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Some poor form from New Scientist today – in their ‘Culture Lab’ section they call out Icon, the publisher who has re-issued Rupert Sheldrake’s “heretical” The Presence of the Past, for the inclusion of a quote from their original review of the book. In “Did we really say that?“, deputy magazine editor Graham Lawton airs his grievances:

It’s usually a pleasure to see CultureLab reviews being mined for promotional pull-quotes. But not always. Sometimes it feels like desperate barrel-scraping on behalf of the publisher.

Icon Books recently re-issued a book called The Presence of the Past: Morphic resonance and the habits of nature by Rupert Sheldrake, first published in 1988. For those who don’t know Sheldrake, he is an independent researcher who believes, among other things, that dogs are telepathic.

The front cover carries a single promotional quote:

“‘Engaging, provocative… a tour de force’. New Scientist.”


Given that we didn’t review this “fully revised and updated” edition, we were a little surprised. Where did Icon get this quote from? Did they make it up? Did Sheldrake use morphic resonance to retrieve it from the future?

Er, no. It turns out that New Scientist reviewed the first edition nearly 23 years ago… The reviewer, American historian Theodore Roszak, did indeed say it was “engaging, provocative” and “a tour de force” (though not in that order).

So, the brief answer to Lawton’s question “Did we really say that?” is…yes. So what’s his problem?

Back then, Roszak gave Sheldrake the benefit of the doubt. Today, attitudes have hardened and Sheldrake is seen as standing firmly on the wilder shores of science.

I think it is fair to say that if we were to review the new edition, Icon wouldn’t be mining it for promotional purposes.

Ah…so let me get this straight. Icon quoted exact words from the (mostly positive) review of the book, and put that accurate quote on the cover of a re-issue of that same book. New Scientist, on the other hand, says that they haven’t reviewed the re-issue, but have already decided that if they did, they would not give it a good review. Also, apparently they are also saying that their archives are not reliable. Good game New Scientist!

Good to see plenty of backlash in the Culture Lab comments.