What kinds of subject headings are used for false information? How do Library of Congress Subject Headings describe fallacies?

Question/Answer on cataloging issues – March 2017

Question:       What kinds of subject headings are used for false information? How do Library of Congress Subject Headings describe fallacies?

Submitted by: Isabel del Carmen Quintana, Harvard University

Question/Answer on cataloging issues – March 2017

Question:       What kinds of subject headings are used for false information? How do Library of Congress Subject Headings describe fallacies?

Submitted by: Isabel del Carmen Quintana, Harvard University

The Library of Congress is committed to maintaining objectivity in their subject headings. According to the Subject Headings Manual, instruction sheet H180.14: Avoid assigning headings that label topics or express personal value judgments regarding topics or materials.  Individual cataloger knowledge and judgment inevitably play a role in assessing what is significant in a work’s contents, but headings should not be assigned that reflect a cataloger’s opinion about the contents.  Consider the intent of the author or publisher and, if possible, assign headings for this orientation without being judgmental.  Follow stated intentions of the author or publisher in such matters as readership, audience level, treatment as fact or fiction, etc.

This last sentence is important, because it instructs the cataloger to treat the work as the author intended in terms of whether the statements are fact or fiction. For example, for the text Chariot of the Gods, where Erich von Däniken discusses how extra-terrestrials visited the earth thousands of years ago, the subject headings assigned are:

  • 650 0 Civilization, Ancient ǂx Extraterrestrial influences.
  • 650 0 Life on other planets.

 

The first subject heading correctly describes the subject of the book, without any guidance from the librarian as to the fallacy or veracity of this argument.

There are, of course, other books that deal specifically with fallacies. In other words the topic of the book, according to the author, is the fallacies perpetrated in some way or form.  For this, LCSH has the term:

Common fallacies   (This subject heading may be subdivided geographically.)

This term is used instead of the following terms:

  • Blunders
  • Errors, Popular (This was the former heading for this concept.)
  • Fallacies, Common
  • Information, Misattributed
  • Misattributed information
  • Misconceptions, Popular
  • Misinformation
  • Mistakes, Popular
  • Popular errors
  • Popular misconceptions

There are two narrower terms as well:

  • History – Errors, inventions. Etc.
  • Medical misconceptions

 

This term is the subject heading on such books as:

Fads and fallacies in the name of science /by Martin Gardner.

Popular legal delusions /by Mark Rollinson.

Heavenly errors : misconceptions about the real nature of the universe /Neil F. Comins.

However as one can discern from the above examples, some books do not discuss fallacies in general, but rather fallacies in a particular field. Although there are two narrower terms above that cover fallacies about history and medicine, there are many other fields that are not covered. For example, our second and third examples above are on law and astronomy.

LCSH usually conveys the inaccurate or imprecise nature of the information related to a particular topic by using the subject subdivision Miscellanea. LCSH instructs us to use this subdivision as follows: Use as a form subdivision under subjects for compilations of unusual or miscellaneous facts about the subject without continuous text as well as for works in a question and answer format.

(The former term was Curiosa and miscellanea.)

So for the above titles, we could add:

  • Law—Miscellanea
  • Astronomy—Miscellanea

Although this is not actually equivalent to describing the information as erroneous, it is a convention used in LCSH.

There is also a broader term Errors, which has the following narrower terms:

  • Cataloging errors
  • Common fallacies
  • Error messages (Computer science)
  • Errors, Scientific
  • False alarms
  • Journalistic errors
  • Language and languages—Study and teaching—Error analysis
  • Motion picture errors
  • Photographic errors
  • Postage stamps—Errors
  • Sort errors (Computer science)
  • Speech errors
  • Spelling errors

As can be seen, a number of these narrower terms also have a subject slant, and could be used for materials on fallacies in a particular field, such as journalism.

In the end the Library of Congress will provide subject access according to the author’s presentation regarding the veracity of the statements. So, if a book has the title “The flat earth” and the author believes in a flat earth, the subject heading will be

  • Earth (Planet)—Figure.

However, if a book has the title “The false notion of a flat earth” and the author seeks to prove the fallacy of the flat earth theory, the book will still have the subject heading

  • Earth (Planet)—Figure, but it will also have the subject heading
  • Errors, Scientific.

Using these guidelines, the Library of Congress manages to correctly identify materials that report on fallacies, as presented by the author, without making judgements as to the nature of the work.

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