Thursday, November 17, 2011

APG Code of Ethics - Part 2

APG – Code of Ethics Blog Discussion

2) Present research results and opinions in a clear, well-organized manner; fully and accurately cite references; and refrain from withholding, suppressing, or knowingly misquoting or misinterpreting sources or data.

This item deals primarily with the final product a client receives from the genealogy researcher, but can also apply to those doing translations, searching for heirs, writing articles, and even presenting to societies and at conferences. Let us examine this from these different directions, considering what types of circumstances might lead to the inadvertent (or even blatant) violation of this second article in the Code.

Certainly we want our reports (articles, presentations, etc.) to be clear and well organized.
After writing your report, article, etc., review it for clarity and organization. Better still, have someone else go over it or listen to it (if it is a presentation) to help you identify any areas that are unclear or where you may jump from one subject to the next without making the transitions needed.

Obviously (at least, I think it is obvious), the citation of sources requires careful attention. Are the sources you cite clear? Could others locate the same references? Don’t forget the “other” types of references (i.e., identification of sources that were interviewees, citations of citations, etc.). If you find information on a website that cites another source (possibly one not available to you because it was a private source or is no longer in publication), it is important to cite both the secondary source (where you got it) and the primary source (where the secondary source got the information). You should never cite the primary source as if you had acquired the information directly from it (even though you have the reference data so that you *could* do this – it is unethical to do so). Your citation needs to be clear enough for anyone to read your report, handout, article, etc. and be able to find that same reference. If it is not available to the general public (e.g., you have access to a private manuscript or it is the result of your personal interview of someone who may no longer be living or who wishes not to have his/her personal information available to others), that inaccessibility must also be clarified.

Suggestion: If you have located information from a website that is no longer operational, check to see if the data has been reproduced on another (reputable) source (i.e., not just someone citing the same out-dated website you found in the past). Again, if you cannot locate the material so that someone else could retrace your research steps, at least make it clear where you obtained it and how it is considered to be a credible source. Ideally: whatever evidence you are providing from this source should also be backed up (referenced) in another source as well. This, of course, is always advisable: more than one source for a single event provides a much better “argument” than just one document, article, etc. (Think: there is safety in numbers.)

Is there anything missing? Obviously, for those of us whose major focus is presenting to societies and at conferences, we already know we cannot be complete in everything. After all, we have only so much time allotted so it is almost a given that something will be omitted. How do we do that without violating this item in our Code? That is what the handout is for! Include reference information where the complete material can be located and be honest in presenting, referring to that part of the handout/syllabus document so that the attendees know that there is more, but that they have to take some responsibility to find it. For example, there are a number of reasons that America was embroiled in the Civil War. As a presenter, it is my responsibility not to simplify the cause, but to be complete. But time may not grant me the opportunity to be so thorough, so being clear that all the reasons for the War can be found in greater detail at XYZ website gives me some “wiggle room” without being accused of being incomplete. If I fail to do this, I lose credibility and may find myself the embarrassed recipient of a negative evaluation or blogged review! (While I could also be reported to the APG PRC for violation of this item, unless I have consistently been inaccurate in my presentations, I am not likely to receive more than a letter of reprimand.)

I think the part about not knowingly misquoting or misinterpreting material is self-explanatory. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we are given erroneous information (and sometimes clients provide us with that very thing, hopefully accidentally and not on purpose), but to knowingly quote material out of context or refusing to thoroughly examine conclusions reached by other researchers or scholars points to a failure on our part, especially if the claims seem to be unfounded or off the wall. Check further.

A reason people do not engage in thorough research: time. The client wants everything done for under $Y. To be complete in the examination will mean an additional two or three (or more hours), putting you over budget. Result: Client receives incomplete information, ending with a complaint to the PRC. How do you avoid this? When you realize that the report requires more time, communicate with the client. Perhaps you can come up with a compromise and settle for a little more money from the client, but maybe still less than your time really warrants. Or give the client the information about the sources that will lead to “the rest of the story.” Be clear that the time and budget for the project does not allow you to give the details on everything that is available so you are giving the individual information to further the research. This is not like a recipe that one alters (omitting an ingredient in order to appear the better cook). It is essential that the information provided will permit the client to continue the research, even if it means hiring someone else. Being complete in this manner will save you the inconvenience (and possible suspension from APG), but you will also proceed, knowing that you are an ethical genealogist whose work is beyond reproach, and that just might bring you more work.

(Note: in the last example, the same holds true for articles – where space is the major issue – and presentations – where time is of the essence.)

Jean Wilcox Hibben, PhD, MA, CG
President, SCCAPG

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