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How do you know when you are right?

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  • GCoyote
    replied
    How about a book review?

    Can the study of history take lessons from the sciences?

    Six Things I Learned From the Book "Ignorance"
    http://www.fool.com/investing/genera...ignorance.aspx

    Leave a comment:


  • Freightshaker
    replied
    How do you know when you're right? You suddenly develop breasts.

    Leave a comment:


  • GCoyote
    replied
    The Relativity of Wrong By Isaac Asimov

    Another way of looking at it.

    My answer to him was, "John, when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."
    http://chem.tufts.edu/AnswersInScien...ityofWrong.htm

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  • GCoyote
    replied
    Someone with a similar problem.

    While we may not like to openly admit it, the credentials of who is talking and consensus of those we know or trust (possibly due in part to their credentials), factor in to how we personally evaluate scientific claims. I don't have the biology chops to understand all the details of retroviruses, nor the ability (or desire) to run experiments on them myself, so when it comes to AIDS denialism the best I can do is apply the basics of logic to what I read and ultimately trust the research data from experts. ...
    more - http://www.science20.com/curious_puz...nundrum-144542

    Leave a comment:


  • R.N. Armstrong
    replied
    Getting it right probably depends mostly on the authorís critical judgment. My quick guide for critical judgment is the exercise of the following eight elements:


    1)Identify the sources of information. Determine which sources are primary and secondary. Who is the author for each source and determine the authorís experience and credentials as well as experience. When was the text written.
    2)Establish the bona fides (good faith, honest intentions, genuine) of the work. Does the author have a blatant bias or agenda? Look at how the author documents his assertions in footnotes/end notes. Look at the bibliography and references for completenessóto do this one has to have a command of the subject and under state the issues, perspectives or points of argument. A key aspect in history is to see if the author has any new source material in comparison to the standard works, or is the author using the conventional sources but has a different interpretation. New information or reinterpretation of existing information may contradict or disagree with the conventional wisdom, and you will have to judge its efficacy.
    3)You need a catholic (general) range of knowledge to place you subject in a greater context. Your research will expose you to the great range.
    4)You must possess a trained perspective and ability to hold a number of different perspectives (yours and others)
    5)You will use a sense of discernment for clarity in understanding differences, make fine distinctions roles, word choice, and meanings.
    6)You must apply a certain skill of synthesis. This is important in our sound-byte society. You will mass a great deal of information in you research of the subject, and you will have to trim it to a meaning and direct presentation for clarity in your points and observations. You see other authorís perspectives and biases by what they leave out. Awareness of these choices is key to critical judgment. You see this in the nightly news.
    7)Having a passing acquaintance with the uses of language. Beware of value-laden words, terms and expression.
    8)And last, one must have an educated imagination for different times, situations. Imagination allows you to see a problem differently, appreciate perspectives, different roles. The values and perspectives of kings is quite different from peasantsóthe same is true in modern society.

    In the end, there is no absolute truth, but you will have written in good faith and open to the critic's perspective. And, you will be able to judge the efficacy of their argument. Remember when you write, the critic will have the last word.

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  • GCoyote
    replied
    Well yes, but -

    Any normal human being operates on the assumption that they know what they are doing while the rest of the world is somewhat suspect.

    Cognitive Bias

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  • Phebe
    replied
    Originally posted by Andy H View Post
    Hi Phebe

    Are you satisfied because it answers all your questions? or are you satisfied because it supports or reinforces you viewpoint?

    Regards
    Hi, Andy -- Another good question(s).

    I am not particularly prejudiced against information bias: there has to be SOME reason to choose a narrative among so many competing narratives that historical writers offer, and one's own biases may sometimes be as good as any. The War of 1812, for instance: I don't study it, so far, but I am not open to silly British ideas about how they really won, somehow, despite how unlikely that looks. Perhaps if I do study it systematically, I will conclude they won (....in a pig's eye....), but at this time, I am satisfied to rest on my biases.

    Biases are usually not good enough if I'm seriously studying an era, however, and I like your mention of questions. Don't a lot of us go into historical study to answer a burning question? What HAPPENED that the whole French Revolution was so twisted out of true, twice? What caused World War I to blow up out of nowhere? It can be a quite limited question, even, but still burn. Why, oh why, did Henry VIII decide to arrest Cardinal Wolsey the very eve of his entry into his archbishopric in York in November 1530?? They'd gotten rid of him! He'd be stuck in York! What was the problem? I once read a 2 3/4-inch book trying to find that out, and I measured the width in frustration at the large center part detailing Wolsey's decades of dry legal decisions and maneuvers. At long last the book DID give some speculations on this matter (there is not much source material on it because it was hushed up after Wolsey died en route by mule back to London, presumably of stroke -- he was very overweight and extremely upset and they were carefully watching him against attempted suicide) and I find I am satisfied with those speculations.

    I was thinking about this issue yesterday -- I don't like revisionism whether it's to sell books by novelty or to promote the author's agenda. Neither are history. Here's a case: When Robespierre went to the guillotine, his jaw was badly broken by gunshot, to the point that it gaped open several inches to hang on his chest, and someone had bound it up for him with one of those long neckcloths they wore. Such cloths (neck or otherwise) were stripped off by the executioner so they didn't interfere with the blade, and the executioner did this. Robespierre let out a terrible, loud howl: everyone agrees on this.

    But Jacob Isaacs, the author of the otherwise excellent "Revolutionary Ideas," which I much recommend as a good and thorough survey of the Revolution, is pleased to say that he "howled in fury."

    Okay, nooooooobody else says that, and I've seen several accounts of this scene. It doesn't even make sense: Robespierre was terribly injured and could hardly move; he was essentially moribund, by eyewitness accounts. Everyone else says that he howled in pain, and who wouldn't? He may have howled in fear, too: they left him till late in the series.

    Isaacs says he howled in fury, suggesting that Robespierre was expressing frustration at not being able to continue his murderous course of killing thousands and thousands of people. Isaacs despises Robespierre, a totalitarian tyrant, and he makes an excellent case that Robespierre was despicable, but to pretend to get inside his head in the last minute of his life and report a state of mind different from what anyone else proposes and not very plausible from the physical realities of the situation --- that's getting too symbolic and poetic. That's not history. That's propaganda.

    So it's fine with me if historians differ from the mainstream: but they need to make a good case for taking a road less traveled by. If they don't, I don't believe them. I'll go with the mainstream (which may be totally wrong, I know!!) unless somebody gives me a good reason to change course.

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  • Andy H
    replied
    Originally posted by Phebe View Post
    I think this is a very good question.

    In my case I've realized that history is a question of what narrative *I* am satisfied with, and to know that it's a question of being satisfied, not of "truth."
    Hi Phebe

    Are you satisfied because it answers all your questions? or are you satisfied because it supports or reinforces you viewpoint?

    Regards

    Leave a comment:


  • Phebe
    replied
    I think this is a very good question.

    In my case I've realized that history is a question of what narrative *I* am satisfied with, and to know that it's a question of being satisfied, not of "truth." We cannot know the truth: we weren't there. Even if we had been, we might well not know: we don't know what is really going on with events in the news today, like Ukraine or Gaza or Ebola.

    I have concluded personally that the task requires reading it ALL. I mean, shelves worth, on a given subject. I have found out two things: that the higher flying historians who want to entertain will say ANYTHING, if it makes a good story and fits their hobby horse. No more Martin Gilbert for me. No more Max Hastings. But that the other 16 books on a given topic -- say, the Gavrilo Princip episode -- will say the same thing on certain parts of it and vary widely on others. Where exactly was Gavrilo, and was he sitting having coffee? Was he standing by the corner? Did he have a friend with him, or not? Everyone says something different. But some things enough writers agree on that I can be satisfied with the narrative and accept it. Not as truth: just....accept it. Both Gavrilo and Cabrinovic ate those cyanide tablets and got throwing-up sick, but the capsules were too old to work. Every historian says that and it was testified by both men in court.

    What I really like is when somebody PROVES something. The deeply satisfying moment when they dug up Richard III. The fashion for a hundred years has been to say he wasn't REALLY hunchbacked, that was all just Tudor prejudice!! Then they dig him up and yep, the guy had pronounced scoliosis. Not so bad that he couldn't fight! And did: that he died sword in hand and his crown flew off his head into a highly symbolic, ominous thornbush is generally agreed. That they hauled him naked and face-up on a mule or donkey to be buried also is agreed and seems to fit the dug-up corpse. I was never satisfied with all that "Tudor prejudice" stuff: it just felt wrong. And it was wrong --- it was pure political agenda, if of a whacky type.

    I like people to argue by taking account of facts. For example, there are people who just haul off and say Serbia had nothing to do with the Archduke's assassination! AAAAAaaaaaaagh. The situation was subtle, true, but to say Serbia had nothing to do with it ------ yow. That's just a sweeping statement that isn't historical, IMO.

    Leave a comment:


  • Andy H
    replied
    Originally posted by Duncan View Post
    When making a historical analysis how do we know when we got it right? What do we measure an argument against to prove it?
    Hi Duncan

    Within the academic arena its the Peer Review system as mentioned by an earlier poster, though this itself is under some scrutiny. The rigor of the Peer Review which was once the bedrock of its worth, has been slowly eroded.

    http://societyofbiologyblog.org/publ...t-for-purpose/

    The line between Opinion and Interpretation is very whimsical, often the latter morphs into the former without any conscious actions.

    On a personnel level I go upon the depth of research done by the person. I see what primary source documents he has interrogated, there secondary sources (both published & unpublished) and lastly the gravitas of the person themselves. Obviously quite hard if its a first book, but there are usually other indicators as to whether you should take the persons POV as correct.

    Regards

    Leave a comment:


  • Andy H
    replied
    Originally posted by Duncan View Post
    I'm getting annoyed with the way conspiracy theories and sensationalism is creeping into recent documentaries.
    Hi

    Well that's almost par for the course, as the producers are worried about attention spans. So they throw in potential CT's WI's and 'sexed up' accounts/reconstructions to hopefully keep us entertained-which as we well know is alot different than informed.

    Regards

    Leave a comment:


  • Duncan
    replied
    Originally posted by GCoyote View Post
    One way in which people get into trouble is reading too much into the available data.
    You see this "pop archeology" where a dressed stone under water is freely interpreted as evidence of Atlantis or a bit of wood on a Turkish mountain side part of Noah's Ark.

    The least reliable narratives IMO are those that claim to know the mind of some historical figure. Some of the most pointless arguments in our Civil War and WWI forums turn on the state of mind of someone long dead.
    I'm getting annoyed with the way conspiracy theories and sensationalism is creeping into recent documentaries.

    Leave a comment:


  • GCoyote
    replied
    Say only what you know.

    One way in which people get into trouble is reading too much into the available data.
    You see this "pop archeology" where a dressed stone under water is freely interpreted as evidence of Atlantis or a bit of wood on a Turkish mountain side part of Noah's Ark.

    The least reliable narratives IMO are those that claim to know the mind of some historical figure. Some of the most pointless arguments in our Civil War and WWI forums turn on the state of mind of someone long dead.

    Leave a comment:


  • Snowygerry
    replied
    Perhaps if you'd specify a bit things would be clearer ?

    In general you measure an argument against either an historical source or another, previously made argument.

    Peer reviews can be useful, if any number of colleagues, who's opinion you respect, consider your argument complete rubbish, it may cause you to reconsider.

    Also any reading of history involving anything but the most basic facts, will be an interpretation, never a final version since new sources will inevitably appear.

    Thus you'll find historians being careful mostly, "Most agree that..." or "Standard history assumes..."

    Leave a comment:


  • HMS Jr.
    replied
    How do you know when you are right?

    Comparative analysis using like or similar situational outcomes; if any, using your best probability givens, ditto, and tempered with "common sense", while allowing that one (self) could jolly well be wrong as wearing two left shoes and taking it all with a modicum of grace and not going apeshit behind it all.

    Leave a comment:

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