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Librarian Blog

You'd imagine ... but ...

These days if I'm doing research on just about any topic, I'm going to Google first thing.

So, I have been spending a lot of time trying to learn about my great-grandparents, one set of whom came to Texas from Alabama and another set of whom came from Georgia, all of them moving here after the Civil War.

I know both my great-grandfathers fought for the South. They were privates in the infantry.

And they both landed in the 1870s in Hopkins County northeast of Dallas.

I have had quite a bit of succecss finding out about my great-grandfather Wilson because he rode with Nathan Bedford Forrest, and much has been written about his Civil War adventures.

But, the unit my great-grandfather Boswell served in, the 40th Georgia Infantry Regiment, is more obscure. At least that's case as far as Google is concerned.

Yikes! I've become so used to a Google crutch, I fear I've forgotten how to do real research.

When it's libelous...

A program on NPR yesterday afternoon took a roundtable approach to air issues about climate change.

One participant was a woman who was skeptical of climate change claims to the point of sarcasm.

And there were some others, but the moderator seemed to have a hard time defining the scope of the discussion.

At one point, talk turned to a court case. Apparently, a prominent climate scientist has sued a commentator for libel, contending that the commentator called his work fraudulent, among other things, and that his career was damaged as a result.

I don't know about all that. But the skeptical woman said that any and everything said about climate change should be up for a good verbal fight.

No doubt that's one approach, and if a prominent climate scientist puts himself into the public light, he gives up a lot of his rights to limit discussion about himself.

In fact, he will priobably lose, and he could actually earn just a summary judgment tossing the suit out.

I doubt that the case will ever get to the point where the lawyers will be asked to prove the truth of climate change, which is what the program hinged upon.

More windbags filling air time.

A bad example, and more

In a stunning report issued this week, national open-government advocates show that half of the federal government's agencies aren't doing what they should do to make their operations as transparent as possible.

Back when he was first elected, the president promised a more open government. And in 2009, the attorney general issued guidelines to federal agencies telling them to adopt a "presumption of disclosure" about records, meaning that the default position of record-holders would be that what they had would be available to the public not the opposite, which is so often the case.

The guidelines were to be incorporated into the way agencies do business when it comes to handling freedom of information requests.

And they required agencies to post online copies of their most important documents.

Instead, the rules have been ignored. It's just easier to say No than to say Yes when it comes to information requests. And that's not just at the federal level. That's also the case in many courthouses and city halls.

Several groups, within and outside the federal government, have recommended best practices.

They must not be ignored, and someone at Attorney General Eric Holder's office needs to be put in charge of holding agency heads accountable when they ignore the law.

This is a corollary problem to the one posed by the NSA's snooping into our personal lives. A government that is allowed to operate in secret, both to gather information it should not be gathering and to hide information that belongs to the public, is one that Americans should push into change.

It was inevitable

If there is a bad, yet very simple, way to do something and there are no consquences for doing so, then a significant percentage of people will go that route to avoid complexity and to save time.

Thus, it was almost inevitable, wasn't it, that reputable scientists and researchers in other disciplines would migrate from reputable sources to cite in professional journals to, well, Wikipedia.

The Montreal Gazette/National Post reports on a Canadian study that found "that thousands of peer-reviewed papers in medical journals have cited Wikipedia in recent years, and the number of references is increasing fast."

That's right: "peer-reviewed."

In case you're a newcomer to the research-and-publish game, Wikipedia has never been viewed as an acceptable reference work for professional publications. That's because it's crowd-sourced, and double-checked for accuracy and reliability only by members of the crowd, if they get around to it.

Journalists-in-training are routinely warned not to use Wikipedia in news and feature stories. Go to the original and best source, they are told. (Now, it is perfectly fine to look at a Wikipedia entry's bibliography to see if you can find that best source from the list.)

One surprised researcher, Dr. Sylvain Boet of Ottawa Hospital, told the newspaper that the growth in Wikipedia citations has grown exponentially over the last three years. "It goes against all the principles of scientific reporting and referencing," the doctor said.

So, how come peers are letting these citations through in the vetting process?

The cynical among us would say because they expect to use the same bankrupt techniques when given the chance.

Obvious results

More than 3,000 children's books were published in this country last year, according to a report in The New York Times on Sunday.

Of those, only 93 (!) were about black people.

And another 58 (!!) were about Hispanics.

That's just stunning, isn't it?

Years and years ago, women began making the case for a change in the way media of all kinds depicted the possible things girls might become other than nurses and mothers.

Their argument was solid and sound: People need narratives to help define who they are and where they can go. They need road maps.

Books, movies, plays, songs, all these help not only set the stage but also people it with actors that are role models.

Perhaps it's the case that every little black boy and little black girl will benefit so enormously from just one of those 93 books that no more are necessary.

But, I doubt it.

The two Times stories about this situation don't tell us why so few children's books are about blacks and Hispanics.

I'm sure the reasons are many. Just like the excuses.