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May Amazon’s Book “Vine” and its Bitter Fruit Wither, Shrivel, and Die
I loathe Amazon’s book business for a few reasons, but one of the deepest is its Vine program that offers free books to customers who are prolific in their opinions.
The Vine corrodes the boundary between “opinion” and “review.” For this reason, it further tatters the flimsy remnants of public intellectual life in America.
Vine members get a list each month, off of which they can check stuff, including books, that they want to get for free. It’s like ordering off the sushi menu—except, well, it’s a book, and, as such, represents someone’s soul, blood, sweat, and tears. The only obligation is that the Vine person must post an opinion about the book.
Amazon thinks the opinions are reviews, but they aren’t. They’re opinions. Opinions are all well and good. But they’re not book reviews. It would be like saying that your friend’s opinion about that worrisome mole on your thigh is a “diagnosis.”
One of the major things about books is that their audiences are self-selective. We buy books that are likely to interest us.
I wouldn’t buy inspirational books about how to apply a particular apostle’s wisdom to everyday life situations. I’m not the intended audience for that book, and it would be unfair to the author and other readers for me to review it, because I’m not inclined toward the topic, and would never pick it up in a bookstore. It’s not just that I wouldn’t like that particular book. I wouldn’t like, or really understand, the genre.
Then again, give me a copy for free—and perhaps mischievously, or even maliciously, I decide that I’ll review it, and lambast the author because she has a worldview, not my own. It’s the new American way, after all—pure, unbridled intolerance toward dissenting points of view.
Or, say I’m in a cultural warrior mode, and I get my list of commodities that Amazon is willing to send me for free, and I check off an Ann Coulter book. One pops out of her almost every year, it seems like.
This, too, would be unfair. Why? Because I would never buy a Coulter book. People who buy books on Amazon have skin in the game. They care. Or, they are curious. Or, they are at least politically engagé enough to want to know what their opponents say. They are inherently inclined toward the topic, and the purchase is certification of their interest. Call it the currency of a writer-reader contract.
Sure, plenty will buy the book and trash it, and some will buy the book for the sole purpose of trashing it. But at least they’ve purchased that privilege. Or, if they borrow it from a library, they made a special trip, and the library bought a copy. Someone, somewhere, lifted a finger for the privilege of saying mean things about Ann Coulter.
Not the Vine reviewers. For them, nothing disincentivizes malice, envy, political contrarianism, laziness, or other murky motives--some of which break in the author's favor, such as sycophants hoping to suck up to the author by posting falsely positive opinions. We don’t even reliably know who these people are, since a good number opine under cover of pseudonym. The most heavily-trafficked market for books has opinions written by the likes of CatLover or BaconGirl.
It’s true that book reviewers at newspapers and blogs get free advance copies all the time. The huge difference with book reviewers is that they’re professionals, and their names go on what they write. They’re accountable.
A book review is a genre, and something more than an opinion. The blurring between opinion and review is another example of the de-professionalization of intellectual labor that I described in an earlier column. Reviewers think that when you review a book, you must say something about what it is about, and you must instantiate your beliefs as to the book’s merits in relatively sane, perhaps emotional yet at least reasonable language. They never believe that a book review is an occasion to engage in ad hominem attacks. They try to contextualize the book in culture, and vis a vis its peers, or its literary and intellectual traditions. Occasionally they engage with other book reviewers and authors.
Typically, serious book review sections adhere to standards that that they don’t permit avowed enemies of an author to review his book, nor do they permit avowed friends—those praised in the acknowledgments, for example—to review it. Nor do they pick people who are so obviously political adversaries that they couldn’t give a book a fair read, on its own terms. Nor do they pick reviewers, with nonfiction, who have no obvious engagement with the topic, or who lack even the mildest qualifications or experience by which to opine on the topic.
Most importantly, a book reviewer has to put her name on the review. She has to own it. She has to take responsibility for what is, in fact, the rather solemn task of taking another person’s work in hand. These are all differences between an opinion and a review. It's a rather sacred intellectual and emotional task.
But not at Amazon, that desacralizing emporium of the fungible, where a book is interchangeable with a plunger, an ear bud, or a California Roll.
For my next book, I will make sure that it never gets hung out on The Vine.
If you want to speak on a book publicly, in a forum that gets 17 million hits a day, you need to pay the $30.00 or so to support the author’s work by actually buying the book. That amounts to less than $.000002 per potential reader of your words. It’s an exceedingly small price to pay, really, and a small courtesy.
Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.
A growing body of research suggests COVID-19 can cause serious neurological problems.
- The new study seeks to track the health of 50,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
- The study aims to explore whether the disease causes cognitive impairment and other conditions.
- Recent research suggests that COVID-19 can, directly or indirectly, cause brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage and other neurological problems.
Brain images of a patient with acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis.
COVID-19 and the brain<p>A growing body of research reveals alarming neurological complications among COVID-19 patients. On Wednesday, for example, researchers from University College London published a <a href="https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/doi/10.1093/brain/awaa240/5868408" target="_blank">study</a> in the journal Brain that describes how some patients have suffered temporary brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage, and other neurological problems concurrent with COVID-19.</p><p>Some patients suffered brain inflammation as a result of a rare disease called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which can cause numbness, seizures, and confusion. One patient in the study even hallucinated monkeys and lions in her home.</p>
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images<p>A separate study published in the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7198407/" target="_blank">Journal of Clinical Neuroscience</a> notes that some COVID-19 patients have also suffered neurological complications like impaired consciousness and acute cerebrovascular disease. The study notes that past viruses like MERS and SARS also seemed to cause neurological problems.</p><p>A troubling finding among this growing body of research is that some patients seem to suffer neurological damage even when respiratory symptoms aren't obvious. Additionally, scientists aren't sure whether damage from the disease will be permanent.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Given that the disease has only been around for a matter of months, we might not yet know what long-term damage COVID-19 can cause," Dr. Ross Paterson, joint first author of the University College London study, said in a <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/ucl-iid070620.php" target="_blank">press release</a>. "Doctors needs to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes."</p><p>If you've been diagnosed with COVID-19 and want to enroll in the study, visit <a href="https://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study" target="_blank">cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study</a>.</p>
Coronavirus layoffs are a glimpse into our automated future. We need to build better education opportunities now so Americans can find work in the economy of tomorrow.