When researching any historical event, I have options to follow: 1) look for evidence to support my theory, 2) look at all the evidence to arrive at a theory.
It can be very tempting, particularly if I know a great deal about the subject, to follow the first method. However, when anyone is looking for evidence to support a theory, by necessity, they disregard all information that contradicts their theory.
On the subject of Titanic, I have noticed this first method used to great effect. When using the Titanic as a tool to put forth ideas that have nothing to do with Titanic, the emphasis is on the subject and not the accuracy of the information about the Titanic. An example of this is the many religious books which attempt to use Titanic to advance the writer’s own religious views. Not all books in this genre are filled with good religion and bad research, but many are.
One example, from my bookshelf (which shall remain anonymous) spends considerable time extolling the sin of the crew in “their belief” that God himself could not sink the Titanic. As proof of this, the writer describes how, when the ship was sinking, the crew continued to their watch stations and stood their duty watches. The author of that book appeared disgusted that the crew was so arrogant that they would man their normal watch stations when Titanic would be on the ocean bottom in a few hours. To a person who has been a crew member on a ship, civilian or naval, this is not arrogance, this is what you are expected to do. The watch rotation muster sheet assigns each member of the crew to a particular watch section and watch station. This muster sheet is considered a direct written order. On a naval ship, you are in dereliction of duty if you take it upon yourself to not go on watch (you would be considered absent without leave or unauthorized absent), and would find yourself put on report and facing non-judicial punishment from your commanding officer (or even courts martial). On a civilian ship, you might suddenly find yourself unable to get a job on any ship. On a ship, a member of the crew goes to the place and performs the duties expected of them by senior officers, until those officers relieve that crew member of their duty (which Captain Smith eventually did). Of course, fulfilling your obligated duty in this instance does little to advance that particular authors account of arrogance towards God. However, it does keep the crew organized, and the officers know where their crew members are in the event they are needed someplace else. That saves time, and in an emergency saved time can mean saved lives.
The second method of research, looking at all the evidence and then arriving at a theory, is very tedious and time consuming. Inevitably, the researcher will find evidence that appears to contradict other evidence. What to do? If you are following the second research method, you expend considerable time to discover if there really is a contradiction. You seek to understand everything possible about all the evidence involved in the seeming contradiction. An example of this is the double-bottom hull pieces found not too far from the stern of Titanic on the ocean floor.
The scientist who examined and wrote their findings concerning the two pieces of double-bottom hull, determined that the keel (bottom of the ship) would not have supported the stern rising more than 11 degrees into the air. All of the eyewitnesses who testified at the 1912 inquiries all testified that the stern rose much higher than 11 degrees, anywhere from almost 45 degrees to perpendicular. I examined the work of the scientists, and their work is accurate and thorough. However, is it possible that all those eyewitnesses did not see what they thought they saw? Is it possible that the witnesses and the scientists are both correct, that is a very substantial contradiction? After thoroughly examining the work of the scientists available to me, the testimony of the eyewitnesses, and the Titanic wreck evidence on the ocean floor that is available to me; I found out that both were correct. I go into this in my article on the break-up and sinking of Titanic (shortlink to article Titanic: How the Ship Broke Apart & Sank, part 1 http://wp.me/P1MLkF-dP ).
It would now seem that the researchers work is done. Write your opinion and it is on to the next subject. Ah, not so fast. The write-up is one of the most critical aspects of research, if you wish your work to be useful for anything other than lining the bottom of a birdcage. You may be very pleased with your work, and rightly so. However, if you do not present your findings in the correct format it cannot be independently verified. The importance of the scientific method, is that others can independently take your findings, your evidence, your methods, and arrive at the same or similar conclusions as you did. This is why you always keep your evidence and your conclusions separate and easily identifiable. “… and never the twain shall meet …”
If you follow this method accurately, you will find most of your critics attacking you and not your work. In most of those cases, it will be people who feel they need to defend their work against your work. Do not take this personally, particularly if you are writing about a controversial subject, or one where people’s livelihood or prestige could be decreased because of your findings. Take the good with the bad, listen to constructive criticism, and move on to your next research subject.
- Titanic on Twitter: Living history one tweet at a time (news.cnet.com)
- Titanic Map Shows ‘Entire Crime Scene’ (abcnews.go.com)
2 responses to “My Research Methods: Part Two”
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