Why is accurate – or authentic – Masonic research so important?
The importance of making a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge is something that The Square is passionate about promoting.
Most days we send out messages on social media containing thought-provoking and useful quotes, suggestions, or questions.
But key to Masonic knowledge is the information we receive and the accuracy of that information, whether it be in a book, journal or magazine, on a website, or social media.
There is an abundance of material that has been written about Freemasonry since its official beginnings in the early eighteenth century, much of which has come from official publications via Grand Lodges, or authentic papers and transactions written by scholars associated with Masonic Research Lodges.
However, there is equally as much written that is at the least inaccurate, and at worst, inflammatory and dangerous.
As a reader, unless you are a seasoned researcher, you will probably not be able to tell if something is inaccurate or not.
Misinformation occurs for many reasons: have you ever played ‘telephone’ or ‘Chinese whispers‘? These games allude to how a quote or piece of information has passed through so many people that the original message has been irretrievably lost or altered.
There is a humorous anecdote regarding a message sent during wartime that began as: ‘Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance’ and at the end of the relayed transmission became ‘send three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance’.
This is an example not only of how relayed stories or quotes can become completely distorted but also the fact that the anecdote itself has been reported in several different versions, and contexts, since 1915!
Another reason for inaccuracies can be anything from simple typos, fanciful speculation and/or dubious interpretations surrounding almost every aspect of Freemasonry (usually perpetuated by non-Masons).
You only have to view some of the more out-there websites and forums to see examples of some seriously fanciful notions about Freemasonry and Masons in general.
Think about how this kind of misinformation has impacted the Organisation, do you want to perpetuate any of it, even if some of it looks historically or factually accurate to you?
But misinformation can also come from those within the Fraternity – perhaps their research was not thorough enough, and they merely repeated someone else’s inaccurate research; or illogical conclusions had been drawn, or confirmation bias involved.
Confirmation bias is something we all do to some extent but some writers – especially of the more esoteric branches of Freemasonry – succumb to it on a regular basis, often distorting things to a ludicrous level.
These ‘facts’ are often then embedded in more and more publications or platforms and we have to unpick their ‘facts’ to get to the actual truth of the matter.
Just because we want something to be true, doesn’t mean it is.
Confirmation bias – the tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information that confirms or supports one’s prior personal beliefs or values.
The English philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon (1561–1626) wrote about confirmation bias in his Novum Organum [New Organon(1620)] he wrote that biased assessment of evidence drove ‘all superstitions, whether in astrology, dreams, omens, divine judgments or the like’. He followed with the observation that:
The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion…draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects or despises, or else by some distinction sets aside or rejects[.]
Academics and lay-researchers of all disciplines have to learn how to conduct research without bias and it’s not easy.
So, how can we tell that the information we have discovered is authentic?
IMAGE CREDIT: by John Hain from Pixabay
Firstly, we must develop critical thinking
(there is an in-depth feature about this on page 26)
the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.
What does a critical thinker do when evaluating information?
They ‘analyse, evaluate, explain, and restructure thinking, thereby ensuring the act of thinking without false belief’.
The research must be ‘authentic’.
According to the Social Research Glossary, ‘Authentic’ is defined as:
‘something that is genuine or that represents the essence of an idea…something that is the real article or something that is genuine rather than being a reproduction, copy or something masquerading as something that it is not. This applies, for example, to historical objects: are they really from when they purport to be or are they later copies. This might apply to non-tangible objects such as music or poetry as well as more tangible cultural objects such as pottery, paintings and so on.’
[Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International]
A good researcher:
- asks pertinent questions
- looks for evidence to support claims
- assesses statements and arguments without bias
- suspends own judgements/beliefs until backed up by critical examination
- is not afraid to accept information that does not align with preconceived beliefs or ideas (confirmation bias)
- is humble enough to admit any lack of understanding and is willing to learn
- clearly defines a set of criteria for analysis
- can give and receive critical feedback
- rejects information that is incorrect or irrelevant
- cross-references and then cross-references again – dates, names, facts
- uses plagiarism/fact and quote checkers
How do we trust an author’s information or version of events? Not all authors are automatically experts.
We should ask:
- What credentials does the author have?
- What have they written previously and where was it published?
- What background in the subject does he/she have?
- His/her reputation in Masonic circles?
- Peer reviews
- Is there anything the author is trying to prove – are they obviously biased towards one aspect of a subject and not entertaining another?
- Is the work adequately referenced, what are their sources?
- Is the information up-to-date?
The subject of how to research – and write – is a huge one; this article is merely a short introduction.
But it is a subject we will be covering over the forthcoming issues, and The Square will be offering an exclusive course for aspiring Masonic authors and researchers. Watch this space!
You may have noticed that The Square often hyperlinks to external sources, including Wikipedia (which has its own issues). Why do we link to Wikipedia? Even though some of the information may not be 100% accurate, it is, on the whole, a reasonably reliable source of quick information for those seeking a definition or an introduction to a subject. We would not recommend it as an end resource for research, but it is a fantastic stepping stone for the curious mind!
Check those quotes, did Socrates really say that?! https://quoteinvestigator.com/
Have you read that somewhere before? Put the page through a plagiarism checker: https://www.grammarly.com/plagiarism-checker
A Research lodge is a particular type of Masonic lodge which is devoted to Masonic research.
It is a lodge, and as such has a charter from some Grand Lodge. However, it does not confer degrees, and restricts membership to Master Masons of some jurisdiction in amity with the jurisdiction that the Research Lodge is in.
Related to Research Lodges are Masonic research societies, which serve the same purpose but function fundamentally differently.
There are research lodges in most countries where Freemasonry exists.
The oldest Research Lodge is Quatuor Coronati No. 2076, founded in 1886 under the jurisdiction of the United Grand Lodge of England.
It accepts members from all over the world through its Correspondence Circle. A book of transactions called Ars Quatuor Coronatorum (which includes the papers given in the lodge) has been published every year since 1886.
Most Research Lodges have some type of transactions, proceedings, or even just a newsletter that is published regularly.
There is a comprehensive, but not exhaustive list, of worldwide research Lodges here:
Article by: Philippa Lee
Philippa Lee (writes as Philippa Faulks) is the author of eight books, an editor and researcher.
Her specialism is ancient Egypt, Freemasonry, comparative religions and social history. She has several books in progress on the subject of ancient and modern Egypt. Selection of Books Online at Amazon
How To Research (Open Up Study Skills)
by Loraine Blaxter; Christina Hughes;
How to Research is a clear and accessible guide to the business of doing a research project. It systematically takes the reader through from the planning to the writing up and finishing off. The new edition of this book will include:
-Expanded section on methodology
-Expanded section on Literature Reviews
-Inclusion of a glossary
(Mla Handbook for Writers of Research Papers)
by Modern Language Association
The Modern Language Association, the authority on research and writing, takes a fresh look at documenting sources in the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook.
Works are published today in a dizzying range of formats. A book, for example, may be read in print, online, or as an e-book–or perhaps listened to in an audio version.
On the Web, modes of publication are regularly invented, combined, and modified. Previous editions of the MLA Handbookprovided separate instructions for each format, and additional instructions were required for new formats.
In this groundbreaking new edition of its best-selling handbook, the MLA recommends instead one universal set of guidelines, which writers can apply to any type of source.
Shorter and redesigned for easy use, the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook guides writers through the principles behind evaluating sources for their research.
It then shows them how to cite sources in their writing and create useful entries for the works-cited list.
More than just a new edition, this is a new MLA style.
Research Papers For Dummies
by Geraldine Woods
You’re sitting at your desk in a classroom or in an airless cubicle, wondering how many minutes are left in a seemingly endless day, when suddenly your teacher or supervisor lowers the boom:
She wants a research paper, complete with footnotes and a list of sources. She wants accuracy, originality, and good grammar. And – gasp! – she wants ten pages! You may be 16 years old or 60 years old, but your reaction is the same: Help!
Take heart. A research paper may seem daunting, but it’s a far-from-impossible project to accomplish. Turning research into writing is actually quite easy, as long as you follow a few proven techniques.
And that’s where Research Papers For Dummies steps in to help. In this easy-to-understand guide, you find out how to search for information using both traditional printed sources and the electronic treasure troves of the Internet.
You also discover how to take all those bits of information, discarding the irrelevant ones, and put them into a form that illustrates your point with clarity and originality.