Dave at The Glittering Eye has an excellent post up on determining the credibility of sources . The nature of one’s sources is a key question in the field of history and in theory at least, a budding historian should expect that their footnotes on any work they publish will receive merciless scrutiny from their peers. In practice of course, the checking is spotty to nonexistent as the embarrassing case of Michael Bellesiles proved.
Historians mostly use the honor system regarding sources and only really dig in to the footnotes when some biting yet veiled remark from another historian drives them into a mad-dog fury and they go on an academic jihad to destroy their critic’s credibility by impeaching their sources. Sometimes these bizarre historiographic grudge matches will play out in front of a live audience at conferences to the great amusement of onlookers ( My own mentor for some reason had a longstanding feud going with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., whose name he usually prefaced with ” the wicked”). Or online, as I have seen a number of scholars, some of them well-regarded, end up being banned by H-Diplo or simply found that the moderators stop accepting their posts without extensive time-consuming redacting and editorial changes.
The stakes, seemingly so low, are actually high. Credibility once lost…is lost. You become known as a crackpot and are either ignored entirely or become something of a laughingstock. Like historians, for bloggers credibility is a quality not unlike honor – it is a coin paid out that buys you the reader’s respect.
Without credibility you might as well hang up your keyboard.