Thursday, May 1, 2008

Don't Trust Everything You Read in Books, Part 274

A new biography of King Louis XIV's mistress, Madame de Maintenon, got the whole way through the editorial process at Bloomsbury (one of the more prestigious British publishing houses) without anybody noticing that one of its sources, a “diary” supposedly written by the king, was actually historical fiction.

Stories like this (as well as 6.5 years of working in the publishing industry) are a big part of why I worry that traditional information literacy instruction does a disservice to students by encouraging them to rely on external authority cues (Was it published by a reputable publisher and/or in a peer-reviewed journal?) rather than on internal accuracy cues (Do their numbers add up? Can you track down and verify their sources?) when evaluating information. Not everything that's made it through the editorial process is true, and not everything on the Web is false, and it seems like students would be much better served by learning how to evaluate the truth of the message rather than the “trustworthiness” of the medium.

1 comment:

alanajoli said...

Heh, amusing that there's all the fuss these days about false biographies, but we're fine using historical fiction in *place* of a biography as a source... I'm glad they caught this one as well!