Outdated sources, whether printed material or visual media, are questionable when it comes to validation assessment in research.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