Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lies and the lying historians who concoct citations for them

Uh-oh. More questions about Stephen Ambrose's scholarship.

Why do people plagiarize, fabricate, and otherwise make things up in this manner? Historians, in this case, but in journalism, "non-fiction" books, and other media as well?

I know some of the primary excuses: authors under deadline, authors doing it for the money, authors making mistakes, etc. The thing that I can't understand, even considering these excuses, is why a historian--in particular--would make stuff up and/or plagiarize when the conventions of the discipline demand citations and foster de facto fact checking as an historian's works are read by their colleagues and incorporated into other works?

In other words, why lie about something in this way and then hand every potential reader the tools to prove the lie?

Maybe there's nothing more here than individual failings that are not tied together into some larger social context? Or, maybe the larger social context is simply that these authors are just particular examples of the fame- and money-centered aspects of our culture, or the seemingly widespread belief that something bad "won't happen to me?"

As far as my own work goes, I take it as a sacred trust to present the information I find as accurately as possible, both in terms of the individual bits and pieces of evidence I find and in the analytical lens through which I look at this evidence. I understand clearly that we've all got biases of one kind or another, and that one can't possibly be absolutely 100% objective. However, there are still valid arguments to be made in spite of our biases, and valid critiques of these arguments.

Further, I'm also humbled by the notion that anyone could pick up my work and track down my sources and check the facts that I present. Though it would be ego-deflating, I would welcome critiques of my work at this level, and at the level of interpretation. My goal is to offer interpretations that rise from a base of solid research so that we can spend our time having fun arguing about differences in interpretation.


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