long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Why I blog

Sometimes people ask me why I blog instead of submitting articles to the academic journals.

The short answer is timing.

About two years ago I met with a major publisher who was interested in my first book, which became The Lost City of Zarahemla. I was told the production timeline was 18-24 months.

IOW, had I gone with that publisher, I'd just now be coming out with my first book. Instead, in the same amount of time, the publisher I chose has released 7 of my books with two more to go this month. Not that speed is the top priority, but it's an important factor because so much is happening and time is short.

Another reason is that in my experience, the academic world has one way of viewing the issues I'm studying and writing about. I don't share their viewpoint, and I don't think they're open to alternatives to what they already think. From what I've observed, at least in LDS fields, peer-review is peer-approval. There is a high level of groupthink, more than I've seen in other fields, and I think it's at least partly attributable to a siege mentality; i.e., many LDS people feel like it's "us against the world." As I've shown in several instances, people are more comfortable confirming their biases than in challenging their assumptions and taking a fresh look at the evidence.

That said, I'm fine with people believing whatever they want. I don't write these blogs or the books to persuade anyone, but just to explain how I see the issues and how I assess the evidence.

I like to get feedback and I've sought feedback before I've published everything that's out there. Feedback is essential to improve the research and writing. As I've mentioned many times, the critics have been very helpful. Usually, they complain because I don't see things the way they do, but sometimes they give me good ideas and sometimes they point out mistakes, which I try to correct immediately or as soon as possible. (I'd rather give and receive criticism privately before either side publishes, but those who disagree with me refuse to give or receive private criticism. In fact, they publish criticism of my work but refuse to publish my responses. That's another major reason why I blog.)

Another reason: because I'm not in academia, I don't have an obligation to "publish or perish."

Another reason: my readers frequently contact me with additional insights and material that I can incorporate in future printings and editions, as well as blogs. I figure the more these ideas are disseminated throughout LDS society, the more additional data people will send to me or share with others. Eventually some of these ideas might make it into mainstream LDS scholarly circles, and I'm always in favor of that, but I'm more interested in ordinary members of the Church who are smart and well-informed and don't need a scholar to tell them what to think.

There are parallels in the non-LDS world. For example, a climate scientist whose work I respect recently resigned from her tenured position at a well-known university. She explained:

"Once you detach from the academic mindset, publishing on the internet makes much more sense, and the peer review you can get on a technical blog is much more extensive. But peer review is not really the point; provoking people to think in new ways about something is really the point. In other words, science as process, rather than a collection of decreed ‘truths.’
"At this point, the private sector seems like a more ‘honest’ place for a scientist working in a politicized field than universities or government labs — at least when you are your own boss."
Like climate change, issues of Book of Mormon geography and historicity also involve a scientific approach. I explained at the outset that Moroni's America was purely an experiment to see if, assuming Joseph and Oliver were right, the text describes a setting in which Cumorah is in New York. The experiment turned out far better than I hoped for. Now, for those who accept the New York Cumorah, there is a detailed model of geography, including lots of specific maps, that explain how it works with the text. 
Obviously others disagree, and that's fine. 
Maybe it would be boring if we all agreed.


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