Evaluating books and writing reviews

Evaluating books:

• Compile a list of the types of comments/criticisms found in both published and student reviews.

unity (or lack thereof)
lack of evidence
scientific accuracy
personal bias
self interest
so what?/ big picture / relevance / depth
style: lucidity
unstated assumptions
use of theory
utility (e.g. for teaching)
omissions, spotty coverage
asking important questions
ground-breaking, under-studied topics
contemporary relevance?

• Question of audience: Who is your/our work aimed at? Which of the factors above would they be likely to care about most?

Kohler: scientists, history of science, STS
Rosenberg: history of science, general history

Scientists: interest in history of your own field, utility / lessons learned (e.g., funding, ideas for research topics), is it factually correct, image of their field (good/bad, accurate/inaccurate), assumptions/theory (science wars)

STS: ideas for research topics, status/importance of author, methods, theory, ground-breaking, how it fits into field, scholarship: evidence, assumptions, coherence

General audience: style, background information / accessibility, contemporary relevance, so what?/ big picture

• Note that every strength has its weakness. E.g., the ability to empathize with one's subjects can also lead to a lack of critical distance; someone who does meticulous detailed research with lots of factual evidence might not be able to see the big picture. Brainstorm tips for how to counteract these dangers?

problem statement / scope / focus; if you get it wrong, it's really wrong
factual evidence, research; hard to see forest for trees, big picture
big picture, can tie together diverse info; hard to focus on specifics
creative synthesis of existing ideas; lack of original ideas
seeing the relevance of small details; temptation to put every single one into your book

Strategies: work with someone who has opposite tendencies; write out a statement of the big picture and periodically review it; redefine your big picture as the evidence unfolds; alternate doing detailed research and writing up larger conclusions.

Question: what is originality? What is an important contribution?

Writing reviews:

• Did this exercise give you any insight into what makes a good review?

Specific examples, not just generalizations.
Not just a summary:
- Put book in context of literature of field
- Comment on use of language
- Evaluation of strengths and weaknesses
Comment on author: background, expertise, bias/outlook
More focus on book itself, less on reviewer's own concerns.
Be specific about what (if anything) it's valuable for
Review fits audience of journal publishing it

• Question of audience: Who is your/our work aimed at? Which of the factors above would they be likely to care about most?

Kohler: scientists, history of science, STS
Rosenberg: history of science, general history

Scientists: interest in history of your own field, utility / lessons learned (e.g., funding, ideas for research topics), is it factually correct, image of their field (good/bad, accurate/inaccurate), assumptions/theory (science wars)

STS: ideas for research topics, status/importance of author, methods, theory, ground-breaking, how it fits into field, scholarship: evidence, assumptions, coherence

General audience: style, background information / accessibility, contemporary relevance, so what?/ big picture

• Note that every strength has its weakness. E.g., the ability to empathize with one's subjects can also lead to a lack of critical distance; someone who does meticulous detailed research with lots of factual evidence might not be able to see the big picture. Brainstorm tips for how to counteract these dangers?

problem statement / scope / focus; if you get it wrong, it's really wrong
factual evidence, research; hard to see forest for trees, big picture
big picture, can tie together diverse info; hard to focus on specifics
creative synthesis of existing ideas; lack of original ideas
seeing the relevance of small details; temptation to put every single one into your book

Strategies: work with someone who has opposite tendencies; write out a statement of the big picture and periodically review it; redefine your big picture as the evidence unfolds; alternate doing detailed research and writing up larger conclusions.

Question: what is originality? What is an important contribution?

Writing reviews:

• Did this exercise give you any insight into what makes a good review?

Specific examples, not just generalizations.
Not just a summary:
- Put book in context of literature of field
- Comment on use of language
-
Comment on author: background, expertise, bias/outlook
More focus on book itself, less on reviewer's own concerns.
Review the book the author actually wrote, not what the reviewer
thought the author should write

• Thoughts on how and why reviewers differed in their responses

• Did any of the reviews make you change your own opinion about some aspect of the book?

• Opinion poll: Which of the reviews were most useful?

Kohler reviews:

Churchill, Frederick B. Review of Lords of the Fly: Drosophila Genetics and the Experimental Life. Bulletin of the History of Medicine 70:2 (Summer 1996), pp. 329-331.
Response from class:

Cobb, Matthew. “The Fly of the Lords.” Evolution 49:3 (June 1995) pp. 581-583.
Response from class:

Geison, Gerald L. Review of Lords of the Fly: Drosophila Genetics and the Experimental Life by Robert E. Kohler. Isis 87:2 (June 1996), pp. 328-331.
Response from class:

Joshi, Amitabh. “Of Flies and Fly Culture.” Resonance: Journal of Science Education (Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore) 8:11 (November 2003), 96
Response from class:

Novak, Steven J. “Of Flies and Men.” Reviews in American History 23:2 (June 1995) pp. 302-306.
Response from class:

Palladino, Paolo. “Bringing the World into the Laboratory, or the (Ir)resistible Rise of Drosophila melanogaster.” British Journal for the History of Science 29:2 (June 1996) pp. 217-221.
Response from class:

Partridge, L. “The Making of a Model Organism.” Trends in Ecology and Evolution 10:4 (April 1995) p. 171.
Response from class:

Pauly, Philip J. “Fly Culture.” Science, New Series 264:5157 (April 1994) pp. 445-446.
Response from class:

Pickering, Andrew. Review of Lords of the Fly: Drosophila Genetics and the Experimental Life by Robert E. Kohler. Contemporary Sociology 24:2 (March 1995), pp. 264-265.
Response from class:

Rosenberg reviews:

Brieger, Gert H. Review of No Other Gods: On Science and American Social Thought. Bulletin of the History of Medicine 74:1 (Spring 2000) pp. 185-186.
Response from class:

Grob, Gerald N. Review of No Other Gods: On Science and American Social Thought by Charles E. Rosenberg. Journal of Interdisciplinary History 8:2 (Autumn 1977) pp. 394-396.
Response from class:

Kett, Joseph F. Review of No Other Gods: On Science and American Social Thought by Charles E. Rosenberg. Journal of American History 64:1 (June 1977) p. 177.
Response from class:

Pandora, Katherine. “Science Historian's Bible.” American Scientist 86:3 (May-June 1998), p. 1.
Response from class:

Weber, Gay. Review of No Other Gods: On Science and American Social Thought by Charles E. Rosenberg. British Journal for the History of Science 11:2 (July 1978), pp. 175-176.
Response from class:

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