The Dud

Standard

I was revved up this morning when this book arrived in my office from InterLibrary Loan:

The Medical Profession in 19th Century Florida by E. Ashby Hammond, Ph.D, published in 1996

The Medical Profession in 19th Century Florida by E. Ashby Hammond, Ph.D, published in 1996.

I’ve been waiting for this book for about three weeks — which is about how long it takes, depending on the book’s availability. (I’m not great at waiting around patiently for a book to arrive, in case you haven’t figured that out already.)

Titled The Medical Profession in 19th Century Florida, it is a biographical register of Florida physicians, written in a news-feature style by Dr. E. Ashby Hammond.

Of course, the first thing I do is look up Emmett’s father, Dr. Francis Wilson!

Check it out:

It starts out interestingly...

The tone is interesting…but immediately, I see errors.

For instance, line five is wrong. He DID graduate from a medical school, although he had to go back to finish school 20 years after he’d been in practice already.

When I see an error like that, and then, the writer uses the word “assumed” in the next line, I’m suspicious.

On the next page:

Numerous factual errors.

Numerous factual errors.

The researcher neither knew nor did much research on Dr. Francis C. Wilson. For example:

  • After the Civil War, Dr. Wilson did not move to Washington County, Florida. It was Escambia County, in 1866.
  • There was only one set of twins, Emmett (not Archibald) and Julian, who were born in Belize. There was never a child named “Perry.” That was Percy B. Wilson, who was also a physician (and, strangely, was not listed in this book).
  • Kate’s children were girls. The youngest girl was, however, named John. (More on her in my book.)

There are several more errors in this entry; I can’t trust this source now, which is too bad, given that his book is an 800-page tome. My expectation, given the author’s credential (a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina) and the size of this doorstop, was pretty high. Damn; well, I guess that will teach me about expectations and pre-judging a book by its look (and researcher’s credentials). I don’t mean to come down hard on a fellow writer, but it is hard finding new details about Emmett’s father; discovering the errors in this text just irritated me.

I wonder if Hammond had a fact-checker? Or, did he even bother to check his data?

The other thing that bugs me: I teach adult learners how to conduct research. I know for a fact that a number of adult learners will ONLY use the absolute minimum required sources to write their papers and call that “research.” Also, many students do not habitually cross-check their information with other sources, no matter how much one encourages them to do so.

If one of these adult learners (inadvertently) gets flawed research, and uses the flawed research in their paper, their conclusions are flawed. Their work is flawed.

E.W. Carswell. Source: Washington County Historical Society, Chipley, Florida

E.W. Carswell. Source: Washington County Historical Society, Chipley, Florida

See, this is the kind of thing that bothers me, as I write Emmett’s story. I worry about someone fact-checking my work, which is why I put a lot of time and effort into gathering and checking sources.

Hammond drew unsubstantiated conclusions based on the minimal sources he used. According to the research notes on Dr. Wilson’s page, Hammond looked at two census documents, a postmaster appointment record, and E.W Carswell’s book, Tempestuous Triangle (an interesting collection of historical features of Washington County, but very little concrete information about Dr. Wilson. I like the book, but it is not a serious or key source of information on Dr. Wilson).

Census reports can provide good information, but the census reporter often got information wrong. Hammond’s book was published in 1996; there was other data available to cross-check Dr. Wilson’s story. I wonder why that didn’t happen.

One good thing I got out of this today: It confirms that I’ve done a good job culling data so far.

The book goes back tomorrow. No big deal; I have a few other books on the way, and more work on my chapter — plus I found something pretty interesting I’ll share with you all later this weekend.

 

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