November 15, 2007

Apoplectic? Who, Me? Nah.

Tecumseh Fitch suspects that I disliked his News & Views piece in Nature because I belong to "a certain cadre of linguists" who become "apoplectic" at "the mere mention of Chomsky's name" (and therefore resent Fitch because he has published famously with famous people in Cambridge). His reaction reminds me of one of the more entertaining weeks during my seven-year stint as a journal editor. Back in the early 1990s, when I was editor of Language, I had an 85-90% rejection rate, which meant that there were a lot of disappointed manuscript submitters. Most of those people were very gracious; one friend of mine even offered to let me cite her rejected paper as evidence that I didn't favor some group or other (I forget the specific accusation that triggered her offer). But one week I got two irate letters from authors whose papers I had turned down. One of them accused me of never publishing papers in generative linguistics because I was biased against generativists; the other accused me of publishing only papers by generativists because I was biased against non-generativists. It cost me some effort to suppress the urge to send each author's letter to the other complaining author. That week convinced me, in case I needed convincing, that some people really do see only what they want to see. It also reinforced my deep discomfort with academics (and others) who substitute conjectures about motivations for discussion of substantive issues.

Posted by Sally Thomason at November 15, 2007 09:08 PM