Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dump the Dump

Wise words from Jonathan Mayhew. A minor (but telling) example is "The German sociologist Niklas Luhmann has argued..." If your reader needs to know the man was German, you're thinking of the wrong audience. Tell your students.

7 comments:

Jonathan said...

I had a dissertation student do that: every single critic was introduced by a tagging phrase: "Chilean critical theorist Z argues that..." It got to be stylistically quite annoying.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I have allowed some authors to convince me that there are interdisciplinary situations in which both the nationality and discipline of particular theorists need to be mentioned.

But it is very unlikely that a serious academic paper will use the phrase, say, "Kant (1724-1804)" or (arguably worse, I guess) William Shakespeare, the seventeenth-century English dramatist.

An aside: Richard Dawkins notes the criticism of "someone named Mary Midgley" in an endnote to the Selfish Gene (p. 278 in my copy, note to p. 55). Here my view would be that he should either find out who she is (and whether she's worth taking seriously) or just not mention her. Of course, he's probably just being a condescending jerk. But it's poor style even it's also bad form.

Presskorn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Presskorn said...

Dawkins&Midgley are archenemies & have an acute knowlegde of each other, though it's doubtful that either of them think that the other is worth taking seriously...

S1S2 said...

Hi Thomas,

Mary Midgley is/was an infamous english moral philosopher, who I would argue needs no introduction. She suggested that...
Genes cannot be selfish or unselfish, any more than atoms can be jealous, elephants abstract or biscuits teleological... How wonderfully obtuse! No wonder Dawkins didnt bother to acknowledge her credentials.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I think you may have misunderstood, S1S2. I was not objecting to his not providing her credentials. I was objecting to his using the phrase "someone named Mary Midgley". He could have just said Mary Midgley. Or he could have not bothered about her criticisms at all. Either her opinion is important (and her person therefore deserving of a modicum of respect) or it is not (and then we can spare the reader any mention of her). I have no position on the question, knowing next to nothing about Midgley.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I took Presskorn's comment to imply that Dawkins knew very well who Midgley was when he wrote the sentence. (I don't if that is actually the case.) In that case, Dawkins is being disingenuous and, like I said, a bit of jerk. Perhaps he assumes his reader, and perhaps even Midgley would get the joke.

But I've got to say that when I first read it, I assumed he simply didn't know who she was.