Why read a book review when you you can read the book (for free via #oa #openscience)?


Reviews, recommendations, and ratings are an important component of contemporary online consumption. Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, and Amazon.com reviews and recommendations increasingly shape decisions. Science and technical books are no exception. Increasingly, I have checked reviews for a technical book on a purchasing site even before I downloaded the free book. Too much information, not too little informs many of the competing learning opportunities (#rstats ) for instance).  I used to check the book reviews section in journals and enjoyed reading them (even if I never read the book). My reading habits have changed now, and I rarely read sections from journals and focus only on target papers. This is an unfortunate. I recognize that reviews are important for many science and technical products (not just for books but packages, tools, and approaches). Here is my brief listicle for why reviews are important  for science books and tools.

benefit description
curation Reviews (reviewed) and published in journals engender trust and weight critique to some extent.
developments and rate of change A book review typically frames the topic and offering of a book/tool in the progress of the science.
deeper dive into topic The review usually speaks to a specific audience and helps one decide on fit with needs.
highlights The strengths and limitations of offering are described and can point out pitfalls.
insights and implications Sometimes the implications and meaning of a book or tool is not described directly. Reviews can provide.
independent comment Critics are infamous. In science, the opportunity to offer praise is uncommon and reviews can provide balance.
fits offering into specific scientific subdiscpline Technical books can get lost bceause of the silo effect in the sciences. Reviews can connect disciplines.

Here is an estimate of the frequency of publication of book reviews in some of the journals I read regularly.

journal total.reviews recent
American Naturalist 12967 9
Conservation Biology 1327 74
Journal of Applied Ecology 270 28
Journal of Ecology 182 0
Methods in Ecology & Evolution 81 19
Oikos 211 22

Details of journal data scrape here: https://cjlortie.github.io/book.reviews/


A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.

–Gilbert K. Chesterton