Research: When Two Sources Contradict Each Other

Which source is right?
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I’m outlining a new project this week. It is a fairly broad topic so I’m having to do more research than usual for this particular stage. As I researched an event in world history, I discovered two sources that contradict each other. How do I tell which source is correct?

Now, I’m sure that many of you are saying, “Find the fact again! If you find it in three places you know it is correct.”

Um, no. Sorry. If you find it in three places what you’ve found is three sources that agree with each other. Sometimes this happens because one source simply duplicates the other. Here’s how that works. We’ll pretend that Joe says, “X.” Moe says, “Joe says X.” Other times you have three people who observed the same thing or interpretted events in the same way.

Does that mean they are right? Maybe.

A big part of the problem is bias. Bias is simply your tendency to believe one person and not another. If three people see something occur but they are all inclined to be biased against the same person, they are more likely to interpret events in the same way.

Now, the fact that I need to research isn’t really open to interpretation. I need to know who initiated an agreement between two sides in a dispute. One source says that Moe initiated it. The other says Joe initiated it. Which source is correct?

The source that gives Moe credit is actually Moe’s foundation. Hmm. Moe’s estate signs their paychecks. They are fairly likely to be biased in Moe’s favor.

The source that gives Joe credit is the BBC. Joe is not someone beloved by the Empire. Joe has, historically, been a big pain as far as the Empire is concerned.

Because of this, I’m inclined to give Joe the credit. Any time someone gives credit to a person they are likely to be biased against, you have to pay attention.

I am going to look for another source. Fingers crossed that whatever I find credits Joe. It would be just my luck for them to credit Larry.

–SueBE