What Is Research?

Research is a challenging field. As a matter of fact, it’s a job in and of itself.

There are many forms of research: reading books, compiling documentation, gathering photo images and videos, conducting surveys, testing theories, internet search engines, interviewing key personnel, and simply observing what goes on in one’s own surroundings. Research, then, covers a vast area of data acquisition.

As expected, field research comprises all of these to some extent, and since each case is different, the extent to which they apply is not always the same. That can make research interesting, to say the least. This form of research–what I call the visual or, more aptly, experiential–is by far one of the most significant and important kinds of research undertaken. Why? People gain tremendous insight from just interacting physically with a subject’s foundation; one can learn more, say, about a place by simply being there than reading about it or reviewing images of it.  The latter is where research starts; the research doesn’t end (if it does at all) until a person is able to merge physically with it. Anyone who visits Mexico, for example, gains knowledge of the country than someone else who merely collects data on it, although I would not dismiss the latter by any means, only to say that the former develops a sense of the place that her/his counterpart has not attained—a sense that is oh-so important with regards to understanding said place, such as Mexico. This is why field research is so important.

Unfortunately, traveling, as exciting as it is, costs money and time, which many people don’t have.  Field research must be planned and conducted according at all times, as both a budget and deadline are usually integral and necessary components to the project.

That should not discourage anyone, however. Those who are motivated by their sense of adventure should go with it; doing field work is never impossible. The important thing is for those interested to know what research field work entails. If one thing is missed or disregarded, the project will have problems and quite possibly come to a halt; knowing about such things ahead of time will ensure that the project runs smoothly.

Knowledge acquisition is not merely finding and collecting data; it quite often requires analysis, deduction and asking questions. These will lead those doing research to determine where and how they should go as well as to piece together bits of data. Since answers are rarely offered up in affirmation, researchers will frequently have to formulate their own conclusions. Interestingly, one researcher’s conclusions will not necessarily coincide with the conclusions of another. Each person’s thinking is different than any other. This is why sharing and collaborating is important; multiple perspectives add depth and dimension to a growing body of knowledge.

Theories make up guiding pointers, yet rarely does the data collected support any theory one hundred percent conclusively. Theories are beliefs one has based on one’s present understanding of data already obtained, nothing else.  They should therefore never be misconstrued as ‘fact,’ regardless of one’s personal or professional standing. Critical analysis is always necessary for continued growth in any subject area, which is why research is boundless.

This blog will feature ongoing discussions regarding my research on own projects as well as issues pertaining to research in general: techniques, the preferred method of research for any given project (and each one is different), gaining permission to enter private property or the best time to visit, the equipment used, traveling, reputable versus questionable sources/resources, money, data interpretation, objective versus biased evaluation, and simply sharing one’s own insights from personal experience. Everything related to research is welcome here.

Please feel free to link this to your sites, too, if you wish. The more readers involved, the merrier!

Have a good day and I’ll see you soon.


Ode to Lambertville – an Update

Some time ago, I wrote two posts (here and here) featuring discussions on Lambertville High School and the legends associated with it. This was an ordinary high school up until its closure in the late-1950s, but it had become famous by way of a few unfounded ghost stories that were so colorful and intriguing they inspired several documentaries, a number of articles, a high ranking on paranormal investigation lists, a movie and a wiki page. The site also became a favorite travel destination for people all over North America.

The particularly interesting aspect regarding Lambertville has been its historical significance. For years, Lambertville held the distinction of being one of the oldest standing high schools in the United States (built in 1854). This impressive status understandably tends to excuse the fact that half of the present structure came as a result of a fire that broke out in 1926 (curiously, the date over the front and rear doors to the newer west wing read ‘1924’). As time went on, the so-called mysterious history of the school spurred on many stories and legends. The most famous one is that of “Buckeye Billy,” the ghostly football player who allegedly died in a freak accident during a football game in the 1930s. These stories have endured and captured the imaginations of many for decades and still do.

Now, a new development has occurred.

As of 5 October of 2012, Lambertville High School is no more—the owner Merrick Wilson finally razed it after authorities applied legal pressure to have the dangerous structure removed.

Many fans, however, are saddened by this, including local teens and a host of paranormal investigators. I am too, but only because we have lost a piece of history. Still, I understand and agree with the reasons behind this necessary action; I would have felt extremely disappointed by the news of injuries or deaths in the deathtrap. Residents who live near there feel relieved as well.

One lingering question is. .. Will this be the end of “Buckeye Billy” and the various other legends indigenous to this place? Probably not; such lore has become ingrained in the psyches of many who will not let these stories go so easily, even though testimony by city authority and previous students have debunked them over the years. Old legends die hard. For this reason, the memory of Lambertville will live on.

As for me, I never bought into the ghost stories as much as the history and how that history could have generated so much lore. High schools generally do not do that.

That does not mean I do not believe in spirits or a spiritual world; some places, in my view, are conceivably haunted. I acknowledged before that my mind is open to such possibilities, but that I am not one to jump to conclusions based on stories passed down. Any serious research requires evidence; constant objectivity is a sign of responsible behavior for any researcher who yearns for concrete findings or facts. Although the “spooky” or “creepy” appearance of an abandoned structure might be indicative of paranormal involvement, it is far from being absolute or conclusive evidence of it.

What is an Abandoned Building?

I make no pretense or excuses regarding my belief in spirits and a spirit world, along with haunting events, nor do I feel the need to; I have my reasons for believing the way I do. I find the subject tremendously fascinating and intriguing.

That said, I find it interesting that many people automatically jump to the conclusion that an abandoned building is or must be haunted. I scrutinize anyone who submits or adheres to such untried or unproven expectations.

There are many reasons why a building might be abandoned, among them fire, lack of a buyer, structural damage and other dangerous circumstances. Abandoned buildings are merely structures that are unoccupied and unused. Could one viable reason be a haunting? Yes, but that is not the ONLY reason.

The mayor and police commissioner have said the same thing about the old Lambertville High School, that it is merely a dilapidated structure, nothing else. The old legends tend to get in the way and create manifestations where they likely do not exist. Reasons behind the eerie effects were attributed to creatures (rats, squirrels, raccoons, etc.) scuttling across dirty, debris-cluttered floors; wind blowing through creaky boards, lights from vehicles passing by on Interstate-129; and the voices, movements and flashlight blades of other explorers in another part of the school. These same authorities have asserted that no deaths ever occurred on the property, and have explained the circumstances behind the school’s abandonment: the consolidation of the school system back in 1959 and the subsequent transfer of the students from Lambertville to Hunterdon for the following year. The community held a picnic on the site after graduation to commemorate the school. The city was to reuse the building, but that objective never materialized. Demolition expenses were too high, and so the building sat unattended—that is it. In light of this, one should question the ghost stories.

“Are the naysayers trying to cover something up?” some might conjecture. My response to that would be: Do you have evidence of that? If not, then your conspiracy theory is just as questionable as the ghost stories.

In order to determine if a structure is truly haunted, one thing a researcher should do is to conduct a background check on said facility. Has anyone died in it, especially in a violent nature? Was it erected on a cemetery or other burial ground? Do any manifestations have a rational or natural explanation? Is there any kind of energy generator situated nearby? . . .

Researchers reach their conclusions through this process. In addition, everything—including the background information—should remain dubious until confirmed. Yes, this is not as fun as going with the imagination, but it ensures that beliefs reflect some aspect of reality and other reasonable factors and are therefore rational and respectable in nature.

Quite often, researchers acquire much of this evidence by going to a location and gaining insight through personal exposure. This is, to an extent, ironic, considering many people who do this misconceive the nature of their encounters by allowing their imaginations to lead their way. This is why one’s frame-of-mind is important when conducting research; if the investigator’s mindset is not open to multiple possibilities, the research is faulty if not questionable.

Under the current circumstances regarding the old Lambertville High School, however, all of this seems moot, but it is not the end as far as viable research is concerned.

Other Avenues . . .


Another regret I have is that I will never have the chance to explore the site myself, not for ghosts, but for the sake of claiming I was there and have captured the essence of what the place was like. That can only happen through field research. I would have also liked to gain further insight on its layout, but I can always seek out the structure’s various blueprints when the time comes (yes, more than one variation likely exists, considering the school’s redesign in the 1920s). I would never trespass and would have attempted to get permission first. As a writer and researcher, I have various [serious] projects in the works that revolve around this sort of thing. Details and accumulation of information are relevant for several reasons. I do have other avenues to take, however, so not all is lost—and these options are far safer.

One option, which I have already started, is to collect data from a variety of sources, including websites and videos, and organize them for future use. Many online sources, a few of them reputable, offer a plethora of information that has helped me learn the basics on Lambertville, its history, its architecture and its multitude of stories. Information should always be double-checked to ensure it is trustworthy and its source(s) reliable.

Other options involve seeking out and interviewing key people, such as those with some knowledge of the school and those who once attended it. Many of the latter are easy to find through old school records. Those students who graduated during the second half of the nineteenth century are out of consideration because of the fact that they are dead. Still, digging for information unearths interesting tidbits. This is one of the great things about conducting research. Researchers should never seek out specifics; those interested in learning about something need to keep their minds open and follow through to seek whatever they can find. The journey is much more fruitful and exciting that way. Why? Researchers never know what they will find—they might stumble across something even more beneficial than what they had expected at the onset.

As I explained in my previous posts on this blog, images, though limited in their ability to permit spectators the multi-sensual perspectives that on-site research will allow, can provide insight through close and ongoing study. Although these images cover years of change due vandalism and deterioration, the use of scrutiny and deductive reasoning can help me fit together several pieces of the puzzle. In fact, such changes offer insight into the deterioration process itself brought about through various contributory factors. Still photographs and videos alike can disclose a lot of valuable information to use in various ways. I like this process; it is time-consuming, but it is intellectually stimulating and exciting. I would rather work at creating my own knowledge than have it simply handed to me. The former is much more rewarding.

An example of the above is something culled from my growing collection of pictures of the old Lambertville High School. By looking at and comparing the details apparent in the images, I am able to situate certain rooms on certain floors in certain areas, and I am able to scale the floors that way. I have done that to some extent, at least for the west wing; the east wing was essentially nothing more than a pile of rubble inside a brick shell. In this way, I can get an idea what the school layout was once like.

The graffiti also added to the overall feel of the school and alluded to the character of those people who frequented the place. Many individuals, including a host of paranormal investigators, somehow deemed the chalkboard drawings mysterious in nature because they apparently mirrored children who, according to legend, died there. Their existence gave the theory of the children a sense of legitimacy because viewers could actually see them. Still, the likelihood some talented unknown drew these depictions to create a stir renders that theory questionable. Nevertheless, explorers and thrill-seekers alike took the images seriously; long before the razing of the building, they tore out every chalkboard. These particular drawings were among the first to disappear.

In the end, whatever means of research one conducts, that person can extrapolate information in a way that makes the resulting knowledge her or his own.

Provable Information

The provable aspect was its architecture. This I found quite interesting on many levels, with regard to not only style and layout, but also nineteenth-century construction. When gazing upon the structure in present-day, we cannot help but consider the fact that staff and students from an era long-passed actually conducted educational affairs here. Some sections of the east wing stood since before the American Civil War. This was truly a treasure trove of historical knowledge reflected through the item itself.

“How can this be?” you might ask.

The answer lies in the fact that the genuine article rests before us to study fully through all the relevant senses—visual, olfactory, auditory and tactual. This opportunity is not restricted to simply viewing a video, but in physically interacting with it. Many explorers to Lambertville High School, though breaking trespassing laws and risking their safety, knew this very well. They touched the crumbling brick and old chipped plaster, strolled down the musty hallways, passed through the actual doorways and witnessed the sunset from the classroom windows just as students and staff had eighty years ago. In essence, these explorers learned by transporting back into time and having the same relative experiences as those who had lived far in the past.

When it comes to the architecture, we also see the style: the small, slender windows on each staircase landing and in each room’s recess chamber, and the trim, which bore little-to-no relief, offering a sense of simplicity that avoided ostentation without sacrificing elegance or attractiveness. Pasty sea green doors featured three rows of near-square glass panes under which were stenciled identifiers, such as teacher’s names and class subjects, that gave us a feel for the interior design common in the early twentieth century (and even earlier). In addition, time left behind a number of desks and chairs upon which sat many teachers and students long forgotten. An old faceless clock, which wound up in the woods, bore testimony to a particular someone’s office tastes. Perhaps that person was a principal from years ago. These design features are non-contestable because they are real and therefore speak to us about the physical appearance and consistency of the school without receiving any objection or challenge to that effect.

The razing of the old Lambertville High School was to protect the well-being of future trespassers, but with it went an equally valuable piece of human history.

Final Thoughts on Lambertville

Lambertville High School was nothing more than a simple decrepit building deteriorating over the passage of time, but it was also unique. The legends created a world that, much like that of Disney, inspired and fired the imagination. The “What if . . .” factor was and still is a guiding force for those who believe, or want to believe, in something more . . .

In the end, Lambertville is physically gone, but it will always remain in our collective consciousness, perhaps because of her legends, perhaps because of her history. Whatever the case, she will live on in all of those who remember, and that is really all we can ask.

Side Note:

By the way, I DO enjoy ghost stories; they intrigue and enthrall me. My primary question is: What spurred them on? They couldn’t have appeared out of thin air; something must have inspired them. In this sense, ghost legends are based on some reality, otherwise they wouldn’t exist. My goal is to investigate these cases and see where they originated and what basis they have.

Maybe, just maybe, the stories reflect an actual haunting; perhaps they are true. I am always excited to find out . . .

Sources and References


Abclocal.com: “Haunted” NJ High School Being Torn Down.”
Beacon, The: “Lambertville: Officials Happy School Is Gone.”
Connolly Architecture
Frank E. Burd. “Education,” Hunterdon Schools.
“History of the City of Lambertville. Hunterdon County, New Jersey”
Kiriluk-Hill, Renee. NJ.com: “Couple Recalled Lambertville High School Before It Closed”
Kiriluk-Hill, Renee. NJ.com: “’Haunted’ High School’s Demolition Draws Near in Lambertville.”
Kiriluk-Hill, Renee. NJ.com: “’Haunted’ High School Reduced to Rubble in Lambertville.”
Wiki Page: Lambertville High School.

Blogs and Websites

Abandoned New Jersey
Amazon.com: Only Go There at Night
Antiquity Echoes
Buck’s Lore
Chasing Midnight
Chimney Hill
Exiles Magazine
Flickr Images: Lambertville High School.
Kitty the Dreamer Hub Pages
Lambertville High School, The.
Lost Destinations
Lost in Jersey
My Abandoned Buildings.
Nick Explores.
North Jersey Exploration: Lambertville High School.
Parainvestigator’s Report.
Quality Control.
Super Goop, The.
Surreal New Jersey.
WeirdNJ: Lambertville High School.
WeirdNJ: Lambertville High School, The: Chalkboards.
Wikimapia: Lambertville High School.

Documentaries and Videos

Best Records: Lambertville High School.
Lambertville School: Videos from Around the Local Hunterdon Area.
YouTube: Lambertville High School (part I).
YouTube: Lambertville High School: a Documentary.
YouTube: Old Lambertville High School Documentary.
Veengle.com: Abandoned Lambertville High School.
Zomobo: Lambertville High School.

What Do You See in the Darkness? – An Update

In line with my previous post (see here), I thought it was time to follow up on an older post (here) with some clarification and elaboration due to a few updates I have on the subject matter, namely that of a particular (and peculiar) photo supposedly taken some time ago at Waverly Hills Sanatorium, a famed institution in northern Kentucky—one purported to be haunted.

First, I want, and need, to make a clarification, lest some readers jump to the wrong conclusion regarding my original post in relation to the rest of the blog. In said post, I made it sound as if the place actually is haunted. As a responsible researcher, I cannot do that without concrete evidence to substantiate the claim. Widespread belief isn’t enough, and I am not one to buy into sensationalism. What I meant when I described the alleged haunting there is, should a place actually be haunted, that place would be Waverly Hills, considering its history of despair, pain and death. Places known for having a traumatic history are said to be those where the spirits of the dead linger on. Although that assertion makes some degree of sense, whether or not that is true is up for conjecture and evidence to conclude. Assuming the theory is true, however, hospitals would be among those locations where spiritual activity is the strongest. This was the premise of my initial point before, and I stand by it even now.

In my original post, I linked a particular image, unlike the rest I have seen, that appears to be an EMF containing indistinct but definite shapes (here it is). I asked readers to look at it, study it, and then share their perceptions on it. A few people actually did so, and a couple of interesting discussions ensued. Again, that whole post revolved around the assumption that Waverly Hills is haunted and that the image in question is authentic.

A point of caution here: Many visuals are hoaxes and are clearly bogus, so we cannot jump to the conclusion this image does contain anything genuine. The hazy shapes we see in the darkness might have been engineered in one fashion or another for the sake of creating a stir, or they might be something else, such as dust (this IS an old place) . . .

The shot was taken at Waverly Hills (sorry, Mike), as we can see by this picture I discovered later on a Flickr stream. The heart drawn underneath the square opening in the wall to the viewer’s right and the marring in the doorway to said viewer’s left are identical to the details in the EMF. This picture shows where the investigator took the shot, or this might have been one possible photo used to create the mysterious image in the dark, if that image is, in fact, a fake. If it isn’t, and it is real, this is the place where something unexplained once took place, unless the EMF device malfunctioned . . .

Sorry, but I have to consider all possibilities, if said possibilities are viable in the first place. I would dismiss something that doesn’t make sense or isn’t conceivable in any way. Objectivity and rational thinking go hand-in-hand.

Okay. Moving on . . .

As I continued my searching, I came across a blinking presentation made by Stephen Wagner, a paranormal researcher at About.com (Take a look). He offers one interpretation of what he sees in the darkness, although his outline appears incomplete.

What do you think?

The great thing about seeing/reading/hearing another person’s interpretation or beliefs on something is that we gain insight from a different point of view. We might agree or disagree with it, but at least we learn to think of things in different ways. This is important for conducting research and accumulating knowledge. Some people believe in spirits and the paranormal; others do not, claiming such a belief is irrational. Yet others think it is possible to apply scientific principles and rational thinking to prove the existence of the paranormal. As a matter of fact, some scientists have even taken up the challenge. Whatever the case, the advance in research requires an open mind to many different possibilities without expecting anything definite either way.

With regard to Waverly Hills, the debate has been no different than any other situation involving the paranormal: Some individuals with certain sensitivities have insisted the place is haunted, while others have experienced nothing discerning paranormal activity. The former claim that not everyone possesses the sensitivity to see, feel and hear certain things, which explains why not everybody encounters such activity. Skeptics continue to disregard all of this, which is a good thing; a certain degree of skepticism is essential to remaining objective. Over the years, several observers have claimed to witness a variety of things. Such phenomena involved manifestations that include “shadow people” and voices (both recorded and aurally perceived). One could feasibly assert that these experiences are/were due to wild imaginations spurred on by old stories and subconscious expectations. Cases of the unknown, especially those having a paranormal nature, are tough to prove to everyone’s satisfaction, but the discussions are intriguing and captivating just the same.

Those who wish to acquire facts on Waverly Hills should first go to two reputable sites (here and here) for information on the hospital and its history. Wikipedia is another one worthy of attention in this case. Having that background will allow researchers to develop a solid foundation before deciding whether or not the site is actually haunted.

Again, one should never jump to any conclusion without evidence or confirmation of some sort. Still, gazing at this picture, getting lost in it and thinking about the myriad of possibilities is exciting and fun.

Just remember to keep your feet on the ground and stay rational.

If anyone has further information on this image, please feel free to share. I urge Sarah Biddle, who supposedly owns the original image, to chime in with her insight. I would like to know more about it.

Perception versus Fact: Which Is More Decisive?

What is there to say about the Jerry Sandusky case that hasn’t already been said? The arguments go on and on: “He’s a f****** scumbag who needs to be put down!”. . . ”He was sick and needs help!”. . . “Poor kids deserve better than this”. . . “The other coaches and ‘Joepa’ (Joe Paterno) knew this and didn’t say anything about it—they are JUST as guilty!”. . . “The football program at Penn State should be dismantled”. . . “The football program should be maintained, since it has nothing to do with what Sandusky did”. . . ”If the football program is discontinued, the players will suffer for it”. . . “Dismantling the program will show that powerful people cannot get away with this”…“It’s so typical—football and money are more important than the welfare of young boys”. . . “The president is only trying to gain sympathy by saying he was abused as a child, but that is irrelevant, as he knew about this and let it happen—string the bastard up!”. . . “Take down the statue of Joe Paterno—he’s a shameful SOB”. . . ”No, leave the statue. After all, Paterno didn’t actually commit the crime”. . . “That doesn’t matter”. . .

Do I adhere or subscribe to any or all of these perspectives?

As a professional writer and researcher, not to mention a rational and intelligent human being, I learned a long time ago never to jump to conclusions about anything, especially if I am on the outside and do not have all the facts. Unlike many others in America, I read and analyze and assimilate all the information, but I never jump to any conclusions, no matter how a situation looks. I am level-headed and responsible that way.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t sympathize with supposed victims or believe that this sort of crime is okay; on the contrary, my heart goes out to anyone hurt by another, especially those involved in a case of personal violation. Likewise, I do not condone such behavior and believe that anyone actually guilty of committing such a crime should be duly and fairly punished in accordance with the laws that apply, as long as the evidence is there to substantiate the claim that the suspected and charged actually DID commit the crime. Still, evidence is always in question, including eyewitness testimony.

And then there was that original investigator who supposedly wound up missing and his laptop the only thing recovered. This looks suspect, but we STILL do not have all the information, so we cannot jump to one conclusion or another.

The reality is, however, that no one really knows what happened in every aspect of the case. No one really knows what went on in the mind of every person involved. No one really knows what the complete truth is.

“But the jury found him guilty on 45+ counts of child sexual abuse and other charges. Even many of the victims came forth and testified—“

Yes, I know that, but we, those who comprise the public forum, are not privy to every bit of information involved. Can we say with 100 percent certainty where the evidence came from, that said evidence and testimony both are reliable? Keep in mind that the public receives its information through the media, not always first-hand. Much of what we have acquired might be true, but because we don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle, we are still not 100 percent sure of anything.

This is/was a high-profile case, so presentation by all of those involved, including the media, is crucial for the sake of public support. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all the details, all of the ‘facts,” are in line with reality. High-profile cases have an image to maintain, and that image, whether reflective of truth or not, usually influences and sways the perception and opinion of the public, as it has done and is designed to do.

So what’s my opinion on the issue? I don’t have one, and precisely for the reasons explained above. I guess that IS my stance—that I don’t have all the information involved and so I am not jumping to any conclusions on the matter. That’s the safest and wisest place for me and for anybody who wouldn’t want to appear foolish or misguided.

Mob Mentality and Vigilantism

Despite what I have said above, many people will and already have reacted emotionally with self-righteous indignation regarding the case. Is this right? Well, it’s typically human, perhaps, but that doesn’t mean it justifies the end.

Due to the firing up of public opinion, people think, even insist, they know everything pertaining to the case and that “there will be no further argument”. Others become so emotional over sensitive and controversial cases such as this they take up arms and follow through with their own brand of “justice” based on perceptions instead of facts as if they believe they are in the right. This generally refers to vigilantism, and it creates more trouble than it intends to overcome.

This is one reason why I don’t form any opinion over situations in which I have no part to play. In most cases I could be wrong. Anyone could be. Then what?

The SVP registry is a great example of this. Registrants have a variety of backgrounds, but all have paid their debt to society in the fashion dictated by the law of the land. Most, though guilty of some form of a crime, are not a danger to society, as recidivism is extremely minimal and the nature of most sex offenders’ crimes is inconsequential (e.g. some SO registrants were caught urinating in public while others were young boyfriends charged with having consensual sex with their underage girlfriends). Yet those with a mob mentality neglect to read the important details. Even when they do so, they STILL do not have all of the information on that particular case, and what’s worse is that most perceptions are inaccurate in the end.

What happens when a person kills someone who is actually innocent or who has already paid for his crime? That’s murder; it is a crime, it is socially immoral and (for those who are religious) it is a sin.

When vigilantes with inaccurate perceptions and lack of information allow themselves to fly on emotional adrenaline, their actions can make them criminals as well.

What’s in a name? Confusion Leads to Misperception

One example of misperceptions lies in the terminology used to refer to certain types of behavior. For the sake of being consistent with the above subject matter, I will use the most misconstrued term related to the subject of sex offenders: ‘pedophilia’.

Pedophilia denotes the ongoing attraction to and/or sexual preference for prepubescent children. This can be exclusive or non-exclusive, but it is always predominant. The criteria for pedophilia as listed in the DSM states “generally 12/13 or younger,” but this, in current times, is inaccurate. Most 12 and 13-year-olds (even many 11-year-olds) are pubescent and exhibit signs of physical sexual maturation and therefore would not fall into the target range of pedophilia. Doctor Allen Francis, who helped word the criteria back in the DSM IV, has said that the upper age of 12/13 was given for the purpose of establishing a general ‘upper limit’ for the age range in question and should not be taken literally. At the time he and his group delineated this description, 12/13 was common age for the onset of puberty. But biological change occurs earlier and earlier over time and currently arrives, on average, around age 9 or 10. Francis has subsequently stated that the target attraction/preference for actual pedophilia in modern times would likely fall in the ’10- and-younger’ age range. Simply put, pedophilia refers to the degree of physical sexual development (or lack thereof) and NOT to age. Due to the fact that the law categorizes those individuals up to age 18 as “children,” most people presume that the term “children” stated in the basic definition of pedophilia refers to everyone under 18. See why so many people are confused here? Apparently, these people are not able to distinguish between pathology and crime, or between nature/science/psychiatry and law.

The term “children” as used with regard to pedophilia, Frances explains, refers to prepubescent children only. Once a youth passes into puberty and is able to copulate, s/he is biologically no longer a child, despite legal definitions. This is nature and attests to the vulgar but true “old enough to bleed, old enough to breed.” This natural fact does not bend or change to the pressure of morality. The psychiatric world does not recognize an adult’s attraction to sexually maturing teens as pathological for this reason. As a matter of fact such an attraction is common, natural and normal. The inclination toward young fertility is evolutionarily “wired’ into the male psyche and kicks in on its own. The sheer number of adult males who have been and continue to be drawn to adolescents also attests to this.

In line with what I have conducted through my research, not all youth are necessarily “victims”. Many teenagers either consent or initiate with adults as well. One example is Vili Fualaau, Mary Kay Latourneau’s former student and current husband. He was 12/13 at the time and still insists he was not a victim. Heather Corinna, a sex journalist who has had extensive experience with teenagers, argues this point persuasively in her controversial article “Rage of Consent”. In her opinion, as well as those of many of her adult interviewees who, as teenagers, had ongoing sexual relationships with adults, sex between informed teenagers and adults is not always harmful and can be healthy to those involved. The term “victim,” although varying among schools of thought, is used loosely, so it is very much subjective; but it is still quite frequently used in error.

Another signification of the points made in the previous paragraphs is that the various ages of consent around the world are considerably lower than in the United States. The age of consent in most of Europe is 14, and so sex between consenting 14+ and adults is, in fact, legal in those countries. As Doctor Richard Green states, these countries would not legalize a practice that would otherwise be indicative of a mental abnormality. Green was instrumental in getting homosexuality removed from the DSM during the 1970s and 80s.

By the way, the rates for teen pregnancies, STDs and child sexual abuse are minimal in Europe, compared to the United States where they are the highest. This is interesting, considering the latter is armed with countless laws designed to prevent these phenomena from occurring in the first place.

Adult-adolescent sexual interaction, which is not pedophilic, has a strong historical prevalence and has never been considered mentally aberrant behavior–until now by the ill-informed mob mentality noted above. The only place where the so-called “predator panic” exists is in North America, predominantly the United States.

For the record: I abhor both sexual abuse and pedophilia; these two forms of behavior are detestable and I do not condone either one, nor do I promote breaking the law. There are many valid reasons why sex between adults and youths should not be acceptable, such as emotional maturity and age disparity. My commentary here merely serves as a means of (1) clarifying the distinction of pedophilia in relation to adult-adolescent sex, (2) offering cultural, scientific and naturalistic explanations for adult-teen sex and (3) discussing the facts that support these schools of thought.

Sandusky and the Mob Mentality

As far as Sandusky’s diagnosis by experts in the field, I am not certain, but it might not be pedophilic in nature, depending on the sexual development of the lads whom he allegedly abused. If the claim against him is true and force was used, his issues might relate to other kinds of diagnoses. Again, I mention this to get people to retract their preconceptions based on the above information and further information obtained through the list of source links below. Do not apply labels unless they are applicable.

“But his victims were all young, somewhere between 10 and 12. That would make him a f****** child molester and a pedophile—“

Well, “child molester” is such an emotionally charged term and usually reserved for those who engage in forcible sex. In the eyes of the law, he’d be considered a rapist, yes, if he actually committed those crimes; as for a pedophile, not necessarily. The two are not one and the same. Some pedophiles don’t molest, and those who sexually interact with adolescents are not necessarily pedophiles. Read the previous section again and visit the links provided below. A valid and solid viewpoint works best if it is an informed one.

To prove my point above, consider the following cases…

Some men (and women) have engaged with those youths under 13/14 and missed the diagnosis of pedophilia because the youths had already entered puberty.

One person that comes to mind is Jeffery Neuhauser, who was charged on two counts for having sex with a minor–two boys, one 13, the other a little younger than 13. Because he was evaluated as a non-pedophile, he was charged and tried as a “hebephile” (a pseudo-scientific term used by the legal system to refer to adults drawn sexually to young adolescents, although such an attraction is not recognized by the psychiatric community as anything aberrant). What happened? He was convicted (which, of course, he deserved if he had broken the law), but the judge (Terence Boyle) didn’t buy the government’s claim of a “serious mental illness” and tossed out the charge that would have sent Neuhauser to a mental institution upon the completion of his prison term.

Another case is that of Roman Polanski who, back in 1978, engaged with 13-yeat-old Samantha Geimer (nee Geisler) who was sexually mature for her age. A host of psychiatrists and a probation officer examined him and came to a unanimous conclusion that he was/is not—repeat NOT—a pedophile or a danger to society—just a law-breaker.

The above examples, only two of many, show why the sexual classification of pedophilia cannot rely on age alone, especially since each youth develops differently than any other.

So how should anyone classify Jerry Sandusky? The answer depends on the facts, which involve his background, his preferences, his state of mind and what actually happened regarding his case. That’s as far as we can go.

In the end, before anyone decides to form a judgment call on any situation, that person should conduct research and ascertain facts as necessary. Do NOT rely on second-hand knowledge or the news media. Education is a wonderful thing and will hopefully lead to the betterment of our society and how we treat one another.


Age of Consent

Corinna, Heather. Rage of Consent

Francis, Allen MD. DSM-5 In Distress: Needs to Reject Hebephilia Now

Francis, Allen MD. Hebephilia Is Not a Mental Disorder in DSM-IV and Should Not Become One in DSM-5

Franklin, Karen PhD. Federal Judge Tosses Hebephilia as the Basis of Civil Detention

Franklin, Karen PhD. Hebephilia Bites the Dust…Again

Franklin, Karen PhD. Hebephilia Controversy

Franklin, Karen PhD. Hebephilia ‘Hidey Hole’

Franklin, Karen PhD. Invasion of the Hebephile Hunters

Franklin, Karen PhD. Quintessence of Diagnostic Pretextuality

Greene, Richard PhD. Hebephilia as a Mental Disorder?


Levenson, Jill S. PhD. Public Perception about Sex Offenders and Community Protection Policies

Rowan, Shana. An Uncomfortable Truth

Rowan, Shana. Killing a Sex Offender Does Not Equal Protecting Children

Rowan, Shana. Sex Offender Serial Killer: Urgent Call to Action

Tauro, Joseph, Judge. Final Statements on Todd Carta

Wikipedia Profile: Mary Kay Letourneau

DISCLAIMER: I want to reiterate that I am NOT a supporter of child abuse or pedophilia. My commentary serves only to clarify the appropriate meanings and applications of terminology, as well as to educate readers who seek the correct information regarding the subject matter. As per the main point of this article: Do NOT jump to any conclusions. Thank you.

The Complex Nature of Older or Outdated Sources

Outdated sources, whether printed material or visual media, are questionable when it comes to validation assessment in research.

Is this an easy assessment to make? The answer is: sometimes yes, sometimes no.

The rule for conducting research is that sources go back no earlier than ten, sometimes fifteen, years prior. This is a commonly known and employed rule that covers pretty much all kinds of research in virtually every field of expertise.

Why is this? Why ten-to-fifteen years? Well, one reason is that more recent sources have up-to-date findings and other developments that take precedence in the accumulation of information to support any point being made in any academic and/or professionally-oriented venue. This is especially the case when it comes to updates, because current findings only make sense when they are rooted to recent information. New editions tend to follow their predecessors around every decade or two. Hence: the reason for the ten-to-fifteen-year limitation.

However, there are many circumstances where older sources are not only preferable, but necessary, such as research accounts illustrating the origins or historical development of a phenomenon when older texts either have not been surpassed or establish points confirm the appropriateness of age (such as an attitude, say, regarding slavery from the eighteenth century where a quote affirms a certain belief) or when an evaluation requires historical documentation to gain solid foundation. This latter case is all too common with regard to issues and/or subject matter whose significance is rooted far in the past.

In her article “Hebephilia: Quintessence of Diagnostic Pretextuality,” published in Behavioral Sciences and the Law (2010) [1], esteemed psychologist Karen Franklin discusses the many aspects and dimensions regarding the current [re]emergence of “hebephilia,” a pseudoscientific construct being used by the United States government to pathologize the adult attraction to sexually mature(-ing) adolescents under 18 (not to be confused with pedophilia, which denotes an adult’s attraction to prepubescent youths). This phenomenon (“hebephilia”) is both natural and common and goes back to the beginning of human history; adult-teen sex is therefore not a new development. [2] Dr. Franklin clarifies this in the section entitled “History of the Construct,” within which she draws on the insight of earlier specialists and their myriad of studies to show that such attraction/interest is not and cannot be indicative of mental abnormality [3] (see pp.25-32). Such ongoing efforts to pathologize an age-old sexual practice merely serve as a pretextual means to accommodate non-scientific agendas and alleviate public anxiety, nothing else. [4] [5] The historical research and those who conducted it are essential to show this, and so older citations are necessary here; in this particular case, antiquated sources provide insight to establish the points confirmed, in light of the “predator panic” that has raged over the past decade or so.

One of her many rationales: How can something suddenly be mentally abhorrent when it has been normal for ages and is rooted in evolution? THIS is precisely why general history and old references are important. The famous Kinsey research studies from the 1950s-70s are one example of this. When it comes to sexuality, the Kinsey’s studies are essential [6], even though they are anywhere from 40-to-50 years old; no argument or discussion on this complex topic would be substantial without their mention.

There is no morality in science; research must always be conducted objectively if final points and informational development are to be effective [7].

One must remember that research is ongoing and can be achieved in a multitude of ways [8], [9], [10]. These methods involve various means, which are all imperative to execute in order to conduct viable and effective research, but should not be confused with the patterns described below. Personal Research begets unique strategies devised on the part of the needs and discernments of the researcher.

One strategy is linear, meaning research is conducted from left-to-right (i.e. oldest to newest) or in reverse order from right to left (most recent to least recent), depending on the purpose and the information required for the research. One problem with the left-to-right described above is that researchers might not know where to begin, especially if they are unfamiliar with the history of a subject. For this reason, the right-to-left process is likely to be easier, less problematic and more fruitful.

A second strategic pattern of conducting research goes in “descending” order; that is researchers begin with primary or most important sources and then move progressively through other references in descending order to least significant. This can work with most intriguing/challenging/problematic-to-least intriguing/challenging/problematic as well.

Still, although authorities on a given topic are usually given the benefit-of-the-doubt, like Franklin mentioned above (after all, authorities would know, wouldn’t they?), additional research will always be necessary to (1) assess the validity of any source or resource considered, especially if it is older, and (2) to see if further updates have subsequently been made on it. In the case where an older authority goes uncontested or continues to serve as an overall authority on a given subject, researchers refer to that source first and then “branch out,” which is a third pattern of researching.

Older Sources that Stand the Test of Time

Still, there are sources that remain significant and hold their power over time and really never weaken. These sources include (but are not limited to) literary texts, such as the works of Shakespeare, the books of Dante and the poetry of Walt Whitman. These texts say something about their respective time periods and therefore serve as a looking glass into those eras. Whitman’s Blades of Grass [11] is one example of nineteenth-century American political and social commentary that is essential for research in many fields, like politics, social studies, international relations, American history, linguistics, and, yes, even literature. Due to the poem’s sense of immediacy with regard to the conditions of the time period (it was written during the nineteenth century by a man living through that about which the poem documents), its references are always authoritative.

Another kind of source that maintains its usefulness and strength over the passage of time is ancient documentation, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls [12]. These offer a look into ancient cultures, and although modern assessments insightfully elaborate on them, they hold keys to the historical periods in which they were written and/or to which they refer. The lengthy poem Beowulf, although literary in nature, fits in this category as well because it reflects many aspects pertaining to Danish lifestyle during the Dark Ages [13], the same with the Venerable Bede’s ecclesiastical commentaries [14] from around the same time period. Like Literary texts, these also serve as a portal into another era . . .

The scrolls are an excellent example of both secular and religious records from a particular era. Most of the writings are on parchment, or animal hides; yet others are on papyrus reed and at least one, the Copper Scroll, is on sheets made of bronze [15]. This material alone is an indication of how texts were produced during their time. Their content, written primarily in the ancient Hebrew tongue of Aramiac and dated to the first few centuries BCE, covers many Books from the Hebrew Bible, which comprises both the Old Testament of the Catholic Bible and that of the Protestant Bible [16]. In addition, the sectarian papers delineate the politics and culture of the group of people that composed them. These scrolls are primary sources for ongoing research because they not only convey particular aspects of ancient Hebrew civilizations [17], but also confirm that much of the early biblical texts were created prior to the birth of Christ, inferring that the seeds of Christianity actually preceded this key figure by hundreds of years [18].

Beowulf is pretty much the same way. In 1815, Grímur Jónsson Thorkelin, the Danish National Archivist at the time, produced Beowulf in its first edition, referring to it as “A Danish Poem in Anglo-Saxon Dialect Concerning Danish Events of the Third and Fourth Centuries.” This title indicates that the poem itself reflected Danish occurrences from the early part of the first millennium CE; the contents are reminiscent of early Danish battles (e.g. the Battle of Finnesberg in A.D. 400) and political movements that involved various figures featured in the story, suggesting that Beowulf’s inspiration was based on actual people and events [19], [20]. For this reason, the Beowulf text serves as an ongoing source of value in fields such as history, ancient civilizations, text production, language development and even poetry writing.

As Beowulf likely cited earlier people and events, so would be the case with Bede, who was known for his elaborate and detailed records of the civilization in which he lived. As he was the first official historian for the Church of England, his accounts were much valued, as insightful as they were, not only because they provided a religious voice for an emerging nation (and still do), but also their historical and cultural significance [21]. His most famous and prominent piece, La Historia Ecclesiatica Gentis Anglorum (“The Ecclesiastical History of the English People”), was a five-part chronicle depicting the nuances of scientific, political and religious life in England from Caesar’s reign to the time of the work’s completion in about A.D. 731. A blend of legend and traditional knowledge, the work drew on the earlier records of various writers that included Crosius and Prosper of Aquitaine, both of whom made similar observations about the same period. Documentation wasn’t easy to obtain, especially after A.D. 600, but the Venerable Bede was known for his committed resourcefulness and persistence. This in-depth account didn’t go without some degree of criticism, but, like Beowulf, it nonetheless remains an indelible and enduring source in various areas of study with regard to life in England during the Dark Ages. Bede’s reputation as a meticulous researcher probably accounted for that.

The Greek masters of the Athenian period changed the way people have lived over the past twenty-five hundred years; their philosophical texts offer a continuing authority into all facets of modern western civilization [22]. Socrates, who was known as the father of modern thought, redirected attention from the earlier concerns over natural science and the physical world to those of morality and ethics. His teachings served to instill in everyone a greater sense of complexity to the human condition. His most prodigious student, Plato, continued the tradition. His Republic explored the concept of justice, what it means and how essential it is in the course of human events. Aristotle was the one who made a direct impact on the world of science and the necessity of rational thought in all parts of life, for which he planted the seed that continues to shape civilizations today [23]. These three voices collectively provide a starting point that can never be ignored or undermined, although criticisms abound and carry on as human intelligence continues to unfold. After all, if we are to understand who we are and why we live as we do, the answers lie in the distant past. The canon of texts produced by these three figures is deemed not only primary as far as sources go, but universally important and influential regarding much of that which has followed them.

The same point with regard to historical referencing goes for speech and language, and in this case that point is especially crucial. Texts in Latin, Old English and Middle English provide linguistic and entomological clues as to the inception and ongoing development of the modern English language [24]. The Old English-Latin alphabet, for example, shows the direct influence of Latin in the creation of what would eventually be English. This alphabet consisted of 24 characters, or letters, 20 of which were extracted from Latin itself. Old English texts scribed between A.D.400 and 1000 show this to be the case [25]. The aforementioned Beowulf is one of many, along with a variety of other poems, records and chronicles such as those written by Bede. Old English, which at that time was in constant flux, was primarily written in the style of runes (futhorc); during the reign of Emperor Charlemagne, though, Christian missionaries in Ireland incorporated the half uncial script to ensure the language maintained its Latin foundation. In A.D. 1011, some fifty years prior to the invasion of England by William the Conqueror, that alphabet was extended to 29 characters, this time including all 26 letters of the current alphabet system and a few more held over from the runic alphabet, including the Tironian note ([]), the thorn (þ) and the ‘A’ and ‘E’ combination (Æ) to facilitate the short ‘A’ sound as in “pat.” The writer Byrhtferð initiated this change to accommodate the growing numerological expressions that were important at the time, but it was significant in that the alteration carried many features, like the short ‘A’ sound, that would remain in modern English a millennium later [26], [27]. Since these ancient texts serve as evidence as to the origin of our language, they hold important linguistic value that assures that they take precedence as far as research goes; when one attempts to demonstrate the development of the English language through the implementation of historical records, these texts undeniably and indisputably confirm its origin.

Any of the types of the sources mentioned above are especially important if they are the subject being researched, and ongoing studies are always being conducted on old texts for greater understanding with regard to our earlier states-of-being.

Regardless of the purpose of conducting research, however, a plan needs to be devised to facilitate that purpose, whatever it is or should be. Research is, in itself, a career because it is so vast with its own canon of rules and procedures, and includes an ever-growing set of skills for those involved in it. Existing academic curricula in both high school and college education now revolve around research and how to conduct it, and this has become even more important for students to learn, especially outside of the context of any subject; research itself has become a subject of ongoing study.

Researching research, then, is a part of the whole process, and this takes quite a bit of time away from the subject matter (if the topic of primary research is something other than research itself). The validity of sources and resources is so crucial and is a time-consuming process, but it is a necessary one for those who are serious about their own voices. Voices become more substantial when the points made have a solid essence.

Movies and Television: Artistic Liberty over Reality

Movies and television programs are always fun to watch and are great diversions, but they are never to be taken seriously. This is likely due to the fact that such fare intends foremost to entertain. In this context, then, artistic liberty takes precedence, even when the content claims to promote a sense of realism. Audiences, especially professional researchers, must always remember that point. Unless the research conducted pertains to entertainment, movies and television are not reliable resources for factual information.

That’s not to say that such media offer no valuable insight worthy of intellectual consideration. Frasier was a long-running television series known for its high-brow content dealing with real life issues and personal growth; yet it should be noted that the show was a comedy written and produced to entertain above all else. Viewers are wise not to depend on the show as an authority on psychiatry or to promote therapeutic treatment, though the insights shared do offer watchers an opportunity for personal reflection. Still, everyone should remember that this example serves as a means of artistic expression, not a professional or academic contribution to the behavioral sciences.

As for full-length features, films depicting historical events do not guarantee complete factually based content. The Titanic (one of my specialties, as my readers already know) is an ideal example. The actual event caught the world by storm in April of 1912. Over time, the ship and its story would achieve the status of legend. As a result, the tragedy has inspired no fewer than eight different cinematic incarnations, none of them conveying the reality to a point of indisputability. Yes, many aspects still remain unknown, spurring off personal interpretations that play a role in story progression. This is one reason why movies offer nothing beyond face value. Where gaps or uncertainties exist, filmmakers take artistic liberties for dramatic effect. This is even the case with established specifics (i.e. facts); filmmakers quite often initiate changes in certain details to enhance plot elements, such as suspense and intrigue. Numbers and rating are priority, not scholarly advancement.

Some argue that filmmakers, like James Cameron, conduct research for their historical pieces like Titanic. That is true, but Cameron’s purpose first and foremost is financial, as his films require a substantial return on the initial investment put into production, such as set creation, computer graphics and, of course, performer compensation. If this return is not met, the company loses money.

One must consider also the fictional aspects involved. The central characters of Jack and Rose in Titanic are a great example. Neither of these individuals ever existed, nor were they on board the Titanic. Creating fictional characters in their own fictional story allowed Cameron the means to spread his artistic wings and build suspense and drama as he saw fit, including the impossibility of a romance between a first-class and third-class passenger. Adolescents and young adults between 13 and 30 comprised the bulk of Cameron’s target audience, and so he needed to appeal to the idealism of those in this age range in order to draw them into the story. In doing so, he ensured the movie’s popularity, its eleven subsequent academy awards and the ongoing financial returns. The fiction of the project made this happen, not the reality of the actual event that had inspired it. Since Cameron foresaw this, his sense of artistic liberty superseded the research he conducted. His research served only to create a sense of realism without adhering to all the facts involved.

Other film genres are the same way. One common instance can be seen in science fiction. Futuristic movies that show explosions in space negate the fact that such fiery cataclysms require oxygen, which is not present in the vacuum of space. Therefore, such ignitions would be impossible. Yet the excitement that such an effect generates draws in paying audiences. Time travel movies as well offer cleanly knit plotlines where characters travel back into time to explore or right a wrong. This condition creates a paradox whereby a problem still exists even though the character(s) had eventually gone back to correct it. Movies like Back to the Future, Austin Powers and Star Trek First Contact are popular regardless of the holes and the answered questions that such holes generate. They do not correspond to the principles of Physics, but instead what sounds convincing to progress the plot twists or showcase the ‘glitz’ of future technological innovations. Despite their innovative cinematic conceptualizations, these films are meant to be nothing but escapist fare, although they do drive viewers to ponder the question: “What if . . .?”

The ironic twist behind such visuals is that they captivate the minds and imaginations of the audience. That quality serves as a double-edged sword, meaning that such effects intend to make the story compelling, yet attempt to convince the viewers that what they are experiencing is somehow palpable and genuine. This is where the role of the spectator emerges with regard to the characters and story.

That is not to say that movies and television can not or do not serve a viable role in the research process, as they do offer inspiration with regard to creating visual and auditory dimensions to the subject being researched; these depictions are assimilated into the greater body of research to assume the status of pieces to a larger puzzle, as long as they are utilized appropriately and only to the extent needed. No compilation of research on the Titanic would be complete without the many cinematic representations of the tragedy; something vital would be missing from the whole in their absence.

One exception to all of this is documentaries. These projects offer a well-concentrated focus on information pertaining to a particular subject of interest. After all, one of their purposes is to take enthusiasts on a journey of exploration by discussing any and all current information. Still, documentaries are not totally removed from the influence of the numbers; rating ensures broadcast and/or DVD sale priority, which comes before scientific promotion. Moreover, documentaries often reflect the perspective and/or agenda of the filmmakers, even when including expert or witness testimony.

Researchers must maintain a sense of objectivity when assessing movies or television shows and what they intend to do. These presentations are what they are and do have their place. As long as researchers are cognizant of this, they will be able to use such resources efficaciously.

Still, in the end, there is a compromise. The dichotomy between cinematic purview and research must always remained balanced, as should the conciliatory relationship between artistic license and realism. The tasks of justification and responsibility fall equally on both the researcher and the filmmaker.

Images: The ‘Face’ of Information

I recently conducting research on the .S, S, Hunley, the now-famous submarine used by the Confederates during the American Civil War. Much of this research consisted of images depicting the old ship and its schematics, as well as the reformation of the crew’s faces as made possible through the reconstruction of their retrieved skulls. These images fired my imagination and inspired my curiosity. Who were these men? Where did they live? How old were they? Did they have families? . . . The questions kept on flowing; the imagery drew me in and motivated me to look for further information on the Hunley, its crew and their mission.

Images are very important in research for many reasons, some of which are obvious, others not so much. First, as illustrated above, they offer a means for continuing searches through the formulation of questions that direct the research and enhance some degree of personal interest. Another common means for utilizing photos and video compilations is that they offer information that might not be otherwise available through textual data. For example, in my years of research on the Titanic, visuals of the wrecksite have opened up to me the vast array of details crucial in explaining how the ship sank, from point to point, and how one outcome led to further developments resulting in the ship’s ultimate demise. By viewing the images of the hulk and debris, one can see not only what happened that fateful night, bit HOW it happened. This is one way I was able to piece together the sinking from beginning to end. Likewise, I was able to discern what didn’t happen and why, so images work both ways. That leads to yet a third possible role for visual compilation in the process of research: they otherwise confirm or refute that which may be theorized regarding a certain body of knowledge. Finally, these visuals add the oh-so-important ‘face’ to the subject so that researchers can see for themselves what they are studying, as in the case of Waverly Hills Sanatorium. Pictures of this old structure , inside and out, show us what the place was once like and now is as well as how it is/was designed. We see it for ourselves and know that the subject of our research is, in fact, real and not imaginary. Without pictures, researchers lack that eye’s view necessary for getting to know the subject matter intimately, and for serious researchers, intimacy with a given subject is essential, even crucial, for success in knowledge acquisition because they form personal relationships that open them up to whole new worlds of insight and being.

This last part is not as ideal as you may think. Researchers yearn to connect in some way with their subject matter so they might “communicate” with it, swim in its vast seas for both frolicking enjoyment and concentrated retrieval and application of ever-growing information that only a close relationship with the subject matter can bring forth.

Keep in mind that information comes in many forms and degrees of significance, all of which incessantly lead to yet information further that would otherwise be inaccessible through mere reading. Intimate knowledge comes by way of a researcher getting close to the subject, even becoming one with it. This intimacy even allows one to create knowledge through theorizing, deductive reasoning, even forming presumptions. For example, viewing images of Scottish Castles allows a researcher to form conclusions in many areas of study related to the castle, such as history, architecture, medieval warfare, structural material (stonemasonry), genealogy, meteorology, and Scottish traditions and legends, just to name a few. And from here, research and its ongoing accumulation and formulation of knowledge continually branches off and expands as further research is conducted and data collected. Images of these castles, along with field research to allow researchers access to physical contact with an object or objects of study, open up a window to all of these interrelated areas so that information can be more easily absorbed and cataloged away in the permanent memory. Since the majority of people, like me, are visual learners, this seems most ideal. In actuality, the preference and desire for imagery in research and even formal education is likely due to this human condition.

The above consideration can be further explained in further detail: When researchers visit any of these Castles, they are able to determine many things: height (not only actual, but perceptual height, which is equally important in the case of description), size, conditions of the stone, the pattern of destruction and structural deterioration, the placement of debris (see also Titanic), actual geological location, agricultural conditions, proximity to water or other geological formations, location relative to other castles and nearby towns . . . All of these can render information and hypotheses on who lived there, how and when the castle fell into ruin (if it, in fact, had), how the family lived, what type of warfare took place (if, in fact any had), how long the castle had been decomposing (if it is, but then again, everything is), what kind of bacterial microbes were/are at work on eating away at the structure, whether or not buried items are there to suggest, say, the social caste of previous residents, etc. Images alone cannot garner this information, at least not well-linked like strings of pearls, but when they are accumulated, such as in the case of Lambertville High School, add dimension and depth to the story behind the subject. This is why field research is necessary, with the inclusion of video, to bring forth that realism that is crucial when studying said subject, because that sense of realism allows the researcher to go behind the collection of mere data to get to know the actual being inside and out, to become an integral part of it, and to make connections so that gaps are filled in regarding both physical composition and the essence of the subject.

Is video, then, better than photos? The answer to that question is: no, not at all. Videos capture a subject in ongoing panoramic form, where viewers can see it in flowing movement, not to mention how multiple features tie together, without end; stills, on the other hand, though offering limitations in vantage point of the subject, provide viewers the opportunity to study one point in minute detail without motion or other disruptions to interfere. Such is the case with art, like Dali’s work, much of which is complex in meaning due to the myriad of details, brush strokes, hue tones, contours, and shadows. In light of this, videos and photographs are symbiotic in nature and rely on one another to ‘paint the overall picture’. The subject is presented in all its depth, showing many dimensions, while, at the same time, is saved in suspended animation for ongoing study.

The advancement in technology, too, has contributed to the efficacy of imagery as a source and component of research. The aforementioned video is a relatively new development as far as visuals are concerned. Although the first photographs ever taken date to a time prior to the American Civil War, motion pictures (meaning those depicting actual movement) quite possibly existed as early as the 1870s. To many, that might seem like an eon ago (over a century), but when one contemplates how long human beings have been learning about their world, that amount of time is comparatively miniscule, the virtual blink-of-an-eye. Needless to say, the motion picture has captivated audiences since its inception. Editing machines, too, have allowed researchers to control and, yes, even manipulate the visuals captured. This is not necessarily a deceptive thing; this technology provides researchers the ability to enhance and selectively focus on certain aspects of the subject over others, depending on the concentration of study and/or showcase. This is quite often important with regards to education where lessons require attention to particular points. Subjects are so vast that the knowledge and information would otherwise overflow and much of which would go either missed or unrecognized.

Further possibilities have come through the advent of computer technology, which allows compilers to be dynamic in visual presentation. Now software programs and various applications, such as Paint Shop and Adobe™, offer a means to create or add to imagery. Such enhancements provide viewers an opportunity to see visuals in different ways to either entertain and/or challenge perception and to think about the subject in different ways. This is contestable, of course, but such added effects drive people to learn, as in the case of artwork. Computer software programs can, for example, alter the mood of a painting so that, perhaps, views may draw something new from it, a means of creating knowledge through expanded understanding. The subject of visuals, then, takes on a life of its own and continues to grow as viewers continue to conceive it differently. With computer technology, subjects of research virtually become living, breathing beings with which anyone can engage on many levels—intellectual, emotional, psychological, personal, professional, cordial—just as s/he would with other human beings.

Simply put, imagery adds that ‘face’ to information that one would need when getting to know a new friend. Without that ‘face’, a major piece of the overall puzzle is lost, and learning about that subject, or that ‘new friend,’ is limited. In the end, images probably tell a greater story than texts do.

Next: Movies and why researchers and general viewers should not and cannot rely on them for ascertaining or confirming factual information.

Research: a Tribute to Titanic: a Century’s Struggle to Learn the Truth

This is Titanic Week, marking the ninety-ninth anniversary of the sinking, and so now the time is right to include a post about researching the Titanic. Flocks of enthusiasts and student researchers continuously seek information on that tragedy and the many people involved in it, so let’s hope that this post finds them drawn to read.

Whether rational or not, Titanic has attained the status of legend of sorts that stands out from many other ships and shipwrecks. The continuously growing community of experts and enthusiasts holds Titanic in its collective heart and keeps the stories as fresh and alive as they were nearly a century ago.

What more can be said about the ship and those on board her? Believe it or not, the stories haven’t yet finished unfolding. That’s the beauty of Titanic—it is limitless in her treasure trove of knowledge. Our long struggle to discover and learn more about her has continually brought forth a plethora of new insights not only with regard to the ship and her time period, but also how we conduct research. This process has not stopped.

When it comes to researching Titanic, the process has been life-long for me. As a boy, I found myself intrigued by the great ship and all the mysteries that abounded: How big/long was she? How many funnels did she have? What did she look like? Where, when and how did she sink? How many people were on her? Who were they and where were they from? Who died and who survived? Why did so few first-class perish compared to those in steerage? These and other questions drove me on.

The answers to these questions were at one time unknown, but continuing research has unearthed much of that information. Not surprising, such information has created a bit of controversy and debate among many: Was there a three-hundred-foot gash or was the damage nothing more than a series of tears and rivet pops? With regard to this damage, what developments impelled the Titanic to sink within two hours and forty minutes? What efforts were employed to render safety to passengers and seek help? Why wasn’t that enough? What could have been done differently to change the outcome?

And the questions keep on mounting. Ironically enough, this happens when one conducts research; the deeper we look into the subject and discuss it, the more questions arise. This serves as the natural cycle of ascertaining and building knowledge. The more questions we have, the further we go. There is never an end and likely never will be. That’s what keeps researchers like me interested—the game is in a constant shift, but it persists, and the mystery and intrigue remain throughout. As long as there are questions, people will struggle to find the answers.

One place to start would be obtaining a library’s worth of essential documentation: the transcripts (there are two—American and the subsequent British Board of Trade), birth/death certificates, passenger/crew and cargo manifests, ticket purchase receipts, diaries, personal letters, and deck plans, all of which are primary sources; and eyewitness testimonies, books, documentaries and discussion boards fall in second place due to their subjective nature (even though researchers obtain their information from primary sources et al., personal biases are likely to affect their accounts, and quite often conjecture is made [remember the ongoing questions?]).

Field experience, which I have discussed in earlier posts, is extremely important in Titanic’s story. In order for us as researchers to determine where Titanic went down, what condition she was in and how she sank, we had to get to the wreck of the ship and study it up close. The problems were multiple: (1) we didn’t even know where the ship was (Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall’s calculations put the sinking at 41/46N-50/14W, but that has since been proven false); (2) the wreck was at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, some two and a half miles down, which wasn’t easy to reach, much less to find in the first place; (3) the reliable technology needed to find and reach Titanic, wherever her location, was scarce, in its infant stages or untested; and (4) the costs required just to develop the technology, let alone mount a mission to find Titanic, would be unbelievably and staggeringly high. Several attempts have been made over the years to find her, but all failed. One millionaire, Jack Grimm, invested large amounts of money, but the research just wasn’t there to assure success. This is/was the Catch-22 of field investigation: the research requires money, but the money requires research. Which one would have to come first—the chicken or the egg? This was the unsolvable conundrum.

In the meantime, all we could do was speculate. This stirred the imaginations, but it did little for finding the desired answers and facts. The failure and our limitations motivated us, though, so, ironically enough, our failure to find the ship early on was a benefit to us. We assessed the situation and its complexities and strove about to rectify the issue.

One area on which we focused was the development of technology. Specialists in a variety of fields, from marine salvage to history to ship-building to naval architecture and oceanographic engineering, contributed their insight as to what would be necessary to safely find and reach the Titanic. Among the innovations that came about in this process were the use of sonar and the underwater submersible. Sonar was limited in its scope and detection capabilities, but it was enhanced to discern the differences in mass size and composition. The latter, submersibles, were already being used, but they never made a safe or successful descent to that extreme depth; these vehicles were able to go to a certain depth, but none had ever gone two and a half miles down. That was risky, not only with regards to air pressure, but also to equipment function (lights, gauges, camera and video), water pressure (at that depth, it was relentlessly strong and dense), and communication (would those at the bottom be able to communicate with those at the surface, etc.?). These technologies needed to be developed or enhanced further and tested as well before any attempts could be made. The cost would be in the millions.

See how important and involved, not to mention expensive, field research can be?

During the summer of 1985, Dr. Robert Ballard and his team of the prestigious Woods Hole Institute in Massachusetts, grouped with French underwater exploration, headed by Jean Louis Michel, set out to find Titanic. The area was vast and comprised of a large triangle established by three coordinates (Boxhall’s calculation, the Mount Temple’s estimation of Titanic’s location and the Carpathia). This would take several days, if not weeks. In late September of that year, while the night shift scanned the ocean floor, a large mass of metal triggered the signals. On closer inspection, the hulk of a huge ship came into view. It was the Titanic’s bow! Finally, the behemoth was found. What shocked the crew and Ballard was the fact that the ship abruptly ended around the region of the third funnel; everything aft of that point was gone. This confirmed the ongoing query—the ship had indeed broken apart on the night she sank. They found the stern a half-mile away, lying in a debris field; its shattered remains a sad sight to behold (most of the people who died were either on or inside the stern. Knowing this fact has causes many onlookers to silently cry while gazing upon this heap of splayed and twisted metal). Other discoveries included: (1) a third middle “section” was missing, which showed that the ship did not simply crack in two, but crumbled away as it broke apart, top-down and in a twisting motion, at the point of the aft expansion joint situated just aft of the third funnel (the aft-grand staircase was completely gone, leaving an exposed first-class smoking room and a set of reciprocating engines); (2) the decks were compressed flat, suggesting that the stern slammed hard into the bottom; (five boilers from BR #1 rested nearby, confirming that the break went through that room); (3) the hull was splayed out on the starboard side and the poop-deck peeled back over the docking bridge, indicating that the stern section first imploded and then exploded on its way down (the trapped air inside burst outward through the third-class stairwell and cargo hold #4, obliterating the well deck and sending the poop-deck backwards); and (4) the presence of five more boilers at the end of the bow section substantiated the theory that the boilers, in fact, did NOT blow up that night and were still embedded on their moorings. These findings are/were valuable, and would not have been possible to know had we not traveled to the bottom of the ocean to take a look. Field research, as said, is not only essential, but crucial, to gaining knowledge that would be inaccessible through any other means.

Further advancements were also set in place with regard to marine protocol. International Ice Patrols (ICPs) now constantly monitor the north Atlantic for icebergs. Of course, modern-day ship communications operate via computer systems, so reporting dangers is quicker and much more efficient than at the time of the Titanic. The vigils are therefore a combine effort. Another innovation—or law, to be more precise—was that all passenger ships MUST have enough lifeboats for everyone on boat (Titanic had only enough for approximately 1,200 people, a little over half of the 2,200 people the ship carried on her maiden voyage. The owners of the White Star Line placed luxury over safety, figuring that any dangers or threat to human well being would likely be minimal or non-existent. She was the largest ship in the world at the time, after all, at 883 feet in length. What could possibly happen? No one at that time ever said that Titanic was “unsinkable,” but it was likely assumed by many). Her sister ship, the Britannic, would later be redesigned with bulkheads going up to B-deck (Titanic’s only extended as high as E-deck, but it wasn’t high enough—the incoming water spilled over each bulkhead in “ice tray” fashion until the imbalance of weight created an excess of stress that caused the break). Unfortunately, the Britannic sank in 1916, as a hospital ship during World War I, but the damage incurred there was severer than that inflicted by Titanic. Still, the raised bulkheads gave the crew time to disembark before the ship sank. Had the bulkheads not gone as high as B-deck, the death toll would likely have been greater than the 30 it was).

As far as research goes, the Titanic and her demise have spurred on new forms. The technological developments one could argue as added research capabilities, since the Titanic would not have been found without it. Indeed, what was achieved pushed research capabilities at that time of the ship’s discovery. Jacques Cousteau had found the Britannic wreck only nine years prior, but that wasn’t the same—the hospital ship lie nowhere near the extreme depth as that of the Titanic, so its access was easier and less costly. Even then, in 1985, the idea of looking for something that deep was considered as somewhat risky—only a desire, a hope and a dream that, with ongoing diligence and persistence, paid off. This shows that success in research is due just as much to human ambition and ingenuity as much as it is to capability. The drive creates the need(s), which, in turn, brings about research insight and the advancements that reflect it.

My research methodology has expanded as well. When I was younger, looking up info was considered the extent of broadening one’s knowledge, but I have always been the one to ask questions, generate queries, to think critically about things. Only this way can we increase the scope of learning. Don’t settle with what is told to you, even if it is based on current findings; think for yourself and form your own conclusions. Diversity adds to the research and the growing body of knowledge. This doesn’t mean one should disbelieve or disregard the knowledge that’s out there, but, don’t accept that as the “all and the end” of what can be learned. That serves as a necessary base, that’s it. Always go further, and what I have discovered as a Titanic researcher is that there IS no end.

Titanic Research and the Media

The media has contributed to Titanic’s legendary status. This is especially true in the industry of entertainment. No other ship has generated as many books, documentaries or movies as the Titanic. New authors emerge all the time with fresh insights. The number of Titanic experts is still growing, and that would include James Cameron, a filmmaker by trade, who researched, produced and directed the latest incarnation in 1998, which is merely the latest in a series of seven movies (eight, if one considers survivor Dorothy Gibson’s 20-minute reel from 1912. No copies are known to exist, but it was made). The film won eleven academy awards, including Best Picture. This reflects an unwavering interest in Titanic. Although most viewers weren’t concerned with details, they were curious and became inspired by the great ship and her story.

That said, these movies do not reflect one-hundred percent accuracy, nor are they meant to do so; instead, they are products that (1) showcase a filmmaker’s perspective or beliefs, and (2) entertain. No movie made is factual to the detail, but more commercialized than anything else; that is, the purpose is to garner high numbers, both in ratings and in dollars, than to teach history.

A couple of examples revolve around the alleged suicide of First Officer Murdock and the Californian’s role in the tragedy. Several eyewitnesses from the Titanic recall hearing gunshots and seeing an officer slumped on the deck during the later hours when chaos reigned. Yes, a few named First Officer Murdock, but it has not been confirmed whether those individuals actually knew Murdock personally, and the limited lighting and excitement pounding at that point in time leave the question open as to the identity of the officer—or whether or not an officer actually shot himself. People have made mistakes before, and others have even mentioned Chief Officer Wilde in connection with this. No one knew for certain, except Murdock’s family who knew better than to believe he would commit suicide. His body was never found. We will never know. Still, the argument that he felt guilty over the Titanic’s collision with an iceberg during his shift is a compelling one, but it doesn’t confirm anything. Everything here is conjecture, and so the depiction of Murdock’s suicide in both Cameron’s film and the TV miniseries that preceded it a year before can only attest to the filmmakers’ respective beliefs, nothing more.

The Californian’s role in the story, too, is a continuous debate between those who believe this was the ship within visual distance during the sinking and those, called Lordites, who insist it wasn’t. The Californian never appeared in the “official” movie depiction, A Night to Remember, released in 1958 but Walter MacQuitty, who, as a boy, had actually witnessed the Titanic being launched back in 1912. That inspired him to no end. He knew better than to include such a controversial issue as that of the Californian’s questionable involvement in the sinking. Most other movies leave this account out as well and likely for similar reasons. Although many people believe it was the Californian there that night, no evidence exists to substantiate the claim one way or another. Stanley Lord’s log for that night places his ship at a set of coordinates considerably farther away from Titanic, so no one knows for sure. Yes, the nighttime crew saw a ship in the distance that shot rockets, but they couldn’t tell what ship it was and it could very well have been another. Again, nothing has been determined conclusively either way. As a researcher, I must remain objective and weigh all arguments evenly; without evidence, I cannot form any definite assessment. That would be irresponsible.

Art is a wonderful thing (I am an artist and creative writer myself), but the built-up drama and suspense for the sake of art cannot serve as a viable source for showcasing fact when expressing fact is not an objective of the movie. These movies, though, DO add a visual depiction of the Titanic and her story that inspires one to imagine what it was like being aboard her during her voyage and her sinking. That’s the extent of how far research goes.

The media has always sensationalized Titanic. But though the story warrants recognition, the hype it receives serves to excite readers for the wrong reasons. One must remember that magazines and other commercial publications are in the business to first sell. People are drawn out of interest, are intrigued, but they gain a superficial impression of the ship and her story that is based on little sensibility and is more legend than reality so that all, or most, credibility is either minimized or lost. The truth about Titanic is enough to give it strength; when that truth, whatever it might be, is approached with a sense of rationality and sensitivity, the legend stands up for what it actually is and acquires its rightful stance.


As the Titanic fades off into the past upon its centennial anniversary (coming up next year), its light remain strong and steady. The great ship won’t let us forget who she was and why she existed. So many stories ring continuously through our minds non-stop. . . The band playing “till the end” (which is true, depending on what one means by “the end.” If it refers to the point where the ship took a perilous slant and chaos reigned, then yes; if it refers to the point when the stern went under, then no); Molly Brown quipping about going out and retrieving ice on the deck for her late-night drink; Ida Straus refusing a seat in lifeboat #8 in order to stay behind with her husband, Isador (she was one of only five first-class females to perish that night); W.T. Stead reading his book in the first class smoking room all during the sinking; Benjamin Guggenheim casting his lifebelt aside and insisting on “going down like a gentleman,” along with his valet; P. Fletcher charging his bugle before every meal; John Phillips, the head wireless operator, persisting the calls, even after the captain released him and water began flooding the room; the battle between Molly Brown and Robert Hitchens (who had been at the wheel at the time of Titanic’s collision with the iceberg) in lifeboat #6 as they argued whether or not to go back and rescue people from the water; Fifth Officer Lowe forming a flotilla with lifeboats 4, 10, 12 and Collapsible D, then returning with a few volunteers in lifeboat 14 to rescue people in the water after the Titanic sank, only to find most dead (he saved a handful of people, including a first class man, a Japanese who had been strapped to a door, and a steward); the multitude of people who screamed into the night as they died horribly, among them several third-class families such as the Goodwins and Sages . . . There are countless stories, too many to mention here—many of them true, others skewered over the years—but the spirit of the Titanic shines through and penetrates us. We continue to reflect, yearn to know what really happened, long after every survivor has passed on. Its allure doesn’t weaken as long as her story is shared—her real story.

That’s where the research comes in . . . .