How do I find primary citations/best info?
October 5, 2016 8:35 PM   Subscribe

In conversations on the internets, I would like to use facts and stuff. How best to find them?

I know it's futile to argue on the internet, but I would also like facts for myself, so what is the best method to find primary/best sources? My two examples right now are around other elected officials (including G.W.B.) using and losing emails poorly, and ambassadors/diplomats losing their lives during different presidencies. Most searches lead me to news sources, but that doesn't seem good enough.

Direct info on the above would be fab (so I can get back to my friend), but also how to find the most direct information in general would be great. Thank you.
posted by Vaike to Society & Culture (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In general google scholar is a great way to find primary sources in the scholarly literature, but you have to be ready and able to speak the language. Usually you have to either already know a bit about the field, or spend time learning how the key terms are used and learning the lay of the land, using citation lists and forward citations to drill down to more specific and relevant findings. It also helps to have some means of accessing controlled content, because often the relevant stuff is not freely accessible.

But while that's great for some types of things (science, history, medicine) it's not so great for record keeping on recent political figures. With respect to govt, you can find some great stuff on policy and evaluation of programs in the research literature.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:04 PM on October 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

ambassadors/diplomats losing their lives during different presidencies.... Direct info on the above would be fab

By simply Googling [ambassador deaths], I got this 2014 Politifact article fact-checking this statement by a Democratic member of Congress: "during the George W. Bush period, there were 13 attacks on various embassies and consulates around the world. Sixty people died. In Karachi, there was a death of one of our diplomats, and those were not investigated during that period of time because it was a tragedy." Politifact says that's "mostly true" but not precisely correct, and it seems like he understated the number (against his own interest as a Democrat) — see the article for details.

Politifact also says: "an American ambassador died in the [2012 Benghazi] attack, which hadn’t happened since the 1970s." But it's important to be skeptical and scrutinize language: what "hadn't happened since the 1970s"? An ambassador being intentionally killed, or dying while on duty, or what? This article (the first Google result) lists US ambassadors who died "in the line of duty" before Chris Stevens died in the Benghazi attack. It mentions one US ambassador who died in a plane crash after the '70s (1988). Does that count as the same kind of thing? The article doesn't give details, but I assume he died on duty without being murdered. And this article (via the Wikipedia entry on the Benghazi attack) says Stevens was the first US ambassador to be "slain" (murdered) on duty since 1979.

Based on looking at all those sources together (all of which I found very quickly in the most basic ways — through Google and Wikipedia), it seems fair to say that there were dozens of deaths in attacks on US embassies just in the previous administration, but the death of Chris Stevens in Benghazi 2012 was the first time any such thing had happened to a US ambassador in a few decades.

You don't need access to any one great esoteric source. Just read closely, skeptically, thoroughly.
posted by John Cohen at 10:44 PM on October 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I would totally go to the library for this. A good reference librarian should walk you through your search and help you figure out how to find credible articles about these topics. You can transfer these skills to other questions you have. You may want to make a trip to your local public university library or call or email their reference desk. You're a taxpayer, and the librarians at public universities are there to help you, too!

I think you'd get the most out of visiting in person, especially if you want to learn how to search better on your own.
posted by sockermom at 1:39 AM on October 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

For older sources, for documents from the first half of the twentieth century and earlier HathiTrust is good: Also, English Wikisource's list of public domain sources for books and documents. And the Internet Archive.

There's Google News Archive for newspapers, mostly from the U.S., and for Australian ones the Trove.

Google Books can let you see fragments of more recent books, or even entire books, but beware because there's lots of self-published stuff in there that's worthless for citation. (For example, lots of typeset printouts of Wikipedia articles.)
posted by XMLicious at 3:57 AM on October 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

The US government publishes tons of primary information on their websites. is their search portal, but it's a little clunky. If you're more comfortable with Google, just amend to your searches to limit your results. The search string ambassador death brought me to this page from the Department of State.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 6:26 AM on October 6, 2016 for US government records.
posted by splitpeasoup at 9:04 AM on October 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

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