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Slide Notes

This presentation is intended to illustrate the importance of correctly citing primary sources by using the case of a public figure, Attorney General Eric Holder, who quoted an erroneous statistic and was taken to task for it by opponents. I want to point out that the message of this presentation is not that any of the people who cited erroneously were malicious or incompetent. It is all too easy to make the types of errors that we are going to look at here. The message here is simply that failing to check primary sources can invite criticism that could be avoided.

Why cite?

Published at Nov 18, 2015
On the importance of identifying and retrieving primary sources to use for organizational research.

PRESENTATION OUTLINE

Why cite Primary sources?

A Case Study With Basic Principles
This presentation is intended to illustrate the importance of correctly citing primary sources by using the case of a public figure, Attorney General Eric Holder, who quoted an erroneous statistic and was taken to task for it by opponents. I want to point out that the message of this presentation is not that any of the people who cited erroneously were malicious or incompetent. It is all too easy to make the types of errors that we are going to look at here. The message here is simply that failing to check primary sources can invite criticism that could be avoided.

"An interesting game of telephone"

Our Case Study:
Recently, Eric Holder was criticized by Glen Kessler in the Washington Post "Fact Checker" column for quoting an erroneous statistic. Kessler called the it "...an interesting case of a game of telephone being played with a factoid, in which the original statistic has become lost from its moorings." The erroneous statement in question is at the bottom of this slide. Holder said, “Disturbingly, intimate partner homicide is the leading cause of death for African American women ages 15 to 45.” That statistic turns out to be incorrect. Heart diseases are actually the leading cause of death for African American women ages 15 to 45, followed by cancer, and accidents... homicide comes in at number 5, but we'll get to how we know that. For now, let's look at how Attorney General Holder ended up quoting this erroneous statistic and how it might have been avoided.

Kessler, Glenn. “Holder’s 2009 Claim That Intimate-Partner Homicide Is the Leading Cause of Death for African American Women.” Washington Post, December 18, 2013. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/wp/2013/12/18/holders-2009-claim-that-intimate-partner-homicide-is-the-leading-cause-of-death-for-african-american-women/.

identify the Primary source

Principle 1:
A sentence very similar to Holder's quote occurs in a 2003 report published in the American Journal of Public Health. The quote reads "Femicide, the homicide of women, is the leading cause of death in the United States among young African American women aged 15 to 45 years and the seventh leading cause of premature death among women overall."

Campbell, Jacquelyn C., Daniel Webster, Jane Koziol-McLain, Carolyn Block, Doris Campbell, Mary Ann Curry, Faye Gary, et al. “Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results From a Multisite Case Control Study.” American Journal of Public Health 93, no. 7 (July 2003): 1089–97.

How to identify the primary source

The purpose of the report that Holder took this quote from was not to identify the leading cause of death in African American women aged 15-45, the purpose of the report was- as its title and stated objective suggests- to identify risk factors for femicide- the killing of women- in abusive relationships. Since Holder was not making a statement about risk factors in abusive relationships, this was not the report for him to cite. The report only gave that erroneous statistic by way of background information- to show the importance of the topic- it was not the primary concern of the authors and therefore not a candidate for rigorous vetting. If a piece of information is not the main point of a report or study, it should be treated with extra caution. Holder or his staff should have dug more deeply into the basis for that quote by looking into the citation.

locate the primary source

Principle 2:
Track citations. Look up the source that is being cited and see if it really says what the authors say it is saying. In this case, the authors cite a 1998 Department of Justice report titled, "Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends." We can search for this on the web.

Greenfield LA, Rand MR, Craven D, et al. Violence by Intimates: Analysis of Data on Crimes by Current or Former Spouses, Boyfriends, and Girlfriends. Washington, DC: US Dept of Justice; 1998.

Identify alternatives

Principle 3:
While perusing the Uniform Crime Reports and National Crime Victimization Survey is instructive, I am going to save us some time and point out that the statistic in question is not to be found in those resources. Now is a good time for us to start considering alternatives: I am talking about both possible alternative sources for the information that we want and possible alternative information that we could use if the information that we want doesn't exist. We want to know the leading causes of death for African American Women, so we might to search for "leading causes of death" and see if we can narrow down to African American women. If we know a little about the government organization that is responsible for tracking causes of death and other so called "vital statistics" we might focus our search on the Centers for Disease Control Website.

keep track of your information

Principle 4:

keep track of your information

Principle 4: