Fact Checking

I am supposed to be fact checking for the state history encyclopedia. I like the idea of fact checking. It appeals not only to my fondness for research (my motto could be that of the mongoose, “Go and find out”) but also to my skepticism about historical reporting. I think many things are presented to us as history which are not factual.

It happens, however, that the topic of the article I have been sent for checking — the 18th governor — is one about which I have no books. Hard to believe, isn’t it? So I will have to get out to the university library to check the facts. Not a terrible hardship, but it will certainly have to wait for the weekend. (Of course I can look online, but the web is not the place to look for accuracy.)

Josephine Tey’s novel called The Daughter of Time is an excellent read on the subject of historical accuracy. If that is a topic that catches your imagination. It is about Richard III. The controversy about him and whether he had the princes in the tower killed and all  is a popular one among those who like to check facts and argue about stuff that is past. But for me the best part of the book is the description of the process of discovery. My copy has disappeared; I think I shall have to get another.

One example — a very small example — of folk history that makes me suspicious is the often-heard claim that drop cookies became popular during WWII because the old cookie cutters were used for scrap metal. You may never have heard this claim, because you may not be interested in the history of food. But I have seen it written and heard people say it, and every time I think — no way. First, because I know old ladies who have always used the top of a glass to cut their biscuits and cookies into circles. Second, because old recipes (and even some new ones) recommend cutting cookies out by using a paper pattern and a knife. I think it more likely that drop cookies became popular because people felt too busy to fuss with cutting the cookies out.

And I think it was Stephen Jay Gould who pointed out that a certain dinosaur was always described as being “about the size of a fox terrier,” apparently because the first description used the fox terrier. Everyone else just copied the first guy, notwithstanding the fact that most of us haven’t seen any fox terriers and don’t really know what size that would make the dinosaur.

Wesley recommended that we make decisions based on scripture (which has, as far as I know, nothing to say on either cookies or the eighteenth governor), tradition, reason, and experience. This seems like a good suggestion. This evening, as Partygirl and I join the creationists for class, I shall keep this in mind. And, I hope, keep quiet.

#1 daughter enjoys disputation. I was reminded of this word by the Golem in Pratchett’s Feet of Clay. This Golem delighted the heart of Constable Visits the Heathen with Informative Pamphlets (I may have the details of the name wrong — #2 son is now reading the book so I can’t check) by offering to spend time in religious disputation, when everyone else just tries to get rid of him and his pamphlets. I enjoy a good theoretical discussion, but #1 daughter likes an outright quarrel, with shouting even, as long as no one takes it personally. She would probably speak right up among the creationists, and in so doing might give other non-literalists the courage to express their views. I plan to keep my eyes on my paper and my thoughts to myself.

I am quite willing to argue over Richard III, though. Or cookie cutters. Or even fox terriers. As long as no one takes it personally.


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6 responses to “Fact Checking”

  1. feebeeglee Avatar

    Reaper Man may be my very favorite Discworld.

    I think you must get this one for your store, though:

    Where’s My Cow?

  2. Kali_Mama Avatar

    My grandmother only just recently realized she could make very nice biscuits by shaping them quickly by hand, and then smoothing them out with a little bacon grease on a spoon, which she did for browning anyway. These turn out much nicer than drop biscuits, and go more quickly than rolled and cut.

    I love disputing “history.” 🙂 I’ll see if the library has “The Daughter of Time.”

  3. dweezy Avatar

    Great cap!  I really enjoyed the comparison you did with the knitpicks and highland yarns.  Way informative.  I once had a customer who was very involved in creationism and she would tell me about it whenever she would get her hair cut.  It was all very interesting.  In fact I learned a thing or two as she shared her knowledge and evidence. I think she said the creationist have a meuseum or foundation out in california where she would go for conferences/seminars.   I always try to remain neutral when it comes to religion, sex and politics if not very choosy as to who I will engage in converstion on these subjects.  It was just when she tried convincing me that creationism made so much more sense than evolution and that there was very little proof of the idea of evolution to even exist.  Then she wanted to know what I thought and I personally think there is something to all of it and that its kinda like to me that you really can’t have one without the other.  But I just told her that sometimes I find it necessary to trust the process of life especially when things get overwhelming for me intellectually yet at times my curiosity has me always wondering and questioning. It can be a vicious cycle.  LOL  Then I asked her if she had ever seen the movie, The Never Ending Story.  Where they are trying to keep nothingness from taking over.  Thats what gives me the creeps, when I start thinking about what if it is all just nothingness.  That’s when I stop thinking and then just start being.  LOL  : )

  4. Kali_Mama Avatar

    Oh, yeah, bubble tea. It’s cold tea, green or black with flavoring, with milk and tapioca/licorice-like “bubbles,” drunk through a big straw so the bubbles can come up and into your mouth. I had just gotten rabbits when I had my first bubble tea. I don’t think I need to tell you what the bubbles reminded me of!

  5. sighkey Avatar

    Hmm, my comment apparently didn’t go through. I’ll try again. There is another author (whose name I cannot remember of course) who wrote a series of novels on Richard III, taking much the same stand as Joesphine Tey. There were at least 2 books in the series and the author’s first name was Katherine I think. If you can ever find them they are well worht the read.

    Wasn’t ‘Truth’ the ‘daughetr of time’?

  6. silken_shine Avatar

    I enjoy disputation to a certain point, but I have a nasty habit of taking things personally, and that ruins it for everybody.