Monday, 21 April 2014

Thinking about research accuracy

I read an interesting article today in the Ottawa Citizen about the rise of fake peer reviewed journals and how they are affecting the scientific world. This was of interest to me from a work perspective since we're always having to answer questions based on "new research" that shows X or Y. But I also thought about it from an SCA perspective.

I pride myself at being pretty good at research. I've been able to dig out a lot of little tidbits of information on my leatherworking projects over the years. I mainly use book resources and museum artifacts as my base, but I also often do some pretty heavy online research, which helps me find artifacts and other people'e research. That being said, I'm not an academic, and I'm certainly rusty when it comes to using research journals as a major source of information. But this worries me.

As an amateur historical organization, I'm not sure how many people use research journals as a source of information. But if this trend is happening beyond the science journals and has been happening in the humanities as well, it's going to make our lives that much more difficult. Given that most of us are not professionally working in these fields, it's probably harder for us to tell whether a specific journal is a good source or not.

I guess it means the same rules apply whenever you're doing research, including online and through the journals. It's important to remember that just because someone wrote it down doesn't make it true.

When I'm doing research somewhere where there's a high risk of inaccuracy (for example, online) I mainly use sources as a way to point me to primary sources and artifacts.  I try not to base my opinions on other people's theories unless its backed up by solid evidence. I'll look for links to other more authoritative sources and then work back from there. Often I'll find references to books I know are good, or references to work or artifacts from museums in Europe. I'll then try to find those references or contact those museums for more direct information about the item.

I think applying these same techniques to research journals is probably a good idea.

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