If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer, especially when conveying information that people might not find so believable, is to do vast amounts of research and then document the sources of my reference material. If people don’t believe me, instead of just ranting that I don’t know what I’m talking about, it gives them an avenue to explore to find out for themselves. Chances are they’re going to check things out before making themselves look potentially stupid, and it pretty much always works. I don’t remember anyone ever having to correct one of my articles, but I’ve had people argue with me when I’ve commented on theirs. Of course, that has a lot to do with people not wanting to be ‘shown up’ on their own work.
There have been a couple of people that I’ve ‘picked on’ when it comes to them spouting off crap they obviously know nothing about. One of which was a medical doctor who had no apparent knowledge of the drugs he was prescribing. Granted, a pharmacist knows more about prescription drugs than a physician does. That’s their whole job, so doctors often consult with them before prescribing something they may not fully understand.
Another person I’ve picked on was the woman saying gay marriage was the same thing as paedophilia and incest. Give me a break. There’s a question of consent there, if nothing else. I let her have it. Then she started quoting the bible, and it seems to me like she’s never actually read it, so I let her have it for that too.
The most recent person I was a lot nicer to, because I think he’s trying to help people. However, he was blathering on about cancer being a modern disease, and being caused by genetics, when I know that isn’t the case. I left him a comment letting him know what the facts are, and told him it wasn’t good for his business to sound like he didn’t know what he was talking about. I did say I wasn’t arguing that cancer couldn’t be dealt with the way he said, but by not having his facts straight people weren’t going to believe him. 90% of cancers now are from environmental issues, particularly lifestyle choices like smoking. Cancer was first documented and treated surgically by the Egyptians as early as 1600 BC.
Yes, we as humans have been dealing with cancer since at least 1600 BC. I prefer the term BCE (before common era), but try getting everyone else to use that dating system. It’s an uphill battle. Considering the fact that only a third of the world’s population are Christian, that confounds me, but there you go.
If you don’t believe me type History of Cancer in the search box on Wikipedia (or just click on the link I’ve used to make it really easy for you). If you haven’t heard of Wikipedia, Google it, but I don’t hold out much hope for your research capabilities if you don’t know what Wikipedia is.
Sometimes people try to say stupid things like, “Well, everyone knows how unreliable Wikipedia is,” and I have to laugh at them. Wikipedia is hands-down the best available source of information that is constantly being corrected, updated and argued against. Experts all over the world dispute any false claims made on the site, and research documentation is provided in vast quantities.
Text books are one of your worst sources of information, especially if they haven’t been printed in the last year. Information changes all the time, and the latest facts and figures were likely not known at the time of printing, even with the most recent edition. Then there’s the gap between printing and distribution. Also, if there is an error printed in them it can be overlooked for a very long time, re-printed over and over. After all, how many people read a textbook cover-to-cover? Wikipedia is maintained by the world on a daily or even hourly basis, depending on how popular a topic is. Before an article is even allowed to be posted on the site, it is vetted by people who are knowledgable enough to do so. Sources are checked.
If I’m writing an article, even if I use a source other than Wikipedia for information, I still end up on Wikipedia to be certain the information I’m getting is accurate. As an experienced writer and researcher I feel I get the best quality of information from it. There are things missing on the site, and one day if I get around to doing the scads of research it would take to submit an article to them, I will be able to contribute. Believe me, the requirements for contribution are quite high. You have to prove, hands-down, that the information you submit is 100% accurate, so while the information might not always be there, what is there is generally correct.
So, now you’re wondering where I feel Wikipedia falls down, I suppose. Well, their list of Canadian serial killers is very incomplete. Serge Archambault is a good example. Sure, they have Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, as well as Robert Pickton, the so-called pig farmer, and Clifford Olson. These cases are very well-known. Canada has more of a problem than people think, however. I have a list of dozens more, and I doubt very much that my own list is complete.
I’m not sure if our government has managed to hire a profiler as of yet (although I have my doubts as to their efficacy), but many years ago I met a woman who wanted to be one and mentioned to me that Canada didn’t have any because they didn’t want to admit they had serial killers. Well, good luck keeping that little fact under wraps in the information age. At the time I think the FBI only had four of them, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a lot more now. I have no idea, since it’s not something I’ve research, and I don’t intend to blather on about someone I have no knowledge on.
On the subject of profiling itself, though, I don’t believe there’s been a single case of a profiler being responsible for the apprehension of a serial killer. A profile gives only general guidelines into which any number of people could fit. I think they’re pretty much a huge waste of money in that respect, especially since they’re not always right, and if memory serves they’re wrong quite a bit. The danger in following a profile is that the investigators follow different leads based on the profile. If the profile is wrong it may be the one thing that allows a killer to evade capture. That’s even worse than a waste of money. As I said, I don’t have a lot of hard facts on this subject, and it’s a matter of opinion. I’ve read up on the subject, but that’s about it.
I guess this is the benefit of a blog. I can say what I like without having to worry too much about the facts and references. Writing an article that will be read by hundreds, or sometimes thousands, of people, I have a responsibility to document only the truth. Facts are important if they’re being used in the piece. Opinion pieces are a bit different for obvious reasons, although any argument I make that is based on fact still has to be documented.
I find it very disturbing, the poor level of research a lot of writers do. People read articles online and think they’re getting quality information, when that often isn’t the case. The level of irresponsibility is insane. If you’re going to write a piece based on opinion, you need to make it clear that it is just an opinion. If you’re going to write a fact-based piece, provide references to your sources and make sure your sources are good ones, not another poorly researched piece (of which there is a plethora). Your good sources should have good sources.
This is where the actual work of writing comes in. A lot of people want to write, but it doesn’t make them good at it. Some people are good at writing interesting things, which is a talent in itself, but that doesn’t make them accurate either. Writing involves research, plain and simple. Fiction is the only writing that you can get away with poor research and artistic licence. Well, it’s the only writing in which you should be able to get away with it. Even then, however, unless you’re writing about a fantasy world that has no relationship to the real world, you’re still better off knowing some things about reality. Historical novels mean historical research. Science fiction requires research into scientific principles that relate to your story.
In the movie Basic Instinct, Sharon Stone’s character uses the term, “Suspension of disbelief”, and it’s a really great term for what fiction writers have to do. The only way to accomplish that is to make the fictional world as real as possible. When a reader stumbles onto a patently false statement, the suspension of disbelief fails utterly.
I remember a reference in a book about how one writer wrote that her character flew through the Windsor tunnel (in a car), and the critic of that asks, “Really? Without stopping for the Border Patrol?” Yeah, that would make for an interesting scene in real-life, wouldn’t it? In the book they simply went on their merry way, which is obviously not what’s going to happen if you cross the border without stopping, especially when it’s the border between Canada and the US, both of whom take entry into their country seriously. Just the import taxes alone give them good reason.
The strange nature of fiction is that in order for it to really work you have to use fact and reality to bolster it properly. Even with fantasy writing you at least have to be consistent with your alternate reality. If you make up a world, you make up the rules for it, and you have to follow them. Changing the rules will just make the whole thing silly and be an insult to the intelligence of the reader.
I guess the whole point of this ramble is a wish that writers would be more responsible regarding their creative endeavors. There’s enough misinformation and urban legend floating around without adding to it. Then again, people enjoy causing trouble in the world, and that impulse is pretty difficult to curtail.