I’ve deleted three beginnings to this post, because they all sound very mean and bitchy. And people seem to think I’m nice, and it’s nice being thought of as nice. But I’m not feeling so nice right now. So I’m going to stop self-censoring for the moment.
I heard some great papers at AMS. But I also heard some papers that were so bad I wanted to hand the presenters books and tell them to go read. No, that’s not true. I wanted to tell them to leave the profession, because they were embarrassing themselves and their schools. There seemed to be a lot of flaky presentations this year, and wow were some of them out there. The bad wasn’t limited to grads or junior scholars or senior scholars or any particular genre or era. After one, I heard a senior scholar say that if that was what Harvard was producing these days, he was glad he taught somewhere else. I heard one presenter make claims that someone he’d interviewed for his research had said were completely inaccurate. I heard conspiracy theories from a senior scholar, and I heard a (newer, gentler?) Taruskin ask one student why she didn’t know that the argument she was making had been made more than thirty years ago in a book she claimed to have read for her work. It was distressing to hear so much uninformed scholarship.
I also heard papers that were interesting but didn’t really have a point, or argument, or that showed anything new. They were just….nice. That was disappointing, too.
I don’t want to me nice. I want to be mean and name these authors whose scholarship was so riddled with error and stupidity. I want to tell several grad students that they should stop now, before they might take on more debt, to go do something else; I want to tell some senior scholars that while once they were contributing, now their memories or cognition are not so good, and it’s painful to watch them grope their ways through papers that make little sense.
But I’m nice. So I won’t name them. But I hope someone tells them. Advisors, maybe; research assistants; long-time friends. it would be nice if someone did.