Friday, September 14, 2012

Evidence and Skepticism

An article was recently pointed out to me. It discusses skepticism vs. cynicism with scientific facts, but when I read it, I immediately thought of historical costume research. I was already just on this topic yesterday in my own head. With the explosion of the internet and the surge of blogging, pinning, tweeting, etc, I have come upon many instances where people will say "that is not period" when I, personally, have seen evidence that proves such an item IS period. This sometimes even happens with those of immense status in the SCA, unfortunately, as much as I would like to believe all such people are like those I most admire, open minded and reasonable/logical.

This article discusses the importance of having actual evidence, or proof, that something exists or does not exist. We can use critical thinking to extrapolate ideas from limited evidence, which is often what we must do in costume research. However, we cannot say for certain that something exists unless we observe that it does. Similarly, we cannot say that something does not exist unless we prove that it does not. The latter can be quite difficult in historical costuming, which is why I often will say things like "I don't have evidence for this," not "it definitely did not exist." (Think about those Lengberg bras, for example, a discovery that changed a lot of our ideas!) Admittedly, I have become much more careful in the way I word things now that I teach classes.

Having a background in scientific research, this type of thought process and assertion of evidence is something I had to start learning in college. I realize that this is new for some, but it still bothers me that so many people will just make wild assumptions based on very limited research. Go out and do the work to see if you're right, people! Or just say that you haven't seen it in your own research. That's fine. No one expects you to be totally schooled on every detail of all history. Plus, you can always ask someone for direction if you find they know more about a specific era than you do.

Anyway, check it out if you're interested! It made me think a bit.

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