The purpose of this blog is to formulate ideas - and as ideas can be molded and refined please feel free to comment with agreement or disagreement, as long as it is thoughtful.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Types of Proof

Reading Facebook usually makes me sad.  The level of discourse seems to be simply finding one or more web links that show agreement.

There seems to be a real lack of understanding of "scholarship".  The level of public discourse seems to be at newspaper level at best.  The newspaper standard is that there must be support for what you say - you need to quote accurately, you need to quote in context to the best of the limits of the medium (though this tends to be most abused) and you should be unbiased (aside from noted editorials, which by definition support a particular slant or direction).  "News" should be a statement of fact.

Where problems arise in news are typically the choice of news stories to present - compare Fox with MSNBC - each story might meet the criterion of being factual, but the editorial choices of what to report are significantly different, and thus, provide a "slant" to the right or left.  Quoting out of context is done, but is more an example of inappropriate news reporting, not a "type" of news reporting.  Editorial choice is more insidious as it requires an examination of a period of time and an understanding of the consistent direction of the editorial slant - quoting out of context merely requires playing additional context and pointing out a more accurate meaning of the speaker than the shorter quote.

Academic research adds another component - not only are you required to accurately reference sources, report with enough information to accurately present the views of the original authors, but researchers (as opposed to reviews) are required to replicate, extend or refute pre-existing conclusions with unique procedures or apparatus, with the full knowledge of past research, and are required to hypothesise on the causes of the differences (e.g. was there unacknowledged bias in past research?  Is the new research underscoring differences in the underlying theoretical underpinnings of the phenomenon under investigation?). Academic researcher aren't just allowed to quote conflicting opinions and agree or disagree with some.

Academics actually are held accountable of the accuracy of their conclusions, not that they adhered to rules or reported correctly.  An academic who is "wrong" is lost from future discussions.  An academic who engages in purposeful bias in research or in misquoting other authors faces larger consequences - expulsion from academia being the extreme sanction.

Academics are supposed to pull out the real causes and effects from research reviews and novel research paradigms - this is the sign of academic success - puling out meaning from research.  Each particular research project is likely limited in some way (inability to sample the entire population, costs, limits to the artificiality of experimental designs, complexity in researching in real world settings..).

Academics who follow the research rules survive, those who can create new understanding thrive and those that pull out universal understanding that provide years, decades or centuries of renewed interest and direction are revered.

The internet seems to spawn a very low level of discourse.  "Agree" and "Disagree" are given pre-eminent weight - finding anyone who has a similar opinion to your own is considered "supportive", even if it is just the sharing  and repeating of ridiculous nonsense.

How, in an internet world, can we teach the deeper aspects of scholarship?  How can we get people to delve into source documents with an understanding of what they see there?  How can we get folks to understand that pointing out limits to academic research is a requirement of academic research, not a weakness to the conclusions?  How can we re-link understanding - remove the "power" of the well written nonsense and resplace it with (typically messier) actual academic discourse?  Where is the reasoned arguments to counter to dogmatic extremism. and how to get those voices heard amid the sensational extremist headlines?

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