Friday, February 11, 2011

"Research?"


While here in CA., we have gone to a number of author talks. We heard a marvelous one on the nude by a professor earlier in the week. But last night we heard one from an author--and it's going to be hard avoiding her name or the title--but I must-- who wrote a book of short pieces on a topic-let's say her theme was "last words." (It wasn't)

The book was obviously a light one, and her third on such topics, but I was stunned when someone asked about her research method and she told them that since she had a day job she didn't have much time so she relied COMPLETELY on the Internet. (I had to sit on my husband to keep him for rising).

She went on to say that her publisher, a notable one, had fact-checkers so she relied on them to make sure she got it right. She also admitted people had questioned her scholarship, but what could she do when she had this day job and only so many hours. So not only was her research not original, it wasn't even secondary. She was doing what my husband forbids his students from doing-using sites like Wikipedia for their source.

She does not even know her actual source so obviously can't cite it. She doesn't read a single biography to find out what Clara Bow said on her death bed. Wikipedia or similar sites provide her with a quick answer. And perhaps the saddest thing of all--I don't think she had a clue that this wasn't a legitimate way to write a book. Why go any farther than Wikipedia when the answers were all there. (Her day job was a high school English teacher)

Am I naive to think this is preposterous? That a well known publisher would allow an author to take all her information from unnamed sources. What do you think? Am I living in the dark ages to expect more?

26 comments:

Dana King said...

This may seem like a contradictory answer, but you're right; that is preposterous. You're also living in the Dark Ages, because I'm afraid this is becoming the way of the world, "respected" publisher or not.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - I agree with you completely about the need to check facts. It may be my academic background here, but reliable sources for research are absolutely essential. Even in a novel, which everyone knows is fiction, you "do your homework."

Chris said...

Very disappointing. Some of my favorite nonfiction books get that way because of the awesome bibliographies they come with. I love to see where the source material came from.

Debbie said...

Patti- you are right on. It's simply laziness to not do the research. As Margot says, you do the homework for novels.

It appears to be simple laziness on the part of the author. Are people clamoring so loudly for her next book that she can't take the time to check her own facts? I sorta doubt it.

Charles Gramlich said...

I actually don't make my students totally avoid Wikipedia, but I indicate the levels of sources that they should consider and stress the use of primary sources for their references. I do think Wikipedia can be a place to get some initial overview of a topic, and actually there are often links that will help you find your way to the original sources. Not always, of course. Relying totally on Wikipedia would be a horribly lazy way of working and probably would lead to a very "surface" only type of product. It's not even that the material may be wrong as it is that there's little depth and nuance to it.

Ed Gorman said...

One of my thrillers incorporated a good deal of mid-Twentieth century history and quotes from living political figures. The legal department made me give them two sources for each quote before they would allow me to use it. And in a few cases they made me cite the sources I'd based some of my historical summations (prejudices) on. This was fifteen years ago so maybe times have changed. Too bad if they have.

K. A. Laity said...

Publishers are not interested in facts: they are interested in sales. They're so frightened of the changes in publishing that they're not just willing to push books by celebrities, but relying on them for their major income.

Of course there are still people who require more, including some publishers. Like Charles -- and sadly unlike some of my colleagues -- I don't pretend the internet doesn't exist, but I do teach them to be critical and to think about the way the internet works. Where does information come from? Who has control over it? How do we "read" webpages (not just their text)? I find the Dihydrogen Monoxide site very useful in this regard.

Ron Scheer said...

At a professional conference of writing teachers, I once heard someone argue that copy-and-pasting from the Internet was an acceptable form of composition. Her argument was that students are already doing it. So that made it OK. If we didn't agree, we were just being hopelessly old-fashioned. So there.

K. A. Laity said...

@Ron -- I sometimes think our ed schools are the worst contributor to the sorry state of education after the right wingers who want good education to be only for the wealthy.

Todd Mason said...

And let us not forget that pre-internet, lazy research or anti-research was not ucommon, as well. People citing each other's journal papers, when the initial work (which might only be browsed, if at all, in abstract) has too often been based on limited (to be kind) work...etc.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing how lazy writers are expected to be now. Yet critics are more ready to pounce on mistakes than ever. Like a book Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote 30 years ago with two mistakenly plagiarized sentences

Dan Luft

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, Wikipedia can be a great place to send you to other places. I agree. But in her case, she never used original sources at all. She seemed to be on a ninety turnaround from acceptance of her pitch to final draft. Yikes.

Jerry House said...

I love the image of you sitting on Phil to keep him from rising, Patti. (I kept thinking, "Smithers, release the hounds.")

In a world where political pundits are not restricted by research or facts, why should non-fiction writers be saddled with these trivial things? (He asked snidely.)

Todd Mason said...

And I'll note again that there's nothing new in Jerry's world-description...too sadly.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, the contrast of spending one night with a scholar who knew everything about the history of the nude in paintings to last night with a woman who clearly thought she needed to know nothing was rather alarming.

Todd Mason said...

Bennett Cerf used to put together books like that, for obvious example.

Anonymous said...

I think that - sadly - Dana's response says it all. It's bad but that's the way of the publishing world now.

We went into a Waldenbooks in a mall today briefly and the clerk came over to Jackie with one offer - she wanted to tell her about their e-readers.

How else explain Snooki's book (yes, I know there have always been book "published as by" celebrities} and all the stories about Bristol Palin's forthcoming "memoir"?

Sad.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

What did he use for info?

Cap'n Bob said...

Reminds me of the saying that if you steal from one person it's plaigarism; if you steal from many it's research.

Charlieopera said...

Snookie’s book is out! Damn, what timing! Lost my job last week. I hope they have it at the library ...

Sometimes I find my stepson’s college “papers” on my computer (when he needs to print them) and I’ll Google a sentence I know he didn’t write and bada-boom, bada-bing, Wiki.

I might be more of a dinosaur than Phil here. I’d fail him for the project post haste (with the option of turning in something original within 48 hours or failing the course). But I’m mean that way. When my kids did something deserving of punishment they were forced to write short stories, operas or news reports of their crime(s). My favorite was my oldest son’s “My First Pinch” when he and a friend were nailed for stealing candy bars from an A&P. He even gave it a cover (martini glass and all). Priceless, really.

That said, I’ve often started research with Wiki ... then went on to something a lot more verifiable, but back in the day when I had to write research papers for Political Science, I didn’t have the options and was drowning in Shawcross, Chomsky, etc., and did have to read a lot more than was necessary. I can’t say I wouldn’t have used Wiki had the option been available to me. Cutting and pasting sentences is another story, punishable by a long drive in the car (i.e., on our way to Orchard Park to watch our beloved Bills) ... when I’d often say to the Stella brats, who wants to talk about the civil war? And they’d respond in harmony: “Nooooooooo, please, Dad!”

That, of course, was the other punishment option ... listening to Dad go on forever ... very useful at bedtime, by the way.

Rob Kitchin said...

Sounds like you did well to keep Phil calm. I'm afraid you've have found it more difficult with me. This kind of thing drives me nuts and I have no qualms in making the person look like an idiot in front of the audience. If they want to treat their readers/audience like idiots it is entirely reasonable to reciprocate.

Richard R. said...

Laziness and lack of understanding how to do any real, actual research. It's an extension of "It was in the newspaper, it must be true" and "I saw it on TV, it must be true.". Sadly, in another decade, the internet may well be the primary, perhaps the only research tool students use. Yes sir, the magic of the Information Age.

pattinase (abbott) said...

She did the quote mark gesture every time she compared it to "dusty scholarly tomes." What a ditz although she did have an excellent memory for the stuff she stole.

Deb said...

I suppose Orwell's "He who controls the past controls the future" now becomes "He who controls Wikipedia controls the perception of the past which then controls the future." When I was working in school libraries, I always emphasized to students that anyone could change the information on Wikipedia (or any number of other internet sites), but I'd see student after student doing blocks of copy-and-paste from Wikipedia and then saying, "It's OK as long as I include the web address and don't claim that I wrote it."

We're creating a nation of students whose idea of writing a paper is "right-click-copy-right-click-paste." And as your example shows, this attitude isn't just limited to students.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Ooh, good point, Deb. We do need more supervision of that site for that reason alone.

Dorte H said...

My! When I write cosy capers, I don´t care too much about getting facts right (because inaccuracy is part of the concept), but either you should lie properly, or you should be concerned about telling the truth properly.

But fortunately you can refrain from buing that kind of books - as soon as you look through them.