Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
JimLucas

Methods

Recommended Posts

It seems to me that Göran publicly speculates far too much without any evidence. And, as Jim says, far too much of this gets taken as accepted truth.
To which I responded: "Wes, you've completely changed the topic, so in responding I'm starting a new Topic: 'Methods'. Here it is.

 

My purpose is to consider the methods we use not only for establishing what we believe to be historically "true", but how the way we present our speculations, theories, "facts", references, and arguments influences other people's beliefs. And it's not just about which items we believe, but what we believe about those items. E.g., if someone says that "Lachenal worked for Wheatstone", do we automatically picture him as working on the Wheatstone premises, without consciously considering the possibilities of subcontracting or consulting work?

 

I don't intend here to draw any specific conclusions about what did or didn't happen, but instead to examine the process.of drawing conclusions, and as a first illustrative example, I'll consider the item from the "Which Wheatstone?" Topic, which led me initiate this Topic: What was the relationship between Louis Lachenal (LL) and the Wheatstone firm before LL became listed as an independent concertina maker?

 

Göran Rahm (GR) started the discussion by quoting from an interview of Tommy Williams (TW) by Neil Wayne (NW), apparently to support his suggestion that Charles Wheatstone's (CW) role in the invention/design/development of the concertina was less than commonly believed/assumed and further that his brother William might have played a significant role.

 

Now some of us reading this Forum know that NW is an authority on concertinas and their history, who has done a great deal of research. The rest of us probably concluded the same simply because he was mentioned as the interviewer. But that would have been an assumption, a leap of faith, and possibly even more powerful for being unconscious. As for TW, who's he? "Obviously" an authoritative source, or he wouldn't have been quoted. Furthermore, one might assume from the fact that he was interviewed that he was someone with first hand knowledge. I didn't know who he was, so that's what I assumed, but it was just an assumption, until I learned more

 

I didn't doubt TW's authority or what he said, so it might have ended there. But I did some further research -- not because I doubted the quote, but because I wasn't convinced of its relevance to GR's argument, and I just generally wanted to learn more, -- and I quickly found reason to doubt TW's authority. First of all, he apparently had never been personally associated with the Wheatstone firm. Furthermore, he apparently wasn't even born until more than 50 years after the events reported in the quote. I.e, his "facts", if that's what they were, could not have been obtained first hand.

 

Wes Willams (WW) also raised the issue of TW's reliability, based on the dates, but also on apparent conflicts between his account and information from other sources that WW considers more reliable. He quotes George Jones (GJ), noting that it's a "contemporary account", but not further describing GJ's conection to concertinas. Those of us who don't already know are left to assume that GJ is important and reliable, simply because WW quoted him. (Some of us do know that he made concertinas, if only from instruments appearing on eBay. Fewer know that he wrote a Tutor for the Chromatic Anglo Concertina, that he patented an "improved" 42-button layout for the anglo, or that he may have been the first to combine English concertina engineering with the German keyboard, now known as the 20-button "anglo".)

 

WW also quotes TW on Chidley's responsibility for "the initial development". How many of us thought that 1) in this case WW was using TW as a "reliable" source to counter GR's suggestion that WW played a significant role, how many assumed that 2) WW was suggesting that GR selectively quoted TW in order to avoid undermining his own suggestion, and how many thought 3) WW had some other purpose in presenting the quote? I first thought (1), but quickly decided that (2) was more consistent. I didn't bother asking WW what he actually intended, because to me his purpose didn't matter, only how I thought his quote affected GR's argument.

 

Well, it's not my purpose to settle such issues here, so let me shift my focus to another detail: How reliable or unreliable should we consider TW to be as a source of information on the association between LL and CW or the Wheatstone company? As WW noted, "...he repeated what he had heard from others...." But I don't think that alone should invalidate what he says. Instead, we need to ask who those "others" were, what credibility we should give to their accounts, and how accurately we think TW repeated what they told him. Well, TW worked for the Lachenal company, which must have been small enough for everyone to know everyone else. This would suggest that TW got his information from someone who knew LL personally, and possibly even from LL, himself. Is there any reason to believe that either LL or one of his employees (including TW) would have deliberately altered the account of events? Are the apparent discrepancies between TW's accounts and other sources such that one might reasonably ascribe them to misunderstanding or exaggeration? Or is it possible that the accounts are all accurate, and it's our interpretation of them which is at fault?

 

I'm tending toward answers of no, no, and yes to those three questions. As I've suggested in the "Which Wheatstone?" Topic, I suspect that the real problem could be that "we" have been interpreting such terms as "worked for", "managed", and "manager" differently from what was intended by our sources. I'm not going to debate that interpretation here, because 1) it's not what this Topic is about, and 2) I'm not claiming it to be fact. While I believe it's consistent with the evidence that I'm aware of, it isn't necessarily the only consistent interpretation, and there may be other, contradictory evidence that I'm not yet aware of. I haven't yet seen the entire TW interview, and I wouldn't be surprised if there are relevant documents I haven't even heard of.

 

An important principle of good research is that uncertainty is OK, and acknowledging uncertainty is mandatory. True research is a search for the truth... not a program to bolster a particular theory or to establish authority. And if there is uncertainty, then that fact itself is part of the truth. But establishing uncertainty also requires evidence, i.e., there must at least be some reasonable argument to support each proposed alternative.

 

Now one problem with the presentation of evidence is that it is always done selectively. I'm not saying that this is bad. In fact, it's necessary, and I've already done it several times in this post. Neither the presenter nor the listener/reader has the time (or space) to include all the facts, supporting facts, facts to support supporting facts, etc. The problem comes when the particular selection is perceived as being misleading. This can be particularly difficult -- and contentious -- in a Forum like this one, where the experience of participants ranges from absolute newbies to the world's experts. The level of detail needed to prevent misinterpretation by the former might well be 100 time that which would be adequate for the latter on a particular topic, and some sort of compromise is required. Where to draw the line will always be a personal choice, and we're bound to have disputes regarding particular posts or statements, but if we want to discuss these issues in a general way, I think that this Topic should be a good place to do it.

 

One last item: If you've bothered to read this post, you have probably also seen some of the exchanges involving Jim Lucas (myself), Göran Rahm, and Wes Williams. Without actually saying so, we present ourselves as authorities simply by our authoritative manner. Are we really authorities? What are our "credentials"? At the risk of being corrected by Göran and Wes (or even others), I'll try to answer that now:

 

Over the past year I've become aware -- through statements of others whose authority I respect, as well as through personal exchange -- that Wes is a significant authority on concertina history in England, who has done much original personal research. I believe he has an advantage over Göran and myself in having greater access to both original documents and other authorities in the field.

 

For information on the early history of concertinas, I believe that Göran, like myself, is pretty much restricted to interpreting the work of others, both what has been published and much that has been obtained through private communication. For more recent history, each of the three of us has our own personal sources. I believe Göran's personal sources are mainly Swedish, with some English, and that Wes' are primariliy English. My own have been mostly (but not exclusively) American, with many -- though not all -- from New York City. Our individual sources -- or our interpretations of them -- don't always agree... and neither do we.

 

But we three are certainly not the only, nor the greatest, authorities on concertinas and their history. And each has particular areas of greater concentration and expertise. We three just happen to be among the prolific few here on Concertina.net.

 

Well, the above may have bored you to death, but I'm hoping that instead it might stimulate some of you to respond with your own perspectives and opinions. Your turn. ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
  How many of us thought that 1) in this case WW was using TW as a "reliable" source to counter GR's suggestion that WW played a significant role

By one of those (rare?) historical co-incidences, Wes Williams (WW) shares initials with William Wheatstone (WW). Some careful reading was required here to avoid confusion.

 

- John Wild

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

  How many of us thought that 1) in this case WW was using TW as a "reliable" source to counter GR's suggestion that WW played a significant role

By one of those (rare?) historical co-incidences, Wes Williams (WW) shares initials with William Wheatstone (WW). Some careful reading was required here to avoid confusion.

True, though careful readers should note that I made explicit parethetical assignments of initials, but assigned none to WW. That, and the fact that it would have been difficult for William W. to use as a source someone who was born almost 40 years after his own death. :)

 

Inordinate number of W initials involved with concertinas, it seems. Charles and William Wheatstone (CW & WW), Neil Wayne (NW), Wes Williams (WW again) and Wim Wakker (WW yet again), John Wild (JW), Bernard Wrigley (BW) and Bob Webb (both BWs, who sing respectively with bass English and Maccann duet),.... Maybe we should start a cult around concertinas and the letter "W". ;) No? Good! :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Jim: This would suggest that TW got his information [from someone who knew LL personally, and] possibly even from LL, himself

 

And unless Tommy was extremely skilled with a Ouija board, he would have had considerable trouble getting any information from somebody who died about 40 years before he was born. Anybody begining to get the idea why I object strongly to the speculative threads on this forum?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Jim: This would suggest that TW got his information [from someone who knew LL personally, and] possibly even from LL, himself
And unless Tommy was extremely skilled with a Ouija board, he would have had considerable trouble getting any information from somebody who died about 40 years before he was born.

Good point. There are many gaps in my knowledge, and one of them is that I don't know when most the various individuals were born and died. If there's a compilation of such information, I don't know where it is. (This could be because I haven't looked carefully enough.) If there isn't, maybe somebody could compile one? (Other significant dates would also be nice.) It might at least save me from some of my more serious errors.

 

Now that I've had a chance to read the full Tommy Williams interview (thanks, Wes) I can see that 1) he himself says, " The Lachenal family had all died out when I was there," and 2) there are various points on which his accounts differ significantly from other sources I know (and there are many sources I haven't yet seen). In fact, some of those differences suggest to me that someone(s) in the line of transmission to Tommy did embellish various facts, though I don't know enought be absolutely sure. (I've been directed to an article on Lachenal published in the Free Reed Journal.) I guess it's time to crawl into a hole and catch up on my concertina reading. There's actually quite a bit of published research that I haven't yet looked at.

Anybody begining to get the idea why I object strongly to the speculative threads on this forum?
Nevertheless, they will occur. In my opinion, the best thing you can do when that happens is to provide references to more accurate and complete information that can answer the speculation. Simple facts, like the 40-year gap you mention, are also very useful.

 

Meanwhile, I'll try to increase my own familiarity with sources, so that I can better avoid being mired by my own ignorance.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I don't know when most the various individuals were born and died. If there's a compilation of such information, I don't know where it is. .. If there isn't, maybe somebody could compile one? (Other significant dates would also be nice.)

 

Try the timeline here for the basics: www.lvcott.fsnet.co.uk. Some entries are now inaccurate because of more recent research, but the general picture is still valid. An update to the 'Other Makers' part of the 'Dating your Concertina' article on this site is also located there.

 

Wes:Anybody begining to get the idea why I object strongly to the speculative threads on this forum?

 

Jim:Nevertheless, they will occur. In my opinion, the best thing you can do when that happens is to provide references to more accurate and complete information that can answer the speculation.

And so here we are full circle again -

 

'The concertina was invented by the German physicist Chladni. Wheatstone read Chladni's paper and stole the idea, enforcing his claim of invention by obtaining a spurious patent on a mouth blown version.'

 

Ridiculous? - you disprove it! I insist it is correct! Resistance is futile!

 

How long before someone puts forward this theory on the net as a valid proposition ... I have a recollection of seeing somewhere .. it has been said that .. I've read that...

 

Anyway, it'll be a link between 'Concertina' and 'Chladni' in search engines, and quoted without any of the surrounding text, within a few weeks.

 

Again: Anybody begining to get the idea why I object strongly to the speculative threads on this forum? Speculate as much as you want privately - its how progress is made - but is here the right place?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Wes:"Again: Anybody begining to get the idea why I object strongly to the speculative threads on this forum? Speculate as much as you want privately - its how progress is made - but is here the right place? "

 

Goran: I could well 'from heart' sympathize with your feeling about the spread on the net of not very substantiated statements but frankly....you/we could fight it in vain till we die without changing ANYTHING. It is like it is...a mess of 'information'..some great, some vague, some untrue.....you have to use your judgement whatever kind you use of it.

"A discussion forum" ....I can't tell but WHO can 'what is the proper content of messages to this forum'...Our host Paul has in very general terms given some hints but when it comes to 'quality' matters....who is to decide?? I rather mean that this IS the right place for a vivid, open, progressive, speculative, provocative ....or whatever debate. One thing is clear.. it is NOT a 'scientific' or 'academic' meeting place in which (if it were...) there could be 'some' (rather vague but still..) established 'manners' and 'methods' to observe. We....'the concertina community'....here in my eyes rather constitute a 'wild bunch' and isn't that the basic charm of it??

Of course there could be agreements about restrictions, ways to present references, and establishment of subgroups of 'experts' and 'threads for experts only' or whatever you might like to call that but I rather reject that kind of development fearing it would soon turn into some or other reputation for snobbism.

I did try to initiate some discussions on 'ethical' debate issues a couple of times on the late "Forum" but evidently that was not appreciated. ´Basically my impression is that most participants in these discussions are happy doing 'just' what they are and nothing else...but an inquiry might give the answer....

 

I do think however that sometimes a bit more could be done to cooperate in order to structure some specifically interesting topics and hopefully get more 'real' results from the discussions. Sometimes a conclusive 'consensus' would be nice...but who?? is going to write it down???

 

Goran

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Try the timeline here for the basics: www.lvcott.fsnet.co.uk. Some entries are now inaccurate because of more recent research, but the general picture is still valid. An update to the 'Other Makers' part of the 'Dating your Concertina' article on this site is also located there.

And there's another danger of the internet. Many posted pages are never updated, even after the author acknowledges errors. It shouldn't be that hard to edit a web page... but apparently for many people, it is.

 

And corrections should never be placed in a separate document/web page. The orignal should be updated, so that the errors will no longer be available for propagation.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
'The concertina was invented by [...]. Wheatstone read  [...]'s paper and stole the idea,

 

Ridiculous?  -  you disprove it!  I insist it is correct! Resistance is futile!

 

[...]

The scary thing is that Wes is probably right, in which case we can all blame him when his statement is returned to us. :)

 

It's for that reason that I didn't make a counterclaim, complete with reference to an obscure -- because fictitious -- scholarly journal.

 

Reminds me of a science fiction story where a deliberately incorrect physical theory based on a fictitious mathematical paper played a central role.

 

But there's the story of the American congressman who is said to have secured passage of a new law using a New York Times quote of one of our government's founding fathers in a convincing argument. Only after the vote did someone think to look up the quote, only to find that on the date of the "quote" the New York Times didn't yet exist.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Three mails, three responses:

 

1. Discussion isn't the same thing as speculation. If this is a

"discussion forum", then discuss things with a minimum of

speculation. Vivid, open, progressive, provocative .. but not

so speculative that they need a thesis to prove/disprove them,

(unless one is provided with the speculation?) - see 3.

 

2. Damned for not providing more recent information...

....and damned for trying to to provide more recent

information?

 

3. The speculation contains three true and provable facts,

no fictitious claims required.

It would take much in-depth research to disprove it.

Why post similarly constructed speculations here and challenge

someone else to prove/disprove them? Isn't that a kind of

snobbery?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Three mails, three responses:

 

1. Discussion isn't the same thing as speculation.

I agree, though even if everyone agrees in principle, there are bound to be disagreements over where the boundary lies.

Damned for not providing more recent information... and damned for trying to to provide more recent information?
Absolutely, though not damned by me. It's just the way the world -- especially human society -- works. (I've just been reading something on the mathematics of fairness, which quotes a proof that complete fairness is is not possible in general.)
The speculation contains three true and provable facts, no fictitious claims required.
Interesting. I had assumed from the way it was presented that the speculation was a complete fantasy. Now I am curious.
Why post similarly constructed speculations here and challenge someone else to prove/disprove them? Isn't that a kind of snobbery?
Not snobbery. I really thought that your Chladni example was completely fictitious and intended as a joke, to demonstrate how ridiculouos fictions could become "fact". I was tempted to respond in kind, as a sort of counter-joke. Now I'm especially glad that I didn't do that, since it seems I seriously misinterpreted what you were doing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It is also true that (Alfred?) Nobel wasn't the first to invent dynamite..... but he was the first to survive !!!

 

 

For clarification: This is definitely a joke (though not much of one).

 

Clive.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...