8

I noticed that some scholars in my field are best known for their earliest writing, even if their ideas were later found incorrect.

I am writing a book in my area of interest and hope to publish within a year. The target audience is not academics, but practitioners, although I suspect academics would be the first to seek out a book of this kind.

Year by year, my understanding of the subject matter grows, through reading and experience. It is highly likely that in a few years time I will realize I made many mistakes in the book. Perhaps, for example, I was not aware that some of my described solutions to problems in the field did not actually work as well as I thought they did.

If I later started a PhD in the same area, would such a past publication create problems for an academic career?

  • 2
    What is your field? The answer may well depend on that. – Pete L. Clark Sep 29 '14 at 13:00
  • 3
    Do not publish anything, if you do not know (to the best of your knowledge), that is 100% correct. Especially this "some of my described solutions to problems in the field did not actually work as well as I thought they did" sounds worrisome. Why suggest something that you have not tested yet? – Alexandros Sep 29 '14 at 13:00
  • 3
    @Alexandros: Because outside of the academic world not everybody has the luxury to wait for certainty when they need to make a choice now. Crappy psychological treatments were given for decades and decades before science finally caught up with psychology for example. Either way +1@the notion that it's field dependent. – David Mulder Sep 29 '14 at 17:44
  • 4
    @Alexandros: I find your comment a bit unfair. First, David mentioned psychology, which is not medicine (that would be psychiatry) but a subject which is somewhere between science and social science. You do know that psychotherapy was largely founded by the insights of a single person, who was most influential through his many books? Not all academic theories are verifiable, let alone verified: economists mostly write books rather than run experiments, for instance. In some academic fields, "I have a theory; I'm not sure it's correct, but I wrote a book about it" is very common. – Pete L. Clark Sep 29 '14 at 19:55
  • 1
    I'll have to agree with Pete and David here - expecting that one needs to be 100% sure (for many fields I am not even sure what that means) before one is allowed to write about a subject seems like ivory tower thinking to me. – xLeitix Sep 30 '14 at 6:48
9

Anything you write places you at risk of being wrong somehow. Certainly a book of this kind is asking for a wider audience that then might be aware of those mistakes. Alexandros points out in a comment that you certainly need to do your due diligence now to assure that what you write is as correct as it can be. No one is going to blame you if you suggest a response to a certain legal framework which is overhauled in three years but if you describe a chemical solution that could never react in the way you claim that one is on you. So how certain you can be that your work will remain correct/useful is somewhat field dependent.

The big question is about this hurting your ability to start and pursue a PhD after writing such a book. I don't think it would. Except in the rather extreme case of your book becoming well enough known and wrong/controversial enough to annoy members of a PhD admissions committee. For the most part I would suggest that already being an active member of a practical field (read: has published work discussing the field) would be a very helpful piece of an application for a PhD program.

  • 4
    I agree with everything you say but wonder if perhaps you haven't looked far enough into the future. Sure, having a book will almost surely not be a negative in applying for a PhD: for instance because the admissions committee will probably not have read it. But books have a way of attracting more attention than articles over time, and I think most fellow academics / potential colleagues and employers who learn about the OP's book will not immediately know that it was written before the beginning of his formal academic career. I think he is being prudent to be concerned about this... – Pete L. Clark Sep 29 '14 at 13:17
  • @PeteL.Clark I didn't look much farther into the possible future because I didn't feel I could really speak to it. Perhaps that concern goes towards doing the due diligence to make the book as good as possible now. The likelihood of repercussions might be field dependent in this regard. – BSteinhurst Sep 29 '14 at 17:56
2

Yes, publishing a book full of inaccuracies will make people consider you as a person that publishes inaccuracies.

If you read a book by someone that wasn't even a PhD yet and their book was full of errors, wouldn't you think less of them?

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.