The phrase orginated primarily as a practical means to deal with
physics cranks, of which of course there are a number on the web.
The basic concept is as follows: it can be quite difficult for us to
make any valid judgment as to whether a particular thing is _true_ or
not. It isn't appropriate for us to try to determine whether
someone's novel theory of physics is valid, we aren't really equipped
to do that. But what we _can_ do is check whether or not it actually
has been published in reputable journals or by reputable publishers.
So it's quite convenient to avoid judging the credibility of things by
simply sticking to things that have been judged credible by people
much better equipped to decide.
The exact same principle will hold true for history, though I suppose
the application will in some cases be a bit different and more subtle.
Hi everyone, I have been following the this thread
but am confused as to to what the term 'original research' means. As
a writer of history I take it to mean searching the literature and
archives and writing a new, properly referenced, article about topic
which may well not have appeared in any other place than
Wikipedia. Certainly there is a great deal in my field which is not
to be found anywhere on the Web, and Wikipedia is an excellent means
of getting it there.
Suppose for example you've come up with a novel historical theory
which appears in no peer reviewed journals and which is contradicted
by prominent authorities in the field, and you prove your theory
through original research into primary sources, archives, etc.
I am thinking of a particular example, and I'll give that to
illustrate my point. Michael Bellesiles published a book by a
reputable publisher in 2000 with the surprising thesis that contrary
to popular understanding, guns were quite rare in the early years of
the United States. This book generated a firestorm of controversy and
it was later determined by an outside panel of investigators hired by
his University to investigate fraud charges that he was "guilty of
unprofessional and misleading work".
It took a fair amount of time (2 years) for this process to work
itself out, and juding the validity of Bellesiles claims involved a
lot of scholarly work *of the type that we are poorly equipped to
Suppose Bellesiles had attempted to publish his novel historical
thesis at wikipedia, rather than in traditional primary sources? We
would quite properly have rejected it as original research, because we
are ill-equipped to judge the validity of such things.
If we are going to have a blanket ban on 'original
research' we ought
to be more precise as to what it actually means, perhaps re-wording
the phrase. Any ideas?
I think the phrase is just fine, but I do agree with you that we need
to explore more carefully what it means. In many cases, the
distinction between original research and synthesis of published work
will require thoughtful editorial judgment.