Until last month I hadn’t heard of diplomatic studies. It’s the discipline of studying historical documents, and comes from the word ‘diploma’, as in ‘verifying that someone hasn’t faked their records’ (I’m paraphrasing here). But this discipline of verification has some useful lessons for journalists — particularly data journalists — because it provides a very handy framework for picking apart what makes a record (data) credible, and what we should be looking out for when establishing that.
Particularly useful are three terms that are used to distinguish different aspects of a record’s credibility: authenticity; reliability; and accuracy.
Luciana Duranti’s paper on electronic records (PDF) defines each of the three concepts in depth, and — although she notes that the terms are given different meanings in different sectors — it is worth exploring in detail… Continue reading