Breaking News: I May Be Neither Incompetent Nor Dishonest!

Breaking News: I May Be Neither Incompetent Nor Dishonest! July 1, 2013

Tom Verenna posted a response to some of Neil Godfrey’s name-calling. It includes the following:

Now whether or not James McGrath is missing something, or he is not reading Brodie sympathetically, or he is merely interpreting Brodie differently, is obviously an important part of a discussion. But this does not ipso facto implicate James as ‘incompetent’ (he isn’t) or ‘dishonest’ (simply because he disagrees with something). James holds advanced degrees which he could not have earned had he been incompetent (incompetence is when someone barely passes or fails a course–these people don’t generally find work in academia and I doubt many could write a successful dissertation) and he would never have received his Bachelors had he been dishonest (dishonest people are the sort who copy-verbatim-Wikipedia articles and turn them in as assignments; this is something I’ve witnessed happening in my own classes).

So let’s be clear.  James is not incompetent and he is not dishonest.  Is James perhaps guilty of not fully reading the material on which he writes?  Perhaps.  He has been called on this before–but this doesn’t make him incompetent.  It doesn’t make him dishonest.  And if one were to simply direct James to the information responsibly–you know, like civil human beings will do–then James can then correct or amend his claims based upon information he may have missed.  As an academic, James has many responsibilities–responsibilities that an amateur like Mr. Godfrey cannot understand fully (as he does not have these same responsibilities–nor would he likely want them).  But this is why so little is ever fruitful in conversations with Mr. Godfrey.  Every response James gives, regardless of its tone, is understood by Mr. Godfrey as an attack or assault upon some cherished belief.  He will likely interpret this very post as some aggressive move against him, rather than the constructive criticism it is.

So maybe we can start treating each other with a little more respect here?  Maybe we can do away with all the polemical name calling?  It is intolerable and I find that I have a hard time reading through all the vitriol to find the point that is being made.

I will add that I read Brodie’s book carefully, and not having the book with me at home, I have not been able to double check a couple of points about my review raised by Godfrey’s accusations. It has been my custom to read books all the way through before writing a review, having spent time in the past discussing apparent shortcomings as I went which were addressed later, something that seems to me to be a waste of time and to have the potential to unduly influence a review in a negative direction. But reading and taking copious notes, and waiting until one is finished to write the review, can also have disadvantages, including that the short notes might not lead you to write about earlier parts of the book that are less fresh in your memory in as precise a manner.

If you write book reviews, how do you go about it?

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  • David Evans

    It’s nice for you to receive Tom Verenna’s imprimatur. But really, no-one who paid your blog any attention could possibly think you were incompetent or dishonest.

  • Steven Carr

    I asked Tom which of McGrath’s posts he could recommend, as an example of good scholarship.

    That was a nasty trap on my part, which Tom carefully negotiated.

    He replied that he wasn’t going to go through thousands of blog posts just so he could find one to answer my question.

    I can’t imagine Tom fancied the size of the task in front of him (going through James blog looking for quality scholarship), and so disdainfully declined my kind ‘invitation’.

    • I’m surprised that he didn’t simply recommend reading my scholarly publications, rather than searching through my blog which really is filled with lots of frivolous stuff, and intentionally so.

      • Steven Carr

        I’m surprised he didn’t point out your review of Thomas Brodie’s books as a work of good scholarship. I say ‘surprised’, but I probably need a different word.