m y f r i e n d b o b
This is our last category of the distortions that can be perpetrated on historical thinking. For sure we have not exhausted the possibilities. We will leave you room to discover more and create your own names, or to find better examples for the ones that we have. If you do and share them with us, we will put them into our website and give you credit.
In fields that involve research and new discoveries, one of the key quality controls is peer review. A scientist, a doctor, or a historian writes a paper on his or her research and sends it into one of the acknowledged journals in the field. The journal sends that paper out to three or four anonymous readers who are experts in the area of the research. They judge it on its originality. Did someone come up with the idea and publish it already? They judge it on the quality of the research and evidence and its importance in the field. They can recommend publishing it, suggest publishing it with specific revisions, or push for turning it down.
One of the overall measures of a historian's work is whether he or she is aware of, and makes reference to, solid research in articles that have appeared in quality journals or books. In building the case for his or her research, is there this connection to the expansive community of historians. Does the historian we are assessing get articles published in quality journals that have peer review, or make reference to them in his or her own writing?
One of the overall problems with the Holocaust denier sites is that the historical analysis is so weak, reasoning is supplanted so resoundingly by polemic, that none of the stuff can get by traditional peer review. That is not surprising, since almost none of the people who have created these sites have a background or formal training in history, and they are seeking to revise an event that is resoundingly and universally accepted by professional historians.
This situation leaves the creators of the Holocaust denier sites in isolation. With very few or no exceptions, they plan conferences for themselves rather than get papers accepted at national conferences for professional historians. Without impartial peer review, they publish their own articles in their own journals, and in their writing, they refer and footnote their own small circle. It is in a way intellectually incestuous. It is the equivalent of what would happen if a small circle of people believed that the world was flat and pushed hard to make converts. They would find some, but they would have to hang out a lot together.
Evaluate footnotes and the credibility of sources. Look for documented primary sources and references to the credible work of other historians in quality publications. If authors keep citing and quoting a very small circle of like-minded buddies who are only published by themselves, be wary. All of which brings us to our last category on references and footnotes:
"If My Friend Bob Says It's So, It's Gotta Be So."
Of course it is easy to ignore this isolation and to ignore that the professional historical establishment may think you are two tacos short of a combination plate, especially if a murky conspiracy theory is the foundation on which you are building . . . that will appear to answer almost any criticism.
Solid, well documented History is not what you or I or anyone just says it is. Well-written, thoughtful History is not the product of wishful thinking, bias, or the manipulation of evidence. Controversies in the interpretation of History should not break down into competing assertions that aren't build solidly on verifiable facts: "Yes it is!" "No it's not!" "Yes it is!" "No its not!" The only way to escape such a cicle is to build conclusions on the solid ground of facts and document where those facts come from. True, History is written by human being who have points of view and can make mistakes, and History changes over time. BUT there are rules about the use and misuse of evidence and about intellectual honesty. Overwhelmingly in the case of the Holocaust, there is a mountain of facts and evidence that can not be overlooked. The assertions that the Holocaust never happened are examples of bad historical analysis and thinking at its very worst.
Studying and researching History requires an open but skeptical, questioning mind. Be a questioner. It requires looking at all the evidence, not just a small selection that may be manipulated and made to lead anywhere. Be a researcher and careful analyst. As we move into an electronic world where unlimited amounts of information and misinformation are available, it is so important that you learn to think rigorously for yourself and be able to separate solid, documented History from badly flawed and misleading "wannabe's." Don't be fooled by opening paragraphs that champion truth, freedom of expression, and intellectual honesty, and then you're led down a rabbit hole of unsupported assertions.
Take time now to go back and look at the key questions that Holocaust denier websites raise and the documented responses from The Nizkor Project:
If you've taken the time to look carefully at as many of the 66 questions as possible, now study three Holocaust denier websites and three websites that seek to inform and educate people about the Holocaust. Follow our student commentary, while investigating on your own how the sites use evidence and reasoning differently and how well they support their conclusions.