Friday, December 12, 2003

An education professor at Black Hills State University, Len Austin, wrote a book called "What Teachers Need to Know About Their Students' Religious Beliefs," which purports to explain the major tenets of twenty-five religions. It explains, among other things, that Native Americans believe they are descended from one of the lost tribes of Israel, and are thus Jewish by bloodline.

Of course, Native Americans believe no such thing... unless they happen to be Mormon. It appears that the author's own Mormon beliefs slipped in somehow. (I don't know enough about Mormonism to know if that's also why the Trinity is bizarrely explained as "three Gods in one person.") He swears he wasn't trying to convert anyone to Mormonism, but admits that he did most of his research on the Internet and didn't have any religious scholars check his work.

You might be wondering, at this point, what happened to the whole concept of editorial fact-checking. It turns out that, according to the publisher - University Press of America - "a second edition with any changes is up to Austin...since UPA's publishing contracts require that authors supply camera-ready pages and are responsible for all editing tasks." Hmmm.

Turning to the UPA website, we find the proud assertion that "where other academic publishers stress a book’s profitability, UPA is committed to the belief that the most important question relevant to the publication decision is: Does this work provide a significant contribution to scholarship?"

I wonder how they decide that, without editing or - apparently - peer review.