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Reviewing Responsibly Update … or Publishing Reviews Responsibly

Well, have I got news to you.

Last week I commented on an example of flawed reviewing practices.  The case study involved a book written by an ASU PhD, Andrew Fisher, and reviewed in The Oregonian on September 3, 2010 by Matt Love.  The review, which appeared in a special Sunday section of the paper, contained a false statement so easily disprovable by a reading of the book that one could raise serious questions about the reviewer’s competence and professionalism.

There was an exchange of correspondence, first between author and reviewer (which led to no change in the content of the review, which is the important issue here) followed by an exchange between author and a member of the editorial staff.  This led to a “correction” statement on September 10, which reads as follows:

Andrew H. Fisher, the author of “Shadow Tribe: The Making of Columbia River Identity,” spoke to numerous Native Americans during his research for the book. A review in The Sunday Oregonian’s O! section implied otherwise.

The wording here is curious.  The review did not “imply” that the author did not speak to “numerous Native Americans.”  It rather explicitly said that he did not speak to any Native Americans residing in the area under discussion, and speculated that they might have refused to talk to him.  Here again is what Matt Love said:

Perhaps the only flaw of “Shadow Tribe” is the complete absence of any voices of contemporary Columbia River Indians. Fisher proves skillful at extracting the story from the documents, but seems not to have interviewed a single Columbia River Indian who still lives and fishes in the area. Why not? How are they surviving? What’s next for them? This book would have been a whole lot more interesting and useful if Fisher had bothered to talk to any of them. If they refused to talk to the historian, well, that’s part of the story, too.

Moreover, at first the newspaper did not even provide a link in its online edition between the correction and the review.  When I pointed this out to the paper, a member of the editorial staff said that they were planning to do this all along, but had not gotten around to it at the time I pointed it out.  If you read the review as currently on the paper’s website, you’ll now see the correction at the top of the review … and you’ll also note that the statement it’s supposed to correct remains in the review.

In short, confronted with evidence that reviewer Matt Love offered false information in a review, The Oregonian and its website,, offered a “correction” which contained a misleading implication (ironically about what Matt Love had “implied”) while retaining the false statement in the review itself.  There’s no apology from Mr. Love and no outright retraction of a false statement.

As for what I think of this, you can see my responses in the comments section of the original review.  I’d be interested in what you think of the performance of Matt Love and the editorial practices at The Oregonian.

And so it goes (or, to quote someone else, “it’s the coverup, stupid!”).

Comments (3) to “Reviewing Responsibly Update … or Publishing Reviews Responsibly”

  1. I certainly understand your concern here, but I guess I am jaded enough to expect nothing more from a paper. They are not in the business of meticulously setting the record straight. Some idiots think of it as all a part of a mythical “liberal bias,” but it simply is a lack of professionalism that cuts across the board.

  2. If I’m editing a paper, and I have a sloppy reviewer, then I don’t think I want to keep that reviewer if he’s unwilling to correct his mistakes. That said, the real harm here is due to the internet, because this review would have vanished in the pre-virtual days. Now we can access it easily. Then again, as Mr. Love will learn, now we can also access my comments more easily.

  3. I suppose it isn’t any worse than an author who writes a mis-leading positive forward for a book and then later comes out against the book. This happens way too often. Case in question…James M. McPherson, a well known and read author who wrote the forward to the book “Lost Triumph” by Tom Carhart.