Sunday, 19 March 2006

Women + Education = Death or Other People Have It Easy [To be posted on the Valve sometime tomorrow so Clancy's excellent post remains front and center.] Last May I noted the existence of articles in other disciplines which consist entirely of the research required by ours. As I said then: "How did someone else publish my background research as a scholarly article?" Today I ran across another example of this distressing phenonemon: "The Neurologic Content of S. Weir Mitchell's Fiction [pdf]." According to the abstract, the "objective" of this article—published in the 14 February 2006 issue of Neurology—is "to assess the extent that references to neurologic topics were present in Mitchell's fiction, whether these neurologic references reflected Mitchell's scientific interests and contributions, and whether his fictional accounts of neurologic topics would precede those in his scientific writings." Fair enough. Their method? "The authors read Silas Weir Mitchell's novels and short stories." Despite the fact that poetry "lends itself less to neurologic reference than does prose . . . for completeness, [the authors] read this poetry and provide a brief comment on its neurologic content." I agree that the best way of assessing the extent to which something appears in a body of literature is to read that body of literature. But how are these neurologists going to read it? Will they analyze the developmental patterns of characters in Mitchell's novels and corollate them to contemporary neurological theory? Will they document the structural relation of particular plots to specific neurological stimuli like the stressors of the white-collar world and the Civil War? Or will they count? I think you know the answer ah-ah-ah-ah. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, "seventeen of the twenty-seven fictional works contained neurologic references" ah-ah-ah-ah. One, two, three, four, five . . . fifty-one, fifty-two, fifty-three, fifty-four, "fifty-five of seventy-nine references were brief" ah-ah-ah-ah. Their conclusion? "The majority of Mitchell's fictional works contained references to neurologic topics but most contained brief references" ah-ah-ah-ah. This isn't to say the article's devoid of evaluative criticism: "Mitchell's novels were known for their dramatic flair." He "was a prolific writer of both science and fiction" whose "novels were well regarded in his day." He "also had a life-long interest in snake venom." What importance their dry tallying has for the medical community escapes me. But theirs is "the only study to [their] knowledge that has systematically reviewed Mitchell's novels and short stories, detailed his neurologic citations in this fiction, and discussed these with reference to his interests and contributions as a neurologist." What a cunning use of flags ! I now have imperial claims to unseat. No worries. This afternoon I found the Greatest Quotation in the History of Everything. It reads: "I have sometimes been led to think that over brain-work tends not only to stunt the body and to contract the pelvis, but, by the law of evolution, to develop bigger headed offspring, or at least offspring with heads relatively disproportioned to the pelvis of the mother." Explanation tomorrow,...

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