At first glance, the Wikipedia has two rules that seem counterintuitive: “no original research” and “no primary sources.” Why wouldn’t the Wikipedia want people doing original research and using primary sources? The answer goes to reliability and bias. There is a presumption that mainstream news articles, textbooks and other published sources have gone through some sort of review before they appear. A Wikipedia editor’s research doesn’t have the extra assurance of such review, nor are Wikipedia editors necessarily experts. The prohibition of primary sources prevents raw data that is subject to interpretation from appearing in the Wikipedia without some expertise and fact checking. (The Wikipedia articles go into much more detail.)
The exception to the prohibition of primary sources is:
A primary source may only be used on Wikipedia to make straightforward, descriptive statements of facts that can be verified by any educated person with access to the source but without further, specialized knowledge.
The reason I bring up the topic is that the folks who argue that Barack Obama is not eligible to the Presidency because his father was not a US national make essentially an argument based on primary research and original sources. Constitutional Law is a specialized discipline, and except for “straightforward, descriptive statements of facts” non-specialists are not well-qualified to make legal arguments from primary sources.
Judge Bent in Vermont, commenting in his decision of Paige v. Obama about such arguments from attorney Mario Apuzzo said:
Mr. Apuzzo argues that originalist thinking as to the meaning of the phrase "natural born citizen" was consistent with an intent on the part of the authors of the constitution to adopt a jus sanguinis citizenship model rather than the jus soli model of the English common law…. While Mr. Apuzzo mightily attempts to distinguish the conclusion of the United States Supreme Court in Wing Kim Ark, that English common law was adopted as to which model of citizenship was intended by the original framers, this court concludes that his arguments are, in the face of such a decision, academic only.
The Court in essence rejected an argument from primary sources in favor of precedent. The Court deferred to the expertise of the Supreme Court, rather than reading newspaper articles from 1787, historical cases about shipping disputes, or legal essays from Switzerland.
When it comes to deciding, in area where I am not an expert and where we are not dealing with “straightforward, descriptive statements of facts,” I prefer to rely on secondary sources—in this cases judges and published law review articles. As a matter of academic interest, I have made originalist arguments, for example:
I think they are good articles and well-argued, but I am not so arrogant as to rely on my own original research, as extensive as it is, to stake out a position and back it with my reputation (as small as that is). I look to authorities who know more than I do.
Let me hasten to add that the same flaw of unqualified and biased original research that leads to idiosyncratic legal views on Presidential eligibility (and on many other unrelated topics), also leads to claims that Obama’s documents are forgeries, that he was born abroad, that he is a Muslim, that he is using mass hypnosis to fool people and all the rest of the crazy theories we talk about on this web site. Original research is the essence of all conspiracy theories.
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