Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Citing "years of research" in sensationalist writing

Back in 2005, I noted that citing "years of research" on a given topic can be a worrying sign, as for example in the statement that "In more than fifteen years of investigation Carotta has found the traces which lead to the Julian origin of Christianity".

The same claim about the number of years spent researching a topic occurs in some recent sensationalist writing.  This time, Jesus is not Caesar but King of Edessa:
Following 25 years of research, Ralph Ellis has discovered that Jesus was a prince of Edessa in northern Syria . . . .
It's a rule of thumb that if an author is appealing to the number of years spent researching a topic, the claim may well be suspect.


Anonymous said...


Stephen C. Carlson said...

One should inform the Oxford English Dictionary that the word "research" can have the sense of "spinning one's wheels."

Unknown said...


Very well said. When those without formal training, credible experience, or peer endorsements (AKA "accreditation") can't appeal to the above for validation of their unverifiable (and often easily refuted) sensational claims, they often appeal to their "years of research" in the hope that someone will give them credit for their effort.

Citing "years of research" without proper peer-validation is often the equivalent of failing the grade school assignment, but begging the teacher for partial credit because you "worked on it really hard for a really long time."

Joe Weaks said...

Uh, oh… I better
Search: After years of research,
Replace: As my informed and accredited colleagues will agree,

Stephen said...

Yes, this is patently a self-authorizing claim, which in and of itself is not problematic (don't we all want to authorize our own work somehow?). The problem is that in this case it is not assessable by others, which tends to be one of our key standards in the academy.

In other words, after much "research" (1 minute of reading this post and comments?), I endorse Cargill's comment.

Alice C. Linsley said...

I suppose that this is true, but there may be exceptions, don't you think?

I have been researching the book of Genesis for 35 years and I have publications and academic recognition. I don't intend this to be self-authorizing, because I don't care what other people think. Were I to depend on peer reviews for validation, I would get nothing done. While I'm receptive to review and criticism of my work, of which there is plenty, I'm breaking new ground and my discoveries in Biblical Anthropology probably won't be fully understood until after I'm gone. At age 63, I simply want to be left alone so I can get some work done. :)

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks for all these great comments.

Useful thoughts, Alice. I suppose that the issue is whether or not one uses this as the head of one's publicity for a new book. I've been researching the Synoptics for many years but have never thought to make this part of the publicity for my books.

Travis Swanston said...

I always enjoy this one:

"Most scholars agree that..."

Anonymous said...

Both views are unreasonable: Why should we doubt or embrace a work based on the claim that it is based on "years of research"? It may merely inform of the author's dedication to the subject.

Similarly with "Most scholars agree that..." - It is unreasonable to presume that this means we should embrace what they agree with. But it is a fair statement in itself and may be used to move an argument on without having to prove everything: Read as "You will find arguments which support these claims in most books on the subject" not "You must blindly accept this argument because it is the most popular one".

The real problem, then, is that too many people are looking to judge by the credentials of the author rather than the content of what they have to say.

Joe Weaks said...

Noticed a young-earth story James McGrath pointed out, in which the dubious scientific new finding has a cute little version of this phrase that dismisses all the evidence prior because we're only just now able to get a clear picture:
"After two centuries of research, we now have enough information to begin recreating scenes from the rise and fall of the Ice Age."


Unknown said...