Joe asked some good questions in the comments section of part 4. As I began to write a response, I found that I had quickly written almost 3 pages of response, so I figured that would make a pretty annoying comment. I here reproduce his questions and my response. Now I really am finished with posting on this topic. I thank everyone for their longsuffering and comments up to now, I didn’t mean to hijack the blog for the last day or so, I appologize.
It sounds to me like you disagree with Tracy’s methods but not his outcomes? Or in other words do you feel that his evidence is relevant but just a poor organization of the material?
The reason I ask, it seems to me that with such obvious flaws in writing and editing the reader should be able to distance themselves from those negatives and see the real point of what the author was trying to say, albeit very scattered? I could be wrong, but I was curious about your opinion on that point after reading your review.
Also, when you talked to Tracy at the open house, did you find him as scattered in person, or was this just an example of not being able to convey his information in mwriting?
Because I met him as well and I got the impression that he was very thorough with the research. However, after reading your review it seems that the book was not able to capture that same impression.
Any comment for further clarification? Thanks.
Joe, good questions. Kind of like the kind a reporter would ask <g>. Do I feel the evidence is relevant but with poor organization? The short answer is yes, but it goes beyond just poor organization. Wherever there is evidence, it’s relevant, and organizing that evidence in a useful and reasonable way is very important. As I went along in the review, as I set out to write part 4, I realized that though it was clear to me that I didn’t think that Tracy just didn’t know what he was talking about, it might not be clear to the reader of the review. So, in part 4 I took special care to spell that out. The second paragraph here on part 4 is an example. There is no explanation that I could find that told me what these dots of facial recognition were supposed to mean. I know that they’re used in face recognition software, that is mentioned, but how? One could get the impression that I’m saying, “It’s just a bunch of dots up there, the author just made something up.” No. I absolutely think there’s something behind it, but it’s just not spelled out in the book.
Take this quote just a few paragraphs down from that:
I have trouble understanding what basis the author is using to draw his conclusions, and how the reader is expected to do any sort of personal evaluation aside from choosing either to believe or disbelieve the author’s interpretation. I don’t believe the author is just making things up here or in other places, I just don’t believe that, but the book does a poor job in communicating to the reader what seems to be certain in the author’s mind. This is not necessarily uncommon, which is why things like peer review by less involved individuals is important. I think that had (I’m guessing it was not) this book been passed around other than internally before going to press, then many of these difficulties might have been smoothed out and the reader provided with a more coherent study.
Maybe Patrick, who’s already graced us, or someone else connected with the project can comment on what kind of review this book got before going to press. Of course if it was “peer” reviewed, then I say get new peers. Before reading the book one of the things I’d heard about again and again as one of the key determinations was that there were twenty something points of similarity, that the forensics were air tight, it’s good enough for the FBI.
I’ve been accused of becoming “emotionally instable” by Patrick Bishop over on Part 3 because my apparent delusions about the daguerreotype were not realized, as if I’m to blame. Wow. This goes back to the Deseret News article that I cited at the end of this part 4, blaming cynicism about the book on unreasonable expectations of readers, produced by trumped up reports in anonymous emails and such.
My expectations were simply that the book measure up to the talk and it didn’t. As I mentioned in part 1, yes I liked the image, but I was also aware of difficulties, and so, I was reserving judgment until I could get the chance to read it. I wrote this in note 73 over a month ago. “It’s not looking good…” Yea, really strong emotional ties there. No wonder I was excited to read the book, my excitement stemming from the idea that finally, one way or another, here were answers. Did I and do I still “want” a photograph of Joseph? Of course. But does that somehow constitute a debilitating mental condition? If so, then I’m not the sickest one here. And it doesn’t help matters when you hear things like “Everyone that I know of who has seen the documentary or read the book is a believer.” That’s setting a pretty high threshold of expectation. Shannon will perhaps remember what I said on Monday, and I specifically remember what I said, “If this book is anything like what I’ve been hearing, then it’ll be a good review.”
Oh, and furthermore, if you’ll remember that I mentioned that Tuesday was my “angry” day. By the next afternoon I had still only read up to about page 75. You don’t even get to the daguerreotype until page 200! What was the source of my outrage? It was the butchery perpetrated on logic and history up to about page 66. It had nothing to do with Scannel. I didn’t even get to that part until early Tuesday when I was already into my feeling nothing stage.
Maybe Patrick can explain a little about who claims responsibility for those portions, because when I brought my concerns thus far to Shannon on Wed. at the open house, he directed me to someone else.
This precisely is what happens when you are writing angry, you make ridiculous, unfounded statements. Which is why if even 80% of what I’ve written here is solid, given the conditions and constraints I was working under, then I think that would be a pretty amazing vindication of my having written honestly, not in a frenzied wreck.
But I digress.
Back to the issues at hand. Yes, the organization is problematic, yes communication to the reader is very problematic. And evidence? Well, that’s also incomplete.
Can the reader distance themselves with such obvious flaws? That’s the thing, as I also point out, they’re only obvious if you think this way and the majority of people do not. They’re just not trained to. I didn’t think this way back when I was sitting in my Introduction to Teaching Seminary class straight off the mission. I mention in the review that the reader, if not careful, can be easily led along right to the conclusion the author sets forth, regardless of the path.
I did talk with Tracy at the open house and what’s more, I hung out around him for the better part of an hour on Monday when I just happened to visit Eborn’s store (for the first time in a few months I might add, quite providential) and I hung around him for about an hour and listened as he talked with patrons about the book. I found him very open, very likeable, very gracious, and very inviting. He offered to pay for the review copies I asked for, for heaven’s sake. What I hope will not happen is that the publisher will think, “Oh, I’ll never give another book of mine to someone like that again.” Maybe instead, the books should be given to people like me before they are published as well as after, but again, I digress. I got to the open house a little before it was to begin and stood by and listened to the better part of his interview with Channel 4. I was astounded at how composed and articulate he was. It really made an impression on me. I was convinced on Monday that he was convinced and that there must be a reason for that. As far as I could tell, and I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, those reasons are just not in the book. Shannon is someone I think I would find value in having a continued contact with. I would love him to contact me.
I think that one of the biggest problems has been this failure to communicate what is clear in the author’s mind to the audience as I mentioned more than once in the review. I have had this same problem with a paper I’m writing on tracing the history and provenance of two historical relics. It’s all clear in my mind what’s what, and when I gave it to one of my professors he was able to follow it through, but asked that I make further clarifications about which artifact I was talking about in certain instances, as they descend from different branches of the same family, and it can certainly get confusing. What’s the answer? Peer review, peer review, peer review. I have my own guesses at why this wouldn’t have gotten wide prepublication circulation, but I forbear.
Also, determining who you are writing to is a big factor. As far as audience, I think it doesn’t do anybody any favors to write down to people. If this is to be a billed as a forensic study (since there’s apparently nothing else it can be), then write to the forensics experts. Place all of that data forward, so that when someone like Shannon Novak reads the book, she can come away and say, Ok, I can see that. That is a contribution. Granted, it’s hard to write technically and also make it accessible to the lay reader. I’m not pretending that’s not a difficulty, but I believe it’s doable.
So, do I agree with his conclusions if not his methods? Well, I guess I have to say no, because Shannon seems convinced this is authentic, and I am not. As I mention, I’m about right back where I was before reading the book, which was at the reserving judgment stage.
What will get me past that? It’s not having Joseph appear to me in vision and testify of the daguerreotype. Though that would do it all right! I want to see professionals take this study up.
I’m in favor of one more attempt at exhumation. It is tragic that it was done the way it was, possibly with crucial remains lost, damaged, or overlooked and now lost. However, who is to say that it wasn’t also providential? I would like to see these remains taken up and studied correctly by the right people. Not amateurs consulting with professionals, but professionals controlling and leading the study and consulting with other professionals. If Joseph’s leg bone is still there, it should be easy to identify his previous injury and then it should be possible to connect that leg bone to the right skull. Perhaps even DNA testing might be possible. This is the future of this study, not Photoshop. The amateurs must be commended for what has been done up to this time and for injecting life into this pursuit. Heck, I know I’m grateful. What must also be recognized is that it’s time to turn it over to the pros. I reviewed Shannon Novak’s history of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and was astounded at what she was able to tell just from bones, about the life and death of these people. However, there was no way of putting a name to the bones. Here, however, wow. What an opportunity.
Yes, the future is bright, in the right hands and with the right kind of energy. With recent attempts to exhume the body of Parley P. Pratt, maybe now is the right time to start talking about how to put all this speculation about Joseph Smith’s skull to rest once and for all. And in the process, come up with academically acceptable criteria for authenticating a potential daguerreotype of Joseph Smith.