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The scientific bias of the BMCR review

Thorwald C. Franke
© 28 June / 19 July 2021

The Bryn Mawr Classical Review (BMCR) is an established academic publication of academic reviews. Everybody can subscribe to get the reviews by e-mail, and it is for free. It is really useful and teaches you a lot to read through the reviews over the years. It can be recommended to everybody. Also the Bryn Mawr College itself is an institution of tradition and value. The world can be happy that such a college exists.

It was in 2012 when I published two books in English, and I sent copies to the BMCR review. One of those books was my own book Aristotle and Atlantis, the other the translation of Gunnar Rudberg's Atlantis and Syracuse. I was curious whether BMCR would publish a review, or for what reasons they would reject it.

I did not receive an answer. Weeks went by, and in December 2012 I dared to ask, whether my books had arrived? I did not complain. I only asked. And I wrote "Thank you for answering!" I never got an answer. I consider the culture of non-answering to friendly, reasonable, and justified questions deeply anti-humanistic. How do such institutions want to spread the spirit of humanism in our society?

And please consider that one of the two books was a book by a "real" and renowned scholar, Gunnar Rudberg. At least for this book I would really have liked to get at least a reason why they do not accept it. The Russian ΣΧΟΛΗ journal had obviously no problem to publish a review about this book. And the other book, Aristotle and Atlantis, made scholars rethink their positions. This book, which – by the way – explicitly desisted to make a claim about Atlantis as a real place, had indeed a real impact on scientists (e.g. Prof. Nesselrath admitted this, while others changed their argument silently). But no, there was no review on BMCR. Even not an answer to my humble e-mail.

In August 2018, I got to know that BMCR had taken an obviously pseudo-scientific book about Atlantis into its review program, published by a second-rate academic publisher who has quite a few more questionable books in his catalogue. The book was sold for impressive EUR 85.00 (approx. USD 100.00). Prof. Nesselrath had taken the burden to produce a review, see here.

Why did BMCR accept this book for review? Only because the publisher is considered "academic", although not really? Or because the author has the academic degree "Dr" (PhD)? Is it this? Neither publisher nor degree change anything about the pseudo-scientific quality of this book. And without BMCR, I would have never heard of this bad and unimportant book. BMCR had unnecessarily given this book a platform.

In 2019, it slowly became clear that BMCR will never publish a review about a certain Atlantis book published in 2017. It was written by an Oxford scholar and sold in great numbers. In 2018, the same book was published for the US market, and again it was sold in great numbers. But after waiting for two years it became clear that BMCR will ignore this book. There never appeared a review about this book.

Why did BMCR desist to publish a review about this book? It is a book against Atlantis as a real place, it is written by an Oxford scholar with the authority of an Oxford scholar, and it was sold in great numbers. This should be enough reason to publish a review. Unfortunately, the book was of bad quality, see a review here. Is it possible that a review is avoided because the review would reveal the bad quality of the book? That there is a fear that a review could play into the hands of dissenters? Is it this?

In April 2020, there was a BMCR review about the self-published Amazon Kindle book Joining the dots – Plato’s Atlantis in the Central Mediterranean by Tony O'Connell. Again, it was Prof. Nesselrath who wrote a review, see here.

Why did BMCR accept this book for review? I dared to ask them why, and they answered – they really answered! – that they wrote a review about this book not because it was offered to them, but because "a member of the editorial board suggested that it was worthy of review, as intelligent but flawed." Generally, they would not list self-published books, they added. And then, they wrote: "BMCR receives a large number of email about books that we have not listed, and we try to exercise both respect and caution in accepting or declining these." (e-mail to me 04 Sep 2020)

When I got this message, and saw their amazing claim to treat all authors with respect, I seized the opportunity of their answer (this was my first successful contact with BMCR!) to tell them in a friendly and thoughtful way what happend to me in 2012, and that their method of selecting books is problematic. Then again, no answer. Only silence. Not even a formal excuse.

In June 2021, I announced the publication of my new book Platonische Mythen by e-mail. Honestly speaking, I was not aware that BMCR was on my e-mail distribution list. But they were, and unexpectedly, they answered!

The answer was: "Thank you very much for the message. BMCR seeks to review only books that have been subject to peer-review prior to publication. The only consistent exception that we make concerns translation."

Now the craziness had come full circle: Now suddenly the requirement of a peer review. But books usually are not peer-reviewed. Articles in academic journals are. Books not. Academic books are published by academic publishers who have employees with expertise. Maybe they have a scientific advisory board which they ask for advice. Or the academic colleagues of the author take a look at the book. But all this cannot be compared to a real peer review. Most books on BMCR are clearly not really peer-reviewed.

And then the claim to make exceptions with translations. Obviously, they did not make an exception with the translation of Gunnar Rudberg's book. I admit that my answer was this time not as friendly as my previous e-mails to BMCR.

Summary and Conclusion

Let us sum up what we have: BMCR claims to accept no self-published books, but it did review such a book. BMCR claims that it accepts only peer-reviewed books, but besides the question, what this exactly means, they do indeed review books which were not peer-reviewed. BMCR claims to accept translations, but did not accept the translation of Gunnar Rudberg. BMCR claims to review bad Atlantis books of a certain intelligence in order to debunk them, but at the same time they avoided a review of a bad book by an Atlantis sceptical Oxford scholar. They claim to treat every author with respect, but failed to do so in my case, and not only once. And the same scholar who admits that his scientific view was impacted (!) by one of my books writes BMCR reviews about other Atlantis books, but my books are not reviewed. Long story short: BMCR acts in an arbitrary way and damages its credibility. They screwed up everything what can be screwed up. And it was not me who led them up the garden path. They did that all by themselves.

Selecting the books to be reviewed in an arbitrary way is not good for science. Because an arbitrary way of selecting books may result in a systematic bias. It may happen that certain books on certain topics may be suppressed by this method. For example, it is possible that more powerful books which run counter to a preferred opinion are not taken into consideration, exactly because they are more powerful. Rather weak or even pseudoscientific books against the preferred opinion are silently preferred, because it is easy to write a bad review about them. On the other hand, books that only weakly represent the preferred opinion are passed over with silence.

In the end, there is a certain tendency in current academic scholarship to oversimplify the Atlantis question by putting overly simple answers up front and keeping the more serious questions in the background. The result is science ad usum delphini. Even worse: Pseudo-scientific books are given a platform and books of more quality but with the "wrong" opinion are silenced. The game "Atlantis supporters can only be silly" is played.

BMCR should try to avoid to be part of this game. BMCR should look at the scientific substance of books in an impartial way. Then the credibility that is only appropriate for BMCR as an institution will be restored.        Contents Overview
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