Saturday, August 19, 2006

Scholarly Smackdown

That's what S. Douglas Olson just laid down on Jean-Fabrice Nardelli in the BMCR.

It was wholly deserved, and I almost blogged about the offending incident when it arrived in my mailbox, but I was too busy to blog that day. Nardelli issued an oddly acerbic and unsupported attack on Olson for the 'style' of his reviews, but specifically in response to his review of Bernabé's Poetae Epici Graeci, which was apparently the straw that broke the camel's back and prompted this from Nardelli:

It behooves every author to acknowledge mistakes and accept criticism; now there is not a single one piece of his in this journal that does not reek of venom and is not bitter in the extreme -- a true pain to the reader, who is certainly not subscribing to BMCR for such dubious pleasures.
Nardelli alluded to Olson's supposedly venomous and reckless approach by vague references and paraphrases taken out of context. When I went back to read Olson's reviews I was struck by just how wrong Nardelli was. What Nardelli had done was a careful hatchet job. He hacked away at the facts until something very different and very ugly was left.

Skim through a few of Olson's entries for yourself and you'll find nothing that Nardelli claims to find, but rather a series of consistent, fair, helpful, and sufficiently critical reviews. (Scroll down to find Olson.)

I was still thinking of blogging on the matter when David Konstan joined the fray and felt the same way many of BMCR's readers must have felt:
This is wholly unjust. Olson writes: "Bernabé's wide learning and devotion to his subject are apparent on every page of this volume, which seems destined to become the standard edition of this odd and fascinating material for a generation or more." This is hardly venomous. Olson goes on to note, and to document carefully, some inconvenient features in the presentation, and a rather large number of typographical errors, erroneous citations, and the like. The purpose of this list, which certainly cost Olson plenty of time, is to facilitate corrections in a future edition, which Olson hopes to see published in the near future. This is just what a responsible reviewer should do; were Olson to correct me in this way, I should be grateful -- not resentful.
Finally Olson himself has responded, and you owe it to yourself to read every word, though I'll offer a small part:
On this matter, I refer him to the APA's Statement on Professional Ethics, which notes specifically (Section III, first paragraph) that classicists are ethically obliged to offer "accurate citations to help readers assess evidence." It would serve no purpose for me to respond to Nardelli's other remarks, except to say that I imagine he now regrets them -- and the alacrity with which they were published in BMCR. Instead, I would like to reflect briefly on why we as scholars disown ad hominem argumentation, and on the obligation of editors to refuse to publish such material when it is presented to them.
Accordingly, he takes on not only Nardelli, but the editors of the BMCR for 'a serious abdication of their professional responsibility, which deserves to be publicly described as such.'


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