How to lose respect

28 July 2011
Some publishers deserve a box on the ear

Some publishers deserve a box on the ear

There used to be a time when the universities were well-respected. People who had gone there, were believed to be wise and impartial. If they said X, we knew it was X and not Y. However, people have grown sceptical, and their scepticism is sometimes justified. Here in Holland, our government recently came up with a plan for a mass vaccination against Mexican flu; people just stayed away, and in the end, it turned out that the risks had been overestimated. Scepticism is, therefore, not wrong in itself, although I do not like this same scepticism when we’re discussing the changing climate.

Scientists and scholars need to take this scepticism more seriously. About 28% of the people – I will blog about that figure later – start reading an article about science/scholarship with the intention not to believe it. This means that there must not be any serious, recognizable gap in the argument. Now look at the first line of the press release I spotted today:

Many of the cities of modern Europe owe their location to choices made some 2,000 years ago during the time of the Roman Empire, new research from a University historian has revealed.

New research? Really? To establish what everyone already knows and no one denies? I was tempted not to read any further, believing that it would be another nonsensical press release (compare, compare, compare, compare) and I am probably not the only one who was disappointed. I am afraid that this press release has done a lot damage, confirming the idea that scholars do a lot of silly, unnecessary work.

The authors of this book are probably hard-working scholars, who did not write this press release. I am not blaming him. To make sure that this blog post, which is about PR, will not turn up in a Google search about them, I won’t mention their names. Nevertheless, if you want to check this story, it’s here.