In which I give tools to readers to evaluate endurance books

"Fake news" isn't always about politics.
Sometimes it's about horses.


Hidalgo is an enjoyable film based on no true events whatsoever, despite claims to the contrary


I recently wrote an article for Endurance News magazine that included a list of books written about long distance riding.  (I will publish the list here after EN prints the April issue), and was surprised at the number of books that have been published in the last few years.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised.  When we were shopping Endurance 101 out to publishers in 2011 and 2012, this was the way a book got made:  a publisher bought it from the author, and then published it, and then sent (some) money to the author.

Late in 2011, things began to change.  

As a result of the economic downturn after 2008, mainstream publishers were buying fewer books.

At the same time, self-publishing suddenly got easier.  Amazon and others made editing software readily available, and gave authors a platform to distribute work to the whole world.  

It's been in print for more than 5 years now!


There has always been a strong stigma attached to "vanity press" and "self-published" books.  I learned in library school that self-published books were not good enough to be bought by a publishing house.  They were (usually) poorly researched by (frequently) unqualified authors, (often) badly written, poorly (or not at all) edited for copy mistakes, had low (or no) standards for content, and were (cheaply) printed on substandard paper without regard to quality and practices that apply to proper books.

These stigmas are not always justified now.  Lots of qualified authors (I am one of them) do the math and figure out that we can reach our audience just as well--sometimes better--without a mainstream publisher...and without a big publisher to share with, we can keep more of the (sometimes meager) profits.  

Lots of authors (I am one of them) hire a copy editor, work with content fact-checkers, include professional photos for cover and interior illustration, and print on good paper stock with a sturdy binding.  

It's a bucket-load of work to make a book properly, as Monica documented in her post.

I'm trying to be tactful when I say this: 

Not everybody who writes and publishes a book does the work.


In library work, we apply the CRAAP test to evaluate information sources, including books. Yes, it's really called that.

"CRAAP" stands for:
C - Currency.  How old is the information?  Is newer information available?  Have best practices changed?
R - Relevance.  Is the book an appropriate match for the reader's skill level and information need?
A - Authority.  Who is the author, and is s/he qualified to write on the topic?
A - Accuracy.  What is the source of the information?  Is it backed by evidence?  Can it be verified from another source or from your personal experience?
P - Purpose.  Is the information intended to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?

By applying the CRAAP test to some books about endurance riding and training, I made a discovery:
Some endurance books are just not good. 

This is the fake news I'm talking about.  For this post, I'm talking about nonfiction (or rather "nonfiction") books, not novels.  Like many horse people, I'll read almost any novel with a horse on the front cover, and don't really care if it's good.  Nonfiction is different.


Maybe the information is old.  Maybe the information is incomplete or not appropriate for the audience. Maybe the author lacks credibility. Maybe the science is cherry picked.  Maybe the photos are misleadingly captioned.  Maybe the author is trying to sell stuff. Maybe the ideas were inspired by the Bad Idea Fairy rather than by legitimate expertise. 


Or maybe--and I saw this in a book I read recently--there is stuff presented as factual that is completely fabricated out of nonsense.  

I could tell you which book (or books) are good and which are hogwash, but I'd rather hand out tools so that you can evaluate information for yourself. 

Gather up your CRAAP detector and follow along:

If you are suspicious, you might be right.  You already know what a book should look like.  You know how much white space "belongs" on a page, and which fonts "look right".  If it looks wrong to you, the book may be self-published.  That doesn't make it a bad book. But if the author didn't follow usual publishing protocols, it's possible that other important steps (like research) also got skipped.  Don't throw the book out yet, but pay attention as you read.

You know how many periods belong at the end of a sentence, and you know that contracted words like won't and can't are properly written with an apostrophe. You know that horses travel in a herd, not a heard.  These copy edit mistakes can slip into any manuscript, but more than one or two in a book indicate that somebody isn't really paying good attention. More than two on a page makes me very suspicious.  If somebody skips steps on copy editing, what else gets skipped?  Hmmm.


Sometimes information is outdated.  I know of a book about endurance that outlines an excellent feeding program for hard-working horses.  The problem?  It doesn't mention beet pulp.

This omission is not because the book isn't good, but is rather because the book was written in the early 1980's, and beet pulp wasn't commonly fed to horses then.  The rest of the information in the book is great, but the nutrition chapter is incomplete by modern standards.


Sometimes the information is not appropriate for you.  I always hope that readers enjoy my book Endurance 101, and I was thrilled when endurance legend Julie Suhr told me that she learned something new from reading it.  However, it was written for green beans, not for legends.

Contrariwise, Dennis Summers' book 4th Gear is written for experienced riders and not for green beans.  There's no super-secret info in Dennis' book that needs to be hidden from green beans.  However, the information is easy to misunderstand without years of experience in the sport.  A good book is relevant to your skill level!


Sometimes, the "expert" author isn't an expert.   An "expert" American endurance rider with fewer than 1,000 miles is not really an authority.  The author may know some stuff from other life experience, but to be an expert in American endurance, you gotta compete and you gotta complete.  Check the AERC database. For international riders, check the appropriate organization database--most are free and relatively easy to access. If the author has ridden endurance, they'll be in there.

If less-experienced authors rely on interviews with actual experts, the experts should be named, and you can look for those names.  For medical topics about animals, look for a "DVM" by the name.  For medical topics about people, there should be an "MD" or other appropriate credential.


Do other people quote the book or the author?  If experts consider the book to be authoritative, it probably is.  If it's well-reviewed by people outside the sport but not by experienced distance riders, be dubious.  My mom could have written a very positive review for Endurance 101, but that's because she's my mom.  Mom has done a lot of stuff in the last few decades, but she hasn't ridden any endurance, so she's not an authority reviewer.

The valuable reviews for E101 come from experienced riders and from green bean riders who find the information helpful, not from people who like it because they are friends or family.  (Although it's always nice to hear praise from my mom).


Sometimes the information presented doesn't mesh with your own experience or doesn't make sense.  When in doubt, ask people who know more. Maybe your experience is unusual.  Ask your riding partners for an opinion.  If it's veterinary information, ask your vet.  If it's a training technique, ask a trainer you trust.

Factual statements based on research should have the research citation--and you can go look at the original report!  Often, an online search will bring you the document.  If not, check with your local library and ask them to help.  (This is a common request, I answer questions like this all day at work).   

If research isn't cited, your eyebrows should go up.  Tense your skepticism muscles and be ready to leap away when you see vague statements like "I read recently that..." or "I saw online that..."  or "a lot of people say..."   Read it /saw it / heard it whereHearsay is not research, and repeating hearsay is not science.


If the "information" clearly violates basic science,  run-don't-walk away.  A book I recently read advocates leaving a horse un-rinsed during competition so that the electrolytes that have been sweated out onto the fur aren't washed away, because electrolytes are important and the horse needs them there.

I boggled.

(For the record:  electrolytes do not work from the outside of the horse, and rinsing a horse with water during competition is an important way to cool a hot animal.)

Sponging a hot horse also makes her happy


If you want to know how electrolytes actually work (inside the horse), the always-credible Susan Garlinghouse DVM has written about them HERE.  She doesn't talk about leaving salt on the outside of the horse because that's not how electrolytes work.


Does one screwball notion wreck the whole book?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  If I find an author pushing a loony idea, I'm likely to view the rest of the work skeptically, or stop reading entirely.  Occasionally, I fling the book across the room.  I think that's reasonable, even for a librarian.


Okay, the comment box is open.







Comments

  1. Re: Ask a librarian - at the Odegaard Undergradute Library at UW, before most people had Internet, there was a wall where you could post any question on a scrap of paper, and the librarians would try to answer them all. I can only imagine how much work was involved when you had to go find an actual book for an answer.

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    Replies
    1. It's more work to find stuff in books sometimes...but remember: librarians think that kind of thing is FUN. I know I do!

      Delete
  2. Are rider records available to non-members in AERC?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep. The records were closed to non-members briefly a few years ago, but because some members (I am one) strongly objected, they were re-opened and remain open.

      Delete
  3. I tried to find rider records in Germany and indeed found a list of endurance riders (all of them?). However, it seems to only list their successes - and I'm not seeing distances less than 100 miles. Many rider records are blank, does that mean they have never completed? It seems to be a list of major successes, nothing else. Here it is: https://distanzreiten.com/distanzreiter/

    I know Petra Hattab was pulled when I crewed for her in Holland in 2008 (thumps on both sides of the horse!) but there is no mention of that. I also crewed for Gabriela Forster. Again if you click the name you'll only see her successes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Now THAT is interesting. Hmmmm.

      Perhaps if you contact the organization with a specific query about a rider? I wonder if ride results are posted somewhere, separate from rider results. I'll poke around a bit, but I have no skill in German!

      Delete
  4. I'm pretty sure I know which book & author your inferring here and yeah, she's a special one. My mom once sent a horse to her for "training" and he came back substantially worse than when he left. :( I know at least 1 completion on her record wasn't earned because she was both OT & L but there was such a fit thrown involved that the RM just gave it to her anyways - I was there in person to witness that.

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    Replies
    1. Crysta, I think you do. There are other "bad" endurance books out there, but I read one recently that was so egregious I could not remain silent.

      There are green bean riders who accuse experienced riders of being "elitist" when we ask for credentials from folks who claim to be expert on a topic that relates to endurance. I would say that asking for proof of credibility is not that; rather, it's a defense mechanism learned from lots of experience with people (like the author of the book I'm still not gonna name) who assert utter hogwash and ask to be paid for their nonsense.

      In other circles it's called a need for "walking the walk" and as an information professional, I support it. Just writing a book doesn't make a person an expert. Learning a thing to the core of your bone marrow and then writing about it is credible, and not much else qualifies!

      Delete

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