One of my duties as a librarian was to walk up behind high school students engaged in online research, tap them on the shoulder, and say, “Do you really want to quote a seventh grader’s research paper about the circulatory system (or Robert Frost, or the Battle of Gettysburg, or whatever)? Because the website you’re looking at is a seventh grader’s research paper. See where it says, ‘My Seventh-Grade Research Paper’?”
They weren’t entirely responsible. Someone had told them, “Get on the Internet and find something about XYZ,” and they’d gotten on the Internet and found something. Mission accomplished. No one had mentioned they should also read and think.
A couple of days ago, as you know if you’ve been keeping up, I made a mistake in a post. I said Walter Huston was involved in the experiments with LSD conducted by Timothy Leary in the early 1960s. When I found my error, instead of correcting the text, I added in a footnote that I should have written Huston Smith instead. The next day I posted another piece about spending all day trying to get the facts straight when I seemed determined to compound the error.
Today a friend I was telling about the labyrinthine process said, “Ten years from now, it will be reported by reputable sources that Walter Huston was part of the LSD experiments. Someone will read what you wrote and will take it as fact and pass it on.”
I hadn’t thought of that.
Now I feel bad. I wonder whether I should go back and wipe out the original error. I don’t want to muddle things for future generations.
But if I change the text of the post, the footnotes won’t make sense. So I’ll have to delete them. Then the second post won’t make sense, so I’ll have to delete it. Then this post won’t be necessary, so it’ll never see the light of day. Hundreds of words will disappear. My words.
I’m not a librarian any more. I don’t hang over people’s shoulders, irritating them with inconvenient truths. I write, and while I respect Truth, I now prefer to wrap it in Fiction, Irony, Hyperbole, Tall Tales.
So let the reader beware. If you want to know what Walter Huston did, read every word and to the very end.
I corrected my mistakes. Don’t make one of your own.