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Author Topic: nasty book review  (Read 19607 times)
lameusername
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« on: May 07, 2012, 8:29:47 pm »

I just read a nasty review of my book. While some of the things said in it are probably well-deserved, and I'll take them seriously while working on my next manuscript, some of the major points of attack misrepresent my arguments completely. It is clear that the author of the review (a retired R1 prof) has only read the intro to my book and a few random pages. The book was published in a very reputable academic press in my field, and--of course--it was blind peer reviewed and revised before being accepted and published. If I decided to write a reply, it would be easy for me to prove that the reviewer didn't read the book. (S/he says that I use certain theoretical approaches that are outdated, but I only outline these approaches in my intro in a historical overview of the development of the field. I don't mention these approaches in my chapters at all. In fact, s/he never mentions the major scholars whose work appears as foundational in the bulk of my book.) Would I look desperate to my peers if I published a rebuttal? Should I just let go and move on? I'm tenured, so this review won't damage my career as much as it would if I needed positive feedback for a tenure portfolio. And I can take criticism of my work, though I confess it's not easy. But I'm mad that someone who didn't even take the time to read my work had the guts to publicly criticize me. Frankly, I'm leaning toward just letting it go for the sake of peace and quiet. I want to channel my energy into my next project, though I feel rather demoralized now. What do you think? In what ways can such a review hurt me long-term? And would it hurt less at all if I did publish a rebuttal?
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bibliologos
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« Reply #1 on: May 07, 2012, 8:50:01 pm »

Write a rebuttal. Don't publish it. Lock it away and move on.
« Last Edit: May 07, 2012, 8:52:20 pm by bibliologos » Logged

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oldfullprof
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« Reply #2 on: May 07, 2012, 9:15:53 pm »

This happened to me in Contemporary Sociology.  S/he complained that I didn't do enough current-style ethical/epistemological posturing/armwaving in my qualitative findings (quite deliberately because I think that stuff is nonsense.)  S/he paid no attention at all to my quantitative findings, which were significant.  (I remain yet to be convinced that "feminist research methods" has any content independent of "research methods," and this review was supposedly by someone of that perspective.  S/he had done research on mental health, granted.)

I thought replying would look pathetic, so I didn't.
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bookishone
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« Reply #3 on: May 07, 2012, 9:56:40 pm »

I don't think it's a good idea to publish a rebuttal unless that's the general practice in that journal (and even then...).

What's frustrating, though, is that readers will be misinformed about the nature and approach of your book. Readers who would be interested in reading a book that uses Y methodology, even if the book is flawed, might not even consider your book because the review they saw said that you rely on X methodology.

Maybe other forumites have ideas about how to minimize that kind of effect. At the very least, make sure your school website and your academia.edu site (if you have one) put your book's real focus and method front and center. Use all the keywords you can think of so those sites come up in Google searches on the topic.
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lurkingfear
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« Reply #4 on: May 07, 2012, 10:04:17 pm »

Rebuttal's are par for the course on technical comments (criticisms that usually come with some new analysis of the data to show an alternative interpretation) of papers in Science and Nature. The rebuttal always appears in the same issue as the technical comment (the editor of the journal invites the reply/rebuttal from the authors of the work that motivated the technical comment).

This sort of thing happens in other journals as well, though not in such a coordinated way. You'll see a comment entitled 'criticism of X' and then a month later 'criticism of X: reply'. I don't see a reason not to send the rebuttal, except if it's never done in your field. But then again, perhaps it should be.
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lameusername
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« Reply #5 on: May 07, 2012, 10:23:59 pm »

I'm in the humanities. I've seen rebuttals in various journals, but it's not very common. And yes, even though they're probably justified, they almost always look pathetic.

I've done a lot of book reviews. When I don't have the time to read a book, I respectfully decline. When I agree to write one, I spend a lot of time with the book. Most of us do. To do otherwise is dishonest and potentially harmful.
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larryc
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« Reply #6 on: May 07, 2012, 11:36:48 pm »

A rebuttal makes you look like a whiner.
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melba_frilkins
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« Reply #7 on: May 08, 2012, 12:35:08 am »

What if the OP at least informed the journal editor that their reviewer is a giant slacker? Or would that sound whiny as well?
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daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #8 on: May 08, 2012, 7:35:05 am »

Get a friend to write a review for another journal.  Have them mention the first review's shortcomings.  - DvF
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youllneverwalkalone
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« Reply #9 on: May 08, 2012, 8:50:13 am »

If the review was so biased as to misrepresent the actual book content I think you have every right to write a rebuttal. I don't think it makes you whiny at all.

I would start by writing the journal editor privately and take it from there.

You can always resort to DvF's clever suggestion.
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anisogamy
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« Reply #10 on: May 08, 2012, 9:09:39 am »

Get a friend to write a review for another journal.  Have them mention the first review's shortcomings.  - DvF

This sounds like the best course of action, by far.
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yellowtractor
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« Reply #11 on: May 08, 2012, 9:31:31 am »

A rebuttal makes you look like a whiner.

Unfortunately, this is true.

When my first book came out, it was reviewed by a graduate student in a Journal-of-Record in my field.  There were numerous factual errors in the review:  like you, I assumed (and assume) that the reviewer only read the introduction and spot-checked a few random pages.  I tried several times to write a rebuttal that set the record straight without making me look like a whiner, in vain.

The best you can do is (a) what Melba suggests plus (b) what DvF suggests.

And yes, I felt pretty demoralized about it for, I dunno, about two years.  I still feel upset about it when I recall it (as, for instance, right now...so I am going to say no more and go mulch my irises).
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seniorscholar
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« Reply #12 on: May 08, 2012, 10:07:13 am »

I believe the only rebuttals/critiques of reviews I've seen in the important journals in my humanities field have been published over the name(s) of one or more senior scholars in the field, not over the name of the author of the book reviewed. I am, of course, suggesting that sometimes the book's author has elicited the rebuttal, or has responded to a sympathetic personal letter/e-mail from a friend by saying "I wish I could write a rebuttal because [points 8-12 on the list of complaints] but I guess it isn't done" therefore setting the process in motion.
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bwwm1
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« Reply #13 on: May 08, 2012, 10:55:39 am »

The leading journal in one of my sub-fields recently published a review essay from a senior scholar that trashed a book in rather vicious terms. The journal offered the book's author a chance to include a rebuttal letter, and also allowed the review's author to respond to the letter. Unfortunately, the whole exchange, especially the letters, don't reflect well on the various people involved. I think it's very hard to write author rebuttals that do much good. It's probably best to let it go or to do as others have suggested and have someone else write a letter.
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sagit
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« Reply #14 on: May 08, 2012, 11:35:30 am »

I don't know a lot about book reviews but I wonder if you could ask for the editor to publish, not a rebuttal, but a correction?  The editor would issue in another journal a brief correction of factual information that was in error like they might do if there was an error in a journal article.  At least this could fix anything that was simply wrong in the review.  I don't know if the editor would go for it though, but at least it wouldn't look whiny as it would just be corrections.
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