Wednesday, September 08, 2004

An semi-update

On the rant I had about the Historians Committee for fairness below (for some reason my links to blooger are linking only to the archive page and not the article itself - anyone know how to get around this?).

Over at Crooked Timber, in a discussion that I've noticed going on about chess, Henry Farrel makes the following observation about an error in the conventional literature:

It would be very interesting to trace back how this error (and a variety of others) crept into the literature. Zermelo was never translated into English before Schwalbe and Walker’s paper, so I imagine that nobody much bothered to try to read him (especially since his article was published in 1913 and was quite likely printed in Fraktur). One person’s error was presumably picked up by others, and then disseminated until it became accepted dogma in the wider literature. Academic research sometimes resembles a game of Chinese whispers - because we all rely on the research of others, serious blunders can be perpetuated for generations before someone bothers to go back and recheck the work of their elders.

One of the criticisms of Malkin was that she mostly relied on the research of others. My point was so does every other historian on the planet. Of course, I could easily have said every academic, and the statement would have been equally valid. Actually I think the above is a pretty interesting example of how errors and mistakes can creep into scholarship.

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