Steve Givens Replies to "Yin and Yang of Academic Freedom"

Submitted by Robert Felt on March 5, 2007 - 10:47am.

People who have participated in CMN lists and forums know that our policy is to publish replies. As Steve Givens had not previously participated, I directly offered to post a reply, Here it is.

RE: The Yin and Yang of Academic Freedom

I read with great interest Bob Felt's entry on "The Yin and Yang of Academic Freedom."[1] While I think his argument is cogent , it remains problematic in several areas. I agree entirely with Bob's statement, "The responsibility to provide the evidence for your claims cannot be separated from your freedom to make them." The focus of my earlier remarks (that were presented at the fall 2006 AAOM conference) was to describe the state of translation within the various institutions that comprise the Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. The focus of my remarks was regarding the importance of academic freedom in our colleges as it pertains to translation. I was not attempting to describe in detail the peer review process in the AOM profession. My focus on academic freedom, a focus that Mr. Felt found "bothersome" should not be construed as an abrogation of my belief in the appropriateness in the peer review process or academic discourse. The exchange between scholars within a field of inquiry is the life blood of academic life, and inseparable from the work of the individual scholar. There are two remaining problems in Mr. Felt's above referenced statement. (See footnote 1) The first problem stems from his assumption that the AOM profession has a consensus on translation when in fact we do not. This was verified by the presenters on the Translation Panel at the AAOM meeting in Phoenix who provided a spectrum of views on translation. No amount of wishing or promulgating one specific view point on translation style will in the short term make a consensus possible. Perhaps in the long term after additional discourse will some semblance of consensus be possible, but only time will tell. In the absence of this, diversity within AOM institutions and the AOM community at large demands that we allow each scholar to work from their individual perspective, and allow consensus, if in fact a consensus position is possible, to develop based on the work of scholars in the field.

A good example of the process described above is found in comparing two published translations of Shi Ji (Records of the Historian), by Sima Qian. The two translations (translated by Watson[2] and Nienhauser et al[3]) are clearly very different. The more recent translation by Nienhauser et al, acknowledges the importance of the earlier translation by Burton Watson and makes no attempt to suggest that their translation decisions or process renders the Watson translation "incorrect" or less valid. Nienhauser discusses the relationship between the different translations of the Shi Ji in his introduction to The Basic Annals of Pre-Han China.[4] The Nienhauser group made different decisions when compared to Burton Watson based on their academic training and goals, and justified their decisions at the beginning of their translation. This is responsible scholarship and allows for diversity while contributing to a body of knowledge. William Nienhauser sees their work as complementary to rather than a correction of previous translations.

The second problem with Mr. Felt's statement pertains to the format of the debate in the translation panel in Phoenix. The panel format allowed for presentation of a limited set of ideas, and allowed for only a brief discussion. This type of format has been used successfully in the AOM profession to present a range if ideas or experiences, in order to initiate further discussion. . Obviously there are limitations caused by format, time and the flow of the conversation in the question and answer period. Mr. Felt's concern that a participant was disrespectful by disagreeing with some part of the discussion is missing the point of professional discourse. It was not inherently disrespectful on the part of Dr. Bensky, or anyone else to suggest that they feel a position or line of enquiry is "wrong." Dr. Bensky may have set himself against a specific group of scholars by indicating that he disagreed with them, but the lack of consensus in our field with respect to translation suggests that he is not alone in this assessment. Would it not be more fruitful to encourage a more complete dialog rather than railing at the terseness of his response in a public forum? To suggest that the body of Dr. Bensky's work does not "make him accountable for his opinions" or suggest that he does not "believe in standards" is naive at best and dismissive of Dr. Bensky's considerable body of scholarship.

I agree with Bob's goal of a "thorough examination of claims made at the conference." As one who does not do translation, and is dependant on this scholarship for my own professional work, I am grateful for the efforts on the part of all those translating in our field, and for the interest in improving translation based on the highest level of scholarship. As a consumer, I am interested in the highest possible accuracy, readability and usefulness on the translated materials I choose to read. It is my sincerest hope that the AOM profession will continue with this discourse while allowing for diversity and that with continued dialogue and scholarly inquiry that points of consensus can be delineated.

Steve Given, DAOM, L.Ac.


[2] Qian, Sima, Records of the Grand Historian. Translated by Burton Watson, including one volume on the Qin Dynasty, and two volumes on the Han Dynasty (Revised Edition, 1993). Columbia University Press, New York.

[3] Ch'ien, Ssu-ma, The Grand Scribe's Records. Edited by William H. Nienhauser, Jr. and translated by Weiguo Cao et al. Volumes include The Basic Annals of Pre-Han China (1994), The Hereditary Houses of Pre-Han China, Part 1 (2006), The Basic Annals of Han China (2002), and The Memoirs of Pre-Han China (1994). Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

[4] Qian, Sima, The Grand Scribe's Records. Volume I The Basic Annals of Pre-Han China (1994) by Ssu-ma Ch'ien. W. Nienhauser, editor. Indiana University Press, Bloomington. Pages xv-xix.