It has been said that 99% of practical arguments rely on authorities, i.e. sources. We can start with dictionaries, parents, teachers, officials, records and serious writings, or even the news and punditry we all follow. (And yes, this paragraph is a case in point, here, C S Lewis making a general point; which I amplified.)
The context is, that News just reported how Wikipedia (the po mo encyclopedia we love to bash that has driven traditional encyclopedias to despair and sometimes to ruin) is having a dispute that has gone to its highest internal tribunal. GUN and I had an exchange on sources that is worth headlining, not least as ID disputes often have to deal with quality of sources issues. Okay,
GUN, 3: >>Even from grade school I was warned not to use encyclopedias or textbooks as sources.
And a good secondary source will tell you what the primary source is, so finding it shouldn’t be an issue. It’s hardly rare. Again, from my experience, if I do have trouble finding a primary source, say, for example, a quote or a stat, that usually means that the quote or stat is fake, regardless of how many secondary sources mention them.>>
While GUN has a point, I have several concerns:
KF, 4 & 5: >>I am afraid, you are assuming a degree of accessibility that is not a general phenomenon.
Yes, where there is access a primary source MAY be helpful or even necessary in cases, but who can get into archives, legal registries, museums, lawyer’s files, reference grade libraries and the like.
Likewise, I suspect only few at high school or primary level education are in a position to understand the structure of arguments in journals or monographs or proceedings or professional works much less to sift a professional literature and draw conclusions that reflect the general balance on the merits. Hint: it’s not just, Bayesian statistics washes whiter!
Don’t even begin to ask about understanding relevant epistemology or logic or the specific technical issues of warrant for particular fields. These last things may be taught in a good College but will not typically be a part of course content for technical areas.
I suggest, again, that a well edited (and reviewed) high quality textbook, handbook, magazine [as opposed to journal], specialist or even general purpose encyclopedia adds the value — a value we are willing to pay for — that the sort of epistemological-logical assessment, survey of a field’s knowledge base and issues, structuring and presentation for effective communication that make reliable materials accessible to one about to do a school or general project or put out something for journalism that is useful and acceptable for most educational, general and even work-linked technical work. Such a source is worthy of respect.
Similarly, when one does desk research for a position paper or work-related document, etc. that level of source is reasonable and responsible. I recall here things like the IEA’s World Energy Outlook series or good textbooks on sustainability. When I taught in secondary and tertiary levels, such sources were invaluable resources. Indeed, I made a special effort to secure copies of Russian texts as I found them particularly useful. Indeed, when I discovered Savelyev’s [sp?] General Physics online in a web archive that was a red letter day as my own set was missing a volume and I would no longer have to try to source in Brazil or Yugoslavia. (I wish the Mir portfolio were all accessible online!)
When one goes on to be doing a term paper, a thesis, dissertation, conference presentation or research report, some of these sources will still be useful (especially the more technical materials) but it is at this level that primary source materials in hands capable of making relevant evaluations come into their own. But even then the underlying knowledge base will be largely grounded in secondary materials. Which we had better know how to evaluate and use, especially on controversial matters such as Macroeconomics and sustainability of development. I am not just talking about Origins Science.
Wikipedia’s core problems (beyond the ideological) have to do with lacking the calibre of editors and reviewers that I have spoken of. Though, when an article is effectively a repackaged term paper or the like, it can be quite valuable. The editing and review will of course have been done as part of the course or seminar it comes from.
And people of a certain level of background will sense the quality almost intuitively.
As there is a hint on the fake news controversy, I add a thought. Warrant is warrant, wherever well-warranted materials are found. Unfortunately, this is a day of trollery, agit prop, ideological subversion of major societal institutions (including media, education, government and churches etc) and professions, etc. We need to cultivate the basics of defensive reading, listening and viewing i/l/o first principles of rhetoric. Namely, that arguments appeal to pathos, ethos, logos — emotions, character/credibility of sources/presenters, weight of facts, logic (and assumptions) — so we must sift on a good background to do that sifting. No emotion is better than the quality of underlying perceptions, expectations and judgements. No source, expert, presenter or authority is better than underlying facts, logic and assumptions. This last is the least persuasive appeal, but it is the only one that actually grounds a conclusion or recommendation. So, we must acquire the taste.
Likewise, we need to see responsible balance, prudence and fair presentation of issues with assessment of likely consequences (including of error). Agit prop is most likely to come from the powerful and dominant who are caught up in ideologies. The marginalised or dissidents earn their credibility fighting uphill and need to be calibrated on track record and substance. In the end, it is to the merits that we must go in a day and age where many once trustworthy institutions and media houses have lost their moral compass.
And yes, I here imply that our minds are morally governed by duties to truth, right, justice, prudence and charity to name a few principles. And let the worldview level chips that fly from that lie where they land: we are looking at the pervasive IS-OUGHT gap and the need to bridge it at world-root level. Where it can be shown that the only serious candidate is the inherently good creator God, a necessary and maximally great being; worthy of loyalty and the responsible, reasonable service of doing the good in accord with our evident nature. A point that may be tested on comparative difficulties across factual adequacy, coherence and balanced explanatory power by simply putting up and testing suggestions: _____ . I suggest that we would do well to ponder that the epidemic of fakery we see traces to the spreading rebellion against that loyalty.>>
Food for thought dept. END