Science in Christian Perspective




From: JASA 15 (December 1963): 118.

Should book reviews in JASA be considered as scientific reviews ' or as literary reviews?

In a letter to Science, 141, No. 3578, 312 (26 July 1963), the distinguished anthropologist Margaret Mead points out that different rules apply to the two kinds of reviewing. Dr. Mead describes a case in which a mountain of moral indignation grew out of a molehill of misunderstanding when the ethics of scientific reviewing were scrupulously followed-but for the wrong kind of journal. Saturday Review asked Theodosius Dobzhansky to write a review of Carleton Coon's book, The Origin of Races. Dobzhansky wrote a critical review and sent a copy of the manuscript to Coon, who asked for the right to reply; both of these actions were in accordance with scientific courtesy. When publication of the review was delayed, friends of Dobzhansky felt that the critical content of his review was responsible and wrote letters of protest to the editor, who eventually rejected the review entirely. It was subsequently published in Scientific American, 208, No. 2, 169 (1963) under the title "A Debatable Account of the Origin of Races." Undoubtedly the fact that Coon's book dealt with an emotionally-charged subject helped to magnify the misunderstanding, but the basic question of differences in ethics and styles of reviewing would remain even if this were not so.

In the case of a literary (meaning " non- scientific") review, it is incorrect to send a copy of the manuscript anywhere else before the review has actually been published. Literary journals wish to protect themselves against premature quotation by other publishers, partly because last-minute changes in makeup may mean that an accepted review is not run at all. Saturday Review devotes considerable attention to scientific matters but is certainly not a scientific journal.

What kind of journal is JASA? Should book reviews submitted for publication in JASA be edited? No changes except minor corrections in spelling, punctuation, etc., are ever made in a scientific paper without the author's written consent. In literary journals, however, the editor may make even major changes he feels necessary to maintain the magazine's standards of style. The book review editor of JASA has generally felt free to make changes in style whenever he felt he could improve a review without changing its point of view, but never without sending a copy of the revised manuscript to the author before publication so the author could protest or withdraw his review if he wished. Unfortunately, this correspondence has sometimes been carried on under pressure of deadlines, and some authors, used to dealing with editors of scientific journals, may have felt that they and their reviews-have been mistreated. (So far no reviewer has registered a complaint.)

Until a different policy is recommended by the editorial board, the editor of this section will assume he has freedom to make editorial changes in book review manuscripts, but will make every effort to have full discussion of proposed changes with the author before publication. Perhaps a significant way to distinguish one's literary writing from scientific writing is to ask, "Would I list this review in my bibliography of scientific papers?" Correspondence on this point would be welcomed by either the book review editor or the editor of JASA.

We have intended for a whole year to publish an extensive review of The Genesis Flood by Henry M. Morris (a Fellow of the ASA) and John C. Whitcomb, Jr. This highly controversial book published in 1961 by the Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company has sold many thousands of copies and has been the subject of heated discussion among ASA members. Although the book has ardent supporters, many geologists object to the treatment of various technical questions in it; others object strongly to the philosophical outlook and polemic style of the authors. It has been hard to find a reviewer to do the book justice, partly because both scientific and philosophical questions are involved. However, we have at last been promised a thorough-going review which we expect to publish in the next issue. In the same issue we would also like to publish either a list of other reviews which have been printed elsewhere or a "review of reviews." Readers who have access to a review of The Genesis Flood published in a scientific, religious, or other periodical are urged to send either the review itself or its full citation to the book review editor by December 31. If inexpensive copying facilities are available, a reproduction of the published review would be appreciated.

-W. R. Hearn.