It’s a strange sensation to do an innocent web search only to find yourself cited. (And no, I was not googling myself. At least not this time.) I was searching an obscure publisher and my own pre-publication book, Holy Horror, came up on Google books. Now, the computer engineers I know tell me that Google remembers your searches, and this has a way of being unintentionally flattering; when I search for my book it pops up on the first page because I have searched for it before. Still, it was a bit of a surprise to find myself where I had no idea I’d been cited. All of this drew my mind back to my “post-graduate” days at Edinburgh University. To how much the world has changed.
One of the first things you learn as a grad student is you can’t believe everything you read. Granted, most of us learned that as children, but nevertheless, with academic publishing a new bar is raised. That which is published by a university press is authoritative. So we’re led to believe. But even university presses can be fooled. This prompts the fundamental question of who you can really believe. Our current political climate has elevated that uncertainty to crisis levels, of course, and the vast majority of people aren’t equipped to deconstruct arguments shouted loudly. Where you read something matters. Even publishers, however, are fallible. So what am I to make of being cited by the web? And is my book already available before I have seen a copy?
Even credibility can be bought and sold. Colleagues make a much better living than me with the same level of training, but with more influential connections. It was just this reason that I decided to try to shift my writing to these who don’t need credentials to impress each other. Some of the smartest people I ever knew were the janitors with whom I started my working life. As a fellow post-grad in Edinburgh once said, professors are always ready to fail you for your lack of knowledge but most can’t tell you what an immersion heater is. (That’s one of those Britishisms that no amount of graduate courses at Harvard will teach you.) I suppose when it’s all said and done nobody else will ever search for the obscure publisher that brought my book to Google’s attention. No matter, at least Google will always flatter me.