with greater informatipn resources than ever before it becomes more necessary to both know something and the history of that knowledge, because many people will still remmeber what they learnt 20 years ago that is nowknown to be wrong. Or they will pick it up from reprinted books as mentioned above. Which makes it all a bit more complex when it comes to discussing things, let alone educating people.

#147 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 06:43 PM:

Avram@131: Um, saying that Ml has almost 1/3 the hits that a major controversial popular / political figure has is saying something. "Only 700,000" indeed!

#148 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 06:47 PM:

Raven@139, anything in Wikipedia about either Stephen Colbert or elephants...

Renee@129, my father and grandfather were both named Clare, and my mother was Marion. We were quite used to mail that was confused about gender, spellings, etc., and of course being named Stewart automatically means you're going to get your name spelled in random ways; at least it's less trouble than some of the Dutch-immigrant ancestors who didn't even spell their names consistently throughout their lives (not sure how much of that was illiteracy and how much was variants on Anglicization.)

My father and various aunts have done a bunch of genealogical research, and finding source material can be difficult even in North America. New York State renamed and re-bordered its counties a century or two ago, some courthouses burned down, people moved between censuses. It's nice to have the Mormon records or census tell you that there was a Tom Stewart son of John Stewart in some town, but with pre-birth-control farm family sizes and unimaginative Anglo first names, there were a lot of John and Tom Stewarts there, and figuring out which was which required extra material. And so many systems like don't let you enter a lot of supporting data, so while they can be convenient as printing tools, it's hard to tell whether finding something there that looks like a match is going to be any use.

#149 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 07:12 PM:

Xopher@140:Scott Harshbarger's report on ACORN mentions on pp. 11-12, "The videos that have been released appear to have been edited, in some cases substantially, including the insertion of a substitute voiceover for significant portions of Mr. O’Keefe’s and Ms.Giles’s comments, which makes it difficult to determine the questions to which ACORN employees are responding." That's probably what The Raven@139 was referring to.

Keep in mind that this is in a report that doesn't exactly cast ACORN in a glowing light. He doesn't find any illegal activity, but he also says, "the videos represent the byproduct of ACORN’s longstanding management weaknesses, including a lack of training, a lack of procedures, and a lack of on-site supervision." (p. 3)

Anyone who thinks the videos tell the whole story is wrong. The ACORN employees on the videos didn't do anything criminal. That, however, doesn't mean that ACORN couldn't stand some reform. At least that's impression I get from the report. (Note: I skimmed.)

#150 ::: Wesley Osam ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 07:33 PM:

I remembered another one today. Sometimes I like to read books of "true" ghost stories and other weird events. None of these are exactly trustworthy sources on anything except folklore, and even then most are sloppy (this Strange Horizons article discusses an example, and coincidentally also mentions Jay Robert Nash).

But I came across one book, once, that boggled even me. This was The Field Guide to North American Hauntings by W. Hayden Blackman. I'm sure it's a parody--but it looks like any other book of ghost stories, and judging from the reviews on Amazon, some readers treat it as though it were intended as a real field guide.

This the point where I realized this book achieved an entirely different level of nuts:

First, as you approach the cemetery, be watchful of phantom cars. These automobiles may try to run you off the road, and if you lose control of your own vehicle while trying to avoid the oncoming apparitions, you may be seriously injured. If you see a phantom car or truck coming your way, it is best to run headlong into the spiritual craft: They have often passed through real cars with no ill effect.

It looks like he wrote a Field Guide to North American Monsters, too. And included an entry on the Boogeyman. The best line from the Amazon reviews of that book: "I believe he made most of it up."

#151 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 07:36 PM:

Tom Whitmore @132:

Not that I think he was right about orgone energy.

Oh, darn it.

Meanwhile, in my field, I find it's usually a good idea to double-check any major scoops published in Nature.

#152 ::: wkwillis ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 08:22 PM:

Willy Ley's "Engineer's Dreams" is a great book for 12 year old children. It just isn't true. I read it and I was impressed until I started looking up some of the stuff in it, and then found out he must have written it from stories in newspapers.

#153 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 08:51 PM:

Angiportus @ 64:

"But I still think that the retention of books containing potentially lethal misinformation is problematic."

I agree with you completely that potentially lethal misinformation is problematic, but the notion of having librarians throw out all materials with such misinfo is equally problematic.

(Please indulge me a bit, as I am a librarian so I tend to get passionate about the issue.)

First there's the problem of creating a nanny state, with cultural gatekeepers saying what people are and are not allowed to read/watch/listen to/etc. and/or giving instruction on how to think about those things. Related to that is the slippery slope notion, which in this case is actually a real danger: people challenge anything and everything, including the old Disney film Yellowstone Cubs (it shows park visitors feeding bears, met with only amused disapproval from the narrator).

Second, there's the problem that librarians purchase a lot of materials and that each of those items represents a time investment. Librarians depend a surprising amount on external reviews and would certainly not have time to experience every work firsthand before purchase.

Third, there's one of the problems discussed in this thread, which is that while librarians may be great at finding book X on topic Y within pubyears Za-Zb, few of them are also experts on HIV/AIDS, or cancer, or advanced chemistry (and that even if they were, almost no library would be able to afford to have enough specialized librarians on staff to review everything first. And even then, each library might have a Richard Feynman experience in reviewing materials for factual accuracy: none are perfect, and most are far from it. What's to be done then?)

Fourth, there's the problem that even experts in a field can miss potentially lethal mistakes, as was the case in a cookbook published some time back which neglected a very important step in the cooking process. I read about it years ago and the details have gone fuzzy--whether the ingredient was a leaf or a root, what book, what author--but the problem was that one of the ingredients required a certain treatment before being included. Without that treatment, the result was organ failure, which one of the purchasers experienced and then sued about. (I might be able to find this case again if I dig long enough....)

Unfortunately, none of this is to say that you're wrong! I agree completely that our country has a serious flaw in its educational system: students are taught to store and retrieve factoids but not taught how to think independently and run the risk of assessing or challenging established doctrine.

Even though I know dangerous information is dangerous, even though I know the U.S. educational system is broken, and even though I think some of the books libraries have on their shelves are pernicious and to be assiduously avoided (including vast swathes of the Dewey Decimal system, though--thank you--I'll decline saying where), I don't think that removing removing everything dangerous can possibly be the answer to those problems. For a start, it seems like it would be directly in opposition to the notion of letting people think for themselves.

All of this, naturally, is just my opinion.

#154 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 09:20 PM:

Sorry, I got a bit carried away.

FWIW, there's a better chance of any given material being removed if there are newer (more comprehensive / more lucid / more generally correct / more highly-regarded etc.) works on the same subject which you can recommend which are both in print and affordable. Librarians are loathe to remove all works on a subject, even if it means that old unreliable works are all that is left. Updating holdings is seen as necessary; paring collections due to space is seen as tricky and time-consuming but also necessary; requests to remove item X typically get a knee jerk reaction.

#155 ::: Douglas Hulick ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 09:28 PM:

Not directly on-topic, as I don't consider either rigidly "scholarly", but two off the top of my head...

"How the Irish Saved Civilization" by Thomas Cahill. Sloppy scholarship, broad assumptions, clearly written with an agenda to prove the point of the title.

*Anything* on historical combat by John Clements. He cites no existing historical manuals, can't provide any provenance for what he teaches, and is reknowned for regularly injuring his teaching partners (and himself).

#156 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 09:30 PM:

Bill @ 148

You have my full sympathy. (I know that feeling well. I know at least four ways to spell 'Evans'.)

The Holland Company records are still around, and if you can find your people in them, they apparently can be very useful.

Ancestry is mostly good as a record collection - especially the census and newspaper images. People's trees, on the other hand, are only as good as the people assembling them, and I've run into attempted grafting of non-relatives onto mine (probably 'the name and dates fit, so it must be the same family').

#157 ::: Liza ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 10:23 PM:

PJ Evans @ 156: On the other side of the coin, at least one genealogical website believes my grandfather died childless (and seriously misspells my grandmother's name), despite my email informing them that my father, my sister, and I exist.

#158 ::: Liza ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 10:25 PM:

But I forgot, this is works not to cite and not the open thread. How about When God Was A Woman, by Merlin Stone? In high school I loved it, in college I realized just how shoddy some of the scholarship really was.

#159 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 11:39 PM:

Re ACORN (esp. #145 and its precedents): The House Judiciary Committee has posted on its website an 82-page report,as a PDF file. This seems to be a different document than the PDF referred to upthread. This one was compiled by the Congressional Research Service (a branch of the Library of Congress) and the official website is

Nor have I read the whole thing. But I thought I'd pass it along to those here who are interested in the subject.

Regarding tampering with the soundtrack of videos involved, as mentioned upthread, I could find nothing in this document about that by searching the terms "audio" and "sound". (Most results for the latter refer to Prince William Sound.)

#160 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: January 04, 2010, 11:44 PM:

In a different subthread, I am also saddened to hear of Mary Daly's death. It's been a long time since I read any of her works, and definitely took most of them with several large grains of salt, but when I was younger, I did find much of her stuff enjoyable and food for thought.

Lately though, as with real food, I've found that there are some thoughts that require too much salt for my taste.

#161 ::: Marci Kiser ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 12:19 AM:

Any historical documents cited by Michel Foucault. While he has some intriguing insights into human interactions, his history is an atrocity.[0]

On a different tack, a running game in the world of biblical studies is to try and find a credulous theory the wonderfully-gullible Margaret Barker won't sympathize with.

Similarly, Dan Brown and 'Holy Blood, Holy Grail'.

[0]Of course, Foucauldians would claim that Foucault isn't engaged in history, but if you're going to cite obscure historical works to build your theories and then claim the history is unimportant only after someone checks your sources, you should at least have the decency to crawl off into the desert as an offering to the gods of academic credulity.

#162 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 12:35 AM:

While I am not myself knowledgeable enough in the field of anthropology to make an evaluation, I have noticed that the only times I see other anthropologists mention Desmond Morris is to refute him. From this I infer that his work may be appropriate to include here.

#163 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 01:00 AM:

ddb@147: I tried Googling on "Making light" and got 679,000 hits...however, a rather small fraction of those were related to this blog. (The blog was the top hit, to be sure.)

#164 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 01:14 AM:

And of course, there's the grandmother of all the retcon goddess books, Murray's The God of the Witches.

#165 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 02:23 AM:

Googling "" gets about 131,000 hits.

#166 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 03:32 AM:

Renee @ 119

I have edited books/bound journals in a veterinary school library - but only in pencil, and only to correct number transpositions (where I've double-checked the original) or erroneous references (e.g. volume 4, not volume 14; "Journal of Parasitology", not "Parasitology"; pages 226-228, not 126-128). I consider this a service to the next reader trying to find the reference.

#167 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 07:39 AM:

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned Barry Fell and Ivan Van Sertima yet.

#168 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 08:01 AM:

PJ Evans @ 156... I know at least four ways to spell 'Evans'

...where four is an even number.

#169 ::: Dr. X ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 08:02 AM:

FAO Marci Kiser: could you recommend a good example of someone who's critiqued Foucault's use of historical sources? I think the man had something interesting things to say about power and modernity, but I do find some of his stuff questionable (certainly if you read Discipline and Punish, it doesn't mention the reality of the French revolutions, great and small, that punctuated the transition to a modern penal system in that country).

#170 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 08:35 AM:


I find it interesting how closely this tracks with the arguments about the Wikipedia model of building an encyclopedia.

#171 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 08:58 AM:

Lois #159:

This is a big problem in general with video evidence. Selective editing (like quote mining of text for bad-sounding bits) can massively distort the truth while creating what appears to be hard evidence for the distorted story. That's happened for a long time with news shows, and sometimes you could catch discontinuities in interviews and such.

This relies heavily on the tl;dr[1] phenomenon, which afflicts both news consumers and (more damningly) news reporters. It's routine at this point to see talking head shows discussing some report or book about which most of the panel clearly knows almost nothing[2]. If I can produce a damning-at-first-glance story with enough appeal, it's likely that most readers and most journalists and news sources will never get around to digging up the problems. Or if they do, the problems won't make as juicy a story as the made-up version.

A related problem comes up with surveillance video which is under the control of interested parties. Video that shows the cops beating the hell out of some homeless guy has a remarkable tendency to somehow get damaged before the trial, while video that shows the cops behaving properly is quite stable and will likely survive to the trial.

[1] Too long, didn't read.

[2] I remember noticing this a lot with media discussions of The Bell Curve. There's plenty to criticize in that book, but most of the criticism I saw in media sources obviously came from folks who hadn't bothered to read the damned thing. You can see the same phenomenon any day of the week, in discussions about terrorism, airline security, foreign policy, the economy, global warming, etc. Your participation in a talking head discussion about some topic does not require that you know even a minimal amount about that topic.

#172 ::: Marci Kiser ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 10:15 AM:

IRT: Dr. X,

Various historians have criticized Foucault on this or that matter, but probably the most concise and insightful critique is by J. G Melquior, simply titled 'Foucault'.

Chomsky also gets in a few good historical shots in his debate with Foucault over human nature.

#173 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 10:34 AM:

JOhnofjack #153, I agree with you 100%, and so while I grouse about certain items I find on the new-shelf at the library, I would not seriously try to censor the whole collection, though I do lean on the staff a bit about what can go first when it's time to weed (e.g. the guide to Germany for 1988.) Nothing is going to take the place of teaching people to think for themselves. And the school system was broken clear back in the 60's.
And yes, I recommend stuff all the time.
Barry Fell's work raised my hackles instanter. He was so absolutely sure about everything, including stuff that to me seemed extrememly dubious, and let his sexual fantasies dribble into his explications of this or that artifact. I had the same response to Van Daniken many years before--just the tone of it. Not that I'd base my criticism just on the tone of a work, but to me it is a warning signal. And I am glad to see Desmond Morris getting refuted--he set off the bilge alarm too.
Postmnodern-type jargon and unreadability is an automatic bilge alarm. Unfortunately I don't have the time or endurance to derive what good there may be in such a work; I notice I don't buy them any more.

#174 ::: Dr. X ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 11:07 AM:

Marci -

I think I have a copy of that Melquior book somewhere, but it's a very, very long time since I read it!

One thing we might consider on this thread is the 'borderline books'. When I was an undergrad anthropology student in Ireland a long, long time ago, we warned against reading Nancy Scheper-Hughes' _Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics_. This ethnography of alleged links between child-rearing practices, rural economic decline and mental illness probably did get the aetiology of schizophrenia in Ireland wrong. But I happen to think that the broader picture it paints of a dysfunctional society that breeds dysfunctional families and individuals has more than a grain of truth in it.

I wouldn't cite NSH's work on Ireland without handling it very, very carefully indeed - but neither would I reject it altogether.

#175 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 11:12 AM:

#71 Sorry, Wikipedia really needs a list of stuff that should not be cited. (Along with it's multitude of other problems...) The phrase "Wikipedia is much better than they were a few years ago." is true, but so is the phrase, "It's only a flesh wound."

I'm currently involved (in the very argumentative planning stages) of creating a Wiki-like program that starts with footnoting and builds articles from there. In other words, you do your research first. Footnotes belong to everyone, articles to a certain researcher, so multiple points of view can be read on a single subject.

#76 The important thing about the Illuminatus trilogy was the feeling, while reading it, that I was no longer alone. I should note, however, that these works were cited, very successfully, in The Book of the SubGenius, which also should never be cited.

#176 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 11:22 AM:

I'd also include among books not to be cited Robert F. Marx's Pirate Port: The Story of the Sunken City of Port Royal. The opinion of Roderick Ebanks, the Jamaican archaeologist who devoted years to working on Port Royal, the first time I asked him about it was "Marx tells lots of stories."

#177 ::: Zora ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 01:11 PM:

#81, Judi Thompson:

"If you are planning on writing about the history of Islam, avoid Patricia Crone."

Just her first book, called _Hagarism_. That was an attempt to write a history of early Islam just from non-Islamic sources, avoiding Islamic sources (which can indeed be unreliable; it's just that the non-Islamic sources are unreliable too!). She has since backed away from those early theories. The book hasn't been reprinted and is selling for high prices at online used book outlets. Her later books are actually fairly solid. I like her book on the evolution of the caliphate.

#178 ::: becca ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 01:18 PM:

Is anyone here familiar with Alice K. Turner's A History of Hell? It's generally fascinating, but I don't have enough medieval history and literature to know how accurate it is.

Specifically, I'm interested in whether the following is accurate:

Herlequin was first a pagan Germanic demon. In France, he became the leader of an army of demons that supposedly rode through the night on the "wild hunt" - England knew him as Herne the Hunter and Germany as the Erlkonig ("the Elf-King").


#179 ::: Zora ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 01:23 PM:

Re #82 by Paula Lieberman:

"Yoicks! The Ka'aba a Hindu temple?! You mean that Cahokia and Mystery Hill aren't!?!! And what about Malta and Stonehenge and Blue Henge and Kuala Lumpur and Tenochtilan, they weren't either, or Macchu Piccu??!!"

I'm not sure that P.N. Oak goes that far, but some Hindutvadis do. They argue that human civilization began in India, many thousands of years ago, and from there spread over the rest of the earth. The Indo-European languages came from India, most religions came from India, philosophy, mathematics, architecture, etc.

Other nationalisms posit different starting places. It all began in Iran! No, China!

#180 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 03:58 PM:

Zora 179:

One of the most amusing of these is the Turkish 'sun language' theory according to which all languages are descended from Turkish, and according to which the name of the river Amazon is derived from the phrase 'Ama uzun', meaning 'But it's very long.'

Kid Bitzer 44:

Along the same lines - Part 2 of 'Being and Time'; and also 'Part 2' of Berkeley's 'Principles of Human Knowledge'

#181 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 05:35 PM:

I can't speak for other libraries, but at mine (small liberal arts university with a 150 year old collection) we strive for academic accuracy as much as access. If a professor brought to my attention a book whose scholarly merits were dubious, I would take it under advisement for withdrawal. The last thing we want is for some student to use a crap source and blame the library for having it on the shelf.

This of course is not as easy as it sounds. While purging all books by Regnary is one thing, our Physical Therapy graduate program has started teaching alternative medicine, which means we now have books on acupuncture and acupressure and reflexology to sort through.

#182 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 05:41 PM:

The raven @139: Any electronic resource of questionable provenance, especially a strongly ideological source, without independent validation.... Of course, this also means large parts of Wikipedia.

Hell, your definition covers large chunks of Elsevier, even the stuff that isn't astroturfed by Big Pharma. Ugh. Now I've gone and given myself a headache again. Damn you, Elsevier!

#183 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 07:26 PM:

I went to Big Lots! to see if they had "D&D for Dummies" or even "DM for Dummies."

No luck, but they did have "Sarbanes Oxley for Dummies."

I mean, wow! Talk about a White Elephant gift.

#184 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 07:32 PM:

In re the removing-books-from-libraries subthread, anyone interested enough to be following the thread may well be amused by this site, which is run by librarians.

#185 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 07:33 PM:

Becca, 178: I do a slightly different kind of medieval French lit, so take my opinion with a grain of salt, but on first glance I don't buy that reasoning.

#186 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 08:23 PM:

Becca @ 178... Herlequin was first a pagan Germanic demon. (...) England knew him as Herne the Hunter

For some reason, the idea of Michael Praed as Robin Hood going deep into the woods to ask for the counsel of Harlequin sounds silly, but YMMMV.

#187 ::: becca ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 08:32 PM:

@#185 - Thanks, TexAnne. It seemed odd to me. The author presents a lot of opinions as fact, and doesn't document her work (but then, it is a popular book, not a scholarly one) - some of it seems to make sense to me, but I never heard of any connection between Harlequin and Herne before, and it seemed odd.

#188 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 09:04 PM:

The Awful Library Books blog is fun, though it's worth remembering that they're looking at these books from a public library perspective. Most public library collections are primarily for reference and education, as well as current interest (including entertainment). In such collections, outdated or wrongheaded material rightly gets the heave-ho fairly quickly.

But there are also other kinds of library collections that try to document and preserve a broad range of thought and discourse on various subjects. Those research collections tend to include the good, the bad, and the ugly. They tend to be in academic libraries (though they may also exist in public libraries, particularly for local topics). I hope that copies of most of the books featured in the Awful Library Books eventually move safely into the research collections.

Research collections don't necessarily have to be large. My own Online Books Page collection has fewer than 40,000 titles, but it's intended to be research-oriented. The book at the top of the New Books list as I write this, for instance, is an attack on school integration published in 1961. As a source for public policy arguments, it's appalling. As a source for documenting racial prejudice among "respectable" Southern whites in the years following _Brown vs. Board of Education_, it can be rather enlightening.

#189 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 09:14 PM:

dcb@166: That's acceptable; I do that myself (ie, changing the date on the cover page of a report to match the date on every other page of that report...)

The point is to use something that doesn't react with the paper and that is relatively easy to remove if needed. Ordinary graphite pencils work just fine on just about everything (thermal paper, on the other hand, is an invention of Hell. 'Nuff said.)

#190 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 10:00 PM:

I've tried to keep up here, but has anyone included Joseph Campbell?

Along with McKee sometimes I think he's done more harm to Hollywood than much else. My goodness, the year movie and video folks learned the word 'narrative!'

Love, C.

#191 ::: Charlie Dodgson ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 10:51 PM:

Well, in addition to blatant falsehoods, there's also the strategically chosen half-truth. One example that really ticked me off a few years ago was a book by Niall Ferguson, now of Harvard, called "Colossus: the Price of American Empire."

The basic thesis of the book is that the United States should try to dictate economic policies to third-world governments for their own good, because the on their own they've made such a hash of it. He of course fails to mention that the policies which got such lousy results were often advocated, and sometimes dictated, by the United States, via the World Bank and the IMF. In fact, he barely mentions those institutions at all, which is a very strange omission from any general discussion of third-world economic policy over the past few decades, unless you've got an axe to grind...

#192 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 11:42 PM:

Constance @190. I would disagree about Joseph Campbell. It's not his fault that Hollywood took his stuff and ran with it, or that he talked to George Lucas, who took him as his guru. His earlier books are, IMHO, reasonably good *popular* works on mythology.

Some of what people are mentioning are works of fiction and OF COURSE should not be taken as fact or used for citation. C'mon, Illuminatus! makes no attempt to be taken seriously; it's meant to be thought-provoking and fun, not a reference work.

God of the Witches, is important because of the reaction it provoked, whether or not the theories presented have much in the way of underpinings. It demonstrates that one should always look at the copyright date and other bibliographic information when evaluating a book.

#193 ::: Tracie ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 11:48 PM:

I recently had occasion to warn a student off these books about renaissance dance, all of which purport to present historically accurate performing reconstructions. All are in her university's library, and show evidence of having been regularly checked out.

Commonly available in academic libraries and (too) often cited as authoritative in academic studies: Mabel Dolmetsch's Dances of England and France from 1450 to 1600: With Their Music and Authentic Manner of Performance and Dances of Spain and Italy from 1400 to 1600. The charitable thing to say is that she was a pioneer in the field, and her research has been "superseded".

Frequently shelved nearby in the same academic libraries, and even more avoidable are Melusine Wood's Some Historical Dances, Twelfth to Nineteenth Century; Their Manner of Performance and Their Place in the Social Life of the Time (astonishingly, still in print), More Historical Dances, Comprising the Technical Part of the Elementary Syllabus and the Intermediate Syllabus, the Latter Section Including Such Dances As Appertain But Not Previously Described (whew!) and Advanced Historical Dances. In endeavoring to trace a continuous history of English dance from the 12th to the 19th century, and to provide performing reconstructions, Miss Wood was obliged to invent three centuries of dance history. Bless her heart.

Building on the work of Dolmetsch and Wood, dance historian (well, theater professor who has been teaching period dance and movement for over 30 years)Jim Hoskins published The Dances of Shakespeare in 2005 and managed almost completely to avoid actual period sources as well as recent, more historically based dance research. When he wasn't just making stuff up and not bothering to warn readers.

Also often shelved close by is John Millar's Elizabethan Country Dances. He knows more than we do; he has a master's degree. (He says so, right there in the book.) This unfortunate attempt at performing versions of historical dances is marred by disconnect with historical sources and sometimes outright fabrication (also without warning readers). To be fair, Millar has gotten better in the last couple of decades. And he has a sense of humor -- he cites (with a straight face) Father Guido Sarducci as a source. He is a prolific writer on naval history, architecture and religion.

#194 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 11:54 PM:

ObPedantry: the author who wrote the Foucault critique is Merquior, not Melquior. (Unless Amazon got it wrong, anyway. See

#195 ::: Brenda Kalt ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2010, 11:58 PM:

As a cataloging assistant many years ago, I noticed that catalogers tended to write the classification number, accession number, whatever-else-needed-to-be-written, in much larger characters than were needed, on the book's title page. I detected (and covertly enjoyed) a sense of "We get to write on library books, and you don't!"

#196 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 12:47 AM:

Serge @186:
For some reason, the idea of Michael Praed as Robin Hood going deep into the woods to ask for the counsel of Harlequin sounds silly, but YMMMV.

Well, um, considering how I felt about the show (and Michael Praed) when it first came out, let's just say that an association with Harlequin makes a certain amount of sense.

#197 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 02:07 AM:

Brenda @ #195: "We get to write on library books, and you don't!"

But even so, only in pencil, so that, if needed, it can be erased.

(signed) Lois Fundis, who has worked in libraries since 1963 (minus a few years doing other stuff), including several years as a cataloger

#198 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 02:14 AM:

The material between the quote marks in my post #100 above, is a direct quote from someone who is not a disinterested party.

Regarding she whose name I asterisked, there are very ancient defaming traditions, at least one of which gets re-enacted at the reading of the Book of Esther in Hebrew across the planet, the little kids brandish their noisemakers and the instant a certain name begins to be uttered, they swing them to blot out the name....

Disemvoweling is something of a modern relative....

Names have invocative and evocative properties to them, or do at least from entering through the ears (hearing) and eyes (reading) of the beholders

Anyway, yes, there is a large component of disgust/repugnance involved. The googlefoo hadn't occurred to me, at least not consciously.

#199 ::: Strata Chalup ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 02:54 AM:

Sam@97, I especially agree with your 2c wrt Jared Diamond. I somewhat enjoyed Guns, Germs, & Steel, but had to stop reading Collapse due to massive inaccuracy on agriculture and cultivars-- completely western-centric and also outright wrong on the topic of mainstay cultivars and food crops that supported (and still support) many populations outside the first world.

Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, by David Montgomery, is where to start getting the stuff that Diamond got wrong and left out. Don't have a comprehensive source on alternate food crops for that part of it, alas, though I could dig some stuff out of ATTRA and similar for starters if anyone was really jonesing for it. :-) Diamond ignores low-effort high-yield cultivars like Yacon and Oca in Central/South America, dahlia and jerusalem artichoke in Mexico, quinoa/amaranth/millet as major food crops, and more.

#200 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 03:50 AM:

One of the discombobulating things about the PNR/UF onslaught, for which a huge chunk of blame Josh Whedon seems to be reponsible for, is the idea of the book which has accurate and precise information in it....

Ha, ha, ha, to that. Just try looking into primary sources which are still extant and see how much they agree on myth and religion. Ha, ha, ha, ha....

Errors even in scientific literature where things can be measured (more or less... Millikan's oil drop experiments, occasionally came up with a droplet with a 1/3 charge, for example, and the physicist's proof that "all odd numbers are prime" includes "Nine is an experimental error.")occur, and error bracket, and uncertainty. One of my professors when I was in college caught an error which had been in the literature for decades--no one apparently who had ever checked the math for a particular published equation, had gone public, if anyone previously had checked the math, with the fact that the math was wrong....

For that matter, the birth dates on the graves of my maternal parents are wrong. I know this because my mother told me--her parents were probably about the same age, but her father thought that it would be more proper/appropriate for the gravestones to show the husband being several years older than his wife.... and his wife predeceased him by a number of years.

Culture plays a role in what gets written down and in accuracy--the names of women from the past most did not get recorded--in some of the cultures, mentioning women by name was considered immodest, therefore....

#201 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 07:07 AM:

abi @ 196... Heheheh.

Did you know that Pierrot tried to join Robin's group, but he was turned down because they're supposed to be the Merry Men?

#202 ::: oldsma ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 10:23 AM:

Um, wow. Hello!

I offer Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon, at least the section on Asatru and just about anything by Viktor Rydberg on Germanic mythos. Also Barbara Walker, highly citeable on knitting, is scary bad on Norse Mythology. Blum on Runes, DJ Conway on anything, ... .

#203 ::: oldsma ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 10:25 AM:

Um, wow. Hello!

I offer Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon, at least the section on Asatru and just about anything by Viktor Rydberg on Germanic mythos. Also Barbara Walker, highly citeable on knitting, is scary bad on Norse Mythology. Blum on Runes, DJ Conway on anything, ... . You can cite Dumezil on Germanic mythos, but only in the context of discussion of how badly his system fits the Germanic religion.

#204 ::: oldsma ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 10:26 AM:

*facepalm* I would swear I never clicked POST on that first one. It must have been my administrative assistant.

#205 ::: Calton Bolick ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 10:39 AM:

#65: "How about a Wikipedia article about sources you should never cite?"

#71 "Oh, crud, you just divided by zero; must escape to another timel--"

Don't strain yourself patting yourselves on the back there. Meanwhile, you might try here:

#206 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 10:42 AM:

oldsma: I really liked Edain McCoy until I realized that she was claiming, in her book on the Sabbats, that potato pancakes were an ancient Druid dish.

And Walker's not just bad on Norse mythology; pretty much anything she writes on religion is Burning-Times-womyn-centric-ancient-matriarchy menstrual-life-force-power-thingie crap.

#207 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 11:31 AM:

Keith Kisser @181, John Mark Ockerbloom @ 188:

I find these comments fascinating and I've been thinking about them awhile. I do work in a public library (and one librarian did just pull every JNonFic book on space which references Pluto as a planet, but that was met with some grumbled consternation as maybe a tad extreme).

A few thoughts (much less dogmatically than before):

I'm thinking there must be some level of error which most libraries would accept (e.g. simple and very infrequent typos: "aslo" for "also") and some level which most libraries wouldn't ("considering wind resistance in your model of aerodynamic flight is completely optional"), and I'm very interested in where each library might draw the line between the two.

It's also interesting to me that a book on feminism making dangerous and wrong claims about sexual relations might stay in the collection since it's primarily about another subject and might have historical interest.

What about "science" books which are anti-science? I know some public libraries carry those: works arguing that creationism is a scientific theory or that global warming doesn't exist and its proponents are all conspirators, etc. It's not hard to imagine those getting thrown out at a medical school or the library for an environmental studies program, though I wonder if some of those might even show different levels of tolerance....

In all I'm thinking the situation is much more nuanced than I first indicated, and I'm feeling both embarrassed about it and intrigued about the different possible policies based on purpose and surrounding culture.

#208 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 11:52 AM:

Shouldn't anti-science books go in fiction, along with biographies of politicians, athletes, and entertainers?

#209 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 12:11 PM:

Johnofjack @207:

I'm thinking there must be some level of error which most libraries would accept (e.g. simple and very infrequent typos: "aslo" for "also") and some level which most libraries wouldn't ("considering wind resistance in your model of aerodynamic flight is completely optional"), and I'm very interested in where each library might draw the line between the two.

It really depends on the library. Specifically, the scope of their collection and the amount of time the librarian/librarians in charge of collection development have to assess and weed.

I work at an academic library for a university, so we have a fairly wide general collection with several program-specific collections.[1] We let a lot of oddities slide int he general collection, under the general principle (and ALA commandment) that we provide access to information, regardless of its veracity, provenance or flaws (as always, caveat emptor). Some obviously junk material gets culled, (unlike at the last academic library I worked at, where we had three copies of Paris Hilton's "auto"biography) but generally we don't worry about typos. Nothing like getting rid of all books that mention Pluto as a planet, say. Those have historical significance now anyway.

Being in charge of the collection, I get to throw a little weight around, and so draw the line at pseudoscience getting added to the collection. We receive several large donations a year, mostly retiring professors donating their collections or local folk cleaning out their basements. I think I've tossed out three copies of The Secret and a half dozen New age books in the last year. What was really sad was a retiring language professor who gave us a bunch of really beautiful but hopelessly out of date Spanish language textbooks (30+ years old).

1. The majority of our budget is spent on the Health Professions graduate programs, and these days, more and more of that is allocated to electronic resources, which is another kettle of fish. Angry, angry fish...

#210 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 12:31 PM:

P J Evans @ 208:

"Fiction" has a narrower sense in libraries than "not true". Basically, fiction is prose narrative of invented characters and/or events presented for entertainment. Storytelling, in other words. (There may be a more rigorous definition in the library science literature; this is just off the top of my head.)

Everything else is "non-fiction", so non-fiction includes both "true" and "not true" literature.

Librarians generally don't like it when books with wrong information (but that aren't fiction, as defined above) get moved by patrons into the fiction section. That's not where they're cataloged, so it makes them hard for patrons to find.

#211 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 12:39 PM:

Calton Bolick #205: Don't strain yourself patting yourselves on the back there.

Oh snap! I guess I've been told.

As a source, I am at my most reliable when I quote The Onion as news and works of fiction as if they were documentaries; tinyurl and its online compatriots are such blessings for this important work. Sometimes you just have to set aside worship of reliability to get at the truth.

#212 ::: lmashell ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 01:14 PM:

PJ Evans@156 and Bill@148 - My father is attempting to trace the family tree and discovered in one set of 8 siblings 3 different spellings of their shared last name. Definitely keeps things interesting when trying to find their records.

#213 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 02:30 PM:

John Mark Ockerbloom @210:
Librarians generally don't like it when books with wrong information (but that aren't fiction, as defined above) get moved by patrons into the fiction section. That's not where they're cataloged, so it makes them hard for patrons to find.

It's even more complicated than that when we take into consideration the consolidation of catalogs into consortial allied systems (basically, one catalog that serves multiple libraries, in different states, even) and the near monopoly on MARC data by OCLC. Our patrons aren't just the students, faculty and staff of our university, but 39 other universities in three states. And we're trying to make all those catalogs agree. So if one joker moves Going Rogue into the fiction section, it makes things... complicated.

#214 ::: Mark Flebotte ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 03:55 PM:

Constructing Medieval Furniture: Plans & Instructions with Historical Notes
by Daniel Diehl

Where do I start, he uses modern known fakes as his research pieces, his plans don't work and his techniques have never been used anywhere by any woodworker worth there salt.

There are much better older works but this seems to be the one everyone recently quotes from. Why? It's the only one available on amazon and other such sites.

#215 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 04:40 PM:

I see Jared Diamond has already been mentioned: good.

I think I mentioned in the last bad-sources thread that Thomas Hartman should not be sited w/r/t ADHD, farming, hunting, or human evolution, except in that one is writing about amusing ideas Thomas Hartman has espoused.

Let me now add the species distributions maps, at least the ones for Washington, northern Oregon, north Idaho, and northwestern Montana, for Setley's field guide to North American Birds. I rarey step out of the car in those areas, winter or summer, without seeing something he says absolutely never goes there.

#216 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 05:12 PM:

I get angsty and guilty-feeling when I pick up good books at public libraries' sale of withdrawn stock: taking what was public property, and making it my very own for (usually) a pound or two, feels like an enclosure of intellectual commons... But I know they can't keep everything.

The reference section of my local big-city library has on its astronomy shelves a 'catalogue of named stars' published by one of those companies that will "name a star after you" for a fee. The names are mostly like 'JOANNEILUVU4EVER'. It's a waste of shelf space, and it offers a patina of authenticity to a dishonest enterprise; but some libraries (such as legal-deposit libraries) will always carry such catalogues.

(Some of the stars in these 'catalogues' have names like 'In Memory of Our Beloved Son [name]'; these companies are defrauding the bereaved).

#217 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 05:43 PM:

There is nothing like having to do battle with the public library over how they've cataloged a book. The year the 3rd edition of "Drawing Down the Moon" came out Columbus Public kept trying to shelve it in the Fiction Section. It took me three go-rounds with 3 different reference desk librarians to get the thing shelved in the 100s...

Lately, they've been trying to shelve McCaffrey's Dragonrider of Pern books in the Fantasy section. I managed to get them to put the hardcovers back in Science Fiction, only to discover the paperbacks are still in Fantasy. Sigh.

#218 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 06:02 PM:

Lori Coulson @ 217 ...
Care to expand on why? The Dragonrider of Pern books twig my 'fantasy' button, rather than my 'SF' button.

#219 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 06:37 PM:

xeger @ 218: Since the series began in Analog, perhaps we could compromise on "fantasy with rivets"?

(Actually, the series' premises and backstory are clearly SF, even though some of the initial flourishes and other story decorations partake of certain styles often associated with fantasy.)

#220 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 07:39 PM:

JESR, #215: How old are the Setley maps? One of the major effects of climate change has been to bird ranges; I've got a couple of birdwatcher friends on LJ who have noted that species they never saw as recently as 5-10 years ago are now common in their areas.

xeger, #218: Pern is one of the perennial examples cited by people trying to explain why it's hard to draw a firm line between fantasy and SF. Dragons and psi powers = fantasy; lost colony and genetic engineering = SF; Pern has them all. This is why I would be pushing very hard at that library to combine their "Fantasy" and "Science Fiction" sections into "Speculative Fiction" -- the dividing line is both hard to draw and (in many cases) very subjective.

#221 ::: Minstrel ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 07:46 PM:

I will admit to quoting the works of Paradowska (who wrote a RETELLING of Greek myth) in my high school literature matriculate exam presentation.

In my defence, I got the lowest mark in my group (which was still 80%).

#222 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 07:47 PM:


1. The humans got to Pern on spaceships; they are later discovered.

2. The dragons, and dolphins, were deliberately genetically manipulated.

#223 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 08:25 PM:

Pern is of the SF subspecies "all sufficiently advanced science is indistinguisable from magic until you figure it out." It just spends an awfully long time in the magic part of the equation.

#224 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 08:25 PM:

In #219 Leroy F. Berven writes:

(Actually, the series' premises and backstory are clearly SF, even though some of the initial flourishes and other story decorations partake of certain styles often associated with fantasy.)

I don't believe this is an accident.

I think Anne McCaffrey was deliberately setting out to tell a story with castles, dragons, lords, ancient prophecies, and scullery-wenches in which SF machinery lay behind the curtains. That she could sell to Analog.

I repeat myself. I find I have written about this before: "It's clear to me that Anne McCaffrey deliberately set out to construct an edge-case. And succeeded very, very well."

#225 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 08:53 PM:

Apropos of Mary Daly, I heard an obituary for her on All Things Considered yesterday.

The first version said she "pointed out" that the trinity derived from various triple goddesses. Two hours later, the second version said she'd "asserted" (I think that was the word) it.

I take it that's a point on which her scholarship is questioned.

It was a very weird piece. It closed with a dude from Notre Dame saying Daly would be a footnote in Catholic theology. However, she served as the standard of "absolute feminism" against which people measured themselves. That struck me, especially coming from someone who seemed very not in sympathy with her ideas, as an attack on feminism.

Did anyone else get that from it?

#226 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 06, 2010, 09:37 PM:

Where I was in Texas, the library shelves all the fiction together, and just puts tags on them to indicate genre (they do shelve children's and adult books separately). At least that way, all the fiction by any one author is together.

#227 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 12:19 AM:

Speaking from my lofty perch as an official "Not a Scholar!", these threads on ML always unnerve me badly. Full disclosure time: I love well-written popular histories, particularly if they tell great stories strongly. However, I always feel very shy to speak of them and would never dare to recommend any of them, for, as a layman, I have no expertise.

So, I'd petition a request for our benign hosts for a thread that extols the virtues of good popular histories for non-specialists that would delight the taste for narrative and could pique the palate to investigate further?


P.S.: I'm childishly delighted that over 200 posts in and as of yet no one has trashed C.V. Wedgwood...

#228 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 12:33 AM:

Lee, it's Sibley- I've done the reversals thing again, sorry-and the maps are very recent: 2003.

(Sorry to be short, just so sleep deprived as to feel as if I'm typing while wearing mittens on both hands and brain).

#229 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 01:15 AM:

Bill Higgins #224:

I am also reminded of Sheri S. Tepper's "True Game" stories and more recently, Charlie Stross' "Merchant Princes" saga.

#230 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 01:33 AM:

I'm currently reading a book that has a large bibliography of works that should only be cited when discussing error. It's "The Quest for Origins" by K. R. Howe, and the subject is the current scientific consensus on the origins of the inhabitants of the Pacific islands, the history and evolution of that consensus, and the history and evolution of "alternatIve" theories of those origins.

In particular, he describes how many popular explanations have colonialist aplogias as their base. And yes, he mentions Heyerdahl and Von Daniken.

#231 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 08:49 AM:

I thought the SF-ization of Pern was a retcon (via prequel) some half dozen books into the series, but then, it's been a long time since I read any of them. Were there subtler clues to the origin of Pern in the early books that prove she had it in mind all along?

Anyway, to return to the topic, _Liberal Fascism_. At least, it pretends to be scholarly.

#232 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 11:11 AM:


My understanding was that Herne the Hunter was invented by Shakespeare (Merry Wives of Windsor) and only later conflated with the 'Wild Hunt' etc.

#233 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 11:25 AM:

Bill Higgins @ 224... I think Anne McCaffrey was deliberately setting out to tell a story with castles, dragons, lords, ancient prophecies, and scullery-wenches in which SF machinery lay behind the curtains. That she could sell to Analog.

Was that the only reason? I mean, back when those stories were being written, was there any market for fantasy, at least at novel lengths? In that case, the only way someone could have had such a story pulished was if it had some SFnal justification.

That of course was before what's-his-name wrote those books about an Evil Ring and the quest to get rid of it.

#234 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 11:27 AM:

chris @ 231 -- The introduction to Dragonflight briefly describes the colonization of Pern ("Rukbat, in the Sagittarian sector, was a golden G-type star. It had five planets, and one stray it had attracted and held in recent millennia...") and the later loss of knowledge and technology that led to the current situation.

#235 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 11:32 AM:

Pern and Darkover are both pretty much "fantasy masquerading as science-fiction" stories; they're both interstellar colonies that have lost some knowledge and gained other knowledge.

They seem, to me, to appeal to the fantasy urge in readers (and certainly many aspects of their fandoms scream that to me as well). (I very much liked about the first 4 or 5 Pern books, up to but not including White Dragon, and liked Darkover quite well through the late 80s or so. But I liked them the way I like fantasy, not the way I like SF.)

Interesting question if they're that way just for sheer perversity (a motivation never to be overlooked in authors!), for marketing reasons, or because to the authors the stories demanded it.

#236 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 12:25 PM:

Good 'popular' histories and other good 'popular' non-fiction works are invaluable. Academic scholarship is delibrated structured these days to focus on tiny bits, rather than connecting dots and constructing a larger image (this is how we keep the academics from going rogue on us, and making leftist-type troubles). So what is the use of all that scholarship in academies if someone, generally someone outside, doesn't try to pull it together for all the rest of us non-specialists and / or non-scholars?

But yes, we are speaking of good works, into which enormous research has gone, with rigorous citation of peer-reviewed source materials. These are the sorts of works where the statement above applies: do not cite a source you haven't read. Even when the source in which you find the cited source is impeecable. You still need to track down the original, when and if possible. When comes to demographic information, for instance, that may be impossible -- you cannot visit all the Louisiana county records that Gwendolyn Medlo Hall visited to compile her stats in Africans in Colonial Louisiana, for instance. Still, if you as a 'popular' historian working in Louisiana matters, you probably need at least a reading ability in Spanish and French.

What happens in broad, or what publishing likes to call 'big histories' is that you will have errors, no matter how rigorously and faithfully you work to make it otherwise. It is more upsetting by far to the writer(s) than anyone else. But the important thing is that even if details here and there can be seen as wrong by specialists -- is the broad picture correct?

Love, C.

#237 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 01:08 PM:

Paula Lieberman @200:
One of the discombobulating things about the PNR/UF onslaught, for which a huge chunk of blame Josh Whedon seems to be reponsible for, is the idea of the book which has accurate and precise information in it....

Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy and Joss Whedon?

I think blaming Joss Whedon for [say] Twilight is a little dubious. Same vamps, different messages.

#238 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 01:16 PM:

Metadata -matters-. That is, information about information is important, sometimes the the "information" is pure noise, without the metadata to explain, "What you are looking at is the time domain transform of information which makes sense in the frequency domain' or vice versa. On the other side of the transformation you see a graph that makes sense. On the wrong side there is a screen image that has white dots and splotches on black.... But someone who knows they the white dots are in transform space, and knows -how- to do image processing on it, can clean up the data in transform space, transform it back, and the resulting graph/chart/image shows relationship that people can see, a lot better than the original "unprocessed" data....

Libraries alas seem to lack metadata regarding credibility of books. The web on the other hand is very much metadata oriented--look at this very thread, the entire thread basis is metadata, "let's talk about source material reliability" and most of the posts involve discussion assessing reliability or lack thereof, of reference materials....

On the other hand, there are qualitative versus quantitative issues. "Page n of Book Name by Author says that robins migrate out of Massachusetts. I observe permanent party robins in my backyard the entire year. Page n of Book Name therefore is incorrect and suspect data." That is quantitative, I have data which proves that the page informtion is incorrect... but a lot of time things are no so definite. The information is "noisy" with some material being accurate, and other material not so.....

Then there is Wikipedia...

#239 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 02:04 PM:

#237 Sandy
Buffy in large part is responsible for the onslaught of fictional story in book, collections of stories, film, and TV of contemporary vampires/demons/werewolf/shapeshifter/witches which contain at a minimum one of the characteristics:
o Lead character is a physically talented "kickass" (I hate that term, I do NOT regard "asskicking" as positive, I regard it as an obnoxious, hostile, malicious, deprecatory activity....) female who goes out doing dangerous, often stupidly offensive activities... How many stories had lead characters like that before Buffy?
o There is a Book which Tells All, want to know about a specific type of demon? Look it up in the Book. Does it turn green and grow six inch claws, have fifteen purple eyes, and eat Charlestown Chews? Look it up in The Book.... In real life, references tend to NOT agree on a lot of things, have errors in them, be missing things, get outdated (the issue about ranges of birds...), have questions about accuracy of data even ("It has been reported that... It is thought that... These results have not been replicated....").
o Related to The Book above, there are all these weird taxonomies of demons and vampires and such, to look up in The Book.
o Apocalyptic stuff that the world is going To Be Destroyed by vampires, or crazy gods/goddesses who are having bad hair days, etc., especially with characteristics of the above in the story and plot
o The idea of The One, There Can Be Only One At a Time... yes, Buffy itself wound up violating this late in it tenure, but still... And yes, there are lots of stories going back to ancient history and legend of the Annointed One At A Time--but not for demon-destroyers/vampire killers generally.
o A certain sort of humor and bouncy-bouncies with it, insouciance especially
o Romance involving kickass heroine and Badass partially evil or evil Alpha Male being redeemed through Love with bumps along the way (but Buffy/Angel as a couple could not have the HEA because that would have been the end of the series.... series of PNR novels generally each has a different romance in it and different leads...)

Some taxonomy (or lineality, perhaps, instead), sketchy, but to provide general tendencies:

o Charmed -- there are three instead of one, but they are The Special Three--except of course that Shannon Doherty got The Boot, and a fourth sister to make the magic Three came in as replacement.... The show had a Book of Shadows with solutions for this, that, and the other, no questionable uncertainty material in it. And the show had kickass heroines in triplicate, and the collection of Named Types of Evil Menaces/Demons, and the Evil Apocalypses threatening....
o A current series by Lori Handleman which I can't remember names of, but look in the romance section... there is Apocalyse threatening, there are the leads who are magically gifted descendants not necessarily aware of their heritage, there is demon taxonomy and talents...
o A current Larissa Ione series, there is an underground hospital run by demons/part demons for supernaturals beings, there is a demon taxonomy, the demons need to meet their mates or they will got insane and murderous and/or die (also in romance)
o the Alien Huntress series by Gena Showalter, there are named alien species who are congruent to demon types in PNR with demons rather than aliens from other planets/dimensions. There are the kickass huntress heroines who are bad actor alien killers. There is romance between redeemable apparent bad actor aliens, and the kickass females....
o Other authors, other series of books, in which there can be a Book which the magically-enhanced leads are hunting down afraid of what the villanous conspirers are going to do with to cause the end of the world, and there are vampires/demons/etc....
o Anya Bast's series that rotates among three sisters, this one reads like something inspired to a large degree by Charmed--which show is an excursion inspired by Buffy. It's closer to UF in some ways than PNR because it does not have the HEA per book.... hmm, the series seems more like Charmed crossed with Meredith Gentry (Laurell K. Hamilton) universe lite, plus a touch of D&D (there is a dragonshifter... hmm, there is a dragonshifter subgenre in PNR, with several authors have specialties in that -- G. K. Aiken/other pen names, Jade Lee, and a few others --Deborah Cooke's Pyr series, one or two of Angela Knight's books....)

Other books and series I expect will continue popping into my brain at odd moments, including ones that I was thinking of when I wrote the post above, which aren't occurring to me at all at the moment....

Not all the elements are always around--I doubt if it were that directly Buffy-inspired (the inspiration apparently being an Ace editor saying, "We have an open slot available for a UF/PNR book, would you write one for us?" to Patricia Briggs... given that at least one of the books coming out of that achieved the status of NYT #1 bestselling paperback book, this was a very smart move on part of the editor, publisher, and writer to have done....)--the author probably watched and liked Buffy, but had been a straight original fantasy non-industrial era universes writer with romantic subplots until asked by her editor about writing a UF novel. Her UF series do not have any The Book, and the lead character Mercy Thompson, doesn't even really know what she is/is capable of other than by empirical evidence... she's a natural coyote shifter, not a created-by-being-bitten wolf shifter. There are some supernatural entities which appear to have some ideas about her, but aren't telling her what they know.

But, the impetus for Patricia Briggs' UF books, was the popularity of UF/PNR, which Buffy was one of the main causes of. Yes, Laurell K Hamilton's work was a big influence on popularization of UF/PNR and of it becoming a massive fictional movement influence, but a LOT more people watch TV and film/video, that read novels....

#240 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 02:08 PM:

Paul Lieberman @ 239... There Can Be Only One

Which reminds me that it's been some time since I asked TexAnne about the Highlander sequel.
I definitely heard that.

#241 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 02:10 PM:

re 235: I would say that Pern and Darkover illustrate two points about genre: first, that SF-ness is to a large degree a function of publisher, and second, that space opera bridges SF and fantasy because, in the end, operatic plot works more or less the same regardless of what kicks it into motion.

re 238: What's different about the web is that it allows one to find metadata/context easily-- if you choose to look, if it is there, and if it isn't drowned out in the shouting. In the library you had to look in Index to Periodicals or other reference works and hope that the library actually had a copy of the work listed. The biggest problem with the web's metadata is that so much of it is garbage. If someone comes across this discussion, for instance, how do they know that we are worth listening to? Or for that matter, which of us are worth listening to?

#242 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 02:10 PM:

Paula Lieberman #238:
Doesn't that just transfer the problem up one level, to the reliability of metadata regarding source material reliability?

#243 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 02:18 PM:

Looking over the Expository Lump of mine above, I seemed to have failed to explicitly note that Charmed is a result of Buffy.... "me too!" TV show, with sufficient changes to avoid direct copycat/plagiarism claims, but with distinct similarities and areas of congruence which look like adoption of devices from Buffy.

Instead of being in Sunnydale CA it's in San Francisco. There are three sisters who are the unique champions instead of one vampire slayer. They are demon destroyers/protectors against demons rather than vampires--but the Buffyverse established that vampires are demons. Both have a Book full of All Arcane Knowledge, though the BOok of Shadows focuses on spells. Anyway, without Buffy I doubt if Charmed would have/could have existed.

Buffy I think was a first as regards fighting female sole Champion in film/TV going up against demons and vampire, again, as a sole person.

I do not know what the influences leading to the creation of Buffy were... but friends of mine some months back pointed at Buffy as the point of tsunami engenderment for UF/PNR. Yes, it was not the first work of UF/PNR type, but it was the one that infected the masses and the producers and distributors of content to the masses, to identify it as giant trend and pump it up and pump product out in ever-growing amounts.

Now the paranormal/UF/PNR onslaught has been in full bloom for years, with paranormal TV shows and films, and the bookshelves groaning with it in several different fiction genres (SF/F, romance, and even mystery), and displacing other subgenres....

#244 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 02:38 PM:

Paula Lieberman @ 243... I do not know what the influences leading to the creation of Buffy were

Whedon's granddad was a writer for Leave it to Beaver.
His father wrote for Golden Girls.
'nuff said.

#245 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 02:43 PM:

There are ways of looking for e.g. internal consistency within a metadata aggregation. This thread consists of a bunch of us discussing things, and in some cases challenging one another to provide support basis for thesis... that provide internal consistency checking, and internal valuation/credibility checking. The thread also include explicit uncertainty... one of the hallmarks of experimental science analysis involved the explict inclusion of "error bars" which deal with "there is uncertainty involved/these are not mathematically exact models and implementations/etc."

One of the hallmarks of bad research is a failure to be willing to admit to "we aren't sure about this...." Alas, with respect to e.g. climate change and scientific theory, the disinclination to accede to the Faith-based perpective of "True and certain it is that...." [taken directly from an English textual translation contain in a Jewish prayer book...] and other such absolute-type presentation, means that the naysayers come back with "nyah, nyah, nyah, it's not proved, it's your OPINION and not Truth." It's the issue of empirical understanding and allowance for "there are things we don't know which COULD have effects which are we haven't/can't allow for" being misunderstood/not comprehended/deliberately distorted when compared about absolutes and Faith and experiential Truth....

They are different worldviews.
Another factor is that most good scientific researchers are incompetent communicators to the general public. They think and live in a different mindspace than "mundanes" and there is a communications gap and giant gaps in other areas as to goals, values, interests, approaches to the universe, assumptions....

Life in MIT dorms and fraternal/sororal organization is "normal" for people who live in MIT dorms, and for people in e.g. Caltech dorms. It is not "normal" for people who live in giant football school dorms, or people who stay in the same locality they were born in and regard going to the state capital as a major journey to a galaxy far far away.

I think I mentioned having had a boss who had never even SEEN an alcoholic potable beverage until he was a Georgia Tech freshman--as opposed to the days when everyone who went to a Catholic mass shared the sacramental wine, or Jewish families will full observances having wine at Friday night dinner and four cups of it at Passover seders...

Anyway, when there are different worldviews and organic orientation and behaviors, the same words do NOT mean the same things....

#246 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 02:50 PM:

Wingate@241: Space opera, eh? I'm a huge fan of the genre -- and would never have thought of putting Pern or Darkover there. Because they're not, like, science fiction.

To me, space opera is for high stakes, the main character is pretty much single-handedly responsible for saving whatever is at stake, and they are tech-driven; it's all about the inventor coming up with the new gadget to save the universe. Pern and Darkover fail all three requirements.

But I've gotten less and less sure of what people mean when they say "space opera" lately. The canonical examples, surely, are Doc Smith, George O. Smith, and certain Jack Williamson. I think they all meet all three of my criteria, at least.

#247 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 02:53 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet @ 246... Pern and Darkover fail all three requirements

They're not space operas.
They're planet stories.

#248 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 02:55 PM:

Modern vampire stories have an interesting history. I trace it as roughly Chelsey Quinn Yarbro, Ann Rice, Laurel K. Hamilton, Buffy, Charlaine Harris, Charmed. Although they're not vampire-related, J.K. Rowling has to be important in that history anyway. (I'm aware of other authors who wrote modern vampire stories; I'm omitting ones that don't seem to me to be on the main trunk of popular development. I may be unaware of recent events; I haven't watched Charmed myself.)

I liked Yarbro, and enjoyed aspects of Buffy (though, as is generally true with TV, it doesn't really bear thinking about).

#249 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 03:02 PM:

Leave It to Beaver?

[glyph of projective vomiting....]

Some of the SF TV shows that impressed me socially in varying amounts for varying reasons:

o Space Above and Beyond:
oo Look! The leader of the small cadre who were the main focus of the show was FEMALE!!! even though going up the chain of command, the commanders were male....
oo The Brainy Geek of the cadre was female, a Caltech graduate, and with darkskin. Woo-hoo, and she was NOT a token compsci type (the replacement for Girl Secretary on TV and in some book, became female programmer -- Max Headroom, The Silicon Mage by Barbara Hambly--except that the way the character thoght, was not how the softwrae engineers I know tend to think.... )
o The only-six-episodes-produced SF TV show that came out the same time as Babylon 5 --airing the episodes out of order meant that the first two were incomprehensible, which killed the audience...
oo "JoJo" the pilot was female and a hoot... the pilot was -female- in time when female pilots were still rare and arguments were going on about where female US pilots were to be allowed to fly.
oo the commander was female
o Earth 2 -- the entrepeneur who was the one founding and funding the colony was a woman, a scientist and entrepeneur wealth from designing and builing and operating space stations. She was a form of J. J. Harriman except she also was a parent, with a son with medical problems, and she was founding the colony as a place where perhaps humanity would be able to get a second start and find ways to have healthy offspring--and perhaps remediate her son's conditions.

As for the commection to Leave it to Beaver--June Cleaver gave me extreme indigestion even as a small child. She represented a meme which was anathema to me, which I despised, hated, found completely unappealing as any lifestyle of appeal to me... the life of a 1950s housewife as family domestic worker and caretaker and minder of the children and cook and bottle washer and "wait until your father comes home and nurturer... ugh. I wanted to explore, invent, go places, do things, and NOT do dishes, nurturing, laundry, wash, clean up messes made by other people, nag, be Social Enforcer and socially enforced. [ranting away... but it was grim, grim, grim-- read The Feminine Mystique to anyone for whom that sort of life lacks appeal, and particularly appalling to e.g. novelty seekers... there is NOT novel about doing the same dishes day after day after day...)

The stuff I pointed at above, the female characters were intrepid and had self-determination, were not nurturers or were not SOLELY nurturers --the Earth II protagonist, was the parent of a son--but she had more in her life than being Ullyses' mother.... They went out into the universe doing things, exploring, have EXTERIOR adventures, invented things... the sort of things that drew me into reaading SF/F....

#250 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 03:47 PM:

Then there is "futuristic romance" and there are "lost colony" romances....

Jayne Ann Krentz says she writes "romantic suspense." She has a trilogy one of which just got published, which temporarily along the timeline is the second of the three, but which due to publication schedules, is the one being published first.... which consisted of a Jayne Ann Krentz paranormal contemporary romance romantic suspense novel (the came out this past week hardcover), an Amanda Quick historical paranormal romantic suspense novel (forthcoming in a few months), and a Jayne Castle Lost Colony futuristic romance romantic suspense novel (forthcoming later than the Amanda Quick novel). She also has Lost Colony books such as Sweet Starfire which are being republished....

A couple other writers are or have been doing Lost Colony romances or similar settings--Robin Owens, with her series that all start with the word "Heart" and Patti O'Shea I think had three. (The O'Shea books, the setting is a planet with abandoned civilization site, and there is an military/scientific investigatory base there, as opposed to the Castle/Krentz and Owens books, which had the situation of settlers having arrived and started a colony but are cut off from whence the colonists came--with Krentz they colonists mainly came though a gate sort of mechanism which later stopped working (Sweet Starfire though it was colonizing ships), with Owens it was a colony ship.

In the romance side, the Lost Colony-type books, involve setting up a setting which tends to have the alien civilization and its artifacts, or a colony, usually generations long after human settlment, and some amount of frontierism and social changes evolving based on planetary conditions and dealing with environment which was not where humanity evolved and which may have traps from that or the alien artifacts.

The world-building tends to lack the level of "hardness" and expository lumphood that stuff published after the 1940s tends to have in SF/F--it's more like descendants of planetary romance stories, with interplanetary/interstellar travel mostly off the table.

I've notice an insurgence of space operaish/planetary romance-type books being published as romances, lately -- Susan Grant's Moonstruck and The Warlord's Daughter, Angela Knight has a time travel series rather like a Poul Anderson/s Time Patrol stories with romance plots, Shiloh Walker has at least one cross-dimension romance like an Andre Norton cross-dimenion story (Long Live King Kor and others of Norton's cross dimension stories, were in effect romance stories....), there is the Candace Sams novel marvelled at (in a not positive way...) in another Making Light thread, there is a series by Karen Kelly, and in epublication from the likes of Changeling Press and Ellora's Cave are respectively the Spaceport and Hunters for Hire SFish romance not for the under-18 market series.... what's available without paying are excerpts which are not sufficient for me at least to determine much about quality or lack thereof of characterization and setting and plot, the only certainties are that plots include a Happily Ever After romance fo the lead characters and there are explicit sex scenes. Another publisher with some of its publications being SFish stories is Red Sage/eredsage, I'm blanking on the name of a specific writer published by Red Sage whose work includes a couple SF romance with explicit sex in two or more Red Sage collections (which Borders used to carry in-store but doesn';t anymore, Borders cut in-store inventory massively a year ago, and Barnes & Noble is doing than now--it rearranged what stayed in the store in Burlington, a store I that three of the moderators here have been in, in romance a month ago, the non-new titles section is now a fraction of what it had been, with the new books section expanded to spread over most of the space for romance, with the books all faced out and at least a paperback's distance separating different books... this masks not that well, what has to be at least I suspect a 1/3, or maybe even half or more, drop in instore inventory, and a massive drop in the number of differnt titles carried. The same this is now being done to SF/F, the purging was partway along when I was in there two days ago.)

Looks like there is a forced movement to electronic order and to electronic format distribution occurring....

The vicious things about that include:
a) I can't skim through books that I can't get my hands on physically or do an online viewing of the publication overall (that is, in a bookstore I will open a book that looks interesting to a random page and look it at as a first filter for "is this interesting?" and then may read some number of pages before making a decision, when flush with discretionary income... or there are times I have starte reading a book in the store and bought it to finish reading at home. Can't do that with epublished books at the current time... some have an excerpt--which is not necessarily sufficient for me to decide "yes" though it may be sufficient for, "No Way!" I also can't do that with "you have to order the printed book".. I have long had an aversion for multiple reasons, to ordering books I have not have a copy of in my hands to look through first.

b) How does one get USEFUL information about a publication--its existence, price, who wrote it, who publishes it, length/price, type of book, style of writign, genre, is it part of a series, what else has the author written, what is the writing like, characters, etc. Harriet Klausner reviews are not useful to me. Most reviews aren;t because I don;t know where the reviewers are coming from and what their judgment is in relation to my tastes and interests and tolerances and preference in writing styles...
c) There is lots of crap out there, but crap is a judgment call.... sorting through stuff I can;t get useful bearings for, when the amount is enormous, aarggghhh...


#251 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 06:39 PM:

chris @231 said: I thought the SF-ization of Pern was a retcon (via prequel) some half dozen books into the series, but then, it's been a long time since I read any of them. Were there subtler clues to the origin of Pern in the early books that prove she had it in mind all along?

And then Joel Polowin @234 said: chris @ 231 -- The introduction to Dragonflight briefly describes the colonization of Pern ("Rukbat, in the Sagittarian sector, was a golden G-type star. It had five planets, and one stray it had attracted and held in recent millennia...") and the later loss of knowledge and technology that led to the current situation.

In addition, I remember firmly F'lar et. al. finding [before they went back in time, I think?] in the deep hidden (mysteriously dustless, because so well-sealed) reaches of Benden Weyr a room with a bunch of gobsmackingly confusing stuff, including what if you read it really carefully and thought about it became clearly a diagram of the local solar system. I think this was in the first trilogy (but then, there was some odd stuff in White Dragon, too).

#252 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 10:49 PM:

1966 - 1971 -- didn't see it. The era in which Anne Rice's family suffered the tragedy of the long illness and death of child / sibling.

Anne Rice's Interview With a Vampire, written in 1973, published in 1976.

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's first St. Germain novel, Hotel Transylvania was published in 1976.

Frank Langella played Dracula in film (1979) and on stage.

David Bowie, in The Hunger, 1983.

Love, C.

#253 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2010, 10:54 PM:

Gack things keep getting eaten between preview and post.

Dark Shadows, the daytime television series was left out of the top sentence of the preceding comment. Which I never saw, living without television as much as I have. That was the real beginning, one might think. Especially with Whedon's family work in television. He surely watched it.

Love, C.

Also, Johnny Depp is playing Barnabas now, in the movie version of Dark Shadows.

#254 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 01:00 AM:

That introduction about how Pern was a lost colony was printed at the beginning of the Hugo-winning "Weyr Search" (which became the first half of Dragonflight), so that was present from the very beginning.

Buffy never had one single book that was the go-to book for info about demons. There were a lot of scenes (especially in the earlier seasons) of the crew spending the night in the library doing research amongst a large number of books. To be sure, the information they got that way was always reliable.

#255 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 01:36 AM:

Serge @233 -- that either shows a complete lack of knowledge of what the SF/F market looked like in the 1960s (cf the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series shortly after, the Ace editions of Tolkien and Silverlock shortly before, and huge amounts more) or it's intended to be a joke. On this thread, I'm not sure which.

#256 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 04:26 AM:

Constance #253: Also, Johnny Depp is playing Barnabas now, in the movie version of Dark Shadows.

Yeah, that could work. heh.

#257 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 04:45 AM:

#252 - #253 Constance

How old is Josh Whedon? Dark Shadows was on daytime TV in the early 1960s, if he's younger than someone who would have been a grade schooler at the time, he wouln't have seen it. It was a soap opera which suddenly one day had a vampire show up in it....

Tom #233
The market for fantasy in the 1960s was much much much smaller than the SF market. Norton's first outright fantasy novel I think was Witch World, as opposed to all the SF she had written, and was writing. The Adult Fantasy series from Ballantine Books mostly was publishing reprints--Clark Ashton Smith, Dunsany, Isle of the Mighty by Evangeline Walton (retitled to that from "The Virgin and the Swine" and then the previously unpublished books were also part of the series)), H. P. Lovecraft, Jurgen and the other books by the same author (blanking on his name), etc. It wasn't until the early 1970s I think that Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword got its second edition--its first paperback one--and he had much fantasy come out--A Midsummer Night's Tempest-- and later the Operation Chaos series... deCamp new fantasy too (as opposed to ones from long before such as the deCamp/Pratt collaboration I think didn't start appearing until the 1970s, and Gordy Dickson's fantasy series mostly I think started in the 1980s.

There were the Elric stories by Moorcock, but weren't they originally published as shorter than novel length stores in British magazines? Hmm... Lancer was publishing -some- fantasy, but again, I think that was more in the 1970s? Leiber had the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories, but those had been from before the 1960s, and were reprinted in book length volumes by I forget which publisher in the first half of the 1970s.

There was some fantasy in the 1970s but it was still being overwhelmed by SF. The changeover hit in the 1980s.

I'm trying to remember when the highly derivative Dennis McKiernan trilogy came out--early 1980s. When was it that Sword of Shannarra cme out? That was the first Tolkien imitation out the door that wasn't a gaming tie-in (all those D&D novels, they started in the 1970s.

Hmm, Joanna Russ has a fantasy novel or two in the very late 1960s -- the one with Alix as heroine. When did Zelazny write the Dilvish the Damned stories? But, they were shorter than novel length, until the Dilvish the Damned novel came out in the early 1980s. Nine Princes in Amber was I think 1970. Fantastic was publishing fantasy mostly in shorter than novel length. MZB was writing science fiction or books with SF settings. Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction published both fantasy and science fiction....

There was some amount of Arthurian fiction around, but The Matter of Britain is the Matter of Britain. I think it was the 1960s that had The Once and Future King... and the late 1960s which had The Crystal Cave and the two books following it, by Mary Stewart (I would prefer to not be reminded of the fourth book, published long after...)

#258 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 07:12 AM:

Tom Whitmore @ 255... It wasn't intended as a joke, which means I've just been called ignorant. Please do feel free to educate me.

#259 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 07:41 AM:


I think the problem is the bit where you said "That of course was before what's-his-name wrote those books about an Evil Ring and the quest to get rid of it."

The first Pern story was published over a decade after what's-his-name's books about the quest to get rid of the Evil Ring.

#260 ::: Mal ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 09:20 AM:

What are the errors of fact or interpretation in Diamond's "Guns,Germs, and Steel"? Are they details or do they call into doubt his central arguments?

I haven't read the Chris Hedges book that refers to Sinclair Lewis instead of Upton Sinclair, but I'd put that in the category of a copyediting slip (the kind that gets fixed in 2nd printing), not the sort of error that discredits a whole book. Sloppy editing can be enough to wreck the credibility of a source but not automatically.

#261 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 09:41 AM:

Paula Lieberman @257 asked: How old is Josh Whedon? Dark Shadows was on daytime TV in the early 1960s, if he's younger than someone who would have been a grade schooler at the time, he wouln't have seen it. It was a soap opera which suddenly one day had a vampire show up in it....

However, it had a second (heh heh) life on cable in the mid-late eighties ... I know this because my stepmother greatly enjoyed being able to watch it again. And 'again' for her was the first time for my at-the-time-3 sister, who would amusingly chirp, "Daaahk SAHddowes!" over and over when it was time to air it.

I think Joss is less than ten years older than I, and I was certainly old enough to watch and enjoy the cable re-air.

(Edited to add: IMDB says he was born in 1964, and I'm a 1976er, so there we go. Also, point of order, his name is JosS, not JosH -- short for Joseph, not Joshua.)

#262 ::: Mal ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 09:42 AM:

Sorry, I should have referred to @#5 for the Hedges error and @#97 for my question about Diamond.

@ #62 and ff.: Personally, I dislike the correction of simple typos in library books. Typos don't cause problems of understanding, and the correction is distracting. I'm not interested in knowing that some previous reader was a good speller. It's especially disruptive in fiction, interrupting my immersion in the book.

If the "correction" is changing aslo to also, I would ask my fellow libary users to resist the urge; a typo in an equation is another matter.

#263 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 09:47 AM:

Paul A @ 259... Never having read the Pern books, I got the impression that they had first come out in the 1960s. I stand corrected. Still... Am I making another egregious mistake in asking if, even after LoTR, it took time before fantasy attained enough respectability in the field that, if someone wanted to write a fantasy novel, by gum they weren't going to dress them as SF? Probably.

#264 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 10:02 AM:

Tolkien publication dates -- part of the confusion is that the original (English) publication dates are FAR before they became important in American genre publishing.

The Hobbit was published in 1937, and the three volumes of LotR were published in 1954 and 1955. In England.

The American editions of LotR came out in 1965 (both the Ace unauthorized edition of Fellowship and the Ballantine authorized edition of all three volumes).

Hey, what was the copyright technicality that made the Ace edition legal? I thought I knew, but what I thought I knew isn't compatible with the dates I'm seeing. (Dates from ISFDB).

#265 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 10:08 AM:

David Dyer-Bennet @ 264... Thanks for the clarification. I was just about to post that the confusion might have come from which 'first' publication we were talking about. I myself was thinking of the American one.

#266 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 10:08 AM:

Serge@247: Planet stories? Not a category I'm really familiar with. They're both about colonized planets with quirks, certainly; is that the intended meaning of the term? Is this a term that's in use and I just don't know about, or an idea you're coming up with?

You could define it to include all stories about a planet with only one climatic region, too -- you know, desert planets, ice planets, water planets, and so forth :-) .

The magazine of that title ceased publication before Pern came out, it looks like :-).

#267 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 10:13 AM:

David Dyer-Bennet @ 266... I think it was at 2005's NASFiC (in Seattle) that I first heard the label 'planet stories' used as such: during one panel, it had been pointed that Dune isn't a space opera, but a planet story. For one thing, the bulk of the story and its focus are on the planet Arrakis, not on the traveling thru space that got people there from elsewhere. Does that make sense?

#268 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 10:20 AM:

PL -- Re-runs? By Whedon's personal account he watched television non-stop from a very early age, as well having the means to watch old movies, i.e. family in the industry, before tivo, vhs players, etc.

Whether or not one saw it, it was there. And surely the boy-o did some research before writing the movie, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Love, C.

#269 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 10:25 AM:

Also, as the dates I provided show, Dark Shadows was a late 60's program, not early.

Love, C.

#270 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 10:27 AM:

Serge@267: Okay, "planet stories" as in the physical setting being a big part of the story. Hal Clement often did that. I see how Dune fits it. I can see Pern and Darkover fitting. Interestingly, those three series are all known by the name of the planet, in fact.

So is Lord of the Rings planet fantasy, then? (Or use another word, since planet isn't quite the concept in that case; but it really elevated the artistic use of landscape as practically a character.)

#271 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 10:43 AM:

Serge, David:

Oh, well, if we're talking about the American publication date - which of course makes sense, now I think - I take back the "over a decade" part.

But even so, Pern doesn't come before LOTR: "Weyr Search" was 1966, and Dragonflight was 1968.

(I don't think Pern was a science fiction story for marketing reasons, anyway. Of the possibilities suggested @ #235, I incline toward "to the author, the story demanded it": the protagonists of Dragonflight occur to me as being more like science-fiction protagonists than fantasy-story protagonists in their approach to the world around them - although it's been a while since I read it, and I'm not sure I could elaborate on that thought.)

#272 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 10:48 AM:

About "planet stories":

A term I've heard, which may or may not be the same thing, is "planetary romance". The example usually given is Burroughs' John Carter of Mars and sequels.

#273 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 10:49 AM:

Similar to a planetary romance, then? The point isn't how our heroes got to Mars; it's about what they do when they're there.

(Incidentally, on the subject of planetary romances, was anyone else following Scott "Locke Lamora" Lynch's "Queen of the Iron Sands"? Is anyone else as annoyed as I am that he put up the first four chapters at weekly intervals, as promised, then put up a teaser saying "chapter five coming on 21st September" and since then NOTHING? Have I not made it clear that his job is at stake?)

#274 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 11:09 AM:

Mal @ 262 -- I don't bother correcting minor typos in text, especially not in books that aren't my own property. I correct things like errors in equations, numerical values, dates, references, code samples, etc. -- things where the error might lead someone astray or make them waste time. Usually I find these errors because they've caused me problems, and I want to spare anyone else the same trouble.

#275 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 11:14 AM:

Hey, what was the copyright technicality that made the Ace edition legal?

There's a detailed discussion, which I'm not going to attempt to summarise, in this:
(Joseph Ripp. Middle America Meets Middle-earth: American Publication and Discussion of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, 1954-1969.)

The copyright situation starts on page 25.

#276 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 11:14 AM:

Paul A @ 271... even so, Pern doesn't come before LOTR

True, but how long did it take before writers and editors realized that LoTR's success turned into "Hey! People LIKE novels that are openly fantasy! Let's do more of them!" ?

As for Pern itelf, my suggestion that it might have been dressed up as SF because of the nature of the literary scene back then was just that. A suggestion. I've never read what McCaffrey said about it.

Speaking of John Carter... It'd have been interesting to see what the movie would have been like, had the studio not pulled the plug on it. Considering that this led to its director, Jon Favreau, going elsewhere to do Iron Man...

#277 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 11:32 AM:

Paul@275: Excellent, thanks! I now vaguely understand it in terms of the right issues, instead of (as previously) vaguely understanding it in relationship to the wrong issues. This is progress.

The early Houghton Mifflin editions appear to be missing from the ISFDB (first reference there is to a 1981 single-volume edition, and I own an older Houghton Mifflin 3-volume edition), which is why I missed them in my discussion of the US publication history. Still, the books weren't well-known in the US until the paperbacks came out in 1965.

#278 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 12:59 PM:

#276 Serge

Paul A @ 271... even so, Pern doesn't come before LOTR.
True, but how long did it take before writers and editors realized that LoTR's success turned into "Hey! People LIKE novels that are openly fantasy! Let's do more of them!" ?

Very quickly. Recall Lin Carter's Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, reprinting classics that were already (see name of the imprint) "fantasies." It launched in 1969.

There was also a mainstay of genre publishing all along for several decades, that in the U.S. we called S&S. Fritz Leiber was writing Fafhred tales already in the 1930's. Norton's Witch World (first one published 1963) books and MZB's first Darkover tales were considered S&S as much as they were considered anything else. Leigh Brackett was another writer in the vein, though earlier and grittier than Norton and MZB. Also MZB had been inventing her Darkover world since childhood.

IOW, a kind of writing invented by Boroughs and Howard and Haggard and even Doyle, were perennially popular with certain kinds of readers -- and many more of those readers were girls, women and adult men than perhaps was realized.

That readership had been growing incrementally throughout the 20th century. LOTR provided something for all of us, and a nexus around which a publication marketing category could be exploited or developed.

Love, C.

#279 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 01:56 PM:

BTW, the magazine, Science Fiction and Fantasy debuted in 1962.

What LOTR did was create a Fantasy genre that could have a marketable, specific identity -- the Quest Fantasy, which appealed enormously to enormous numbers of people, including game creators. Thus the Big Fat Fantasy, as it is also sometimes called, came to domination of the market.

One does feel that to a significant degree the rise of the (generally, hopefully) shorter volumes of 'urban fantasy', filled with supposedly short, cynical, sharp repartee, are another generation's reaction to the, at least so perceived, bloated and ponderous and even ridiculous language of so many quest fantasies. I do not know if that is really the case though, since this is such a persistent American flavor since at least the 20's in noir and other genre fictions, and the beloved movies -- so very edge of the New World (which sometimes causes afficiandos to mistake for edgy), rather than harking back to Old World times, lost in the mists of time.

O dear -- I probably didn't say that right!

Love, c.

#280 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 02:18 PM:

re 275: Brutal put-down here: "Consider, for example, a comment made by Amanda Craig in The Independent (London) that describes
Tolkien’s core audience as “hippies, computer programmers and Americans.”"

#281 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 02:24 PM:

Constance @ #279, and Sf&F serialized Glory Road in the summer of 1963, shortly after its debut.

James Hilton's Lost Horizon was what I'd call fantasy, and it was published in 1933. And what does one call Burroughs's Barsoom and Tarzan novels?

All facts above provided by Wiki, but they seem so easily checked that they're probably accurate.

#282 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 02:30 PM:

Peter Beagle's THE LAST UNICORN was published by a mainstream publisher the same year as DRAGONFLIGHT. Tolkien was published at the same time in the US in hardback as he was in the UK -- and enjoyed great commercial and critical success in hardback in both countries (I think there were over 20 printings in hardback before the revised editions happened to cover his publisher's copyright infelicities in 1965 -- that's two printings a year). Tolkien had very little interest in allowing paperbacks to be published -- there's certainly some cause to believe (from his published letters disparaging paperbacks) that if Don Wollheim hadn't forced the issue by publishing the Ace editions, that paperbacks wouldn't have been published until after Tolkien's death. Novels about this alternate world of publishing might have a very small niche market.

Hardback fantasy or SF (published as genre) hitting the bestseller lists doesn't happen until the 70s.

As for selling to magazines -- FANTASTIC and F&SF were going strong through the 60s, and started the careers of some major authors and artists.

There wasn't a marketing category of fantasy that was doing well in the 60s in book form, but that doesn't mean that there wasn't any good stuff being published. There was quite a bit of stuff being published in children's literature. Looking outside the box, Paula, will bring up a lot more stuff than you cited (though you've clearly got a grasp of what was going on in-genre).

And others have managed to cover a lot of what I could have said.

Constance, F&SF debuted in 1949 (as "The Magazine of Fantasy", for one issue -- title changed to "The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction" with the second issue, and I think it now has the longest tenure under one name of any current magazine); I don't know of a magazine called "Science Fiction and Fantasy".

#283 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 02:32 PM:

Well, F&SF serialized Glory Road. Not quite so clear on this "SF&F" people have mentioned. (And "Fantasy" coming first is an important point in the discussion about the commercial history of that genre in the US.)

#284 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 02:47 PM:

David Dyer-Bennett, I meant F&SF; Wiki has it right.

#285 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 03:38 PM:

Oh, and the short version on the Tolkien copyright question: US copyright law at the time required an edition to be printed in the US in order to secure copyright here (see James Blish's Doctor Mirabilis for an interesting example of this, and the Paget editions of William Hope Hodgson's fantasy books). The early Houghton Mifflin editions all say "Printed in Great Britain" on them (and almost undoubtedly, they were). So, legally, the books weren't copyrighted in the US. IANAL, and this is the folk version of what happened. There are undoubtedly other complexities.

#286 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 04:27 PM:

David Goldfarb@254

Is there a missing "not" in your last sentence?

(Although it is true that the information in the old books was usually correct. There were a couple of nontrivial exceptions, however.)

#287 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 04:27 PM:

David Goldfarb@254

Is there a missing "not" in your last sentence?

(Although it is true that the information in the old books was usually correct in BtVS. There were a couple of nontrivial exceptions, however.)

#288 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 04:43 PM:

I think Red Moon and Black Mountain got published in the late 1960s and the first Katherine Kurtz Deryini book--but again, my point wasn't that there was no comtemporarily-written booklength fantasy being written, but there it was rare compared to SF.

Barsoom planetary romances or rather science fantasy planetary romantic novels, were all reprints in the 1960s, Burroughs had written them long, long, long before.

Leiber was a long-time writer, and the Fahfrd and Gray Mouser stories that one of the publishers did in paperback were mostly reprinted material. Robert E. Howard stories were reprints.

Leigh Brackett's stories tended to be planetary romances, as were many of C. L. Moore's. Their careers as SF/F writers were essentially over before the 1970s, and maybe even before the 1960s.... Brackett became a highly paid screen writer, which paid/pays a lot more than writing SF/F text print for reading as textprint, generally (note the defection of e.g. Doris Egan/Jane Emerson, John Varley, and others to screenwriting.... and George RR Martin leaving screenwriting for reasons of frustration overcoming the financial remuneration lure).

MZB was still writing what was being published as SF... the situation that exists today of low-overhead publishing on line and print on demand and self-publication with the web for promotion and publicity and ordering, didn't exist way back when... swords and psionics space and planetary fantasy is rife today with ebooks and paranormal/furistic romances and some science fiction romance.

As for children's and YA books, they are in something of different bin as regards the 1960s -- there were a lot fewer bookstores back them, nd many of them did NOT carry children's and YA books.... many of which were in hardcover and distributed for libraries/in library editions. The really young children's books, fantasy has always been a staple, especially fairy tales. I think I starte noticing/buying YA books mostly in 1979 at A Change of Hobbit....

As for British stuff, Doubleday in the 1960s was publishing a whole bunch of disaster novels with the world or the universe ending downer ending books, by British writer, including Ballard, and I can't remember who else (The Drowning World, The Crystal World, Cryptozoic, etc.) I did not appreciate them and I STILL have a sour taste from them all these years late) which Doubleday was selling to mostly libraries....

Mass distribution books were almost entirely paperbacks. Childrens and YA books, the intent mostly I think was library sales, and SF/F had in the 1960s an 1970s a perception that a plurality if not majority of readership, were adolescent males... the paperback SF/F market included YA, with e.g. the Norton backlist in it, and Heinlein, etc.

Borges I think was published by Doubleday SF hardcovers for libraries, along with other of the lit SF regime/magical realism strata, in the 1960s.

Swords & spaceships got published as SF (e.g. "Rebel of the Rhada" I think was one of the titles of such, back in the late 1960s or early 1970s)

The Last Unicorn I think Doubleday's SF/F line published as adult harcover, with a very curlicue font involved.

As regards "planet stories" -- pedant alert!! Planet is a NOUN, "planetary" is an adjective. (I also get very irritated seeing such abominable terms as "good eats" and "good reads" instead of "good eating" an "good reading" -- and get annoyed when people use adjectives as nouns, and drop the noun the adjective OUGHT to be modifying.... snarl, whatever happed to teaching basis grammar and being LITERATE??!! Whatever happened to gerunds and participals (participles? It's been so long since the last time I saw term, I can't remember which is the correct spelling!)

#289 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 05:04 PM:

Pern came before Sword of Shannara and Bored of the Rings, though (a double-feature made in Heck).

#290 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 05:21 PM:

The 1960s were long long ago, a different time, a differnt mindset, different antecedents, different social values (married same gender couples as other than a thought experiment or a faraway in space and/or time culture? In vitro fertilization with egg donors even? Organ transplant on a routine basis? A quarter of the US population at risk of diabetes? Dick Tracy commnicators used in every restaurant and street corner and store unexplicitly explicity banned and the ban enforced? A world where people can do home video and audio and film production with equipment costing less than a week's income, where people can draft and revise and publish for money without every having to use a typewriter or typewriter ribbon or typesetting equipmment or even paper, a world where the US Government does not disappear US citizens in the USA without a warrant, where the Bell system is one big monolith and it does not capture and assist the CIA in spying on private US citizens without warrants of everything they send over landlines and airwaves... a world where the Moon landing occurred and did not get followed up with lunar colonies and Mars missions by the year 2000, a world where the DoD was a plurality of the feeral budget and the debt burden low and healthcare tiny slice of GNP and the family doctor had a downtown office or office in MD's home, a world where women were banned from being commercial airline pilots and militry pilots and being head of any companies except cosmetics companie or one their or their families had founded ... a world where a professional athletic could spend the summer being a baseball major leaguer and the cold months playing in the NBA, a world where everyone looked to scientists and technology for leadership and advance, a world where Walter Cronkite and where Huntley and Brinkley were three of the best known and most respected and beloved and trusted people and where new reported believe in reporting not what they regarded as producing the biggest audiences and most advertising revenue and political favoritism, but what was actually happening, and trying to impartially explain why, and keeping their own sectarian and polical values and partisanship the hell out of their reporting....

#291 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 05:32 PM:

#289 Earl

Dragonflight also fits what today gets called "Science Fiction Romance" -- it is a novel which has a strong romantic plot in it. Lord of the Rings the lead characters and the lead interperonsal relationship is not a romance between the female and male leads... I don;t knkow what is in Sword of Shannara because I have never read it--took it off the shelf, flipped through pages reading a paragraph or two and shoved it back on the shelf -fast-. I did't know the term "packaged product" back then, however...

The Lord of the Rings has a sweeping scope and focuses not quite exclusively on male-male social relationships, as regards interpersonal relations. There are a couple oh-by-the-way token romances tossed in, amongst the great war against Sauron and continent-wide upheavals, the rot and decay, the last best hope stuff, the coming end of the age stuff....

Pern has a society threatened by a once every several generations menace, and the defense havign sunk to down to disrepute. The male lead is in a position of being kept in check by a mealymouthed weasely sort who looks good, the female lead is in hiding in a ruined once-prosperous keep. The tech level of the society is in a dark ages, havign lost most of its tech over the centuries --Pern is a lost colony romance, which has dragons in it....

Instead of a girl and her horse story for adolescents, it's a girl and her dragon novel with a romantic lead, and SF lost colony setting....

#292 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 05:49 PM:

DDB@246, IMHO, the canonical space opera would be Buck Rogers, though your examples certainly count as well.

Paula@257, the first volumes in the Shannara and Thomas Covenant series both came out in 1977.

I like the term "planet stories" - it seems to work (and I don't think it needs to be an adjective+noun phrase - "fairy stories" gets along fine with two nouns...) While Pern does have a space-fiction explanation for how they got to the planet, and later stories exploring it in more detail, to me that basically functioned as a way of saying "Once upon a time, in a distant country that wasn't like this one because it actually had Dragons, .." I don't know if the term really applies to Dune, though - while most of the action happens down on Arrakis where the Zensunni Wanderers have settled, it's clearly set in the Empire, with Guild spaceships bopping back and forth, evil barons on other planets causing trouble, the Bene Gesserit clearly not being locals...

#293 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 06:24 PM:

Michael@287: No, I wrote that sentence as I intended it. What I meant was that the library scenes were basically an excuse for exposition -- there was never (or at least hardly ever) the sort of thing you find in real life with "Book A says X, but book B says contradictory thing Y". I have to admit I don't remember the exceptions you refer to. Can you give some examples?

(Oh, and Paula: Joss not Josh. If you're going to rant about literacy, get things right!)

#294 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 06:55 PM:

What's this about Pern being a lost colonoscopy?
("Serge... It's colony")

As for planet stories, HERE is a site that posted lots and lots of covers from Planet Stories. People had awesome wardrobes in those early days of space exploration.

#295 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 07:26 PM:

Paula at various -- there had been a market for fantasy as long as there was a market for literature. The market for SF had various peaks but didn't start being called that until the 30s (remember stf? That's the 20s). The first SF and fantasy oriented small presses are pretty close to simultaneous (the eo-publishers are in the early 30s, with Bill Crawford leading the way; commercial-appearing books from small presses start basically with Arkham House, a fantasy publisher, in 1939). Most publishers, even small press ones, didn't make a huge distinction.

Joy Chant and Katherine Kurtz are both Lin Carter discoveries, in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy (BAF) series. Chant actually got a hardcover published, but I believe Carter backsold it (I could be wrong on this!). The Last Unicorn was Viking, not Doubleday -- just checked my copy on the shelf behind me. Ballantine actually published a new Tarzan novel written by Fritz Leiber when the others did well enough; Ian and Betty did very well with both genres, though they concentrated on SF until the BAFs. Lancer not only was doing the Conans and early Elrics, but did David Mason, Ted White, and several other fantasy series around that time.

You're absolutely right that it was a very different time. What you remember is a good part of it; and (as I implied by bringing up the YA scene) there was more going on than what you noticed. I noticed a lot of what you did back then; and I've since filled in some of the rest of it, in part because it's hard to work in a specialty store for 30 years without having some assumptions challenged!

#296 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 10:54 PM:

I think the connecting theme between the Darkover and Pern novels, as I experienced them as a pre-teen/young teen in the 1980s, was the feudal-society setting. Dragons, castles, warriors, sorceresses... sure, but what KEPT me reading was the conflicts generated BY the social structure. Hold vs. Craft vs. Weyr; Comyn vs. Tower vs. Terran -- okay, that "vs." is a simplification, but that was where the interest came in, for me. That and the variety of female protagonists. Yes, Pern was awfully focused on First Woman Whatever, and some of the Darkover Renunciate stories and novels make me wince, in retrospect -- but neither of those worlds was exclusively male-inhabited or even male-centered, in terms of where the stories happened, even if the men were still overwhelmingly in charge.

I personally didn't CARE if they were technically fantasy or SF; they were MINE.

#297 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 11:12 PM:

Rikibeth @ 296... I personally didn't CARE if they were technically fantasy or SF; they were MINE.

I enjoy defining things as much as any other fan, but in the end, what you wrote is what matters. This reminds me of the time my wife asked me if the novel I had just finished had been a good one. My answer: "Well, I liked it."

#298 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 11:18 PM:

#295 Tom

Lancer or some such commissioned Conan stories from some writers to continue the series, but again it was a case of what got called sharecropping or other such term when there was a lot of it going on a few years back.

#299 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 11:32 PM:

Paula Lieberman @ 298...

Conan the Librarian.
Conan the Canadian.
Conan the Rotarian.

(Anybody else remembers that masquerade presentation at 1982's worldcon in Chicago?)

#300 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2010, 11:36 PM:

#296 Rikibeth

The first Darkover books I read, back in the early 1970s (she was writing before then but I hadn't come across them until Suford Lewis mentioned them to me) had male viewpoint protagonist -- trying to remember titles -- Star of Danger, the original version of The Bloody Sun (revised 1980s edition added a major female character), The Worldwreckers, The Winds of Darkover, The Doorway through Space... some of that was that the editors didn't want female leads/viewpoint characters for a long, long, long time -- I remember reading an interview of MZB in which she said she got turned down regarding writing an SF novel with a female starship captain in the 1950s or 1960.

Andre Norton's first female protagonist was the lead of the sequel to Storm over Warlock (can't remember the name of the book) in the 1960s. I didn't realize it was a sequel, I was reading I think a library copy. The perception was that the audience for SF/F was male adolescents, keep the girl cooties away. The exceptions include James Schmitz with Telzey Amberdon and Trigger Argee in the 1960s, the 1970s added Dr Nile Etland. There were also two or three Zone Agent stories with female leads or near-leads - Padagan, Zamm, and the older woman in the end of summer story. Zamm however was Daya-Bal mutated humanity, and Padagan was non-human. Hmm, there were also the Witches of Karres, but Captain Pausert was the viewpoint character.

Mostly female characters were absent from SF except for being trophy wives awarded to male charcters, or evil bitch queen antagonists, with changes starting to occur in the mid to late 1960s. Buffy-type females were almost non-existent.... Exceptions include Jirel of Joiry (1940s?) and much earlier, the character who was the lead in The Black Flame. And maybe a Burroughs character, I think there was one female viewpoint character in the Mars series? But she got timetravelled backwards far in time or some thing....

There there was crap written by the likes of Edmund Cooper and Richard Cowper, which were early backlashes to feminism--books in which women had gotten control of the world, and Our Hero was the Alpha Male destined to put an end to matriarchical control.... bleeeeecccccchhhhhhhh!

#301 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2010, 01:27 AM:

Paula, have you read Justine Larbalestier's The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction? If not, I'd highly recommend it around some of what you're saying about "classic SF". She does a good job of bringing together the motif of the battle of the sexes in twenties and thirties SF and looking at the rise of feminist space at SF conventions in the sixties and seventies. And it's well-written enough to be quite a readable tome. (And, unlike the books referenced by the title of this thread, I'd say it was well researched with clear citations).

#302 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2010, 06:27 AM:

David Goldfarb@293

Two examples that come to mind.

1) In "Lie to Me":

Buffy: (picks up the picture) Who's this?

Giles: Um, she's called Drusilla, a sometime paramour of Spike's. She was killed by an angry mob in Prague.

2) In "Bad Girls" after consulting one of the books about some vampires Buffy had encountered, Wesley explains that they were acolytes of a demon called Balthazar but "Happily,
Balthazar was killed."

#303 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2010, 06:47 PM:

I believe that all "fiction" (as in novels & genre works) should be shelved together in libraries, as the sole reason for separating them out in stores is for sales purposes. I found many wonderful reads that I had forgotten about in Eugene's public library because they'd shelved that way.

I would say that you should cite with caution any book mass-produced for promotional purposes, because the quality control isn't high. I was teaching the Indian Lore merit badge* at summer camp and picked up a lovely illustrated book off the bargain counter— then decided I couldn't donate it to the camp because it had at least two picture labeling errors that I could spot, and I wouldn't consider myself anything more than a casual scholar of anything Native American. (One listed a dancing bustle as a "shield"— the damned thing was feathers over a piece of wood thin as cardboard. Good luck blocking anything with that.)

*I taught that badge for two years under the original book— published in the 1960s. The requirements were mostly okay but the accompanying text was patronizing and vague. I was so relieved when they finally updated it and got rid of phrases like (paraphrased) "Most Indians live better now that they've accepted government aid."

I had a large binder full of modern newspaper articles about mostly Northwestern tribes, because most of the scouts were under the impression that Indians only existed back 150 years ago, you know, when there were cowboys. Pity I didn't know about Val Kilmer then... :D

#304 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2010, 06:55 PM:

B. Durbin, I don't know about in America, but in Africa there are shields made solely for dancing and ceremony, and not useful in actual combat. They're made for dancers representing warriors.

#305 ::: Steve Roby ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2010, 07:23 PM:

Bill Stewart@292 says, the first volumes in the Shannara and Thomas Covenant series both came out in 1977.

As a kid who discovered fantasy circa 1973 thanks to a teacher reading us The Chronicles of Narnia, and finding little else like it besides Lloyd Alexander, Alan Garner, and Tolkien, I remember 1977 being the year things really changed.

The Del Rey imprint started in '77 with two big best-sellers: the Star Wars novelization and The Sword of Shannara. They also published the first of Piers Anthony's Xanth novels, as well as the Covenant books. Meanwhile, Berkley was publishing Robert E. Howard's original Conan stories. Suddenly, fantasy books were really easy to find. Good ones, maybe not so much.

#306 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2010, 07:59 PM:

B. Durbin @ 303: I believe that all "fiction" (as in novels & genre works) should be shelved together in libraries, as the sole reason for separating them out in stores is for sales purposes.

But the reason that it helps sales is because people like to browse by category, right? Isn't it likely that sales-promoting practices will also promote library checkouts?

These days I'd be inclined to prefer a unified fiction section, but when I was a kid I would really have missed being able to browse just SF&F books.

#307 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2010, 08:32 PM:

Sword of Shannara was their big push -- they did a large pre-pub batch of ARCs for booksellers. I stopped reading when the wizard was telling the agrarian lad about the benefits of a policy of isolation versus one of engagement, using those words. A bit too much Poughkeepsie, a bit too little Elfland (to refer to Le Guin's essay attacking the [unnamed, in the essay] Deryni series).

#308 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2010, 08:33 PM:

(ooops, intervention, not engagement!)

#309 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2010, 09:16 PM:

B. Durbin @ 303 said: I believe that all "fiction" (as in novels & genre works) should be shelved together in libraries, as the sole reason for separating them out in stores is for sales purposes.

Tim Walters @306 replied: But the reason that it helps sales is because people like to browse by category, right? Isn't it likely that sales-promoting practices will also promote library checkouts?

Personally, I'd like the things that bookstores shelve as 'FICTION' (meaning, 'literary' fiction, whatever that means) shelved separately, as I almost never want to read any of the books in that category. However, the Chicago Public Library shelves all fiction together, alphabetically by author, so it's kind of rough trying to browse for stuff I want to read. Some of my targets have unicorn or rocketship or sherlock-with-magnifying-glass stickers on the spines, depending on when it was accessioned, which helps.

It does NOT help that the library-cataloging stickers and whatnot, about 40% of the time, sufficiently obscure the title and author on the spine that the volume has to be taken off the shelf to see what book it is.

#310 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2010, 10:25 PM:

Serge @299
Conan the Octagenarian

#311 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2010, 10:36 PM:

When I first discovered SF, I started in the "a" section of fiction, once I finished with my introductory author, Heinlein, made it thru Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke, with sidetracks into Somebody, Student Nurse, and assorted horse stories, before I graduated from jr. high. Somewhere in there, another branch library opened up. They put all their SF and fantasy in ONE section. I was in heaven, as I had no idea there were that many books or authors in that category. I started with Zelazny, and worked backwards.

I can understand the confusion with "classification." I've found the occasional fantasy romance stuck over in the romance section. Don't remember which one, just my reaction of "huh?"

#312 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2010, 11:22 PM:

Cherry Ames! I loved her better than Nancy Drew.

#313 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 08:05 AM:

Lin Daniel @ 310...

Conan the Riparian?

#314 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 08:14 AM:

Lin Daniel @ 311... I think my high school's small library kept the SF titles in their own corner, which is a good thing, because it didn't have many such books. This was circa 1970. Then French editor Jacques Sadoul started making many translated classics of SF available in paperback. Combine that with my going to college, with its well purveyed library, and in random fashion, I found myself discovering Asimov, Zelazny, Disch, van Vogt, Silverberg, Clarke, and many others, all this within the span of 3 years.

#315 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 10:24 AM:

Lin Daniel (311): Science fiction romance is a tricky subgenre to classify. Speaking as a reader of both genres, I find most of them lacking as science fiction (to the point that I can't enjoy them as romances, either). Therefore, as a librarian, I tend to classify them as Romance. (The public library where I work has romances filed in the general fiction section, but the paperbacks have red-and-orange-heart stickers.) Some of them do go in Science Fiction/Fantasy, though--it depends on my knowledge of the author (e.g., Catherine Asaro) and/or publisher (e.g., Luna), and who I think the main audience will be. But it's not a perfect system. And don't get me started on urban fantasy/paranormal romance classification. Argh!

Elliott Mason (309): Spine labels covering important information is absolutely a problem. I wish publishers would learn not to put the title down at the bottom of the spine, where libraries always put call numbers (mainly a problem with best sellers and other "important" authors). Shelving all the fiction together, regardless of genre, works best with a fairly small collection. One medium-sized library where I used to work decided to interfile all the fiction (which had been separate), so that authors who wrote in multiple genres wouldn't be split up. We spent several days on the job--then there was such an outcry that we a week or so later we put it all back.

#316 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 10:25 AM:

Lin Daniel #310: Conan the Valetudinarian.

#317 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 10:32 AM:

Paula @ 298: Conan the Antidisestablishmentarian

#318 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 10:38 AM:

Conan the Parliamentarian...

#319 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 11:34 AM:

Mary Aileen @315 said: Spine labels covering important information is absolutely a problem. I wish publishers would learn not to put the title down at the bottom of the spine, where libraries always put call numbers (mainly a problem with best sellers and other "important" authors). Shelving all the fiction together, regardless of genre, works best with a fairly small collection.

Re spines: publishers are probably more worried about visual appeal in bookstores than in libraries, alas.

Re small collections: CPL is not a small collection. At the main branch, 'FICTION' (excluding, btw, large type and other such format strangenesses, but including all genres) goes on for well over thirty double-wide aisles of two-sided stacks shelving -- the better part of a city block. Sigh.

#320 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 12:18 PM:

Xopher @ 304: In this case, I actually had seen a traditional dancing outfit with exactly that type of bustle, so it was a no-go. They do have shields for dancing (I made a couple for the camp with masonite, much better than the plywood monstrosities they'd been using), but in that particular culture they didn't obscure the whole thing with feathers.

Tim Walters @ 306: Yes, checking out things that are similar would be helpful, but most of the libraries I've been at are oddly-enough shaped that it's difficult to even find the different categories, let alone determine which genre a particular book is shelved with. And micro-managing genre can get crazy— see paranormal romance, which can end up in any one of three categories. I'd rather have reasonable designation stickers that aren't too big, so I can find my mysteries and my fantasy, but have them together so I don't have to wonder where they're shelving Dan Simmons this week.

#321 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 12:56 PM:

Elliott Mason (319): Re spines: publishers are probably more worried about visual appeal in bookstores than in libraries, alas.

Absolutely. It's still annoying.

Re small collections: CPL is not a small collection.

No, it wouldn't be. In their small branches, it probably makes sense to shelve all of fiction together, but not in a huge library like that.

The medium-sized library where I work has six or seven double-sided ranges for all of fiction. Science fiction/fantasy, mystery, and westerns are separate sections. We recently decided to sticker short-story collections/anthologies but not actually separate them out. (Didn't want to split authors, do you make one short-story section with all genres or small sections for each one...) It seems to work fairly well.

B. Durbin (320): micro-managing genre can get crazy— see paranormal romance, which can end up in any one of three categories

Cross-genre works are always a problem. At one point, we had Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse books in three different places.

#322 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 01:04 PM:

Serge #318: Conan the Seminarian. (Not to be confused with Conan the Semi-Aryan.)

#323 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 01:16 PM:

FRagano @ 322... Conan the Agrarian will be back in "Harvest of Blood"!

#324 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 02:45 PM:

B Durbin @ #320, "oddly-enough shaped" libraries.

Library in the round. All the non-fiction is around the outer walls and in about 8 inner spokes. There are about the same number of spokes for fiction, with a subset of YA spokes in that group. There are worktables in the center with two long low shelves for reference materials. In a nod to modernity there are about a dozen computer workstations in various spots, with access to the 'Net and to the various catalogs in the collection.

#325 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 05:44 PM:

We had a long discussion before separating out Science Fiction from the main fiction -- this was years ago. We did not have room in the area designated for the SF area to include fantasy, too. This suited another staff member who was very strict about the distinction. Me not so much; the irony being that she is no longer working there but I am. There is still some overlap, though. But it is not as annoying as the confusion of some authors having some works in Mystery and some in the regular fiction area; I am forever having to look in both places for some people. The other genre that's separated out is Westerns, which are not nearly as popular as they used to be, and I'm talking decades ago -- it may go back well over 40 years (our library is 51 years old and I've been there 35 of 'em).

#326 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 06:15 PM:

The nearest branch library to me not only separates out genres, but then separates hardcover from paperback. Drives me nuts!!! (They are in temporary quarters now, as they are getting a new building, and books are only divided by genre. I asked, and one of the librarians told me it was because the paperbacks tend to be shorter, and they could have the shelves closer together and thus more books per unit. I understand this, but it still drives me nuts.)

Linkmeister - The next branch over is an original Carnegie library, and has much the same design. So does the library at Monticello (and the original library at the University of Virginia, although they have a series of modern buildings now). At Monticello, it was done to allow sunlight to come down the aisles of books, increasing visibility. The guide made it sound as if this was an innovation of Mr. Jefferson's, so I wonder if the Carnegie library somehow picked it up from him.

#327 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 06:20 PM:

B. Durbin 320: I didn't mean to contest your identification! I assume you know a dancing bustle when you see one (and I wouldn't know one from a 1957 Chevy). I was just pointing out that uselessness for blocking anything doesn't preclude something's being a shield. That's all.

#328 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 06:34 PM:

Conman the Nigerian?

#329 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 06:54 PM:

Juli Thompson (326): We have the hardcovers and paperbacks* separated, too. It's a pretty standard practice. Since our expansion a few years ago, we now have the genre paperbacks next to their respective hardcovers, instead of a complete separation by format. People seem to be happy with the arrangement.

*Mass-market, that is. Trade paperbacks are with the hardcovers.

#330 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 07:06 PM:

Xopher at 327:
I, for one, have never seen a bustle with tailfins.

#331 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 07:18 PM:

Conan the Rastafarian.

#332 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 07:27 PM:

Erik: Do 1957 Chevys have tailfins? Did you think it was my ignorance of bustles I was talking about?

#333 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 07:30 PM:

Carol Kimball #331: That would have to be I-nan the Rastafarian.

#334 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 08:13 PM:

One night only! Lady Heather with Conan the Disciplinarian!

#335 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 08:16 PM:

I dreads more responses.

#336 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 08:20 PM:

Of course, there are dark references in De Vermis to Conan the Planarian.

#337 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 08:38 PM:

Conan the Unitarian, by Crom!

#338 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 08:43 PM:

Onan the Palmhairian

(Mrs. Arkansawyer couldn't wrest the laptop away from me in time to stop this)

#339 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 09:11 PM:

#301 Tom

I have a copy of it, which I found a day ago trying to find something else. I wasn't sure if I owned a copy of it or not.... (now of course it's under a pile of other books and paper again...)

#340 ::: Tracie ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 09:36 PM:

Serge @299

Cohen the Barbarian at 1974 Worldcon. Predates Terry Pratchett's character of the same name by some decades.

I once worked with a colonel who insisted that all correspondence have correct spelling, grammar, punctuation and format. (What a concept!) He called himself Conan the Grammarian. He liked me because I knew how to use semicolons.

#341 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 10:10 PM:

Tracie @ 340... Colonel Conan the Grammarian? Oh goodness.

#342 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 10:11 PM:

Conan the Contrarian?
("No I'm not!")

#343 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 10:37 PM:

Yes, Xopher, 57 chevys had tail fins.

Tail fins were a late 50's thing, and peaked in 59, then rather quickly disappeared. Somehow, my rather conservative, never buy anything frivolous sort of grandfather wound up with a new, coral pink 1959 chevy with tailfins, or tailwings, or whatever you call those things.

#344 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 10:53 PM:

Mary Aileen @329- From the way they talked about it, it sounded standard, and I understand the reasoning. I find it frustrating because, for example, they have some of Lois McMaster Bujold's books in hardcover, and some in paperback, and it was annoying to trek back and forth to try to figure out which one to read next, or if they even had the next volume.

Speaking of which, I once saw a bookstore that had a notice posted near each series, listing all the volumes in order. That would be so helpful in libraries, although I understand why they don't do it.

#345 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 11:09 PM:

Tailfins got really out of hand, or something, before they disappeared, though. I think the Cadillac had pretty extreme fins: they were almost big enough to become aerodynamic misfeatures. Wikipedia has pictures of it under 'tailfin'.

#346 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 11:15 PM:

I was chatting with PJ this afternoon, in between plays of the GreenBay-Arizona game, and I remembered that particular costume wasn't "Conan the..." it was "Conehead the..." IIRC, Conehead the Octagenarian was one of the first, and kept slowly ambling across stage, while the rest came out and lined up. Then again, I might be conflating two different costume/events.

#347 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 11:17 PM:

About the Illuminatus books... As far as stories go, are they relatively well written and entertaining?

#348 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 11:27 PM:

Serge @347 -- I found them very much so, but then I got a lot of the in-jokes. They're very referential to weird occult and conspiracy theories, and have their own form of internal logic for pulling those together. If you are at all literalist, they're probably to be avoided.

#349 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 11:38 PM:

Serge at 347 - They are. They are dated, very 60s. (I think. I wasn't around then, so maybe they are very 70s.) There is a lot of "sex without hangups is the cure for the world's ills," which makes it clearly pre-AIDS.

The conspiracy theories are fun, and there are a lot of drug and rock-and-roll references that can be entertaining. A friend in college was on a quest to track down a single by every band mentioned in the series. He really enjoyed this, because it took him into some obscure musical byways that he would never otherwise have experienced.

I should mention that part of the fun is separating fact from fiction. Some of the band names sound so bizarre that they must be made up, but in fact, they are all real. Some of the events in the book are just obviously factual, but are in fact, made up. If this sort of thing entertains you, they are entertaining.

#350 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 10, 2010, 11:43 PM:

Sigh. I guess there are some jokes you can't make in a roomful of Aspies!

NOTE: I am only teasing. I have many friends who are somewhere on the spectrum, and I don't think being neurotypical* makes me "better" than anyone who isn't.
*I am not, of course, actually neurotypical. I am just not anywhere on the spectrum. My brain is of the ADHD type. My difficulty communicating certain concepts with people with LTD (Linear Thinking Disorder, that is, "normal" people) are part of the reason I don't think being neurotypical is necessarily better.

#351 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 12:05 AM:

When I first read the Illuminatus! series I had no idea what was going on until I was halfway in to the first book. Then I was able to put all the pieces together and it became an ordinary story. Which was actually kind of a let-down for me. That first experience of trying to figure everything out was wild.

Looking back at it many years later, I think Shea and Wilson were very clever. The classic problems of SF storytelling are exposition and suspension of disbelief. In Illuminatus! the plot is predicated on crazy things that cannot be believed and must be explained. Instead of getting in the way of the story, they propel it.

#352 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 12:46 AM:

Okay, y'all have intrigued me enough that I just requested the Illuminatus trilogy from my library (yes, the one in the round which I linked to earlier).

#353 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 06:21 AM:

"Actually, I robbed this temple two weeks ago, not that anyone noticed," remarked Conan the Farberian.

#354 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 07:39 AM:

"Can we get past these creaky puns?"
Conan the Antiquarian

#355 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 07:45 AM:

Gonad the ball-bearing one.


#356 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 08:43 AM:

Fantasy in children's lit is a strange beast. There are titles I'd consider clearly fantasy which people tend to think of as just "classics" (I'd consider that a case of the snobbish "oh, that can't be fantasy; that's good").

A Wrinkle in Time was published in the early 60s; L. Frank Baum started publishing his Oz works in 1900; and in the 1860s there's Alice in Wonderland. These are the earliest children's fantasies I can think of offhand (aside from Narnia, mentioned above) without getting into myths, folk tales, and fairy tales.

#357 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 09:32 AM:

I think there's been a market for children's fantasy for quite some time. For instance, E. Nesbit wrote a bunch of children's fantasies around the turn of the century. Her best-known fantasy title is probably _Five Children and It_ (1902), though there were various others (including some sequels to that book).

Nesbit famously inspired a number of American fantasy books by Edward Eager, the best known of which is probably _Half Magic_ (1954).

#358 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 09:37 AM:

"Without the restrictions imposed by government, this snake demon would have been killed years ago by empowered private-sector entrepreneurs!" yelled Conan the Libertarian.

#359 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 10:29 AM:

Juli Thompson @ 349... They are dated, very 60s. (I think. I wasn't around then, so maybe they are very 70s.)

Since I was around during both decades, what does that make me? Heheheh... Thanks for the comment about the books. I'll probably order them online today, even though I'm not about to experience a shortage of reading material.

TomB @ 351... Interesting reaction that you had. I'll have to see how I come out of it myself.

#360 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 10:42 AM:

My first real intersection with a fantasy novel was Patricia McKillips "Heir of Sea and Fire"; it's the middle book of the Riddle-Master of Hed trilogy, and came out in the middle-late 70s. (76, 77, 79, I think.)

As far as the age of "children's fantasy", specifically, meaning leaving out classic fairy-tales, there's Kipling's "Puck of Pook's Hill" and "Rewards and Fairies", 1906 and 1910, respectively. I find these to have aged surprisingly well.

#361 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 10:54 AM:

"No, women! Your lamentations aren't ritually correct!" shouted Conan the Gardnerian.

#362 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 11:18 AM:

"What are the finest things in life? Good question. Well, the answer to that is clearly going to vary from individual to individual, depending on the value each ascribes to different economic goods and outcomes," remarked Conan the Utilitarian.

#363 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 11:25 AM:

"We'd expect to see a cluster of producers of mystic swords developing in this area of Hyperborea, due to network effects and the benefits of drawing on a common pool of skilled labour," explained Krugman the Barbarian.

#364 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 11:38 AM:

Tracie@340: Always amusing to have somebody link to one of my photos!

#365 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 11:49 AM:

Tracie@340 again: And my father used to take points off for spelling and grammar errors in math proofs, which pleased some people and annoyed others (as you might expect).

He retired as a Lt. Colonel, but never commanded anything in that rank so far as I know. Apparently there are still posts where people dig out his old memos to show people, though, decades on. One case where he got a reply-by-endorsement "please explain why the light was on all night at such-and-such", and he wrote back and explained in detail how much time it was taking from what grade people to do this, and how much more expensive that was than the electricity for the light bulb plus wear on the bulb. (Benefits of reservists called up for active duty: no sacred careers or military sacred cows.)

#366 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 11:54 AM:

Juli@326: we separate out MMPB from larger sizes at home. It makes such obvious sense with shelf spacing. We have custom paperback shelves (which are double-sided, and stand out in the middle of the room).

I benefited greatly from having SF separated out in the library (I don't now actually remember it was physically isolated, or just had the atom stickers on the spine in the Northfield public library when I was a child). I think that's where I learned the concept of "genre", and that I had a much higher chance of liking books identified as "science fiction".

But I also see the downside -- I do sometimes like to follow an author across genres, and of course some boundaries are very hard to define (sf vs. fantasy), and some books qualify in multiple genres (sf mysteries, western mysteries, sf romances). With luck kids today are smart enough to use genre tags in the online catalog to get what I got, while keeping the shelving simpler for the librarians?

#367 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 12:05 PM:

Paula@300: Podkayne, and Holly in "The Menace From Earth", of course. One can argue against both stories on multiple grounds, as one usually can, but they're definitely examples of female protagonists rather early.

#368 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 12:11 PM:

Rikibeth@296: I liked the first two Pern books, and then the set of three YA Pern books, but gave up after White Dragon which I found a major disappointment. Liked (variously; the series had ups and downs) Darkover as well, and the Deryni, I remember (I was reading a lot more fantasy then than I do now; yes of course Pern and Darkover are fantasy :-)).

I don't recall finding female protagonists at all off-putting. I suspect a lot of editors had it wrong all along -- men would read female protagonists some of the time perfectly happily, and more women would start reading the genre too, increasing total sales. (I might very well get tired of a pure diet of nothing but female protagonists; I'd have to work hard to find out, which is sort of the point.)

David Weber's Honor Harrington doesn't seem to be disliked among male SF readers, either.

#369 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 12:23 PM:

David Weber's Honor Harrington doesn't seem to be disliked among male SF readers, either.

I don't dislike Honor herself (how can you? only bad and jealous people dislike Mary Sue Honor), but I read a bunch of those books until I realized they were all the same, and that Honor never makes a serious mistake, and that she never gives in to base impulses or even has them. And the treecats are...cats. It's all too cutesy-wootsy for words.

And when Weber named his mad anti-royalist revolutionary Rob S. Pierre, I gave up. The vomiting was just too much to bear.

None of this is because Honor is female. It's because the books are bad.

#370 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 01:29 PM:

Xopher@369: The faux-French-revolution bit on Haven is severely nausea inducing, I agree (though I remember that being right near the beginning of the series). And I really really wish somebody would take away his little BASIC program that calculates losses to missile defense at each stage of the attack (whose output he then pads to pages for every single battle). (I have no idea how it's actually done, I made the details up.)

But I am not fond of mistakes, so it doesn't bother me at all that Honor has avoided most major ones (I think your claim of "none" is absurd though).

I think I'm now behind one mainline book in the series, and after several really boring books I thought there was some hope for this next one, so I will look for a used copy to find out, I think. But much of the interest recently has been in the side series, sometimes co-authored; an interesting achievement. I don't recall other cases where other authors were let in enough to create actually canonical story lines (other than shared worlds, which are a whole different game).

#371 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 01:41 PM:

Xopher@369 again: I see I left out half the point, sorry; which is that, while I classify them as "guilty pleasure" more than 'good', the fact remains that they're among the very top sellers in the genre, which is relevant if we want to talk about what SF readers will and won't read.

#372 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 02:33 PM:

Juli Thompson @ 344: I once saw a bookstore that had a notice posted near each series, listing all the volumes in order.

Which order? -- publication date? Some series can't be ordered by internal chronology, if individual books cover multiple time periods, etc.

#373 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 02:39 PM:

The 19th c was filled with 'fantasy' child lit, including Alice in Wonderland, The Princess and Curdie (as well as The P and the Goblins and At the Back of the North Wind, all by George MacDonald), Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies. There are many others too, though less well known these days.

All of our systems branch lending libraries separate the romance, sf/f and romance genres, from the rest of fiction, and always have since the definition of genres in terms of marketing, particularly after the NYPL began acquiring paper as well as hc. My branch (which is one of the largest) was chosen for the experiement some years back to shelve sf/f with the rest of fiction, because some patrons felt we were descriminating against the field by shelving the genre separately. They were far in the minority. The rest of the patrons screamed bloody murder and within 6 weeks sf/f was back in its usual part of the floor, shelved separately. It seems that patrons who are heavy readers of sf/f feel they were being forced to waste precious reading time when they had to browse all of fiction to find a sf/f title that appealed to them. They liked browsing the sf/f shelves just fine, but not all of fiction.

With the change of being able to access the digital catalogs from home, and that you can request any title from any library to pick up at your 'home' branch, and that you can return materials at any branch at all, the patron's habits have changed quite a bit since then, and in interesting ways. But patrons still love to browse the shelves, the way they like to.

My version of this is to select a subject to browse in WorldCat, via deliberately not delimiting search terms, or doing so selectively. If you aren't looking for a specific work or author, for research or just plain old interest, the serendipitous stumble into a book can open whole new dimensions.

Love, C.

#374 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 02:42 PM:

That was supposed to be romance, sf/f and MYSTERY genres in the above.

Doing too many things at once!

More tea ....

Love, C,

#375 ::: Rebecca ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 02:51 PM:

Peter Ellis Celtic Myths and Legends

These are books by authors who can't read the primary sources they are writing about, who cited known forgeries, and, just plain make stuff up.

...I didn't know that. *cries* I loved that book at an age at which I probably should not have been reading it.

As for books never to cite...I'm sure I know a lot, but none are coming to mind except Ruth Noel's The Languages of Tolkien's Middle-Earth. Noel completely misses that "fin," for example, has more than one meaning depending on context, and thus translates "Finarfin" as "Hair King Hair."

#376 ::: Tracie ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 05:59 PM:

David @ 364: I didn't know you took that photo -- thank you. I've shown it to a number of people since my own photo was lost years ago. Always loved that costume, especially the "magel", the mace made with the hardest substance known, 3 day-old bagels. (or was that 3-day-old bagels?)

#377 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 06:14 PM:

Tracie, it's 3 3-day-old bagels. I think.

#378 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 06:29 PM:

Xopher, 369: Honor Harrington is a stand-in for Nelson, so of course it's a hagiography! I rolled my eyes at Rob S. Pierre and got srsly annoyed with the eye/arm loss, but I don't think I threw anything across the room until the book where she was torn over whether to start a COMPLETELY PURE AND BLAMELESS affair with whomever is standing in for Lady Hamilton. Yuck.

#379 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 06:38 PM:

TexAnne @ 378... Honor Harrington is a stand-in for Nelson

You mean, Admiral Nelson as played by Richard Basehart in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea?

#380 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 07:09 PM:

TexAnne @ 378: What is it about badly-done retellings of the French Revolution that arouses the book-flinging urge so strongly? For me it was Paula Volsky's Illusion — partway through, I slammed the book (paperback) shut and threw it against the opposite wall while yelling "oh for pete's sake, it's the freaking French Revolution!"

#381 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 07:10 PM:

TexAnne: then my ignorance of history saved me from an even earlier and more intense attack of barfing.

Serge: No, Major Anthony Nelson as portrayed by Larry Hagman on I Dream of Jeannie. Not sure who the Jeannie character is there, though...maybe the treecat?

#382 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 07:25 PM:

Lexica, I don't know, but I think the actual history has something to do with it. Every time people tell me that bullies don't matter, I point them at the Terror.

#383 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 08:35 PM:

Xopher @ 381... Not sure who the Jeannie character is there, though...maybe the treecat?

That would explain why, in spite of Naval officers letting treecats use their shoulder as a perch, their dark uniforms don't show the ravages of shedding. On the other hand, the idea of idiot Jeannie on board a starship would make me nervous. Her good intentions tend to backfire.

#384 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 11:09 PM:

David Dyer-Bennet :

David Weber's Honor Harrington doesn't seem to be disliked among male SF readers, either.

The Honor Harrington books make me want to create Preparation H for the brain. I have a great dislike for stories where you can see the author working like a switch-engine (which is why I finally gave up on the what-supernatural-sex-act-can-I-throw-in-this-time-to-keep-their-attention works of Laurell Hamilton), and the way that Weber staged the mechanics of interstellar flight for his stories just to allow restaging navel battles from the Age of Sail went far beyond annoying.


I don't dislike Honor herself (how can you? only bad and jealous people dislike Mary Sue Honor)

Before I gave Drake's series up I found a happy thought which allowed me to continue for another book or two. Since the size, haircolor, and voice are just about right to transfix him I spent a little time picturing what Miles Vorkosigan would do with Honor. Since she keeps pushing that she's "not a politician" and since "military mad" Miles not only outranks her but is as political an animal as they come, I figured he'd see her as a "look at the train wreck in slow motion" sort of Home Improvement Project and try to get her to accomplish something without using Secret Mary Sue Powers.

And when Weber named his mad anti-royalist revolutionary Rob S. Pierre, I gave up.

This ranks with the scene where (if I remember correctly) Lord John Roxton ended up as a bad guy in one of Michael Crichton's books--or was that when Crichton mixed the names Charles Dodgson and Lewis Carroll up to make the name for another bad guy? Things blur...

David Dyer-Bennet :

And I really really wish somebody would take away his little BASIC program that calculates losses to missile defense at each stage of the attack (whose output he then pads to pages for every single battle). (I have no idea how it's actually done, I made the details up.)

I keep picturing him doing Graham Chapman's bit as the mystery writer obsessed with timetables: "Toot! Toot! Chug-chug-chug!"


Honor Harrington is a stand-in for Nelson, so of course it's a hagiography! I rolled my eyes at Rob S. Pierre and got srsly annoyed with the eye/arm loss, but I don't think I threw anything across the room until the book where she was torn over whether to start a COMPLETELY PURE AND BLAMELESS affair with whomever is standing in for Lady Hamilton. Yuck.

And this is where I started wishing for Ivan Vorpatril giving advice.

#385 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: January 11, 2010, 11:38 PM:

I actually like Volsky's Illusion, but was rather bemused by the included review excerpt that said it was a retelling of the Russian Revolution. Ohhh-kay.

"people with LTD (Linear Thinking Disorder, that is, "normal" people)"

Despite the fact that I had long figured out that I am an intuitive thinker, it took me until after college to understand that was the reason I was terrible at debate. I'm well-enough trained that I can test absolutely linear (much to the amazement of teachers who knew better), can write perfectly logical and well-argued papers, and write manuals on how to perform tasks. But again, that's training, not nature. (It also explains why I did better at philosophy than English— a proper college professor in English is a demon for detail and proper argument.)

I am completely neurotypical. I just think in weird patterns. And I wish I'd figured that out much earlier, say third grade, when I'd find things funny that nobody else did and get weird looks for it.

#386 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2010, 12:14 AM:

Ah, yes, Rob S. Pierre.... Two simultaneous thing were consequent in my brain, immediately:
a) earworming by "Marat we're poor, and the poor stay poor...."
b) I groaned.

As regards the Great Age of Sail maneuvers: earworm of someone (maybe even Heather Wood) singing, "Roll Alabama roll...."

Meanwhile as the level of expository lumphood grew....

Podkayne of Mars irritated me, "I'll marry the captain instead of being the captain!" When I found out that Heinlein intended the character would die, I had the aha! moment of why the ending was so lame that I had read.

Robin McKinley's and Patricia McKillip's books were at the start of the 1970s coming out if I recall correctly (or very late 1960s). McKillip had at least four SF novels--an adult one an the Moonflash YA books, in the 1980s. The 1980s also had fantasy from Atheneum, including The Rescue of Ranor, Tamora Pierce's first book (which I noticed at a Lunacon book raffle, actually!), etc., etc. (I can't immediately rememeber names,, some of them came out in the late 1970s, I was buying them at A Change of Hobbit while stationed at Los Angeles Air Force Station... one series of four books that started with The Pricne of the Godborn I think....

Back in the 1960s there was a trilogy by Sylvia Louise Engdahl [spelling...] and The Dark Is Rising... but much of that disappeare in the 1970s. Madeleine L'Engle was writing in the 1960s... all those were published as YA. Other than L'Engle's and Cooper's work, though, most of it got little notice/reprinting over time (okay, add Bruce Coville, Jane Yolen, and name-came-and-went-in-my-mind. Laurence Yep's YA SF/F production stopped and he moved over to non-fantastical content I think. Engdahl didn;t get further book contracts for SF/F. Ah, Lloyd Alexander was the other name I was thinking of--but Alexander and Coville are male. The 1970s I think the YA market went to more hardboiled SF nd non-fantasy where there had been fantasy and fantasy-ish SF in YA.

#388 ::: JoAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2010, 05:33 PM:

"The reference section of my local big-city library has on its astronomy shelves a 'catalogue of named stars' published by one of those companies that will "name a star after you" for a fee. The names are mostly like 'JOANNEILUVU4EVER'. It's a waste of shelf space"

I disagree.

#389 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2010, 06:23 PM:


On the other hand, at least Jeannie can FIX the backfire. It may take her a few tries but she'll get it sort of right eventually. Probably.

#390 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2010, 06:31 PM:

Michael I @ 389... I think I'll stick with Admiral Nelson's Kowalski. Jeannie is much cuter, but, if there's bopping on the head to be had, it'll all land on Kowalski.

#391 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2010, 07:20 PM:

#388 JoAnne

The corporation that takes money for naming stars, I do not think it has any standing legally or authority with e.g. the international astronomical societies or anyone else involved in applying names that people who actually deal with space stuff professionally, regard as legitimate, appropriate, relevant, or anything to pay attention to... it's the equivalent of being sold name marker allegedly naming a square inch of the Brooklyn Bridge the name of your choice, by a shyster....

#392 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2010, 05:56 AM:

Paula Lieberman @386:
In re Podkayne of Mars, the first version I read was Heinlein's initial version (although, IIRC, it was only published in that form later); later on, I found the unicorns-pooping-rainbows version and was less than impressed (even given that by then I knew about the multiple versions and why).

#393 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2010, 07:16 AM:

391: I think that JoAnne may have a vested interest in the publication of catalogues including names like "JOANNEILUVU4EVER".

#394 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2010, 11:13 AM:

I also think JoAnne would have elaborated on the reason for her disagreement had she not been intending the simple name joke.

#395 ::: Stefan Jones sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 03:13 PM:

#395 Link a dink a doo.

#396 ::: Stefan Jones sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 03:14 PM:

#395 Link a dink a doo.

#397 ::: Lee sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 03:14 PM:

@395. Everything else posted by this guy has been nuked already.

#398 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2010, 03:52 PM:

I could see JoAnne's post as the last frame an an XKCD strip.

#399 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2010, 12:31 PM:

In re Honor/Miles crossovers: A relevant filk. Funnier if you know the (filk) source tune, which is a straight ghost story about a long-lost ship, killed by pirates, that will still sometimes show up in the backs of the spacelanes to materialize creepily and save your ass. Whose captain's name was Jayme Dawson. All other context relevant to the jokes in the song are Honor- or Miles-related.

#400 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2010, 04:04 PM:

Elliot, #401: OMG, that is freakin' hilarious! I laughed so loudly that my partner came in to see what I was looking at.

#401 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2010, 09:49 PM:

Lee @402: It's funny enough as comic poetry, but even funnier if you're familiar with the original (Everything really IS on YouTube these days!). There's a bit of intro on the front end of the video; singing starts about 0:48.

#402 ::: joann sees spam plague continuing ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 12:14 PM:

As on other threads.

#403 ::: TexAnne sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2011, 12:18 AM:


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