Fact Checking

6 Dec

I experienced a wee bit of disappointment reading The Cross of Christ the other day. It’s not that it failed to be insightful or that I thought the opinions in it were invalid, it was a ‘fact’ contained on p368.

The author, John Stott, cites a Paul Tournier citing another man called Pierre Rentchnick, talking about the effects of being orphaned on a man’s psychology. He gives a big long list of examples, including Hitler, Stalin and Napoleon, but starting with Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. Now I know off-hand that Alexander was no orphan. He could only become king because his father had died, obviously, but that was when he was 19 and very much an adult. His mother, Olympia, used to write him long letters when he was off conquering the world. (One day I will, I promise, write a piece about Alexander for my ‘Ancient History – just the best bits’ series, but it’s daunting because it’s impossible to do him justice.)

I quickly checked up on Julius Caesar too, and his father died when Julius was 16 and just about to enter public life, which I don’t think counts, either. He, too, was to all intents and purposes an adult in that society.

It’s not important, or course – one small fact wrong, and who knows who even made the original mistake with all that citing going on, but it made me think: How often have I relied on someone else’s work, blithely citing them and assuming they’ve checked? How often have other writers built on shaky foundations this way? Not a comforting thought.

By the way, Stott also uses the word ‘authoress’, which is so dated I’d never even heard it before. My new word for myself? 😉


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