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  • Baloney Detection Kit

    Greetings all,

    A concern some have had in the past about using the term, Ripperologist, is that this might relegate the study and research of the Whitechapel crimes to pseudoscience. Note founding publisher of Skeptic Magazine Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit inspired by Carl Sagan. It is a series of ten questions for the average person to filter science from pseudoscience:

    1. How reliable is the source of the claim?
    2. Does the source make similar claims?
    3. Have the claims been verified by somebody else?
    4. Does this fit with the way the world works?
    5. Has anyone tried to disprove the claim?
    6. Where does the preponderance of evidence point?
    7. Is the claimant playing by the rules of science?
    8. Is the claimant providing positive evidence?
    9. Does the new theory account for as many phenomena as the old theory?
    10. Are personal beliefs driving the claim?

    Because of the online forums, magazines, podcasts, etc, dedicated to the Whitechapel murder investigation, I believe this will never happen. The critiques, reviews, and online battles between subject-matter experts virtually guarantees Ripperology passing the Baloney Detection Kit. Case in point, forensic psychologist Katherine Ramsland, commented upon the objectivity of Spiro’s book, Jack the Ripper and Black Magic.

    Sincerely,

    Mike
    The Ripper's Haunts/JtR Suspect Dr. Francis Tumblety (Sunbury Press)
    http://www.michaelLhawley.com

  • #2
    Originally posted by mklhawley View Post
    Does this fit with the way the world works?
    Somebody knows how the world works?
    allisvanityandvexationofspirit

    Comment


    • #3
      Hey Cris,

      I ask you....have you learnt something via the field today?

      Monty




      Author of Capturing Jack the Ripper.

      http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/1445621622

      Comment


      • #4
        Not to sound bitchy or anything, but I never liked the term "Ripperologist". It always sounds like "Amateur Historian" to me. Which it generally is, but "Amateur Historian" just has such ridiculous connotations, like "Amateur Historian concludes Amelia Earhart Alive and in Pittsburgh in new book." These are the guys who argue on community access tv, they vanity publish, the whole eyeroll worthy bit.

        I have historians in the family. They concentrate on eras. My cousin is a historian specializing in in African Americans and Jews in early 20th century entertainment. And he has no idea when the Soviet Union broke up. Its a field where everybody specializes. Someone who studies the life and times of Jack the Ripper and all the attendant personalities is a historian. If they call themselves a Ripperologist... I mean come on. No one else does that. There are no "Caponeologists" or "Hitlerologists" or even "Mosesologists". If someone said they were a Caponeologist, we would laugh at them. Really hard. If people wonder why Ripperologists don't get the same amount of respect as historians who study other important figures, this may be why.

        As far as academic nomenclature goes, there is no Ripperology. There is History. There is Late Victorian Era studies. And now that I think about it, I don't think Ripperology is even technically correct since it is an academic study of something and not a scientific study, and so should be Ripperography. All I'm saying is that if a person is going to boldly claim they are something doesn't exist in academia, and may have even put together the word incorrectly, it's not that surprising that people may question this person's credibility as an academic.
        The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Monty View Post
          Hey Cris,

          I ask you....have you learnt something via the field today?
          Nope.... Had to work all day.
          And now I'm seein' how much beer I can drink.
          Am eatin' pickled baloney with it though.
          Best Wishes,
          Hunter
          ____________________________________________

          When evidence is not to be had, theories abound. Even the most plausible of them do not carry conviction- London Times Nov. 10.1888

          Comment


          • #6
            I concur with Errata. It is history, not a science. As such, it should play by the established academic rules of that field. Normally, this involves submission of research to academic journals where the work is subjected to a vigorous peer-review process by academicians familiar with the content area.

            But Ripperology is such a specialized subfield of Victorian studies that I'm going to give publications like the Ripperologist a pass for now for the following reason: When it comes to Jack the Ripper, the experts in the field largely reside outside of academia. The place where research on Jack the Ripper might be expected to receive the most vigorous peer review is the Ripperologist.

            There does exist a long-term problem. It doesn't bode well for the field that the historical experts do not reside in academia. To compound the problem, mainstream historians within academia are going to be less likely to publish original research in the Ripperologist, even if its the best fit for the work, because it is not an academic journal and thus would "count" less for tenure and promotion purposes. This probably results in keeping academic historians away from this research area, and that is a shame as it disservices the field. In my opinion, the best way to proceed long-term would be for the Ripperologist to make a serious attempt at becoming an established academic journal. Get rid of the fluff stuff including entertainment, astrology, etc. Appoint a few academics to the editorial board and solicit manuscripts from within academia. Experts not within academia certainly should continue to publish in the journal; as I have stated, most of the current JTR experts are not academics. But the point is that the peer-review process should include academics; this would ensure that proper historical research is being published and avoid charges of pseudoscience.

            I would be remiss not to state that the Ripperologist publishes fascinating pieces that no doubt could be published in academic journals. The goal is not to bash this journal but rather for it to gain more mainstream acceptance within academia.

            Comment


            • #7
              To be clear, I don't have a problem with a publication being called "Ripperologist". While not the most academically rigorous title in the world, you get a lot more leeway with a title than with an occupation. No, the cringeworthy aspect is when someone says "I am a Ripperologist".

              And while most Ripper historians reside outside of academia, there is no reason not to adopt the same standards that exist in academia. And there is no reason people can't get reviews of their work inside academia. Especially you English sorts. I mean, It would take me a bit to find someone here in the states who is a published expert on the LVP. But once I did, if I were minded to publish an article I would have no problem asking him to look it over for any kind of inaccuracy or improbability that might shake the credibility of my work. Nor would I have any problem admitting in my work that an expert in certain aspects of the LVP found something improbable.

              History is all about the argument. Yes, it's about solutions as well, about solving mysteries. But it so rarely happens with any sort of conclusive proof. And when conclusive proof comes, it's almost never at the hands of historians, but at the hands of archeologists. Is the Aeneid fiction or a historical document? The argument for a long time revolved on whether or not Troy existed. Well, they found a city that as best as anyone can tell is Troy. There is still some argument about whether or not it is in fact Troy, or That Troy. Does that mean the Aeneid is a historical document? No. The argument has shifted to whether or not there was a war between Troy and Sparta.

              History can't be about being right. Someone with absolute certainty in his own beliefs sees no need to debate or refine them. I know I don't like olives. I'm not going to keep trying olives at the behest of olive lovers just to make sure that in fact, I detest olives. They keep trying, but I keep refusing. I've done a bit of scriptwriting in my day, and the difference between that and a historical theory is that historical theory has a few more constraints. If my Ripper suspect is fleeing, he can't hop a plane to Germany to escape. He is confined to carriage, train, or boat. If my Ripper suspect slips unnoticed through a police search, I know it's not with a hostage he later releases. But within those kinds of confines, the Ripper can do anything.

              If someone says the Ripper washed up after Stride in a gutter, that seems unlikely, though not I imagine impossible. That person has to be open to altering their script. So if someone points out that it was only sprinkling not really raining, and the gutters likely had no appreciable water, the theorizer has three choices. Stick to their guns with fanatical devotion, abandon the entire theory, or adapt. Options 1 and 2 have no place in academia. They denote a rigidity completely incompatible with the pursuit of discovery or truth. People think flexibility denotes a weak theory. I suppose in a way it does. But flexibility indicates a sincere desire for a stronger theory. Flexibility shows a willingness to discard cherished but non viable ideas in furtherance of the truth. Academics do it all the time. If Ripper historians cannot do the same, then what is the point? To see who can get the most mentions in the field? Award points for digging up the most obscure document?

              Jack the Ripper affected the world. Yes, discovering his true identity and the true scope of his crimes seems a necessary part of the pursuit. But that's not the whole of it. He influenced police procedure, he affected an important culture's view of their own personal safety. He created a attitude that launched feminism, child labor laws, welfare, the first attempts at controlling industrial waste. He was one pin of thousands that launched a world war. He gave us horror movies the way Lizzie Borden gave us haunted houses. He was a twisted mirror of a gilded society. So one day we may find out that he was some guy we've never heard of, and he killed for essentially the same reason most serial killers of his type killed. That solves a mystery. But that's not how he changed the world. And focusing solely on his identity completely robs us of any sense of how nothing in history happens in a vacuum. We lose the idea that one man and his comparatively small deeds can alter a civilization. And unless we explore that, we really aren't historians. Just armchair detectives.
              The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

              Comment


              • #8
                Point 7 in the list above looks circular.

                Comment


                • #9
                  No. 10 is rife.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    You mean, "It's my personal belief that this won't help my tenure and promotion."

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Personal beliefs probably needs to codified. I mean, I study Jack the Ripper instead of King George IV because I find Georgians dead boring. So personal belief enters into it. I mean, that cop who first said his dad was the Black Dahlia killer and then said he was also the Zodiac killer... those big red crazy flags were there for anyone to see. Talk about personal beliefs getting in the way. Freud probably sat bolt upright in his grave. The sort of troubling ones that don't necessarily stand out as nuts but totally sink academic credulity are those sort of personal beliefs that you can't argue with because you aren't going to change their mind. Things like, "Jack the Ripper had to be mentally ill" or "He had to be Jewish". Not for any concrete reason, but because the alternative is unthinkable. That's prejudice. It may be a perfectly understandable prejudice, but still prejudice.
                      The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by mklhawley View Post
                        Greetings all,

                        A concern some have had in the past about using the term, Ripperologist, is that this might relegate the study and research of the Whitechapel crimes to pseudoscience. Note founding publisher of Skeptic Magazine Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit inspired by Carl Sagan. It is a series of ten questions for the average person to filter science from pseudoscience:

                        1. How reliable is the source of the claim?
                        2. Does the source make similar claims?
                        3. Have the claims been verified by somebody else?
                        4. Does this fit with the way the world works?
                        5. Has anyone tried to disprove the claim?
                        6. Where does the preponderance of evidence point?
                        7. Is the claimant playing by the rules of science?
                        8. Is the claimant providing positive evidence?
                        9. Does the new theory account for as many phenomena as the old theory?
                        10. Are personal beliefs driving the claim?
                        I know of Michael Shermer from my interest in the paranormal, a field he pops up in frequently. He calls himself a skeptic but he is really a debunker. A true skeptic says "I'll believe it when I see it," and means it literally. A debunker says, "I'm determined never to believe it even if I see it." To comment on some of his points-

                        1. Reliable by whose standards? Even a pathological liar is fully capable of witnessing something and giving true testimony of it.

                        3. Shermer and other "skeptics" commonly dismiss claims that involve multiple witnesses corroborating each other.

                        4. As someone else pointed out, Shermer is asserting that he knows exactly how the world works. The very claims he is addressing are suggesting, "Well, maybe not..." His view of the world is held as a preconceived absolute truth. That's not an open mind, it's a closed one.

                        5. Some things can't be disproved, only proved. If someone says they've seen something that most people don't believe exists, for instance, then looking for it and failing to find it does not prove that the person never saw it. "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

                        6. Implication- Occam's Razor, the principle that states that in a general sense, the most likely explanation to any mystery is usually the correct one. That does not at all rule out the most likely explanation being something extremely strange that overturns preconceived beliefs.

                        7. Similar to the one about "the way the world works." "The rules of science" cannot be looked at as a preconceived absolute when things happen that pose the possibility that the people who wrote those rules were fallible humans who might have gotten some things wrong.

                        8. Shermer and other debunkers commonly dismiss claims that are backed up by all kinds of positive physical evidence, simply by stating that the interpretation of said evidence must be wrong because it doesn't agree with the known rules of science or how the world works.

                        10. Personal beliefs? Really? Personal beliefs are 100% behind the approach of debunkers like Shermer.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Barnaby View Post
                          In my opinion, the best way to proceed long-term would be for the Ripperologist to make a serious attempt at becoming an established academic journal. Get rid of the fluff stuff including entertainment, astrology, etc. Appoint a few academics to the editorial board and solicit manuscripts from within academia. Experts not within academia certainly should continue to publish in the journal; as I have stated, most of the current JTR experts are not academics. But the point is that the peer-review process should include academics; this would ensure that proper historical research is being published and avoid charges of pseudoscience.
                          While I agree with you that it would be nice to have a peer-reviewed journal in the field, I don't think there is enough academic interest in the Ripper stuff to support one. If you are near a college or university library, try looking in some academic databases and you'll see what I mean. One could always try to solicit manuscripts from academics, but that might well lead nowhere.

                          Nor do I think it would probably make a lot of sense to add a historian, a criminologist, a psychologist, etc. to a review panel (and this is in my opinion a multidisciplinary field, it is not strictly a branch of history). While it never hurts to have multiple heads looking at a manuscript, I suspect that very few of us here have advanced degrees in one of those fields and so we couldn't reasonably be expected to produce what would be considered a professional work product within those fields. Further, I am not sure it would help to attract academics if professional and nonprofessional articles were published side-by-side in the same issue.

                          I think Ripperologist is fine the way it is now. Some fun, interesting and informative articles written by some very smart and knowledgeable people.
                          “When a major serial killer case is finally solved and all the paperwork completed, police are sometimes amazed at how obvious the killer was and how they were unable to see what was right before their noses.” —Robert D. Keppel and William J. Birnes, The Psychology of Serial Killer Investigations

                          William Bury, Victorian Murderer
                          http://www.williambury.org

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Wyatt Earp View Post
                            While I agree with you that it would be nice to have a peer-reviewed journal in the field, I don't think there is enough academic interest in the Ripper stuff to support one. If you are near a college or university library, try looking in some academic databases and you'll see what I mean. One could always try to solicit manuscripts from academics, but that might well lead nowhere.
                            There may not be articles specific to the Ripper, but there are any number of articles about things tangential to the Ripper. I've read articles about societal views of prostitution, societal views on insanity, potential pollutants in London, Burke and Hare, Jewry in the East End... and while none of these articles discussed the Ripper, they are illuminating to the world that he lived and killed in. You read about Victorian prostitution, and you understand why it was hard for the locals to get excited about the death of a whore. You read about the polluted water, and see why so many alcoholics lived in the East End. What can you know about Jack the Ripper and his Victims if you don't know their world? And there are a lot of things we don't know about their world. There is a reason it is highly unlikely that Jack was mad. But you have to know how Victorians viewed and dealt with madness in order to understand why. You have to understand the life of a Jew in the East End to judge the veracity of Israel Schwartz's story. It's not enough to know that anti semitism was a thing back then. You have to know what they faced, every day.

                            Of course an academic is going to be selective in who they allow to reproduce their articles, but that can only be for the good.
                            The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Errata View Post
                              There may not be articles specific to the Ripper, but there are any number of articles about things tangential to the Ripper. I've read articles about societal views of prostitution, societal views on insanity, potential pollutants in London, Burke and Hare, Jewry in the East End... and while none of these articles discussed the Ripper, they are illuminating to the world that he lived and killed in. You read about Victorian prostitution, and you understand why it was hard for the locals to get excited about the death of a whore. You read about the polluted water, and see why so many alcoholics lived in the East End. What can you know about Jack the Ripper and his Victims if you don't know their world? And there are a lot of things we don't know about their world. There is a reason it is highly unlikely that Jack was mad. But you have to know how Victorians viewed and dealt with madness in order to understand why. You have to understand the life of a Jew in the East End to judge the veracity of Israel Schwartz's story. It's not enough to know that anti semitism was a thing back then. You have to know what they faced, every day.

                              Of course an academic is going to be selective in who they allow to reproduce their articles, but that can only be for the good.
                              Good post, especially the point about attitudes towards Jews in the East End. Israel Schwartz is described as "theatrical", which is a nebulous and subjective term and his evidence is discarded by some when, to my mind, he had no obvious reason to lie.

                              Regards, Bridewell.
                              "It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins twisting facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts." Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (as Sherlock Holmes).

                              Comment

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