[PW] Importance of good research - cautionary tales?

d-lien University of Minnesota d-lien at umn.edu
Wed Jul 18 10:16:54 PDT 2018

There may be something you can use cited in this TVTropes page:


Dennis Lien / d-lien at umn.edu

On Wed, Jul 18, 2018 at 11:55 AM, Donna Halper <dlh at donnahalper.com> wrote:
> On 7/18/2018 7:54 AM, Caroline Barratt wrote:
>> Hello everyone,
>> I am trying to compile some real-life “cautionary tales” about why doing a
>> thorough literature review is so important to good research.
> My cautionary tale may not be exactly what you are asking-- it's not about a
> matter of life and death.  But then again, it may still make a relevant
> point.  It's about reevaluating the sources you are using in your lit
> review:  considering whether perceptions about them have changed over the
> years. I often see inexperienced researchers quoting from a famous source,
> but seeming to take the source at face value, rather than exploring whether
> what the source says is accurate (or where the author of that book or
> article got the information).  The problem is then compounded when other
> researchers quote from that first researcher (we see that on Wikipedia), and
> it becomes an endless loop-- with none of them considering whether that
> original famous source was flawed or incomplete or even biased.
> Here's an example:  in the history of broadcasting, there is a durable myth
> that KDKA in Pittsburgh was "the first radio station in the US" (or in some
> of their publicity, "in the world"). This is not true, and for readers from
> Pittsburgh, I am not trying to be rude about your pioneering station, which
> did indeed have some amazing achievements in early radio.  But the KDKA
> story is a triumph of publicity over fact-- the then-owners (Westinghouse)
> had a massive publicity department and they put it to work promoting the
> primacy of KDKA, while conveniently ignoring other early stations that may
> indeed have been on the air before or at the same time as KDKA.  For many
> years, there was one book that every educator used when teaching the history
> of broadcasting:  Gleason Archer's "The History of Radio to 1926." It was
> repeatedly cited in a multitude of textbooks as the authoritative history of
> early radio, and well into the 1990s, it was widely quoted.  The problem, as
> I and several other researchers discovered, was that Mr. Archer was not
> exactly an expert.  He was a lawyer and cleric (not that there's anything
> wrong with that), but other than hosting his own weekly radio program for
> about five years, he was not a media historian nor an expert in
> broadcasting. Further, he wrote his book in 1938, many years after the
> events he describes; there is not much evidence he was ever particularly
> interested in the history of radio; and when he decided to write about it,
> he mainly used corporate archives from companies like Westinghouse and RCA
> and General Electric, rather than thoroughly exploring smaller &
> independently operated stations that may have been on the air but lacked the
> big budgets to publicize themselves nationally.
> Today, there are many far better and far more inclusive histories of
> broadcasting that are in fact /histories/.  I am not in any way trashing Mr.
> Archer, who had a number of very real achievements during his life
> (including founding Suffolk University here in Boston). I am simply
> suggesting that just because a book or article was well-received doesn't
> mean the information it contained was accurate.  And researchers who are not
> experts in a field of study may cite the famous books from that field,
> without evaluating whether the material those books contain has been
> disproved, or is incomplete (or even biased). Further, the state of the art
> may have changed-- what was applauded as useful and positive in 1938 might
> not be received the same way in 2018.  Thoroughly evaluating the sources,
> rather than just listing them as if all are equally valid, is important to
> writing a paper that is both thorough and factual. I hope this overly long
> post makes sense, and thanks for reading it.
> --
> Donna L. Halper, PhD
> Associate Professor of Communication & Media Studies
> Lesley University, Cambridge MA
> _______________________________________________
> Project Wombat - Project-wombat
> list at project-wombat.org
> http://www.project-wombat.org/

More information about the Project-Wombat-Open mailing list