September 22, 2001

Science Games

(More on game studies) If you're a scientist, you can't escape responsibility for overlooking a fact because "the book wasn't assigned" or "nobody studies that" or "it's not in the canon." None of that matters.

If your conclusion rests on the contention that Crows are black, and someone raises their hand and asks, "What about Blue Jays?", you're sunk. It doesn't matter that someone else forgot to study Blue Jays, or that Blue Jays are unpopular. It doesn't matter that Blue Jays might have been unknown to science until the bastard in the back row raised his hand. Blue Jays are crows, and Blue Jays are blue, your argument is wrong, and it's time to go back to the drawing board.

Ornithologists study birds. Not just "popular birds" or "birds we like to study at my university" or "birds that made lots of money." Of course, your primary interest might be one family or one species or even one individua bird. Of course, you know some aspects of the field better than others. But you need to be prepared to bring any evidence to bear on your problem.

The same thing holds true for historians: you need to know, and account for, everything related to your subject. Every footnote, every inscription, every source.

Yes, it's hard. Unreasonable. An impossible standard. But it's the only possible standard of scholarship: otherwise, it's just a popularity contest.

Don't get me wrong. Torill is right. So is Markku, for that matter. And so is Justin. This is the site of scholarly discourse nowadays, at least in this field, and we are changing it from within.