Bad Books, Bad Publishers and Bad Note-Taking | Thoughts after annotating a particularly bad textbook

I’ve written in the past about how we students should not intimidated by the authority of our teachers and their qualifications we have yet to attain. Of course we should not oppose them automatically on some sort of no exceptions, anti-authoritarian principle, but we should constantly ask questions, be critical and confident in our own abilities- even when we turn out to be wrong, we learn from our mistakes. These principles I do think could be applied more universally.

Developing our intellectual confidence can also apparently be dangerous as we get sloppy. I can’t say for certain whether some writers are just disingenuous hacks motivated by nothing more than material gains, editors and authors get negligent or even lazy, or perhaps even more sinister and worrying is the thought that some intentionally produce misinformation to mislead us, but there are definitely a lot of bad books around.

Reading these books is in one way disappointing- I’m biased due to admiring the writers and thinkers I aspire to join the ranks of- but it is also encouraging in the sense that it makes one think that I won’t have to be a great writer to get something published!

I come across bad writing fairly often- especially now I feel confident enough to correctly recognise it- so the following example isn’t being maliciously targeted for any particular reason. It just happened to be a particularly bad book I started to read when doing some research recently. It might also be enjoyable for anyone curious as to how other people write their notes (I do it by hand first quick and rough, it’s not formatted this neatly usually).

Here are my notes complaints on the first few sections of “The 11 Myths of Media Violence” by W. James Potter (2003).

[Square brackets added by me during note-taking.]

*: Added while writing this article, not at time of note-taking.

“As people learn how to play the game [videogame] and win, they generalise from those fantasy-generated experiences.” (p. 7)

Citation and/or explanation needed.

“Playing the [violent videogame] ‘Quake’ trains people to react quickly with fight-flight reactions [citation needed] and reinforces the mindless aggressive response [citation needed]. Encountering violence in a great novel leads readers to think about the nature of violence [citation needed] and to be mindful of its consequences [citation needed].” (p. 9)

“Teens get pumped up […]” (p. 36) * [Citation needed!]

*I think the author here was writing something along the lines of teenagers get pumped up watching violent films and listening to rock music and need to relieve themselves of whatever it is they pump themselves up with, I guess some naïve conception of libidinal energy, and do so by being violent. I didn’t bother to make a full jot of the offending prose. Italics in this section are in the original.

“Over time, this reinforcement conditions players to seek out this type of action.” (p. 42) [Citation needed.]

“With repeated exposures, people build up a higher physiological tolerance to this type of message.” (p. 43)

[While habituation effects are a genuine concern, author omits explaining how habituation itself habituates after prolonged lack of exposure. Even though a predisposition may form, this fact should still be explained.]

“In this case, the youth was emotionally dead; extreme violence, even murder, could no longer evoke an emotional response [… continues.]” (p. 44)

[Cannot infer one is ‘emotionally dead’ from TV/Radio stuff, plus could just be attempted chauvinism etc. How does author know a film had teens “pumped up for months”?

Page 48, section 12 -> all just complete waffley crap.

Page 49, section 13 – imagine violence attitudes/inhibitions are normally distributed…

-> Author asks us to allow him to build a strawman argument because “prosocial antiviolent” is the norm rather than the tail of however* the real distribution is.]

*Should be whatever.

“We have all forgotten to the point where it takes much more to shock us. The boundary that defines civil behaviour has moved.” (p. 50)

[First sentence is okayish but second does not follow. Just because we’re harder to shock doesn’t mean the line of whats civil and whats not has moved. Have social conventions changed such that expressing shock is less acceptable?

Page 51, para. 2 -> all just speculation and conjecture.

I stopped reading from this point*.]

* I flicked through it a bit more and decided to take it back to the library.



EDIT: I have realised how harsh this short collection of polemical notes is and would like to add that I don’t think that W. James Potter’s book is as bad as perhaps this article may lead one to believe. Although I think the book is bad, it’s not completely worthless- especially if you are new to the topic of media violence and the debates surrounding it.

I should also like to add that I have purposefully left out my own opinions surround the media violence debate- which I am currently researching and writing an undergrad paper on- so I hope that my notes do not come across as evidence of my taking a firm position. I may write about this in another article after I feel better informed , suffice to say for now, I believe that this debate puts legislators and policy makers in a terrible position between failing to do their duty to protect the public or unnecessarily and maybe unintentionally increasing state paternalism.

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