Questioning "Authorities"

Subject: Questioning "Authorities"
From: "George F. Hayhoe" <george -at- GHAYHOE -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 26 May 1999 11:02:38 -0400

Matt Nankin wrote:

<< Perhaps what is appropriate for this list is to take a
moment to
encourage everyone who is a member of the STC to be more
active in
questioning printed articles from our professional
society.

I believe Letters to the Editor in a professional
publication represent the
highest forum for critical thought and discussion.
Although I don't
doubt the sincere efforts of the people putting these
publications out,
there have been times when I have to wonder about the
articles that are
published---particularly in the national publications.

It is unfortunate that being in print often confers a
legitimacy on
articles (particularly those involving academic research!)
that they
do not deserve.>>

I applaud Matt's recommendation to question what authors
write and what editors print in the professional
publications of our field, both from STC and from other
organizations. This kind of engagement with ideas enlarges
our understanding of what others have contributed and
promotes original insights. In other words, it makes us grow
professionally.

At the same time, I disagree with Matt when he says that the
fact that an article is printed gives it legitimacy. There's
little about our profession that has the authority of
"revealed truth." Instead, ideas are put forward for
reaction--in precisely the way that Matt has just suggested.
This dialectic of scientific inquiry has been the norm for
professional organizations such as STC at least since the
founding of the Royal Society in England nearly 340 years
ago.

As editor of one of the publications Matt alluded to, I
sometimes accept articles I don't entirely agree with
because the peer reviewers and I think that the authors
present ideas worthy of debate. Publication itself confers
no authority; it is the general acceptance of some ideas
after the debate that confers "canonical" status on them. So
by all means, we should question what is published, write
letters to the editor, even write our own articles to
respond to what is published.

This kind of debate should happen more often, not less.
Indeed, it's the entire point of having such publications.

--George Hayhoe (george -at- ghayhoe -dot- com)
Editor, _Technical Communication_

George Hayhoe Associates
Voice: +1 (803) 642-2156
Fax: +1 (803) 642-9325
http://www.ghayhoe.com

Winner
APEX '98 Award for Publication Excellence

Awards of Distinguished Technical Communication
South Carolina/Carolina Foothills STC Chapters
1998-99 Technical Publications Competition

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