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Author Topic: Reliability?  (Read 1257 times)

Nymree

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Reliability?
« on: January 13, 2017, 04:03:23 pm »
There is a lot of sketchy information out there from loads of dubious sources, but I was wondering what tips people can give for being sure you're using a reliable resource. Are there any pretty solid sites or books you could recommend, for anything from general paganism to specific subjects like Moon Goddesses or ancient Greek myths? Any tips on spotting a good (or dodgy) source?

Thanks to any and all replies made :)

Redfaery

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Re: Reliability?
« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2017, 04:29:12 pm »
Quote from: Nymree;201389
There is a lot of sketchy information out there from loads of dubious sources, but I was wondering what tips people can give for being sure you're using a reliable resource. Are there any pretty solid sites or books you could recommend, for anything from general paganism to specific subjects like Moon Goddesses or ancient Greek myths? Any tips on spotting a good (or dodgy) source?

Thanks to any and all replies made :)
There's no hard and fast guide, but here are some things I look for:

* author is qualified in the subject
* author cites sources
* claims are backed up with evidence
KARMA: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Jenett

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Re: Reliability?
« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2017, 05:33:32 pm »
Quote from: Nymree;201389
There is a lot of sketchy information out there from loads of dubious sources, but I was wondering what tips people can give for being sure you're using a reliable resource. Are there any pretty solid sites or books you could recommend, for anything from general paganism to specific subjects like Moon Goddesses or ancient Greek myths? Any tips on spotting a good (or dodgy) source?

 
Stuff on my website so I can talk about other stuff in this reply: Critical reading and Pagan books (which also applies to non-book things), Hidden aspects of Wikipedia (which has some commentary on how to recognise controversies and contentious issues in a topic) and evaluating an academic article, which has some relevant comments about recognising the purpose of a given bit of writing, and also links to some other evaluation tools.

I tend to think that one of the most useful skills for information evaluation is developing the ability to take information in without committing to believing it is accurate until you get more data from other independent sources. Alas, this is a skill deeply lacking in modern society.

So. Stuff I look at:
  • What is this source trying to do?
  • Who is the person writing it?
  • What's their background related to this topic?
  • Do they tell you where the information comes from (not just citations!)
  • Is someone trying to be an expert about too many things?
  • How do they handle topics people often get wrong or oversimplify?
  • Are they trying to manipulate you or make you do something their way?


1) What is the source trying to do?
Someone writing about a personal experience is doing a different thing than an essay about history - or it should be. An example ritual is a different kind of writing than someone defining a term. Talking about your own personal practice, the things you've done and experienced, is and should be different than how you talk about other people's practices in some ways. All of these are possibly useful kinds of material to Pagans who are reading and learning, but we're not always good at figuring out how to evaluate them.

So a really good first step is figuring out what the source is trying to do, and seeing if what it includes matches up with that. A lot of people will be up front about this, but some won't be. (And some will be doing things like claiming they're sharing personal experiences when really they want to manipulate your emotions so you'll do something or buy something or trust them when maybe you shouldn't. See #7)

2) Who is the person writing it?
A lot of Pagan writing is relatively informal, but it's still good to know who wrote it. Someone who obscures their background and experience in the relevant topic, or where there's no other information you can look at besides what's in that one work, should be viewed more cautiously and with a lot more double checking than someone who provides a wider range.

I don't mean "legal name and employment" here, but more like "I identify as a witch, I trained within X tradition / my practice is similar to Y thing / ", maybe a link to a blog, site, or social media account, and maybe a general idea of their age and location. (Advice about some topics is going to vary a *lot* if someone is in a different country, or sometimes even a different region of a country.)

3) What's their background related to this topic?
Beyond general background, an important question is "Why is this person's opinion or commentary on this specific topic worth listening to?" There are tons of possible answers to this - someone may be an expert in the field, or have spent 20 years doing that thing, or even just be a few steps ahead in the same process you're going through (and thus very aware of what stuff you might have questions about.) But you want to know which it is, and which people are just saying things that sound good, but don't have real experience backing them.

If someone's talking about raising a Pagan family, or providing relationship advice, or talking about group rituals, or providing herbal ideas, it's good to have a sentence of relevant info about their background, especially for anything that's not purely conversational writing. If you can't find that, be dubious until you can either find other sources that suggest the same advice, or can find out more about their background.

4) Do they tell you where the information comes from (not just citations!)
Guides to evaluation talk a lot about citation, and that's definitely a thing to look for in more formal writing. But it's also important in informal writing, in the sense of "Where does this come from, and what stuff is this person talking about that's unique to them, and what comes from other people, filtered through them."

It's really easy to say "I was at a ritual a couple of years ago that..." or "I've read this in a couple of places but I'm sorry, don't have a citation...." or "It's in one of [author]'s books." and that brief comment gives the reader an idea of how much to value the information and put it in context. Someone who doesn't do that? That's an author you want to be cautious of.

(Obviously, without verifiable details, people can exaggerate their experience, or lie about it, or make stuff up, but that's also usually something you can spot if you look for inconsistencies over time.)

5) Is someone trying to be an expert about too many things?
Usually a bad sign. Someone who's been around a field for 5 or 10 or 20 years will pick up a lot of information about stuff that isn't their focus. But the people who are responsible about this will make it clear what stuff is "Hey, not my thing, but here's some information from sources I find reliable." and also have clear boundaries about stuff they're not experts in. Someone who has positioned themselves as an expert on Wicca and Celtic Reconstructionism and spirit animals and herbalism and astrology and half a dozen other things is probably not an expert in any of them.

(You can see a good way to handle this from a number of long-time posters here, who will a) wait to see if someone with more experience in that area is around in a reasonable time frame and can chime in, and b) if they do respond, will do the "I'm not X path but here's some stuff I've seen recommended by people who are" or "My understanding is that these sources are widely considered a good place to start by people in that path and here's a link I have with more info." rather than give unadorned advice.)

6) How do they handle topics people often get wrong or oversimplify?
If all of the above aren't options, one good tip is to look at how someone handles these kinds of topics. The people you want to listen to tend to be the ones who say "That's a complicated thing, but here's an outline that will let you build and learn more." or "There's lots of disagreements about this, but my understanding is..." or "I'm going to leave out some parts for now for [time / space / focusing on another thing] but you should be aware there's more." or whatever.

My personal go-tos for this involve looking at how people talk about the following topics:
  • Deities : one sentence summary, or a "commonly associated with but some sources suggest "?. Or does the author simply give longer, more detailed discussions in the first place?
  • Herbs : anyone who says anything natural is safe is generally not worth reading. I usually look at how they talk about some common herbs and also essential oils if they do. (If they don't stress the importance of diluting EOs, the rest of their safety info is extremely suspect. ) Detaled herbwork should reference solid resources with up to date medical precautions.
  • Adaptations : Not relevant if someone is just talking about their own practice, but otherwise, the people who talk about adaptations for different situations (solo vs. group, allergies, accessibility, differences in gender or relationship orientation, etc.) tend to be more useful writers in general.
  • What books and sources they recommend and why. (Why is important. You want the people who've invested time in their own learning, and who aren't just recommending the first books that they read, especially if those books are older.)
  • Energy work: Generally the better people to read on this topic are the people who recognise that not everyone is like them, and either give alternate suggestions or make it clear they're writing for a limited audience and know it. (Goes for things like a highly visual focus for meditations/etc. too) See the adaptions point.


7) Are they trying to manipulate you or make you do something their way?
Finally, and definitely not least : why did the person write this, and what do they want you to do about it? You may not be able to figure out all of their goals, but most people can usually tell the difference between sharing something and selling something.

(And not all 'selling' involves an exchange of money. Often you'll see people who want the rush that comes of people listening to them or giving them attention or responding to them as an expert. Which is a very human thing, but does not make for the best researched material often.)

What can be harder to recognise is if someone's trying to manipulate you into thinking about things a certain way or doing things only one way. (Sometimes the last part is reasonable, like if there are safety issues or they're working through a sequence of material. But usually people doing that tell you that's what they're doing.)

Look for absolutes, like "All", "Never", "Every", "No real..." and so on - anyone who uses a lot of absolutes is quite possibly trying to push you into a particular choice, and is almost certainly oversimplifying unless it's something very very fundamental.
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hraefngar

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Re: Reliability?
« Reply #3 on: January 16, 2017, 03:38:09 pm »
Quote from: Nymree;201389
Are there any pretty solid sites or books you could recommend, for anything from general paganism to specific subjects like Moon Goddesses or ancient Greek myths? Any tips on spotting a good (or dodgy) source?

 
If you're interested in historical versions of polytheism, your best bet are books published by major universities like Oxford, Harvard, Princeton, etc.  These books are usually dry, and tend to be expensive.  But they are reliable as far as content.  

If you're interested in works about modern religions or magical paths, or modern reimaginings or reconstructions of historical paths, your best bet is to go to a forum that specializes in that tradition and ask around.

Jenett

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Re: Reliability?
« Reply #4 on: January 17, 2017, 08:37:55 am »
Quote from: hraefngar;201493
If you're interested in historical versions of polytheism, your best bet are books published by major universities like Oxford, Harvard, Princeton, etc.  These books are usually dry, and tend to be expensive.  But they are reliable as far as content.


Well, yes and no.

The thing about academic publishing is to remember that "people who are using it for religious research and learning" are not their core audience, and that academic publishing (and academia in general) has biases of its own that you should keep in mind when using academic materials.

Additionally, what the best publishers are will depend on field - while the major university presses are a place to start, the reality of academia is that there will be others who are great, and areas in which those university presses are lacking (especially if it comes to specific corners of a field.)

There's also a lot of stuff that varies field to field - a publisher that's great in, say, Hellenic period Greek culture may be comparatively lousy at Roman republic era stuff. Or publishing houses and publishers may have a strong focus in history, and not be nearly so good at cultural material that gives us more clues about religious practice. Or they may have been great at a thing 20 years ago, and their current material that references that thing is behind the times.

Two articles on my website talk about evaluating academic material and considerations for religious research and learning that might be helpful. One is Evaluating An Academic Article and the other is How Academic Publishing Works. The second one has more about how biases within academia can affect what gets published and how.
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