Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Lessons from Blogging. Part III: Go To The Original

This is a good lesson for almost everything you hear. Go to the original: find the study if you can, find the actual quote in its original context, ask how people know what they say they know.

I don't do this always though I try to do it. It has saved me from writing on non-issues and it has revealed something to be even worse than it sounded! The most interesting example of that concerned a right-wing "study" fairly widely reported which turned out not to have been written up at all! I contacted the presumed author who told me that I can do my own calculations from raw data, even though that would have required at least a few months of work. This means that there was no actual way of verifying or falsifying his arguments!

An aspect relating to this lesson is never to respect authority too much. Always verify.

That's the ideal. I don't always get there, what with those pesky constraints of having only so many decades to live and so much in donation dollars and the desire to also sleep and go out carousing etcetera, but I keep this principle in mind.

The negative side-effect of it is that going to the original isn't exciting and fun and doesn't always provide the kind of scandalous findings which are fun to slurp up. But those are the rules.