Grant McDermott bio photo

Grant McDermott

Assistant Professor
Dept. of Economics
University of Oregon

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I've been pleasantly surprised by how popular my review of Ivo Vegter's "Extreme Environment" has proven. I initially thought that only a handful of people would care to read something of that length, but less than a week after it was first posted, and it has already garnered several hundred unique page views. (Small change for some, but a decent figure for a humble grad student blogging in relative obscurity.)

While the reception has generally been positive, several commentators appear puzzled by the fact that I still come out with a qualified endorsement after highlighting (what I perceive to be) a number of obvious problems in the book. Some quick responses:

1) As I pointed out in my review, despite being highly critical at times, there are parts of the book that I thought were very good. These sections could prove useful to informing public debate.

2) I wrote my review in stages. The first part (which generally covers the better, first half of the book) was written just before I flew back from holiday. The remainder came from notes that I made whilst reading on the plane, and just after I arrived back. I think this helped to keep the good and bad separated in my mind, as well as contributing \(-\) I hope \(-\) to a more evenhanded review.

3) Similarly, the problem with books of this type is that they tend to be very polarising. I don't think it does justice to the relevant issues if the whole of a book is judged by its weakest parts and summarily dismissed. 

4) Eirik K. asks whether I would be "so forgiving when reading an academic paper?" The short answer to this question, naturally, is no. I don't think this is a fair comparison, though. The margin for error is substantially tighter for journals and academic studies. Moreover, a scientific paper will typically have a fairly narrow focus, while a general interest book like EE covers a much broader spectrum. (To be sure, in the purely hypothetical case where I was asked by Ivo's editor to referee the book before publication, I would have asked for significant revisions. Chiefly to the chapter concerning climate change \(-\) which in its current state would be better omitted altogether \(-\) but in other areas as well.)