Saturday, May 12, 2007

Michael Brass, BCSE Chairman: "Published Archaeologist"? (Inflating Your Credentials - Part 5)

Previous parts in this series:

Part one: Introduction
Part two: The BCSE's chairman, Mr. Michael Brass
Part three: Mr. Brass/the BCSE's misrepresentation of Mr. Brass's vocation
Part four: Mr. Brass/the BCSE's misleading description of Brass as "published"

In our last article we began looking in more detail at the BCSE chairman, Mr. Michael Brass.

Brass describes himself, and the BCSE describe him, as a "published archaeologist". What Brass/the BCSE failed to mention, is that in fact Brass is an IT worker, and that his publications record includes nothing more than a version of his Honours dissertation. Or in other words, we've caught the BCSE trying to pull the wool over our eyes, again.

What About The Book?

Last time, I promised to look at Mr. Brass's book. This is something which Brass himself makes a lot of. When I e-mailed him to question him over the honesty of describing himself as "published", his reply was:

"I ... am published: my book, a paper in a peer-reviewed edited publication and have a forthcoming peer-reviewed journal paper coming out this June."

Note what Brass says: he "is published" (passive tense - giving the impression that someone else other than himself is the publisher). As with the description on the front page of the BCSE website ("Michael Brass is a published archaeologist"), the impression is clearly given that Brass is a serious player in the academic world. (We looked at the details of Brass's paper last time; it is a paper available for free download; the publication is an electronic one, not a regularly printed journal.)

Let us look, then, at Brass's book, "The Antiquity Of Man".

Who Published It?

The publisher of Brass's book is "PublishAmerica". When I noticed that, I thought that it rang a bell. It seemed familiar. Hadn't I heard about them before?

And indeed, I had. PublishAmerica are a notorious "vanity press" or "author mill". Whilst advertising themselves as an authentic publisher, they are in fact a vanity press for those who cannot get their works published elsewhere. I had heard of PublishAmerica because not too long ago, a group of science fiction fans had planned and executed a hoax designed to prove their true status.

In order to prove that PublishAmerica was not an actual publishing house, they decided to collaborate together to produce the worst science fiction novel imaginable. They took time to come up with a plan, to produce the worst book, "Atlanta Nights", they possibly could - one that wouldn't get past 5 minutes scrutiny from a real publisher, and would only be taken on by the most grasping vanity press. It would have the following features:

  • Its author: "Travis Tea"; or "Travesty" for those of you just getting out of bed!

  • Each chapter would be written by a different person. Authors would not even know where their chapter would come in the book. One participant said: '"It's like the 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' of novels," Macdonald said. "Some of the chapters are hard-boiled detective [style], some are women's sexy shopping novels. There's a little bit of horror. It changes from chapter to chapter. Which characters were in which chapter was determined by rolling dice."'

  • Each author would try to make his chapter as dire as possible.

  • None of the authors would see each other's chapter. They would have no idea of the plot or characters - even their names!

  • One chapter was included twice.

  • Chapter 21 was left blank, because the writer missed the deadline.

  • Portions of two chapters were '[run] through a software program that randomly reordered the words ... The result is Chapter 34, nine pages of disconnected gibberish that begins: "Bruce walked around any more. Some people might ought to her practiced eye, at her. I am so silky and braid shoulders. At sixty-six, men with a few feet away from their languid gazes."'.

  • Others would have sentences and paragraphs randomly re-arranged to be utterly incoherent.

Did it work? You bet... the letter came back from PublishAmerica, telling them that their work was of acceptable standard, and they would be working with them to get it into print! "PublishAmerica has decided to give 'Atlanta Nights' the chance it deserves". You can read more about this hoax here: http://www.lisamaliga.com/AtlantaNightsLosAngelesTimes.htm

As I did further research on PublishAmerica, I discovered the following facts which demonstrate their status as a vanity press, not a real publishing house:

  • The advance they offer their authors is a nominal $1 (worth about 50 pence).

  • They have been hoaxed by people seeking to expose their "vanity press" status on numerous occasions.

  • Their books are not stocked in bookshops, because they are printed one at a time, on demand. Once ordered, they cannot be returned; stockists will not take their books.

  • They encourage their authors to seek to find a hundred friends and family for an initial print run for any books.

  • They expect authors to do their own publicity and advertising and spend their own money on it. PublishAmerica spend no money on advertising their authors' books.

  • The only places you can obtain their books from are from themselves, and order-on-demand stockists (including Amazon).

The normal term used to describe PublishAmerica was "author mill" - they give authors who can't get their books published elsewhere the impression of being real authors, and churn them out by the hundred-load. The Internet is crawling with would-be authors angry that PublishAmerica took them for a ride - just Google for it.

Now, I have no problem with the concept of "publish on demand". The technology is available, and its a good idea for low print-run books. I don't have a problem with Brass using them. If you can't get a publisher to accept your manuscript or you know you're not going to sell many, go for it. The problem, though, is that Mr. Brass is claiming his self-published book as the evidence that he is a bona fide "published archaelogist", and evidence that he is a fit person to write to national newspapers in the guise of the chairman of a credible national scientific body.

What happened when I wrote to Brass and put these facts to him? Here's what I said:

"Secondly, you appear to have one book published by a notorious vanity publisher, PublishAmerica. I note the glee which Roger Stanyard exhibits if he can link someone with whatever he can classify as a "diploma mill"... and yet the BCSE seeks to boost its credentials on the back of being self-published by a notorious author mill? Do you see why someone might suggest this is a double-standard?"

Brass's reply was as follows:

A book published by a respected publish-on-demand company is entirely different to diploma mills; the latter is perpetuating academic fraud.


Well, at least we know that Brass knows what "academic fraud" is. But apparently, he has difficulty in seeing that promoting yourself as a "published archaeologist" on the back of a vanity-published book might be a case of it. I have less admiration, though, for Brass's decision to describe PublishAmerica as "respected"; in choosing to do so, Brass gives us a clear indication that he cannot be relied upon for sane or accurate judgments.

Brass appears to have problems with simple truth-telling, and with falsely inflating his own reputation. PublishAmerica is "respected" in the same way that the BCSE is: by its own fans only, and a source of amusement to the rest of the world. Here's a short extract from the Wikipedia article on PublishAmerica. The BCSE are fond, in the absence of other sources to support their case, of claiming Wikipedia as a reliable source; what do they think of this?

"In December 2004, PublishAmerica agreed to publish the novel Atlanta Nights, which was later revealed to be a hoax designed to illustrate PublishAmerica's low quality standards. It was not the first such hoax either; a previous author had submitted a manuscript with the same 30 pages repeated ten times, which PublishAmerica had accepted.

In December of 2006, PublishAmerica offered a contract to another "sting" manuscript, Crack of Death by "Sharla Tann.""

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PublishAmerica


In case you're still a bit groggy, "Sharla Tann" sounds remarkably like "Charlatan" ! The authors of this hoax have their own website, where they say: "We knew that PublishAmerica was nothing more than a modern-day vanity press, cleverly disguised to attract thousands of na├»ve writers with promises of easy and free publication, only to rip them off on the back end – AFTER their book was published, not before. ... PublishAmerica had done it again: proved beyond a doubt that they do not read manuscripts. They had not, apparently, even read the name of its author." (http://crackofdeath.com/crack_of_death.htm)

I quoted this to Brass, adding these questions, to which Brass declined to offer me any reply:

"I find it interesting that you publish articles on your website on the subject of what is and isn't a legitimate scientific publication - and yet you describe PublishAmerica as "respected" ? How can we take your opinion on these kind of things seriously if you're defending PA?"

Conclusion

Once again, we have caught the BCSE, and this time its chairman, indulging in an act of palpable fraud. Misrepresenting their credentials, they offer us Michael Brass as a "published archaeologst". The facts, though, are that he is an IT worker hoping to start work on a doctorate in the future. His publications record comprises a version of his Honours' thesis, and one self-published book from a notorious vanity publisher whose standard practice is to offer authors fifty pence for their work annd encourage them to buy a hundred copies themselves for their family. According to Brass, PublishAmerica is a "respected" publisher; according to the real world, PublishAmerica is a vanity press that does not even bother to examine the name of its authors, much less their manuscripts.

The BCSE loves to try to do what it can to discredit those who dare to criticise its materialist dogma. In doing so, they've made some pretty bizarre and obviously bigotted pronouncements. In particular, we saw BCSE leader Roger Stanyard, whose knowledge of Christian theology is appalling - a fact evident to anyone who has read his ramblings - setting himself up as an authority on theological education, and deciding that any Christian institution that wanted to keep its independence must be automatically suspect. I got my theology degree from an accredited university (Glamorgan), but I'd be the first to say that I know many training schools that decided it would be wiser to remain independent of the Department of Education, and are first rate. But when Stanyard sees an opportunity to slander Christians some more - and in his mind branding them as uneducated or charlatans on the basis of non-accredited qualifications is a great opportunity to do this - his eagerness and prejudice often swiftly overtake his rational senses. Yet when it comes to his own organisation, he's a lot more generous. In fact, he seems to have a major blind-spot. Publish your own book, and you can qualify as a serious academic. Be offered fifty pence for your ramblings, and become a credible figure in science education. Have a side-line interest, and be described as a professional! Brass submitted this self-description to Stanyard - and Stanyard swallowed and published it without altering a word.

But actually, we're not there yet. It gets more damning still. We now have to ask the question which will probably cause Brass and the BCSE the most embarassment of all ...

... how many copies has "published archaelogist" Michael Brass actually sold of his works? How many copies were the print-on-demand publisher called on to print? It feels cruel to have to answer this question, or any of the above. But I notified Brass two months ago of what I knew; but Brass is standing by his own words, and the BCSE have not modified a single word on their website. I call on the BCSE to publish the figures, before I do... the comments are open!

David Anderson



Non-anonymous factual corrections welcomed by e-mail. Comments are moderated - please read my comments policy.

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