The Importance Of The Literature

The public at large, and unfortunately too many writers, do not know how vital a properly conducted survey of the scientific literature can be.  We must remember the motto of the Royal Society - nullius in verba - do not rely on anybody's word.  If the mythical "everybody" is stating the same "fact" or citing exactly the same source: question it.  Reappraise it.  Investigate.

This article was inspired by Hontas Farmer's newest blog.  It occurred to me that I spend many a happy hour doing literature research but I do not write about it as such.

A survey of the literature is absolutely essential in all areas of rational inquiry.  Failure to investigate what others have done before often leads people to claim new discoveries and new inventions, only to be told that someone else thought of it first.  Then again we have people who invent all sorts of wild theories to "explain" their invented hypotheses such as chemtrails.  Such people would seem to understand 'research' as reading what some like-minded conspiracy theorist has written, rather than reading a wealth of papers and books which are grounded in genuine, solid science.

A survey of the literature often shows up the brick walls and blind alleys which have already been investigated, which helps researchers to seek new and untried paths through the science maze.  On rare occasions, due diligence may show that the brick wall is in fact the portal to new landscapes.

I find on occasion that an extensive survey of the historical literature demonstrates that some "historical fact" is unfounded.  Émilie Du Châtelet was first to suggest that light may extend beyond the visible spectrum - not Fourier.  Wilhelm Sinsteden invented the lead-acid battery - not Plante.  Ignatz Venetz was first to suggest that the planet has been subjected to ice ages - not Louis Agassi. 

Question, reappraise, investigate.  That is how I discovered that there must be at least three "unique" instances of Neil Armstrong's 'one small step' EKG.