Monday, July 15, 2019

Credit where it’s due

Two historians — male, tenured — talked on WBUR’s Here and Now about the politics of tobacco. In doing so, they relied, exclusively, it seems, on a forthcoming book by another historian — female, untenured. She and her book were never acknowledged. Her name: Sarah Milov. Her book, which will arrive in October from Harvard University Press: The Cigarette: A Political History. Says Milov, “I mean, my book is about tobacco and I live in Virginia. I would have been a reasonable person to talk to about this topic.” Milov had given the okay to a story based on her book — as long as she received credit.

A WBUR producer blames “researchers” who provided the historians with “talking points” for the broadcast. (It’s always the researchers, am I right?) The station’s belated attempt to give credit where it’s due reads as if Milov were a willing behind-the-scenes helper:

Sarah Milov, assistant professor of history at the University of Virginia and author of the forthcoming book, The Cigarette: A Political History [,] provided extensive research material for historians Ed Ayers and Nathan Connolly.
But that’s not what happened. Milov didn’t provide material for Ayers and Connolly to use. Rather, Ayers and Connolly made extensive use of Milov’s book without acknowledging it as their source, or they relied on the work of WBUR researchers without bothering to note where the researchers got their material. Ayers and Connolly then presented themselves as experts on the politics of tobacco, all sorts of choice-quality details at their fingertips. Not a good way to do history.

[If I were Sarah Milov listening to this radio segment, my head would be exploding. It’s exploding anyway.]


July 22: WBUR now has a conversation between the two historians and Sarah Milov: “Historians in the Press: Why Citation by the Media Is Important, Even If It Rarely Happens.” No link to this conversation though on the page for the original radio show.

comments: 6

Elaine Fine said...

This is the most blatant form of tried and true sexism: make the woman who did the research and wrote the book disappear. This kind of thing has worked for centuries, and has reared its ugly head in every field of study.

Slywy said...

Why didn’t they interview the author?

Michael Leddy said...

I don’t think there’s been an explanation of why WBUR didn’t just interview Sarah Milov instead.

Slywy said...

I've seen several variations of this story but missed seeing this question, which seemed obvious.

Sean said...

I'm not certain they (BackStory) helped themselves much with this interview. There seemed to be this whole "Golly, with all this crazy social media and Internet stuff, how can anyone keep track of it all?" routine. Then there was the excuse that the hosts of the show "tried to be the voice of the profession" rather than getting caught up in the pedantry of attribution.


I think Elaine has summed up what happened here...

Michael Leddy said...

No, they didn’t help their case. I read the transcript, which I think could be summed up as excuses followed by excuses. New research team, limited sources, &c. An undergrad is expected to know better than to do what they did.