A very important lesson learnt about vetting sources

I can’t believe this happened long after I thought I knew better about vetting appropriate sources, but everyone makes mistakes sometimes. There, in the bibliography file for Journey Through a Dark Forest, was a link to a Further Glory post about African–Americans involved with the liberation of several camps (linked to under archive.org because donotlink.com was down when I wrote this, and because archive.org also strips the offending page of its ad revenue as well as search ranking). I now know very well Further Glory is a Holocaust denial blog, which I’ve duly downrated on the Web of Trust extension.

I suppose I either didn’t read that post all the way through, or didn’t fully comprehend exactly what the blogger was implying. There’s no other excuse for why I fell for that post as a serious, scholarly source to put in a works cited page.

Even worse, I discovered Further Glory is the sister site to Scrapbook Pages, a historical website I’ve used as a resource a number of times over the years. There were a few things I read at Scrapbook Pages which gave me pause and made me kind of wonder, but I ignored those strange suspicions because the entire website seems so informative and well-put-together. Now that I know Scrapbook Pages is run by a Holocaust denier, I won’t be using it for any further research, will remove all the links in my various bibliography files, and will tell all my university friends not to use it as a resource for research papers.

When I was younger, I wasn’t careful enough with any of my sources. I just gullibly believed whatever I read, based on its emotional appeal to me, and didn’t bother checking sources with different POVs to see if my beliefs were corroborated by evidence from multiple sources working independently of one another. There’s nothing wrong with having an idea of where you want to go with your research, but you can’t only look at sources promoting one POV, and ignore or dismiss anything that doesn’t back up your rigid POV. That’s called working backwards from a conclusion set in stone.

This is why, until 2009, I refused to believe Lee Harvey Oswald had anything to do with JFK’s assassination (though I still think it’s possible there were other people involved). It’s the same reason it took almost 20 years before I was finally convinced Anna Anderson really was Franziska Schanzkowska, and not Grand Duchess Anastasiya.

Perhaps an author or speaker with a different POV has some great information or a perspective which gives us a whole new spin on an issue, and leads us to wonderful new material to consider. We should never be afraid to go outside of our own in-group. For example, just because someone is your political or religious opposite doesn’t mean s/he’s automatically full of falsehoods. The person in the video above doesn’t exactly share all my views, but I still shared his video because it’s the information on this particular issue which is important.

Holocaust Controversies is an excellent, scholarly anti-denial blog which tears apart all the deniers’ claims, as well as critically examining misinformation such as Irene Zisblatt’s ridiculous so-called memoir. We can always stand to learn new things, and admit some things which were once popularly believed were just urban legends or unintentional misinformation passed along in a game of telephone.

For example, many survivors’ testimonies identify “Dr.” Mengele as the one who selected them. However, he was never one of the camp brass, and performed selections no more than any of his colleagues. So many survivors associated their selector with Mengele due to his postwar notoriety; how frequently he appeared on the ramp off-duty to look for twins and other so-called medical curiosities; and how he took part in the frequent selections in Lager C (the Hungarian transit camp, where no one was tattooed).

As mentioned in the excellent essay debunking Mrs. Zisblatt’s fake memoir, the phenomenon of Auschwitz survivors believing they were selected by Mengele is quite similar to that of Buchenwald survivors believing they met the infamous Ilse Koch, even after she and her husband had left the camp in shame in August 1943 and gone to prison.

Bottom line: We should always carefully vet our sources, look for what kinds of sources our source cites, think about the POV being presented and whether it’s just a layperson’s opinion or propaganda, and look to see how seriously other people in the field take that author or source.

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4 comments on “A very important lesson learnt about vetting sources

  1. Arlee Bird says:

    I’m sure there are plenty of resources available out there all the way from rational and useful to really weird and sometimes scary. It’s a big world with a lot of ideas and opinions.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

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  2. Trisha says:

    This is what we librarians are in the business of telling everyone about 🙂 It can be very easy to get sucked in by sources that really do look very credible. It can take a lot of digging to uncover the truth.

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  3. Agree so difficult to sort out the quality of the source, especially in this age of information overload. Historiography was a required course when getting my master’s back in the day. I still frequently use the principles learned, even in non-research, social situations. What is this person’s bias (we all have one or more)? Where are they getting their information?

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  4. […] an untouchable sacred cow. But as I’ve explained before, accuracy, quality research, and vetting sources in this subgenre of historical fiction are extremely crucial to prevent adding fuel to […]

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