Sometimes, when I am working on a blog like this, I think, but THAT is just so obvious. And then I remember some of the things that people have told me before, and I keep typing. One of the things that we have to be very careful about as researchers is going into our research with a biased position. When I start a research project I try to learn as much as I can about a topic, but I am always open to new interpretations and new information.
When I am evaluating an author’s statement I try not to fall prey to the outlier position, but I don’t ignore it either. What I mean by that is that new information, or a new interpretation of information, may cause an author to draw different conclusions than most, or all, of the other authors. Just because it’s an outlier position doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but be cautious.
When I first studied geology as an undergraduate in the 1970’s, plate tectonics was considered to be a crazy outlier theory. Now it is accepted as the way the earth’s crust actually functions. On the other hand, these conclusions were based on scientific fact. If the author that you are reading is basing their conclusions on the possibilities of alien invasions, religion, or spiritual visitations, I recommend setting that research aside and finding another source. If your author is speaking from a position of extreme intellectual prejudice, their work is also suspect.
And then there are the things that “just don’t look right” but are. When I first started researching Celtic art many years ago, I was expecting to find lots of Celtic knot covered items. Instead I found amazing gold artifacts that looked almost like modern art sculptures. No Celtic knots at all on most of the pieces. Dramatic sweeps of metal. Wow! I was sure that this HAD to be bogus. But further research proved that what was bogus was my perception of what the art should look like. When you find something that doesn’t “fit” – do more research. My investigation of the “funny looking” Celtic artwork led me to a MUCH greater understanding of the Celtic peoples, from their original identification as a group in Germany all the way across Europe, to the British Isles. My perception of Celtic art was based on Victorian and Renaissance Faire propaganda.
You also have to be a little practical about interpretations in another way. A few years ago an article suggesting that Viking women wore their turtle brooches as brass bras was published. The press grabbed it and made sure that it popped up everywhere. Did I believe it for a minute? No. While Vikings probably did not have the same issues with nudity that we do, the idea of freezing your nipples off in the winter just didn’t seem really practical. There are basic rules of survival that need to be in play.
Next Time: More Tips and Tricks