On Research

There are few things more confident than a Bahamian in an argument. And often there are few things more wrong.

You don’t believe me? Speak with a politician. Disagree with him or her, if you dare. Or read any newspaper. Listen to any talk show. Attend one of any number of churches. Provoke an argument, and listen.

Do more than listen. Take a notepad with you. Jot down the things that the writers and the speakers tell you. Then go look those things up in the library or on the internet, and see what you find.

I’ll bet you plenty that you’ll find, more often than not, that what you’ve just heard (and may have chosen to believe) is so far away from reality that it might qualify as old story.

This is because we Bahamians have developed the habit of pontificating without researching our topics first.

Before I go on, let me clarify what I mean by research. I don’t mean collecting a range of opinions or arguments that agree with our own. I don’t mean talking to a whole lot of people about the topic in question and cobbling their ideas together with ours. And I don’t mean looking for documentary evidence that supports the answer that we started out with, even if it means having to chop up sentences to create quotes that work for us.

What I mean is examining a topic with an open mind: approaching the subject with a question, not an opinion; collecting many different viewpoints and facts about the subject, reading through them, and getting some general idea of the range of opinions that exists on that topic.

I mean approaching a subject with enough humility to admit the possibility that what we thought about it might just be wrong.

As a people, we’re really not good about research. Not even the people whose bread and butter comes from finding out, from seeking the range of facts about a particular event or issue — for example, journalists and teachers — make a habit of researching facts. Short-cuts are so much simpler. Rather than finding out as much as possible about a person or an issue, it’s far easier to just ask a speaker for a copy of his speech, and then print it — errors and all — in the newspaper. Instead of questioning the “facts” in the latest textbook and seeking to verify them with independent investigation, it’s so much easier to teach everything that’s in the textbook, even when the information is irrelevant or wrong.

We are a people who accept plenty at face value.

We are a people who can be very easily conned.

Let me give you some examples. Over the past week alone, listening to the radio and the television, I’ve collected the following so-called facts:

The British Colonial Hotel building is over 100 years old (A radio news report).

Haiti was never colonized, which is why the country is in the state it’s in (A caller on a radio talk show).

Homosexuality is unnatural and not found in the animal world (A sermon given at a recent family-values rally).

I went off and researched each one, and discovered that not one is so. Here’s what the research actually revealed:

It’s true that a hotel called the Colonial was built on the site of the present British Colonial in 1899. However, it burned to the ground in 1922 in one of the most spectacular and disastrous fires of its generation, and had to be rebuilt in time for the 1922-1923 season. The original hotel was wooden, and none of it remained after the fire. The new hotel was stone, and that is the building that still stands.

The research also raised the following bit of information: the song “Do A’Nanny”, which was made popular by Ronnie Butler in the 1960s, was in fact about the Colonial fire, and some of the original words included:

The hotel burn down to the ground
No more dancing in this town
Eh-eh, do a nanny do.

As for Haiti, she was most definitely colonized. Sainte-Domingue was the pride of the French Empire, and produced more sugar for France than any other colony. But some years after the French Revolution in 1789, the slaves in Haiti had their own revolution, when they rose up against their masters, expelled the French, and set up the first Black Republic in the New World.

In fact, the reason that Haiti is poor is that the neighbouring slave-owning societies refused to trade with this new Black republic. In order to recognize Haiti as a country, the Europeans imposed such a fine on the nation that the government is still still paying it today.

And with regard to homosexual animals, scientists have discovered many creatures who mate with partners of their own sex. In fact, some long-term studies of animal societies appear to suggest that whenever animal populations become too large, and overcrowding occurs, the incidence of animal homosexuality rises, which leads some scientists to argue that homosexuality is a natural response to overcrowding.

Yes indeed. There are few things more confident than a Bahamian in an argument.

Just do the research before you believe anything he or she says.