My box from Amazon came yesterday. Inside was The Hywayman by Noyes and Keeping (a children’s picture book first published in 1913), the CD MacArthur Park by Richard Harris (Someone left the cake out in the rain…I don’t think that I can take it…cause it took so long to bake it…and I’ll never have that recipe again…Oh nooooooo!”) and a book titled Irrationality, by Stuart Sutherland.
Irrationality is based on numerous psychological studies that show how irrational all people tend to be and gives tips on how to avoid some of the obvious pit falls. I thought I’d share a few things I found interesting in the first chapter.
I knew about the “halo effect”, but I thought it merely related to goodlooking people (who by the way because they are good looking are perceived to be more intelligent, kind, talented, better workers, anything positive etc…if they’re male handsome and tall they’ll also end up being paid much more…merely because of what they look like! This is the basic halo effect, but it can be more insidious. The author relates how two psychologists decided to test the objectivity of scientists in relation to publishing scientific papers. Apparently, if a scientist wants to publish a paper on some work he sends his paper to the publisher who then sends copies to several scientific peers in the same field who read and evaluate the paper and give their oppinion on whether or not it should be published. These are scientists and one would assume (unless they were swayed by jealousy or hatred for the submitting writer) that they’d give an accurate evalution. Not so!
As Sutherland relates, “They selected from each of twelve well-known journals of psychology one published article that had been written by members of one of the ten most prestigious psychology departments in the US, such as Harvard or Princeton: in consequence most of the authors were eminent psychologists. Next they changed the authors’ names to fictitious ones and their affliations to those of some imaginary university… They then went through the articles carefully and whenever they found a passage that might provide a clue to the real authors, they altered it slightly, while leaving the basic contents unchanged. Each article was then typed and submitted under imaginary names and affiliations to the very same journal that had originally published it. Of the twelve journals only three spotted that they had already published the article… Eight out of the remaining nine articles, all of which had been previously published, were rejected. Moreover, of the sixteen referees (the peer evaluators) and eight editors who looked at these eight papers, every single one stated that the paper they examined did not merit publication… It suggests that in deciding whether an article should be published, referees and editors pay more attention to the authors’ names and to the standing of the institution to which they belong then they do to the scientific work reported. You might think that such bias by referees could not occur in a really rigorous subject like physics. But a review of bias, based on 619 articles published in journals of physics concludes that ‘access to publication may sometimes be easier’ if you are ‘part of the current in-group of well-known physicists’…” Consequently…”The first words a referee or an editor sees on reading an article are the authors’ names and the name of their institution. If these are prestigious, he will be biased towards interpreting the paper in the best light possible; if they are not, he is probably going to look for flaws and to be more sensitive to what is wrong than to what is right.”
And if scientific publishing is flawed, the rest of the publishing industry is often just as blind. For those of you who, like me, often pick prize winning book out of curiosity and after reading the first page find yourself falling asleep out of boredom or gnashing your teeth in irritation that anyone bothered to publish let alone give it an award…you may find this interesting… “In 1969, Jerzy Kosinsky’s novel, Steps, won the American National Book Award for fiction. Eight years later some joker had it retyped and sent the manuscript with no title and under a false name to fourteen major publishers and thirteen literary agents in the US, including Random-House, the firm that had originally published it. Of the twenty-seven people to whom it was submitted, not one recognised that it had already been published. Moreover, all twenty-seven rejected it. All it lacked was Jerzy Kosinsky’s name to create the halo effect: without the name, it was seen as an indifferent book.”
I’d never heard of Jerzy Kosinsky so I looked him up on Amazon to read the first few pages to get an idea of the author’s writing. That particular book wasn’t given a “look inside me” sign…but there were several other of his books on offer so I clicked on a random story and started reading. I wasn’t impressed, but I’d just learned one of his books was considered indifferent and I knew I might be biased by that statement, so I clicked to read the opening pages of a book of essays. Half a page was enough to convince me that if I’d died never having heard of Kosinsky I wouldn’t have missed anything. Apparently all his novels are highly erotic. I have no desire to read or write erotica, but even if that’s your cup of poison I fail to see how you’d stay awake past the first chapter to enjoy it!
I can’t help thinking as a female romance writer, why is it that if a man writes purple novels its called literature and if a woman writes purple novels its called trash? The word irrational comes to mind!