In the title to this post, I use for the definition of "conundrum" that of an intricate and difficult problem. The question was raised by Martin Hollick, author of
Hollick, Martin E. New Englanders in the 1600s: A Guide to Genealogical Research Published between 1980 and 2005. Boston, Mass: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2006.
in his post, "Shepardizing Your Genealogy" "How do we connect the average researcher with this latest and greatest information?"
The term "shepardizing" derives from a legal service begun by Frank Shepard (1848-1902) in 1873. The concept of the books was to provide a list of citations made to any law case by a subsequent case. So, for example, if the Supreme Court of U.S. decided a case the Shepards citations would list every case that cited the decision and indicated if the newer case overruled, upheld or modified the original decision. The Frank Shepard Company (later Shepard's Citations, Inc.) evolved over time by into a large multi-volume analysis of every court of record in the United States. The system was ultimately purchased by Lexis-Nexis in 1996.
I understand Martin's concern to be a method by which various genealogical researchers could be connected in a way that more recent research could be cited to subsequent research so that older conclusions could be modified in light of the later discoveries or theories. Some of the reasons the Shepard system worked included the fact that no one owned the court decisions and those decisions, almost universally, are not subject to anyone's claim of copyright. Shepard could cite to his heart's content without the threat of a lawsuit for stealing someone's work. Unfortunately, the same conditions do not exist in the genealogical world. Researcher's own their work! And they know it. Also judges are used to the idea that their decisions might get overruled. They may care or not, but whether they care or not does not matter. Higher courts overrule lower courts with impunity and among themselves, the various courts do not even have to agree with each other. The decisions in cases where the courts disagree end up in higher courts and ultimately in the U.S. Supreme Court. But, very few cases go as far as the U.S. Supreme Court.
However, there is no such august body of judges in genealogical community. If I disagree with a researcher somewhere across the country, there is no mechanism for our opinions to even cross, much less be subject to some sort of arbitration by a higher authority. Although there are those who characterize themselves as genealogical authorities, in the case of a disagreement over a historical fact, there is no one court of last resort. In court, no one really cares about how the opinion is written, it is the legal decision that counts. (Although you will often hear references to well written or badly written decisions). In the genealogical community, absent self publication, a poorly written opinion will unlikely be published at all.
In a comment to Martin's post, Linda Gardner describes a system interrelating family trees with a concern about avoiding duplication. She is essentially describing a wiki, or at least a wiki where changes must be cited to sources. In fact, in my opinion, a genealogical wiki like WeRelate.org is one way all of the information about a particular family can be correlated and updated in a regularized fashion. Unfortunately, this system of checks and balances is not universally accepted and is relatively unknown. I have had one of my major lines online at WeRelate for a considerable time for a fairly large family, I have also informed many of my family members of the availability for research without any interest shown at all.
But as long as genealogy is owned, it is unlikely that anything like a Shepard's citations will get a foothold.