Patterico's Pontifications

10/23/2019

U.S. Publisher Cancels Discredited Naomi Wolf Book

Filed under: General — JVW @ 11:15 am



[guest post by JVW]

Last spring I wrote about the kerfuffle surrounding a new book from feminist author Naomi Wolf. Her tome, Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love, which was an outgrowth of her 2015 doctoral dissertation at Oxford, traced the history of persecution of gay men in Victorian England and made the shocking assertion that criminal executions of gay men for sodomy continued in the British Empire for decades after the Crown had supposedly brought them to a close.

It turned out, however, that her thesis was based almost entirely on Ms. Wolf’s misunderstanding of a slightly-archaic legal term used in Victorian jurisprudence, a fact that was inconveniently pointed out to the author when she appeared on a BBC Radio programme (I myself would almost never use that spelling of the word, but I thought it fit in nicely in context) to promote the book shortly after it had been released in the UK. The American publication of Outrages was put on hold just before the 35,000 copies of the first printing had reached bookstores, and the respective publishing houses, Virago in the UK and Houghton-Mifflin on this side of the Atlantic, both pledged to correct any mistakes but still move forward with the book.

Virago did in fact release an amended version of the book, but yesterday Houghton-Mifflin announced that they would not be publishing a U.S. edition, despite Ms. Wolf’s vigorous attempts to rehabilitate the book and, by extension, her reputation as a scholar. Apparently a book about how the Crown was mean to gay men over 150 years ago is far less likely to sell than a book about how the Crown had a predilection for executing them. Furthermore, The Telegraph mentions in passing that Ms. Wolf has been in contact with Oxford regarding making corrections to her doctoral thesis, a move which could conceivably (though is highly unlikely to) cause her degree to be revoked.

Such is the life of the celebrity author in a hyper-woke academic field.

(h/t to Powerline)

– JVW

37 Responses to “U.S. Publisher Cancels Discredited Naomi Wolf Book”

  1. When this story first emerged I commented that most U.S. universities would probably uncritically accept Ms. Wolf’s thesis without any rigorous analysis of her conclusions, since it fit in nicely with the social justice narrative that predominates the faculty lounges in this country. At that time I did not realize that Ms. Wolf had already had a doctoral degree conferred upon her by no less august an academic body as Oxford University. Surprise, surprise: Ms. Wolf’s thesis advisor at Oxford is a scholar studying gay men in Victorian times, so I don’t think it’s a stretch to conclude that he might be naturally inclined to believe the kind of loaded narrative that his student passed off as academic rigor. And academics wonder why fewer and fewer of us are willing to accept “research” in the humanities and social sciences that seems to reinforce the exact narrative that woke advocates are incessantly promoting.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  2. Virago is her publisher?

    narciso (d1f714)

  3. Virago is her publisher?

    In the UK, yeah.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  4. More censorship by the Patriarchy!

    Kevin M (19357e)

  5. The irony of the publishers title.

    narciso (d1f714)

  6. JVW, this was really interesting to read, even followed the links. Thank you for putting it up. I don’t think your point in the first comment about this being easily accepted is substantiated.
    According to the NYT article Wolf earned a doctorate in English literature from Oxford in 2015. The one historian they quoted said he’d found substantial errors in her work, but that was after it was published. expect here thesis needs to be corrected, but if the executions wen’t central to her research it may not be that big a deal. It does confirm that Wolf isn’t a very good historian and that her husband is a jerk.

    Time123 (b87ded)

  7. It seems to me that Alan Turing was ill-treated by Britain for being gay. That was in 1952.

    Fred (f200ab)

  8. @7 yes, but writing a book that Gay men have been mistreated in the past isn’t very interesting observation.

    Time123 (af99e9)

  9. NelsonMuntzha-ha.wav

    Jerryskids (702a61)

  10. Um no executed, not mistreated.

    narciso (fb20d3)

  11. Time123, I agree with you regarding Ms. Wolf’s thesis dissertation. I understand it was about a closeted and repressed gay novelist and poet in the Victorian Era, which is also apparently an anchoring point if not the true subject of Outrages. But again, if her thesis asserts that this man stayed closeted because he feared arrest and trial — and naturally he justifiably feared it since so many death sentences were being handed out for sodomy in those days –then I think this mistake is pretty significant. However, if her thesis treats what she thought were executions as just a minor reason for his fears then she might be on slightly more firm ground.

    But, as you point out, there is no way this dissertation gets published for the mass market unless it contains the outrage factor of capital punishment being meted out to otherwise-innocent gay men.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  12. And recall too that it isn’t all that certain that gay men were routinely being rounded up and arrested in Victorian England for nothing more than their sexual orientation. In the infamous BBC interview, the interviewer pointed out to Ms. Wolf that in at least two of the examples she cited in her book the convicted men had actually either raped or statutorily raped other men or boys. If there are similar examples in her thesis where Ms. Wolf overlooks or underplays other serious crimes committed by gay men, then I think it’s fair for Oxford to reevaluate whether her dissertation needs to be retracted.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  13. “2015 doctoral dissertation at Oxford”

    Let that sink in. Oxford must have the same fact-checking standards as the NYTimes

    BBC – 1, Wolf & Houghton-Mifflin-Mifflin – 0 (as well as anyone who repeated this dumpster fire of scholastic achievement.

    I don’t remember making the comments in the earlier post but it sure sounds like that harkin character.
    _

    harkin (6776a3)

  14. @10 Alan Turing wasn’t executed by the British government

    Frosty, Fp (f27e97)

  15. @13 Oxford gave her a PhD in English Lit, not history.

    Time123 (ecd105)

  16. @13 Oxford gave her a PhD in English Lit, not history.

    That doesn’t matter at all. A scholar is still required to adhere to strict research standards. It’s like saying that a math error in a biology dissertation shouldn’t matter because the subject, after all, is biology.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  17. the outrage factor of capital punishment being meted out to otherwise-innocent gay men.

    I guess that execution of a heterosexual man falsely accused of being homosexual would engender less outrage?

    Kevin M (19357e)

  18. Alan Turing wasn’t executed by the British government

    No, but their treatment of him led directly to his suicide.

    Kevin M (19357e)

  19. Say it ain’t so, Joe?! At least she’s not a plagiarist.

    Hard cheese ol’girl.

    Quill ‘ week in the barrel’ in the Royal Navy eh, Naomi?! Sticky wicket; wot?

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  20. [JVW] But, as you point out, there is no way this dissertation gets published for the mass market unless it contains the outrage factor of capital punishment being meted out to otherwise-innocent gay men.

    [Kevin M] I guess that execution of a heterosexual man falsely accused of being homosexual would engender less outrage?

    You’re going to have to help me out here, Kevin M, because I can’t really figure out what point you are trying to make.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  21. in other news, noah Oppenheim is out at nbc, leaves him more time for screenplay writing,

    narciso (d1f714)

  22. I think first question, was how much alcohol was involved?

    https://dailycaller.com/2019/10/23/rep-katie-hill-flees-reporters-questions/

    narciso (d1f714)

  23. 15 – “Oxford gave her a PhD in English Lit, not history.”

    I hope you said that in a Dave Chappell impression voice.

    harkin (6776a3)

  24. I can’t really figure out what point you are trying to make.

    Well, I’m not sure either. I was just reacting to the oddness of the original. What did “the outrage factor of capital punishment being meted out to otherwise-innocent gay men” mean? If they had jaywalked it would be OK?

    Kevin M (19357e)

  25. I don’t see the big deal. You can read as many of “those books” as you can stomach with Kindle Unlimited for $9.99 a month (first month free).

    nk (dbc370)

  26. What did “the outrage factor of capital punishment being meted out to otherwise-innocent gay men” mean? If they had jaywalked it would be OK?

    We can certainly lament an injustice done by people six generations ago. But to be outraged by it strongly reeks of virtue signaling.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  27. We can certainly lament an injustice done by people six generations ago. But to be outraged by it strongly reeks of virtue signaling.
    JVW (54fd0b) — 10/23/2019 @ 6:03 pm

    Very well said, JVW.

    felipe (023cc9)

  28. Rest assured in a generation ot two theyll be back to stoning, in merry eurabia.

    narciso (d1f714)

  29. There’s also the hypocrisy. The moneyed classes were taught and practiced pederasty at a young age at the British boarding schools. I don’t know when “fag” became a term for gays, but it was the term in those schools for younger students who acted as the body servants of upperclassmen in those times, and it included sexual abuse. It may still be — I do not share Naomi’s interest in the topic.

    nk (dbc370)

  30. @30. Actually, nk, it’s slang for a cigarette.

    Really.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  31. I know that too, DCSCA. But … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fagging.

    nk (dbc370)

  32. I watched an interesting documentary video on YouTube recently about life at Eaton in the late 80s, which was the time when I was in high school. It was because I had finally seen Goodbye, Mr. Chips at long last. They still had fagging back then in the late 80s, but I then saw an updated video set more recently and it appears that this particular tradition has been excised from English boarding school life.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  33. @33. Their schooling system is quite toffy-nosed. Old school tie and all that. Mess up the A & O levels and you’re condemned to bricklaying.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  34. Two words alan turing.

    asset (9385b8)

  35. @13 Oxford gave her a PhD in English Lit, not history.

    That doesn’t matter at all. A scholar is still required to adhere to strict research standards. It’s like saying that a math error in a biology dissertation shouldn’t matter because the subject, after all, is biology.

    JVW (54fd0b) — 10/23/2019 @ 2:12 pm

    We’re mostly in agreement. If this error was central to her thesis than her thesis was flawed and her PhD is unearned. If this error is tangential to her thesis than her thesis just needs to be corrected. It also means her thesis isn’t particularly noteworthy, but that’s fine as most aren’t.

    I think where we disagree is your assertion that political bias would prevent people from catching this and her Phd is unearned. I don’t think we know if her PhD is earned or not. We also have few examples from the links of people who are professional historians catching her errors.

    I think the fact checking on the part of her publisher was sorely lacking. I think the identity politics of her supporters is completely annoying.

    Time123 (daab2f)

  36. I guess that execution of a heterosexual man falsely accused of being homosexual would engender less outrage?

    Kevin M (19357e) — 10/23/2019 @ 2:49 pm

    This is a funny comment. When talking about the level of severity of discriminating against homosexuals in the past your concern is that we’re not talking enough about heterosexual men.

    Time123 (daab2f)

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