Disclosing [obvious] biases in book reviews: were Nature and Jared Diamond wrong?

While I was on blogcation, I got an email from the watchdog group Stinky Journalism, complaining that prominent science author and professor Jared Diamond (Collapse, Guns, Germs and Steel) was in the hot seat again. (You may remember that Stinky Journalism broke the story about the lawsuit against Diamond arising from his New Yorker piece on tribal violence in New Guinea; I blogged about the fallout of the controversy here and here.)

Really? I thought; what has Diamond supposedly done this time? Here's the scoop from Stinky Journalism:

[In] the February 18 issue of the journal Nature . . . Pulitzer-winning scientist Jared Diamond reviews a book of essays called Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire. The review, "Two views of collapse," is largely negative. What Diamond doesn't disclose to the readers of the review, however, is that Questioning Collapse is not just a book about "collapse"... It's a book about his bestselling book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Even more, it is a book of essays directly criticizing and critiquing Diamond's own work and writings. . . . This may not be the only time the subject of a critical work has reviewed the book that critiques them. But, by failing to disclose that Questioning Collapse is a critique of his own research, Diamond misleads readers into viewing his book review as something it is not--the dispassionate opinion of an outside observer.

Wait. . . that's the big scoop?

I've casually read Nature for years, and it seems to me that Nature fairly often chooses reviewers who have a personal stake in the topic at hand, because that generates interesting conflict. Ask yourself which would be more fun to read: a neutral third party intoning "I imagine that Jared Diamond would take vehement exception to this description of his work," or Jared Diamond snapping "Hey you! I take vehement exception to this description of my work!" Blatantly biased book reviews written by sparring competitors are a venerable staple of American media, dating back to colonial times, and the testy tone of Diamond's review is very much in that tradition ("This goal is laudable. However, in forcing all of history into their framework, they resort to errors and implausible extremes"; "The book promotes an absurd rewriting of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire"). If that's "masquerading as dispassionate," I don't think the masqueraders have very good masks.

In order to be "misled" as a reader, you'd have to be unaware that Jared Diamond has written popular bestsellers on this general topic, one of which won a Pulitzer prize. I think it's unlikely that Nature readers, particularly those readers interested in a book review on this topic, would not know who Jared Diamond is. Assuming they do know who he is, they know precisely what they're getting. But what if they don't know? Is Stinky Journalism right that the risk a Nature reader would not know Jared Diamond was writing a biased review - more of an op-ed than an objective analysis - makes failing to disclose his personal views on the topic unethical?

I don't think so, and here's why. First, Nature did disclose that Diamond had written Collapse. Here's a screenshot of the end of the book review indicating precisely that (the entire review is unfortunately subscriber-only):

i-803d56bdaefa6466de143a5b6969bf83-Picture 2.png

And then there's the line in the review where Diamond says,

Past societies did the "best they could" to respond to crises that hit them, and were not driven to failure by man-made problems such as overpopulation or environmentally destructive behaviour, as is often argued by other authors, including myself.

(emphasis added). That sounds like pretty typical academic-speak for "I don't agree with these people." What more would Stinky Journalism want? A separate page-long bio of Diamond outlining his general beliefs about defunct societies?

Here's the deal. If this book review were written for the New York Times or some other general interest publication, and were likely to significantly impact popular sales of a competitor book among people unfamiliar with Jared Diamond, then I might think the editors should have done a better job of framing the review. As I noted in my earlier posts about the New Yorker incident, Diamond is a well-known figure who has scientific credibility in the mainstream media. But this situation simply doesn't compare to that one. Given that this review is in a specialist journal, and its readers should know better than to take an academic's assertions about their direct competition at face value, I don't think Nature needed to do more than they did.

Neither did Nature's editors, when contacted by Stinky Journalism. They pointed out exactly what I pointed out above. Stinky Journalism responded,

[our] critique was not that Nature didn't disclose Diamond is the author of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, but rather that Diamond didn't disclose clearly enough in his review that Questioning Collapse is a book specifically and predominately critical of his own work. . . . We argued that a disclosure should explain that Questioning Collapse directly and specifically critiques Diamond's own writings repeatedly, in each collected essay.

Stinky Journalism then quotes various ethicists and academics as saying that what Nature did here was wrong, or at least borderline.

Really? What do you think? Poor ethics, poor journalism, or neither?

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Maybe they could have framed it better but, realistically, who is going to be reading it in that context and not know who Jared Diamond is?
Do the readers really need their hand held?

I'd say that StinkyJournalism has a point. It's not just that Diamond has skin in the game because the book he is reviewing criticizes ideas that he espouses. It's that Diamond is allegedly criticizing a book that is directly criticizing him without explicitly saying so. Now there is nothing wrong with an author addressing his/her own critics. That's only fair. However, it should be made clear when that is exactly what is happening.

By J. J. Ramsey (not verified) on 17 Mar 2010 #permalink

If it's not made clear that Questioning Collapse is a direct criticism of JD's Collapse specifically, rather than just the concept in general, I'd say that's a fairly important omission.

I came across the review by accident because I grab Nature through my RSS feed, and also overlooked the note about the author at the end. It shouldn't been a bit more prominent. However it's not exactly hard to figure out the sense in which the author of "Title" is approaching a book called "Questioning Title".

In other news, Oliver Sacks thinks people with brain injuries are cool & that music is weird; James Burke things things are connected; Carl Sagan owned a telescope.

I think it's neither. My guess is that Nature expected educated readers to know Jared Diamond wrote Collapse. They may have assumed too much--although, not in my opinion--but it hardly rises to the level Stinky Journalism claims.

So what's the upshot?

Never mind Stinky Journalism's nit-pickery - does Questioning Collapse debunk Collapse, does Diamond debunk Questioning, or are both books left mangled in a pile of confetti by their collision?

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 17 Mar 2010 #permalink

Alex said:

"However it's not exactly hard to figure out the sense in which the author of "Title" is approaching a book called "Questioning Title"."

That's pretty much my feeling, Alex.

Pierce: I have no idea who wins this popsci deathmatch because I'm not going to get around to reading either book (my to-read list is several dozen books long; I was happy to knock off a Vonnegut yesterday, woohoo). If anyone does read both, please let us know who wins, and/or write a book entitled "Collapsing the Question: Questioning the Questioners of Collapse." Because that would be awesome.

Actually, all that Stinkyjournalism (and a range of science and ethics experts, the Science Book Review editor, Cambridge U Press and the book's many authors) ask for or would want is a clear disclosure in the review that Questioning Collapse was a book critical of Diamondâs work. Simple as: âQuestioning Collapse is a book of essays critiquing specific issues and general themes in my work, specifically my book âCollapseâ.â

Unless this is specifically stated or one knows the book, one would believe from reading Diamond's review that Questioning Collapse was a generic book on societal collapse--not specifically about Diamond work.

Palmer also writes that she didnât think this lack of disclosure was misleading, saying:

"Given that this review is in a specialist journal, and its readers should know better than to take an academic's assertions about their direct competition at face value, I don't think Nature needed to do more than they did."

To this, StinkyJournalism has two responses: one, Nature is not Anthropology Today, a true "specialist journal." It's a general science journal. I don't think it's realistic to think that, for example, the average material science physicist reading Nature, knows about Jared Diamond's fights with anthropologists; and two, how is that same physicist, ever to know that Diamond is reviewing a book that is all about him and his work--unless he is told?

But as Bruce V. Lewenstein, a professor of science communication at Cornell explains above, scientists and journalists do need to clearly disclose such conflicts to protect all their readers and to avoid reproach for hiding their biases. He told StinkyJournalism, âthe whole point of disclosure is to put it out there so even if thereâs just one person who doesnât know, theyâll be notified.â

Ms. Shearer: First, while I appreciate your visit, I don't think your comment makes any points that are different than those made in StinkyJournalism's posts - to which I already referred my readers.

Second, I'd readily argue that in the big picture, Nature is definitely a specialist journal: the writing is so technical that the vast majority of the U.S. population can't/won't read it. While Nature keeps its front matter fairly accessible, it is hardly a general audience publication. It's for professional scientists and institutions, as its subscription prices attest. Science literacy is very low in the general population, and even highly literate readers - those who read the Economist, Atlantic Monthly, etc. - are unlikely to read a peer-reviewed science publication. Simply speaking, this is not the New York Review of Books. If you'd prefer to define "specialist journal" in a way that excludes Nature - as journals serving subfields of science, like anthropology - then I'll simply repeat what I said with a different phrasing: Nature is not a general interest publication with a wide circulation.

Finally, I never said every person reading Nature would be familiar with Jared Diamond's work. You're conflating two different points I made: one, someone interested in reading a book review about this field is more likely than not to be somewhat familiar with the field already, and two, even if she is a materials physicist who has never heard of Jared Diamond, as a reader of Nature, a peer-reviewed science publication, she should be familiar enough with academic discourse to know that an invited reviewer often has a dog in the fight. I think the signposting Nature did was sufficient to raise that inference in people familiar with academia.

In sum, while I'm sure Bruce V. Lewenstein is a very knowledgeable gentleman, and I respect his much-iterated credentials, I simply don't agree that this story is the smoking gun StinkyJournalism would like it to be. Certainly not one worth a blast email from StinkyJournalism. Which reminds me - if you didn't want me to discuss it on my blog and share my opinion (as a scientist and a blogger), why did you send that blast email? Hmmm.

Dunc | March 17, 2010 10:35 AM:

If it's not made clear that Questioning Collapse is a direct criticism of JD's Collapse specifically, rather than just the concept in general, I'd say that's a fairly important omission.

Uh... Maybe the reader can be expected to read the title of the book, which is, er, Questioning Collapse?

Ms. Palmer, you have made a lot of assumptions. First of all, it was not an "email blast", I sent the story out to under 20 people who I thought would be interested and who I admire their prior writings.

I assumed that you might be interested based upon your prior posts on Diamond. And I was right, in that you, and others I wrote obviously thought what we reported was of enough interest to blog about it or post a link. Some even wrote to thank me for sending it.

Furthermore, I have written personal emails to you in the past. (I even just sent a personal note today where I apologized for the double-post of my comment so you could remove it). I just disagree with you, and so do many others, (yes experts) as our 2 reports indicate.

I suggest that one must read Diamond's Nature review before they can judge the seriousness of the non-disclosure.

In contrast too, also read the Science magazine (Jan. 20 2010) book review of Questioning Collapse--by Krista Lewis who wrote an interesting review with no dog in the fight.

Lewis tells readers in the first paragraph that the book is solely about Diamond--something Diamond never says in his entire review.

Lewis writes: "Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire began as a conference session at the 2006 annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association, where scholars came together to discuss the massive popular appeal of Jared Diamondâs Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse ( 1, 2). Their discussion expanded and developed into a volume that brings together archaeologists, cultural anthropologists, and historians to reanalyze and reinterpret Diamondâs case studies and conclusions."

I got your email and removed the double-posted comment. No need to apologize for that; our regular commenters know Sb's comment system leaves a bit to be desired. As for the rest, it's fine to disagree; I expected it. My strong disagreement with StinkyJournalism on this one was actually the reason I posted about it at all, since I generally don't respond to all the press emails I get unless they are personally addressed to me or BioE (these weren't).

I tried to be a little tongue-in-cheek in my earlier reply to your comment, but let me be more explicit this time. The tone of your comments leaves me feeling that in your opinion, *my* opinion is not worth a hill of beans compared to all of those experts you quote in your post and comments above, and that simply quoting them is sufficient to refute anything I say. If you don't think I have the credentials to have an opinion, there's not much point in arguing, is there? So I think I'll leave this one up to my readers to judge for themselves, as I've invited them to.

Some even wrote to thank me for sending it.

Wow, such an affirmation, I'm sure your proud of such support. About this goal post shifting methodology that Stinky employs, any chance they (she) will reveal their (her) hidden agenda against Diamond? The argument from authority (these experts agree with me, I must be right) won't pull much weight here because most of the readers are unimpressed by such argumentation. Of course, Prof. Lewenstein's employer never has any issues such as this one. (Not an ad hominem nor impugning the university, just pointing out that mistakes happen.)

I read the Science review, and if one thing stood out it was this, the publishers:
Cambridge University Press

Which publisher is likely to appeal to the wider audience? Diamond is not perfect, not even close. And while his status as a popular scientist affords him a perception among that wide audience that he is infallible, I don't suspect he has allowed his ego to swell that much. Furthermore, the select audience that reads CUP will have a already built in filter and ability to place the book in context.

OTOH, the Holier-than-Thou attitude of Stinky just tells me that there's something amiss, and that this source is not to be trusted.

By Onkel Bob (not verified) on 18 Mar 2010 #permalink

I am really disappointed at your personal attacks. To suggest I have a hidden agenda about Diamond is untrue. The accuracy of our reports on StinkyJournalism.org is what makes us trustworthy. We have earned that trust with lots of hard work.

I wrote to you in the past to say that I admire your writing. My citing experts was not intended to put you down. I am sorry if you took it that way. Given my history of sending an admiring email to you in the past, this is not my intent.

Can we can disagree and not attack? This is what I am trying to do in response to you.

Can we have a re-start in our interactions?

I'm not quite sure to whom your comment is addressed, since I don't remember making "personal attacks", and I never insinuated that you had a "hidden agenda." But if it's addressed to me, I appreciate the compliment on my previous blog post, and am perfectly happy to agree to disagree on this one. In fact, I think it's for the best, because this dialogue is not constructive.

Your two earlier comments were mainly citations to authority (that is, telling me I should change my mind because various experts say so). If I may make a gross cross-blog generalization, I don't think citations to authority are very well received at Scienceblogs. If you had some case-controlled data showing the effects of various disclaimer strengths on the attitudes of typical book review readers, that would make compelling fodder for a long discussion! But since the argument seems to revolve around whose subjective opinion is "better", I think agreeing to disagree is the best option for everyone involved.

I cannot say for sure whether Rhonda Shearer herself has a hidden agenda when she criticizes Jared Diamond. But what is clear is that she herself is not disclosing all that she should. She is the widow of Stephen Jay Gould, whose career as a serious academic who popularized science paralleled Jared Diamond's in many ways, except that Jared Diamond won a Pulitzer Prize, and Gould, despite his enormous talents and popularity, did not. There was no feud between them that I know of, but as two of the foremost writers on science for a general audience of their generation (I would say that EO Wilson was the third) they were in constant competition for audiences and attention and prizes such as the Pulitzer. If Rhonda Shearer is going to take such an extreme stance on what requires disclosing, then no writing by or about Rhonda Shearer on Jared Diamond should fail to disclose that.

By agnes warren (not verified) on 20 Mar 2010 #permalink

"Stephen Jay Gould, whose career as a serious academic who popularized science paralleled Jared Diamond's in many ways"

Hold on there: SJG was WAY more awesome than JD. Don't compare Captain Picard with Riker.

@Jessica, I apologize for not adding @Onkel Bob to make it clear I was addressing him about his comment that involved a personal attack.

You and I can "agree to disagree" about issue of Diamond's undisclosed conflict. However, we also disagree that the discussion can not be advanced with expert opinions. This view is counter to our judicial system that sometimes puts people in jail or orders fines based solely on experts opining without "case-controlled data."

@Jessica, please forgive the long comment but it includes new, unpublished information on the Wemp/Mandingo vs. Diamond/New Yorker defamation court case that you and readers may find of interest.

@agnes warren, you write above: "There was no feud between them [Stephen Jay Gould and Jared Diamond]that I know of." True enough. I agree with you. If there were, and I had knowledge of it, I would have said so (disclosed it).

To say that because both my late husband and Jared Diamond were both successful popular science writers and that fact, made them competitors like Coke and Pepsi does not, with all due respect, make sense. It is simply not true.

I subscribe to the belief that methods are objective not people. In the case of our "fact-checking" Diamond's April 21, 2008, New Yorker article--that turned out to be riddled with errors, including his false claim that Ombal leader Henep Isum was paralyzed and living 11 years in remote area of Southern Highlands siting in a wheelchair from an arrow "cut" to his spine.

Our team's method was to find the man. Look at and confirm his medical records and photograph him after first observing him not in a wheelchair but clearing land and walking around carrying a load of dirt over his shoulder. Further, records confirm that Isum isn't even a Ombal tribesman or killer but is a Henep and a village peace officer for many years in Inis, PNG (Hence his name Henep Isum Mandingo).

These are cold hard facts that we have uncovered. Diamond (and his friends or fans) may try to defend him by saying I am biased, but Diamond should instead, concentrate on providing the evidence that he relied on to say such things in the first place.

It has not yet been reported that the court case is unraveling that Diamond has no such evidence--as he admits in a recent affidavit he filed with the New York State court.

Diamond writes: "I prepared the Article based in large part on information the plaintiff Daniel Wemp told me. At the time I prepared the Article and submitted it to The New Yorker, I believed it to be a true and accurate account of events as Daniel Wemp had told them to me." That was it. No other evidence is offered.

This admission is added to Diamond's previous admission to Science reporter Michael Balter (May 15, 2009, Science) that he never met Isum, never tried to independently confirm his injuries or verify that Isum was a real person.

For me, this speaks loudly of Diamond's failed methodology and ethics. No amount of my alleged bias will ever put Isum in that wheelchair!

"To say that because both my late husband and Jared Diamond were both successful popular science writers and that fact, made them competitors like Coke and Pepsi does not, with all due respect, make sense."

I completely agree with you on this one.

"However, we also disagree that the discussion can not be advanced with expert opinions. This view is counter to our judicial system that sometimes puts people in jail or orders fines based solely on experts opining without "case-controlled data." "

I'm afraid I don't understand what you're trying to say.

Generally, when an expert testifies, it's about evidence that his/her training has made him/her better able to assess than a layperson. A doctor might testify about the age of a wound; a forensic technician about a DNA match in a blood sample. On the Hill, an expert might testify about whether recent temperature measurements support climate change. In all of these cases, the expert is interpreting data, evidence, for non-experts. And the opinions are only as good as the evidence they're based on.

The problem here is that we have no "evidence" to discuss. This isn't like the New Yorker incident, where investigators could check the facts in Diamond's article and show they were factually incorrect. It's not like a trial, where a forensic scientist or physician interprets physical evidence. It's a debate about whether a particular action - the publication of the book review - should be considered "ethical."

Your argument for the review being unethical is that it misleads the public. I agree with you that a review that misleads the public is unethical. However, I don't think this review is likely to mislead the public. The disclaimer in the text, the naming of "Collapse" at the end, the nature of the publication in which it appears, and the norms of academic discourse establish a context for the review in which readers are unlikely to be misled. That is my opinion as a PhD scientist, former professor, and science writer, and I have yet to be convinced otherwise.

We disagree on whether the public is misled by this review, and we don't have data - evidence - for an expert to interpret and resolve that disagreement. I haven't been told of any studies that could be analogized or extrapolated to this situation (although I'd love to hear about them). I haven't heard an outcry from materials engineers or other Nature readers who feel blindsided by Diamond's review. And while I respect scholars and experts for their learning and experience, I decline to find their personal opinions about right and wrong dispositive. Science journalism professors and practitioners can certainly determine if this book review constitutes a breach of the standards of their profession, and testify to that effect. That's well within their area of expertise. But whether the review (or the standards) are "right" or "wrong," "ethical" or "appropriate," is a policy issue. It's subjective, and not an assessment I'm willing to let an expert make for me, to the contrary of my own experience and belief. Does that clarify things?

Ms. Shearer, the problem here is that I, and several of my commenters, find the case against this book review unconvincing. We don't find it outrageous or newsworthy. We also don't feel that Diamond's previous actions in the ongoing New Yorker controversy should be evidence one way or the other on the book review; it is not the same sort of situation.

Let me ask you this: would Stinky Journalism have covered a book review by a biased author if it involved anyone other than Jared Diamond? I'd like to believe so, but I can also see why some commenters might feel that there is something personal going on here, and go looking for reasons why that might be.

Clarification: When I say the above is unpublished, I mean that no Stinkyjournalism articles, media or blog reports that I know of discuss Diamond's recent court papers. I did, however, post one comment on a blog.

Thanks for the clarification. I appreciate it and better understand your viewpoint.

The article itself is the evidence that experts would opine on providing their opinion of what are the standards and practices of their media field, as you mentioned. This is exactly what would happen in a libel case. Such experts would testify on both sides and the jury decides what to believe and which expert is most convincing. Best ethical practices are part of this.

But fair enough that these experts would have no effect for you, as you are expert enough to have your own opinion.

But I also believe it fair-enough to to say, that we can offer defense of criticisms of our report by citing others who share the same view. That is to say, we should be able to demonstrate that we are not being irresponsible or out-of-line with what is fair comment not supportable by rational or expert others.

In this case, although they are competitors, it is telling that the Science book review editor said that their policy would not have allowed them to do what Nature did (namely not specifically say the book under review by Diamond was about Diamond's Collapse not generic collapse). It is also telling that Cambridge U Pres would also publicly agree with our report on their blog (after all, even though they are biased as they admit, they take a risk of ire from Nature resulting in no or less book reviews of their books in the future! They felt strong enough about it to call it "shady" ).

Also, behind the scenes, there is more to this developing story that we will soon report (it will include original reporting from Papua New Guinea challenging a specific and strange factual claim in Diamond's review). If you want I can let you know? This time, I will include a personal note. :)

Many of our cases start with complaints from citizens. In this case, our investigation started with complaints from the authors of Questioning Collapse.

Jessica, I have one question: was that a hypothetical or did I misread that you refer above to "The disclaimer" in Diamond's review? If the latter, what disclaimer?

This one:

"Past societies did the "best they could" to respond to crises that hit them, and were not driven to failure by man-made problems such as overpopulation or environmentally destructive behaviour, as is often argued by other authors, including myself."

As I noted in the post, that's classic academic-speak for "Yes, I have a professional disagreement with these authors". Of course it's written in a way that makes it sound as if Diamond is just one of many right-thinking authors - but as I note in the post, I think the entire review is written in an argumentative tone, which is why I have a hard time envisioning anyone thinking it was objective in the first place.

And yes, I also noted in my post that Stinky Journalism takes the position that is an insufficient acknowledgment of the situation.

Jessica, Thanks for clarifying this for me. I appreciate it. As to your question:

"Let me ask you this: would Stinky Journalism have covered a book review by a biased author if it involved anyone other than Jared Diamond? I'd like to believe so, but I can also see why some commenters might feel that there is something personal going on here, and go looking for reasons why that might be."

Our news and topics archive shows we obviously cover lots of people and media outlets, and the topic of undisclosed conflicts is one we cover fairly frequently. We don't speculate if someone has a conflict. We investigate facts and seek expert opinions to test our assumptions, facts and opinions or seek out and use other independent information, such as documents.

I have noticed that people will often use charges of bias as a weapon on the Web. They will publicly speculate about conflicts of interest--like my late husband maybe had a beef with Diamond (even though there is no record of one) and as the widow I must be suddenly taking up the charge 6 six later! I mean really. Our work on Diamond stands up for itself.

Since your commenters are speculating...here are the facts: I only accidentally came across Diamond's New Yorker article with a Google alert set for Papua New Guinea. I was already researching a story there. The local newspapers were accused by the PNG government of perpetuating a hoax. (The Papua New Guinea National and Post-Courier papers published rumors that a Komodo dragon(s)was running amok through the county side and villagers became afraid. The government blamed the newspapers after the army had to be called in to try to find the animals, etc. A whole brouhaha).

This was April 2008 and Diamond's story on PNG and revenge appeared in my email news alerts.

I read it and wrote to New Yorker and Diamond April 30 to ask if they contacted Henep Isum or independently verified that he was in a wheelchair with a spinal injury for 11 years? (My thought was: since medical science couldn't keep Superman (aka Christopher Reeves who died of pressure wounds) alive in NJ, I wondered how IN THE WORLD could lesser medical care keep a tribesmen alive in remote PNG? Moreover, what do you do with a wheelchair when there are no paved roads or sidewalks?) Diamond refused to respond. The New Yorker disassembled and said that they fact checked everything. That is how our independent investigation started. And I can prove it.

So it really didn't matter who wrote the New Yorker article, Diamond or Joe Blow (other than the stakes are higher when it is someone as publicly acclaimed as Diamond. We knew we had better make darn sure than the research we do is solid, detailed and verifiable in extreme--which we did, as history has thus far shown and will show more).

I'm going to wrap up this dramatic, star-studded comment thread with the opinion of a non academic.
That would be me.

*clears throat*
Ok, so I consider myself a reaonably intelligent nerd, and I love science like it's my mommy, but I never went to college and I have no academic background whatsoever.

I have read Guns, Germs, and Steel- but that's IT as far as JD goes. I enjoyed it and I felt like I picked up some very interesting information from it, though it did make some broad sweeping generalizations that were a bit- off. But whatever- leave it to say, I know who the guy is.

I did NOT know that scientists often have stakes in books they review, and that seems a bit petty to me... but then aren't we all? I'm honestly not that surprised.

If I had read the review he wrote about "Questioning Collapse", I can say honestly that I probably would have had a train of thought very much like this:

"Oh, this review is written by JD, cool, I value his opinion as a respected scientist. OOOh, he really doesn't like this- wait- here it says he wrote a different book (that I haven't heard of and am not familliar with) called "Collapse"- why, this book must be like the Gaia hypothesis VS. The Medea hypothesis. No wonder he doesn't like it. DUH.

So I'm the non academic layperson here. And my ultimate opinion is that it might have been nice if they'd have made it clearere, but really, it doesn't matter becasue anyone with the brain cells to read through the book reviews in Nature had damn well be smart enough that "Questioning Collapse" and "Collapse" are PROBABLY SOMEHOW RELATED.



Esmeralda, self-declared non-academic, FTW! Nicely done - although I have to say you sound pretty well-informed - I'm not sure we can assume all readers are as sharp as you.

Maybe not- but I'm about the least informed person that would spend money on/ then actually read (not just put on the coffee table) a copy of Nature.

The average American would rather buy an issue of People or Cosmo- but I'm the intellectual "low end" of people who would actually seek out and purchase (and read) such a mag... or, at least I assume I am. And by "low end" I don't mean to short change myself. I'm a smart chick and I read a lot- but I'm entirely self educated.
I'm not an academic and I have no exposure to the sort of social heirarchy that would allow one to simply *know* that reviewers often have a vested interest in a book. Only being around other people in that social structure would one know such a thing... but it's really not hard to figure out....

...anyway, I think you're spot on- I don't think it needs to be in flashing neon or anything- UNLESS they were to put it in a more common-man-friendly publication. In which case, it would be a good move, because it's always dangerous to assume people know as much as you think they do.

They probably don't.

And thanks!