Paradigms, Part 4: Information And History

Submitted By DiutLoan1
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Paradigms, Part 4: Information and History

After some heavy lifting last time, let me finish our discussion of paradigms with a briefer, yet important final analysis.

Research is allowed and encouraged for your next paper, if it helps you make your point, of course. Some topics are such that no research really exists for what you're discussing, but others of you have paradigms that are perfect for that extra data research can yield. So again—research is allowed but not required. Use it only if it helps.

But let me pull double duty here by advising you on your paper's potential research AND making a new point about paradigms.

The Credibility of Sources: The Case of Wikipedia

The purpose of using research within a paper may be more diverse than you realize. It doesn't necessarily have to be "factual proof" for some point you are making; it can be a dozen different things, all depending on what it helps you say.

Yet much is made, in writing research papers, of selecting credible sources. This is understandable. No one wants to cite something that turns out to be inaccurate, right?

The question, then, is how do you know whether a source is accurate or not? Whereas your English 1A teacher probably answered this one way, I want to answer it more epistemologically (how do we know anything for certain?).

I bring this up because I hear the most ridiculous things about selecting credible sources. Within the past year alone, I have heard from students or colleagues of mine:

1. Only trust sources that are five years old or less
2. Don't use internet sources
3. You can use internet sources, but only those with "gov" or "edu" at the end
4. Only use sources with the author's name listed
5. The source you use must itself use sources
6. Only use information from books or periodicals

Ok, let's assess these claims one by one a moment:

1. What does the recency of a source ensure with its quality? Yes, we assume newer studies will be better than old ones—but don't assume that at all. Studies can be bad or good, weak or strong, anytime. Moreover, a lie can one year old and a truth can be 1000 years old.
2. What is wrong, exactly, with internet sources? The answer is typically this: Anyone can write whatever they want online, so you can't trust what's there. The fallacy of this reasoning, though, is to assume not just anyone can write books or periodicals. There is no minimum qualification for writing a book, no "bullshit police" who will deny you copyright if you tell an untruth. Don't fool yourself—anyone can write anything they want, and the medium—be it paper or digital—makes no difference at all.
3. Are we to trust only government and education websites? This is absurd. This assumes the government would never post bad information or misinformation—does anyone still believe this after Watergate and the Iraq War? Also, I have rarely met as sophisticated a band of incompetents and bullshitters as educators, so take anything on an education with a grain of salt. Actually, bring a salt shaker, it's so bad.
4. Yes, most authors take ownership of their words and place their names front and forward, but the reasoning here is still faulty. Many great, truthful works were written anonymously or under false names; many greats works of incompetence or lies have had a clear author, too. A name is just a name.
5. We face infinite regress if we actually, literally follow this idea. Also, if you do enough research, you will realize that authors tend to cite each other, who cite each other, etc. It becomes either very circular or there are a few real giants in the subject who do no research at all; they just write from the authority of their own judgment or experience.
6. Books and periodicals are just as prone to the nonsense you potentially see online. Look at all the fairly recent cases in journalism of writers who confessed they sometimes fabricated their entire stories. Even book authors get in trouble (A