Monday, December 26, 2011

BAND December Discussion: Truth in Non-fiction

Kim over at Sophisticated Dorkiness (my Christmas Card Exchange partner) has another blog that she co-authors titled BAND: Blogger's Alliance of Non-fiction Devotees and if you want to participate, this is what you do...from the About Us section:
How to Participate 
Our main online headquarters is this blog and this is where you can find any updates you need.  
Each month, a different nonfiction blogger will post a topic for discussion, which we’ll post a link to here. To participate, write up a response to their topic — as long or short as you’d like — for your blog at any time during the month. Please also leave a link to your response at the original topic post so the host can write up a wrap-up at the end of the month. 
Decembers' topic

I'm going to answer this first as a teacher and then as a reader of non-fiction, as my answers for each bisect here and there, but are quite different from one another.
As a teacher, I believe that for research purposes a student must take the time to figure out if and how what he or she is reading is truth. And, I'm talking about 'truth' in how they see or perceive something. I'll give you an example. One of my students wanted to write his research paper on the conspiracy theory behind the attack on Pearl Harbor (the theory is old, but the research is new enough that there are very few 'true' books on the subject). For the record, I have a hard time being convinced of a conspiracy, but told him that I do believe that, just like 9-11, people knew and could stop it and told him so. He found some websites that I would not let him use to back up his point as they were radical, inflammatory and didn't really say anything except for to rile up conspiracy and anti-government theorist. He kept on insisting that he be able to use these websites as proof that a conspiracy existed. We went round and round about how to find a reputable site. Finally, I said find a book that says it and use that book. He, of course, sarcastically commented back, "Oh, if it's in a book, it must be true." I said, "No, not necessarily, if I read a book about the Pearl Harbor Conspiracy, I'd still want to do my own research about it's validity." To me it's easy to check if something is true at the level of research, you find a book, you read it, you research the topics of that book, you find reviews to check the validity of the author, you find reputable websites (and, for the students this means going to an online research search engine like EBSCOhost that filters out the crap) and, finally, you use your heart and mind to test it against what you know to be true.
As a reader of non-fiction, my answer is a little more simple. I read about things that I'm interested in, I don't have to check out their validity I know them to be true. I've been reading Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton book for years now, I don't research if what he's saying is true or not, I know enough about Mr. Hamilton to know that what I've read so far is accurate and therefore I assume the rest must be. When I go to Wikipedia to research a topic for it's validity (this happens more in historical fiction, than non-fiction) I believe all the cursory information I see there...really, every time. And, if I want some interesting reading I check out the references and buy books from that list...books that I read and believe whole-heartedly.

1 comment:

  1. I think your point about being able to better research the truth of a book versus a website is absolutely true. Books go through a vetting process that can be checked, and a good book will offer sources that can be independently verified. You can't often say the same thing about the website. I hope your student learned a lot from the project!



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