I got quite a storm of comments and blog posts from my recent post on inclusion or exclusivity. One comment in a post entitled "Inclusive or Exclusive? How About Just Accurate?" from Blogger Jenny Lanctot pointed out that "In my opinion, exhibiting professionalism in genealogy doesn’t mean that the folks who are researching only for themselves need to run out and get a degree in history. It means that researchers WANT their research to be accurate." She made several other statements that are starting me thinking, but I thought it interesting to address the issue of accuracy.
Presenting the dichotomy between the professional and the beginning genealogist as an issue of accuracy is overly simplistic. Part of the reason for this simplification is the assumption that professionals are de facto more accurate than beginners. Once again referring to my long background in a certain profession, I can say that a professional license does not guarantee accuracy. This of course, brings up the question of who defines a professional. Are "professionals" simply anyone who does good work at a high level of "professionalism." Or is this merely a circular argument?
I use lawyers and doctors as examples of organized professionals. In the not too distant past, neither of these current "professions" was at all regulated. In essence anyone could become a doctor or a lawyer by studying for a while and putting out a sign. The process by which these "unregulated" professions became regulated is long and involved, but the end product is that many states have "unauthorized practice" statutes that prevent non-professionals from practicing those "professions." Talking about professionalism in general begs the issue. My point is that genealogy is basically different than either medicine and law and I disagree with those who would move towards the legal or medical type of certification for genealogy. I have also pointed out that this type of regulation is extremely unlikely to happen because of the vanishingly small number of "professional genealogists" compared to other regulated professions.
Now, back to the issue of accuracy. Anyone who has looked carefully at a few dozen online family trees immediately realizes that accuracy is a major problem in genealogy. But isn't this just an artifact of a basically populist movement? There is absolutely no threshold of accuracy for submission of any information at all to an online family tree. In fact, if you search some of the online family trees carefully and know what to look for, you will find all sorts of contrived and imaginary family trees, some of which were created simply as teaching examples. I also know several "genealogists" who have been doing research for years that claim pedigrees back to Charlemagne and Adam. Is this accuracy? Now if you equate professionalism with accuracy, you can make the argument that accuracy is good, professionalism promotes accuracy, therefore professionalism (however it is defined) is good. Of course, to get to that point, you have to accept the inherent and assumed definitions of accuracy.
Accuracy is a slippery term. You can be completely accurate and completely wrong. The term is used in, at least, two completely different ways. Accuracy in the historical sense means reflecting or conformity to the facts. Accuracy also means precision or exactness in measuring. The second definition does not necessarily relate to genealogy as much as the first. The reason accuracy is slippery is that history doesn't always present us with the facts in a nice, neat package. It is not uncommon that names, dates and even places are recorded inaccurately. So do we copy inaccurate information accurately? Who determines what is accurate and what is not? Don't we come back to the Genealogical Proof Standard, rather than accuracy per se?
Focusing on the issue of exact measurement for accuracy, in science and specifically in quantum mechanics, the uncertainty principle is any of a variety of mathematical inequalities asserting a fundamental limit to the precision with which certain pairs of physical properties of a particle known as complementary variables, such as position x and momentum p, can be known simultaneously. See Wikipedia: Uncertainty principle. Accuracy has its limits in science as well as history.
Promoting a movement towards accuracy in genealogy is tantamount to promoting motherhood and apple pie, it is a goal no one would rationally disagree with. I preach, teach and expound on accuracy every time I get a chance. But simplifying the issues I raise about elitism to a basic argument about the need for accuracy ignore many of the issues I am concerned with.
Genealogy needs more emphasis on accuracy. But accuracy has nothing to do with what was for me the core problem that started this discussion, that is claiming ownership of genealogical information.
There is never a last word.