I’m a big advocate of anthropologists finding ways to connect with a larger audience, beyond those who read academic journals. (Sometimes I’m not even sure anthropologists read what other anthropologists write.) But then I see something like Guy Deutscher’s NY Times Magazine article “Does Your Language Shape How You Think?” and I find myself wondering if the standards of journalism are just too different from those of academics? There is nothing wrong with Deutscher’s article, which seems to be an excerpt from a longer book he is writing, it is just that it was all too familiar. That’s because I’d read it all before in Lera Boroditsky’s Edge.org article “How does Language Shape the Way We Think?” as well as her more recent WSJ piece, “Lost in Translation.”
I’m not saying Guy Deutscher plagiarized Lera Boroditsky’s work. What I’m saying is that if this was an academic publication he would have been expected to cite her, but because it is journalism there is no such expectation, and that bugs the hell out of me. Even blog posts are expected to link to sources. Perhaps he does cite her in his book, but again, my point is about the standards of the NY Times. Now it is possible that these are simply common stories told by people in the field, but I find it strange that Boroditsky’s isn’t even mentioned in this article. After all, Newsweek’s article on the topic focused on her research.
Perhaps I’m wrong about this, and even journalists would feel something is amiss here, but I suspect not. It seems quite normal when one newspaper writes a story for other newspapers to go out and find their own reporters to give them the same story, sometimes even interviewing the same sources. In fact, I’ve even been a victim of this. An Indian TV news station went out and remade a short documentary film of ours, but since it was all new footage and interviews, there wasn’t much we could do about it. Nor am I certain that I would expect anything else from journalists if I weren’t an academic. Still, it drives me crazy whenever I see this kind of thing, and so I thought I’d vent. Am I way off base here? Or does this kind of thing bother you as well?