A Tale of Two Experts

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Long ago and far away in Hawaii I was a struggling student of applied lingustics looking at a peculiar method of measuring language skills. My profs were unhelpful, and the literature was contradictory. Scholars in teaching reading said one thing, and scholars in language testing another . So I decided to approach the most qualified exponents in each camp and ask them about their views on the other position. These scholars were in slightly different fields and definitely had never communicated. Here’s what happened.

To Dr. Carroll I wrote and asked how theory X fitted in his understanding, and how to approach that in research. When his answer came back, I approached Dr Oller and asked how Dr. Carroll’s theory fit in with his theory. The results that emerged in the course of months of correspondence were very enlightening as each scholar shared insights. Neither knew I was in touch with the other. As I learned from one, I bounced ideas off the other. I learned a great deal about the common ground they shared and the different ways to observe it.

In those days a lot of stamps were used. Today with the internet, months of waiting can be eliminated. But the technique still works. And you could try it yourself. Here’s what I mean. At the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in Boston you might overhear someone say, I like X’s application of the genealogical proof standard better than Y’s. You come home, dig out articles by both and discover there seems to be a difference. Are they both valid? So you write to X and ask if your perception of a difference with Y’s view is significant, and to Y about X’s perspective. With the responses at hand, you re-read the articles and draw your conclusions.

Now bear in mind, this is not a technique to use with trivial things but best suits discovering the reasoning processes, philosophies, approaches etc. not niggling facts.

Give it some thought. What do you think?

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