Do Your Research

Do Your Research November 6, 2020

The phrase “do your research” gets bandied about online a lot. For most people this doesn’t mean the pursuit of advanced degrees, development of advanced skills relevant to a task, or long hours in the lab. What it means instead is Googling something. There have been a number of memes created about this, but they haven’t stemmed the tide of this phenomenon.

What is often missed is that people who claim to have “done their research” and ask you to “just Google it” and “do your research” are not doing something that anyone who speaks regularly of research would call research. They are certainly mimicking one of the steps involved in research, namely finding out what has been done prior to one’s own foray into the field. But even that they are not doing in the manner that it is practiced in the humanities or sciences. They aren’t seeking to survey the range of opinions but to find support for a view they wish to hold. It may not be one that they initially wished to hold as far as the specific opinion is concerned. But they may have a deeper desire, to believe themselves smarter and wiser than the world’s leading pundits and professors, that does determine them to reject mainstream expertise and trust sources which in fact have no greater insight, skill, or knowledge than themselves. That is the whole point, on one level: to believe that one is just as capable of deciding a matter as anyone else. This person without specialized training did it, and so can I.

If we substitute “run your own marathon” or “play your own violin” perhaps it will duly chasten those who are inclined to think in this way. In those domains we typically have no problem in recognizing that if you put us in the setting of an Olympic competition or a violin soloist competition most of us would literally and metaphorically not be in the running.

I wrote a while back about what happened when this same overconfidence that anyone can do anything led some to “do their own art restoration.” Here is what I thought could be taken away as a less on that occasion roughly 8 years ago:

Perhaps the best or at least the most relevant analogy for the sorts of subjects that I deal with is this: The figure of Jesus, like anyone and anything from the past, gets lost from view as a result of the passing of time. But an expert can often detect traces where an amateur’s eye will not, and make use of scholarly tools in order to carry out a restoration. It won’t bring Jesus as he originally was back into view, but it is the best that we human beings can accomplish.

When an amateur tries to do it, the result will most likely be a terrible distortion of the original, one that may not even look like a realistic human being, much less like the specific one whose image they were trying to “restore.”

Even experts can botch things. But amateurs are far more likely to do so, and when it comes to those without any relevant training and merely strong feelings and desire, the result will almost certainly be a disaster.

And so I think there is a lesson in all this, about the need for trained historians in any attempt to answer historical questions, just in the way trained artists are needed to address restoration of the past in art. And if you have a view of Jesus – whether positive or negative, that he doesn’t exist or looks like a second grader’s attempt to depict a hairy monkey – and are quite certain that you don’t need to rely on historians to tell you about him, then would you please consider that the Jesus that you love or hate or ignore, whom you are sure doesn’t exist or whom you have asked into your heart, may be “Beast Jesus” and not the historical figure Jesus of Nazareth?

We live in a time when some think it is a good thing to resist the “tyranny of the experts” and castigate a competing candidate because they will “listen to the scientists.” The root of the problem is not stupidity but something worse and far more dangerous, namely a lack of humility.

A few images related to “do your research” memes:

One more image on this topic. Seriously, if anyone wanted to usher in the “New World Order” is this how they would do it?

Restoring Jesus


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