[APG Public List] Native American Research

Ray Beere Johnson II raybeere at yahoo.com
Fri Feb 19 15:33:21 MST 2010


--- On Fri, 2/19/10, L. Boswell <laboswell at rogers.com> wrote:

> Good points, and I agree with what you're saying, except that I'm not 
> sure that a passion for the subject is always necessarily going to give
> the researcher an edge over someone who has a less passionate interest. 
> I'd defer to a competent, objective approach if given the choice.
> I'm not passionate about Norwegian research, but I'm reasonably 
> competent up to a point which I have clearly defined. I think with 
> pure passion there might be a danger of bias creeping in?  Though I 
> think you can be passionate and objective at the same time, if 
> you're aware of the need to not to let the former direct the latter.

     Some interesting thoughts, and many of us may manage to be objective enough in most cases, but there is _always_ some inherent bias if we take paying clients. After all, we want to satisfy the client. Nothing wrong with that, but any researcher who denies some hope the result of their work will leave the client happy is fooling themselves.
     Although I don't and wouldn't question your competence in Norwegian research, I can't help noticing that you yourself qualify it by the phrase _up to a point_. And passion will only lead to questionable results if it is directed elsewhere than _the subject itself_. If I am interested in First Nations research, or Irish research, or any other specialty, as an end in itself, then my passion will urge me to learn that area well and to discover _the truth_. Without that passion, I'd have to qualify my competence as "up to a point". :-) And, although it won't matter in many areas, I won't have any special counterbalance to my inclination to keep the client happy.
     My specific concerns with First Nations research are, first, that "up to a point" does far less good here than in many areas, second, that the inherent bias to satisfy clients is worst when the client has specific expectations (see below), and third, that it is much more difficult to satisfy those expectations than in many other areas. All of those factors make it much more likely that only a researcher truly committed to the subject will do good work.
     As for the issue of specific expectations, this is what I mean: a client who wants to know who their ancestors are, or find out what happened to great-grandpa who disappeared out West, or whatever, want answers but are not expecting a specific result. Clients who are already convinced that they have First Nations ancestry, or royal or noble ancestry, or any other popular fantasy, expect one particular result and will not be happy with anything else. That, by definition, increases the pressure on the researcher to come up with the results they want. Even if a researcher is too honest to fabricate results - as most certainly are - that pressure can hardly avoid influencing your judgment. In an area where solid proof is difficult to come by, that is a real concern.
     In, say, Norwegian research, where clients who are determined to prove they are Norwegian no doubt exist but are not terribly common, it is not such a concern. If being Norwegian suddenly became both culturally prestigious and potentially financially rewarding, then I'd have the same concerns about Norwegian research. And notice that my own concerns didn't rule out research _up to a point_ - I objected to the idea of anyone _specialising_ in such research because they perceived a need for it. Had I realised the original poster operated in Oklahoma, my concern would have been even greater - that area is the focus of a huge number of historical frauds and forgeries (the Osage provide a horrific example of this), and is also the focus of most of the wildest fantasies (the Cherokee account for well over half of all First Nations ancestry in popular belief, if not in fact).
                         Ray Beere Johnson II


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