Hate literature

Posting to Autocat

On 9/4/2015 7:09 PM, John Gordon Marr wrote:
Could we please pause here and ask, about such journals: what makes them “predatory”, and can a line be drawn between opportunistic (but “legal”) business practices and genuinely harmful (but not illegal) activities?

Once again, these are very tough issues. Since I tend to see matters in their historical contexts, I think Beall’s list could be compared to the “Index of Forbidden Books” that the Catholic Church put out for a few centuries, and that list included some books that we now consider to be the greatest works of Western Civilization.

I have the greatest respect for Mr. Beall and his work, but I am also highly concerned about catalogers putting a code in the bibliographic record for “predatory publisher” just because it happens to be on his list, just as I would hesitate to add a code because a book happened to be on some other form of “Index of Forbidden Books” put out by the Catholic Church or any other agency, and there are lots of materials that all kinds of powerful agencies do not want you to know about.

That said, would it be good for the public to be aware that some item has been deemed harmful for whatever reason? Sure, and at one time that was the role of the arrangements of the catalog. We can see it in things like von Daniken’s “Chariots of the Gods” (where the author believed that aliens came to the Earth in ancient times) where if you search for him as an author, you get all the editions/manifestations http://www.worldcat.org/search?q=au%3Adaniken+au%3Aerich

but it is just as important when you search by subject, you find out there are many other opinions about von Daniken’s work, and this is one point where the catalog was designed to open your mind to other ideas. http://www.worldcat.org/search?q=su%3Adaniken+su%3Aerich

Strangely enough, because of those arrangements, to see these juxtapositions was much clearer in the card catalog than it is today. The subject cards would (usually) be found right after the author cards and people could see the disputes right in front of their eyes just by browsing the cards. You can see it even more clearly with really outrageous things, such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The catalog really is a powerful tool when used correctly.

But those days are gone and it seems as if nobody has any interest to rethink those capabilities for a new epoch. That is why I suggest doing things with APIs and linked data, to restore at least some of the powers of the card catalog. I suspect that letting people know that an item was on the Index could perhaps be even more interesting for the public than that it is on Beall’s list.

(Yes, I know lots of people will be laughing at me out there as a dinosaur, once again talking about how powerful the card catalog was, but I reply that perhaps there are good things that have been forgotten for a long, long time….)

“Oral communication — Social aspects” and “Freedom of speech” seem to me way too broad, timid and “politically correct” as sole references to examples of predatory “Propaganda” that researchers may be seeking. Of course, predation (and propaganda) do exist on scales, but parameters can be established (e.g., */how thoroughly/* manipulative, veering from fact, and/or damaging).

Of course, this is strictly a political matter. The term “propaganda” means different things to different people. Even back in the 1940s, the term “propaganda” did not have the strictly negative connotation that we think of today. Edward Bernays’ classic book “Propaganda” (1920s) did not have that negative slant to it, and it meant simply “public relations”. In several languages today, it still doesn’t really have a negative connotation.

For some, Fox News and Glenn Beck are the purest propaganda. For others, they are the closest thing to truth, and propaganda is Democracy Now and Noam Chomsky.

Cataloging must stay away from this and strive to be “objective”. So far, the only way to achieve this has been to describe an item as it describes itself. Therefore, something that denies the Holocaust but claims it does not, should not be described as Holocaust denial literature. A text that catalogers (and any reasonable person) would say is outrageously racist, bigoted, etc. but claims it is not, should not be described by the cataloger as “Hate speech”.

In the future, other methods may be discovered besides describing an item as it describes itself. But even then, cataloging should stay as far away from those matters as possible, and trust that it is the individual users who are the best people to decide. We should not decide for them.

And if the only solution is to have, as you put it, “broad, timid and politically correct” subject headings, then so be it.