The Internet is a powerful thing. I research the Web on a daily basis for my job, especially the StackExchange web sites, because I can find answers to specific technical questions. But then, I know exactly the terms for my question (SPListItemCollection, SPWeb, iterate, etc.) so searching is easy. If you don't know the name of the property or attribute you are looking for, searching is harder.

When I want to research the history of an event, like an overall history of the Iraq War, or the current IRS targeting conservative groups scandal; where is the best source to go to get a start-to-finish summary? My choices seem to be:

  • Google, which gives thousands of results.
  • Google News, which gives me current articles on the most recent events.
  • Lexis/Nexis, which is a paid site, but has the same limitation as Google News.
  • Wikipedia, which is mostly reliable for non-controversial topics, but has a tendency to be very fluid on anything controversial, as people are constantly tweaking the story to suit their side.

Is there a stable, impartial, reliable site that can give me an overall summary of an event, with links to other articles that go into greater detail? What Wikipedia would be, if it was better moderated? This isn't a dig against Wikipedia, they do provide a great service, but there are not enough moderators to police every page continually, so like I said, politically controversial pages are constantly rewritten so they are NOT reliable.

  • Is there a reason you cannot just vist the Edit History for a Wikipedia page? There are always alternatives, it depends what your goals are and what problem you are trying ti solve. Conservapida which has the same edit war issue Wikipedia has, the old Britannica, ... Your question as written seems you want a site, and that Wikipedia already satisfies your goal.
    – user1873
    Aug 24 '13 at 13:21
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    Asking what 'the best' of anything is isn't really a question that has one right answer.
    – user1530
    Aug 24 '13 at 21:42
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    In my experience, Wikipedia is not only a good source, but it's one of the best sources for researching controversial topics. Yes just about anyone can edit it, but You'll find that there's a whole lot more moderation than you realize, and there is often a lot of discussion regarding the content of a page(click on the discussion tab) Aug 26 '13 at 18:50
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about research, not politics. If anything this might be academia or web applications. Aug 26 '13 at 22:07
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    @SamuelRussell what? Aug 27 '13 at 13:37

The question asks about epistemology and making truth claims in discursive social sciences (politics) and humanities (history). This is a methodological answer.

where is the best source to go to get a start-to-finish summary?

Multiple scholarly sources. Scholars are held to account by virtue of their scholarly reputation. One failure in method, interpretative validity, or conduct will ruin a career. This thread holds scholars to broad account, and they are closely held to account by peer review processes and revision of prior work. Scholars may not produce great material, but they produce epistemologically stable material due to their disciplinarity. Note that there will be multiple valid interpretations of most things; for two reasons. The first reason being, discursive accounts, story telling basically, end up with different stories based on the smallest divergence. If Fitzpatrick and Pirani both wrote the same thesis from the same sources, the subtle difference in their word choice level interpretations of Soviet life would be, effectively, different interpretations. On top of this, discursive field scholars do not retread the same sources, with the same theories and methods. They write different books. The second reason being, the evidentiary records contain within themselves multiple competing valid readings, they give rise to multiple as-yet undisproven theorisations, they can be read using multiple techniques.

Is there a stable, impartial, reliable site that can give me an overall summary of an event, with links to other articles that go into greater detail?

No, and there can't be for fundamental methodological reasons. Discursive knowledge isn't stable. New sources and techniques are uncovered, and there is no "reality lying behind" that confirms a thesis about a constant Universe. We only know our past or present through our knowing of the past or present. The past or present itself is untouchable. "The past" is an imaginary produced from records.

Impartiality is impossible, it is a partiality of its own kind (fallacy of moderation). Discursive statements regarding human conduct are fundamentally "normative," or moralistic, political or partial. All statements regarding human conduct will contain an explicit (ie: good, acknowledged) or implicit (ie: bad, concealed) theorisation of what humanity, society, the subject, personhood are.

The very concept of "events" is problematised in almost all mainline contemporary historiographies; though this is more of a theoretical debate over the relative causative merits of processes versus nexuses. The commonplace "event" usually isn't.

Finally, summary knowledge obscures all of the complexity of the above behind narratives designed to fit (at best) "lies for children" requirements, and at worst deliberate falsifications to serve an active social interest. (As opposed, obviously, to the necessary theoretical interpretations required by any account of social reality, and done solely in order to account for empirical evidence in the best possible unfalsified manner.)

Wikipedia, for example, has agreed that it serve NPOV: to portray all major accepted accounts of a subject with appropriate weight; as an explicit theorisation of "knowledge" in an encyclopaedic sense. Wikipedia regularly fails at this, even in best cases, as good faith editors disagree on the weighting of major accepted accounts. But Wikipedia's encyclopaedic purpose introduces a weighting that differs form the scholarly account; Wikipedia's weighting and presentation of a topic follows a "lie for children" approach to prepare people to start reading scholarly accounts.

With all that said, the best way to proceed is by reading encyclopaedia accounts, and then following up with the highest level critical surveys available in scholarship that are cited by the encyclopaedic account. In historiography this is the "Review Article," similar kinds of article exist in political science. From the review article you can identify subsequent works that are "worthy" to read.

For example, if I had an interest in the 1932-1933 Soviet famine, I certainly would not stop at wikipedia's articles on the Holodomor and the 1932-1933 Soviet famine. I'd draw up a reading list, then start searching Google Scholar for high level review articles on the topic, identify the major strands of thought, and read a number of well received works from different strands of thought.

And, as I noted above, Scholarship isn't perfect: it produces highly stable accounts, that are subject to ruthless partisan contestation and so will not be invalid due to partiality, and scholars inspect each other's work for methodological validity with regularity. This seems to make it the "least worst" and most comprehensive system of knowledge available.

In the mean time, before scholars get to work, I'd suggest you identify news sources who have a reputation for accuracy and sensitive awareness of partiality. Personally I like a combination of BBC, Al Jazeera, SBS (Australia) and the Guardian. Though through having identified the deficiencies of other sources, I feel confident I can read from lesser news outlets and understand the underlying situation despite the corruptions I feel these lesser outlets introduce.

  • Thank you for your response, but I'm not looking for a list of books to read, I'm looking for an online source that can give me a 30,000 ft. view of the story, as it were. For example, Wikipedia would probably meet my need for WWII: It would mention Pearl Harbor, the major players, major battles, the origins, and the conclusion. Most online encyclopedias would give me this. The trouble is, recent events are not in encyclopedias yet. I am just looking for alternative web sites from Wikipedia that may not be as volatile, where the contributors are more scholarly.
    – CigarDoug
    Aug 26 '13 at 2:00
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    The answer is "No," "None," or "Invalid request." The reasons are listed above. Aug 26 '13 at 2:02

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