Random Thoughts: how I research


Hanl Brown

Staff reporter Aden McClune shares his perspective on various issues in his weekly column, Random Thoughts.

Aden McClune, Staff Reporter

Basic historical literacy seems to be dwindling. Most people, unfortunately, seem to regurgitate the things they were told in schools, find online, or pick up from people they are around. While this is a common way for information to travel, it seems that a lot of people simply take the things they hear at face value, especially about a historical topic or history in general. Disinformation is rampant but falls apart quite quickly if held up to the light.

The first thing I do when I want to check something, particularly a historical claim, is use Google Scholar. This works as a search engine for academic papers. You can simply search for broad topics, or, if you’re searching for the presence of a quote, it may help to shorten it or only provide a snippet of the overall quote. If there are no results, shorten it again, but if it’s never been cited as in an academic paper ever, then it’s likely that it was never said. Also, if there are very few sources for something, or maybe only even one, check the origin of that source and what their motives might be. Of course, even Google is not completely honest in it’s search results. It’s easy to find credible academic journals and books that are not easily accessible using Scholar.

Additionally, checking the bias and origin of your sources is key. Every author or journalist has a motive, whether to inform, or misinform about a particular event or topic. Research the person who wrote the article, or better yet, the newspaper or organization that they are a part of as a whole. If you find that the author is paid by an oil company, and they’re writing about how climate change isn’t a very big deal, chances are it’s not very objective.

It is also important to understand that everyone has their reasons for doing something. It’s very difficult to gauge objectivity, and in a lot of cases, there is no such thing. Especially in modern media. Newspapers are owned by individuals, with their own agenda to push. An excellent example of this is The Washington Post, purchased by Jeff Bezos in 2013. Have fun finding any opinion pieces on union busting.

In forming your own positions and arguments, it is key to understand that the information you are gathering them from is accurate and with as little bias as possible. As media becomes more and more centralized, and the accumulation of these outlets concentrating in fewer and fewer hands, unfortunately, it will only get worse.