Why Is It Better For An Interpretation To Be New Than To Be Correct?

In my career (such as it is), I keep running into a hurdle having to do with the great value placed in the arts/humanities on the novelty of interpretations. Time and again, reviewers will say that my work tackles interesting questions in a methodologically competent manner using solid data – but that my interpretations (humanities people aren’t comfortable with calling them “results”) aren’t novel enough.

This makes no sense to me. I don’t aim to produce a new interpretation. Nor do I wish to retain an old one. I just want to find the most-likely-to-be-correct answer to the question, given the data at hand.

If a physicist runs a complicated new experiment and concludes that the results support the Theory of General Relativity, she will not be called backward-looking and traditional. It will be seen as yet another piece of important support for an already robust theory. But to many colleagues in the humanities, “cutting edge” means “in line with trendy theoretical works”. I don’t care about trendy theory. My work is designed to still be useful 100 years from now. There’s a reason that novelties are called novelties.

I will readily criticise colleagues for asking old boring questions. But if they argue their interpretations cogently, I will never criticise them for supporting an existing opinion with new data.

I think any academic subject that can’t establish solid consensus and move on to new questions should be defunded. That’s not science / Wissenschaft / vetenskap, that’s art criticism, aesthetics. It belongs on a newspaper’s culture pages, not at a university.

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