Friday, August 14, 2009

Scholarly CHUTZPAH

Anyone who has ever been part of the academic community knows that it has no shortage of chutzpah, but I target that community for a Chutzpah of the Week award. This week, however, it seems appropriate to present the award to the editorial staff of a journal that calls itself Current Biology for demonstrating the extent to which a specialization tends to blind itself to any work beyond its self-determined borders. More specifically, I refer to this morning's account by BBC News Science Reporter Judith Burns that this journal has published an article that "challenges the idea facial expressions are universally understood." I would hope that the article did not use the language of Burns' paraphrase; but, even so, anthropologists have long recognized that facial expressions can only be interpreted within a cultural context. So, even if a team of biologists were to design a new experiment based on a new quantitative methodology, there is hardly anything "current" about the result. At best this seems like an easy shot within the two-point zone for some folks stuck in the publish-or-perish game; but why was the defense from Current Biology so weak? The real chutzpah resides in yet another instance of lax editorial standards, and it deserves recognition for occurring in the academic world, rather than the beleaguered world of journalism.

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