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Stating Validity Claims

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update:February 26, 1999
E-mailFaculty on the Site.

The Problem with Not Citing Your Sources

from an e-mail by Professor Oliver Seeley of the Chemistry Department
minor editing by jeanne to clarify the e-mail correspondence.

One of our professors recently sent an all-campus e-mail on the under-representation of black history in our texts. He wrote: "I have recently read newly published books from prominent publishers on world civilizations and history, including American history, etc., and practically none of the information brought to you this month [in his Black History posts] was included."

As a community of university teachers we have a certain obligation to scholarship. That means being able to back up generalizations we so often make.  Precious few of my students ever take me to task for errors of fact, judgment or style which I usually discover far to late to rectify.  In that spirit it would be useful to all of us interested in whatever cultural bias which may be a part of our teaching if [Professor Person-Lynn] could offer us a bibliography of those published works mentioned above so at least we can find out for ourselves if we are willing to put forth the effort.

[Prof. Person-Lynn] also notes: "American history books love to start with their favorite subject, as it relates to Afrikan peoples, servitude and slavery."

Here also it would be useful if [Prof. Person-Lynn] could take two or three popular high school American history books, look up the first mention of African Americans and give us the quote so as to defend that position.  Such quotations in support of the premise above would considerably strengthen the argument.  That servitude and slavery may be the "favorite subject" of those authors ought certainly to be defended.  Such a charge without some references gives one the suspicion that it might evaporate on closer inspection and in my opinion making such an undefended charge weakens the argument.

[Prof. Person-Lynn] further notes: "I donšt think any culture of color is properly represented in world and American history books. This is what I call criminal scholarship."

I might characterize it as irresponsible or lazy, where a good case for misrepresentation can be made, but it is a bit of a stretch in my mind to stick the label of "criminal" on it.  As a metaphor I find it to weaken the position taken in the first sentence.  Still, it is an interesting spin.

[Prof. Person-Lynn further states: "Major characters were changed from their original ethnicity, as we clearly illustrated with Beethoven. . ."

It reminds me of Einstein when he said something to the effect of, "If my Theory of Relativity turns out to be right, the Germans will call me a German and the French a citizen of the world.  If it turns out to be wrong, the French will call me a German and the Germans a Jew."

[Prof. Person-Lynn] reminds us that "The redeeming factor in all of this, we are in an educational institution which allows for the sharing of knowledge of various cultures and peoples."

I couldn't have said it better myself, but I would have added, "to argue the credibility of various positions, and to be prepared where such positions are found to be in error, to revise." Oliver Seeley [Professor of Chemistry]

Many thanks to Professor Seeley for allowing us to include his statements on our site. No matter how many times I say "Cite Your Sources" you always believe me more readily when someone else with authority says it. You know the lawyers and judges always ask, "And what is the authority for that statement, Counsel?"

Note particularly that Professor Seeley is asking for the sources from the point of view of one who wishes to have access to the evidence to support the conclusions presented. Sounds a lot like our telling you facts, law, facts, law, doesn't it?

This would be a good time to review the concept of attitude persuasion by one-sided and two-sided arguments. Prof. Person-Lynn was addressing a mixed e-mail audience, and so did not confuse the sound-bite strength of his arguments with detailed two-sided information. But Prof. Seeley is a highly educated member of the audience and is frustrated by the nature of a one-sided argument. That's the problem with making a choice of argument. The court-room demands two-sided arguments. The academy will almost always demand two-sided arguments. Marketing and general persuasion will usually demand one-sided sound-bite arguments. Understand these complications of communicating as they are reflected in the new media. This is covered in detail in Curran and Takata's texts. Will try to put them on the site for you shortly. jeanne, February 26, 1999.