But do your own research

This phrase has become more common recently at the end of a sentence, the first part of which contains some outrageous and controversial assertion. It gives the speaker all the room they need to say whatever they want to say, but blurs the consequences of what they said. Benjamin Franklin used to end a sentence that contained an assertion with “…or so it appears to me at the moment.” Very genteel, certainly, but it has the same function—exculpation—that DYOR has.

But what does “own research” mean? I have asserted a function, but I have not yet considered a meaning. Part of the problem is the word “research.” Back when research was done by researchers, it was taken for granted that the researchers had the tools necessary for a particular kind of research. But what does DYOR mean if no tools are available?

I say that all the affairs on earth are and have always been controlled by the intentions of a Gyrzyt, a lizard-like creature on the planet Tyzryg. That’s what I say, but DYOR. DYOR is meaningless in such a context, I would say.

One of Garrison Keillor’s funniest skits was about a protest by the parents of Lake Woebegone that their children were being taught things in their French class that they ought not be taught. And after all, how could the parents know for sure? DYOR actually means something in this scenario. First you find a Francophile you trust and ask them what is being taught. Alternatively, you can learn French and DYOR. Both those could be cumbersome but the meaning of DYOR is clear.

I. F. Stone made a substantial reputation by doing his own research. He used public documents, as a rule; information that was “available” to everyone. But he read with such a rich background of understanding and he read so carefully that he came up with truths—statements everyone agreed, afterward, had been true from the beginning—that were new to everyone except the perpetrators when he published them. Stone actually Did His Own Research.

The principal meaning of the phrase today is to imply that you, who have just read some outlandish allegations, can confirm them to your own satisfaction by going online and finding other people who also assert that it is true. “Finding Other True Believers” (FOTB) is really not DYOR. The use of the word “research” borrows all the connotations of careful study by knowledgeable people who are prepared by careful study to confirm or disconfirm an allegation.

One of the things about this new usage that makes me angry is that it trashes the word “research” which is a very important word to me. It is a word that makes a contribution to the careful use of English and ought to be important to us all for that reason.


Sometimes confirmation is difficult. One of my favorite stories is about a patient meeting with his psychiatrist. The patient’s core belief is that he is dead. They have had many conversations about this over the years. Suddenly, it occurs to the psychiatrist that empirical evidence might in this instance, be brought to bear. “Dead people don’t bleed, do they?” asked the psychiatrist. “No, certainly not,” replied the patient.

The psychiatrist picks up a letter opener and sticks the tip of it in the patient’s forearm. Blood well up out of the wound. “Well?” asks the psychiatrist.
“Well I’ll be damned,” responds the patient. They Do bleed.”


About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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