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More on Identifying Expertise

August 16, 2013

In a posting in July (here) I offered advice, particularly for “general” readers, on how to assess proffered claims in books and on web sites in the area of NT & Christian origins.  I’ve recently come across a book by a respected American archaeologist that addresses a similar concern in his discipline:  Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries:  Science and Pseudo-Science in Archaeology, by Kenneth L. Feder (8th ed.; Boston:  McGraw-Hill, 2013).

Feder’s book, now in its 8th edition, is used in a number of courses in archaeology as collateral reading to help students learn how to assess the numerous goofy claims of the past (e.g., Chariots of the Gods; aliens as the source of the pyramids, etc.) and continuing bogus claims that now appear most frequently in non-scholar publications and on various web sites.  It’s an easy and informative read, and offers similar advice to mine.  The latest version of his book to hand for me is the 5th edition (2006).  In more recent editions, there are additional examples, but the basic advice remains the same.  Here’s a summary from his preface (p. xvii of the 5th edition) on how do you know whether some claim is to be treated as validly based or a hoax.

  • Where did the claim emerge, and where was it published?  In peer-reviewed venues (e.g., scholarly journals, scholarly conferences, books from peer-reviewed publishers), or simply launched on an unsuspecting world, bypassing peer-review?  If the latter, beware, and give it a “country-mile” of cautionary distance.
  • Who is posting the claim/view?  Is it a scholar in the field with demonstrated expertise (e.g., through refereed publications in the subject)?  If not, again, it’s probably not worth your time.
  • What is the basis for the view/claim?  Does the proponent use acknowledged evidence, critically-tested method(s), etc.?  If not, well, you get the message.
  • Are other experts in this subject referred to and drawn upon?  If not, then it’s probably because the view has no respect by other experts.  It might be a genuine innovation, but it’s more likely it’s some pseudo-scholarly pet theory.

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