Investigation Guidelines

From The Martial Arts Encyclopedia

Edited By Rock Ape

Introduction

This page is intended to provide suggestions to a would-be author of an investigation writeup. It is not a set of rules for performing investigations on Bullshido.net. It applies strictly to writeups to appear on the Bullshido.org wiki.

In this post, we discuss the goals of an investigation writeup, the structure such writeups generally follow, some general investigative principles regarding evidence, and helpful investigative tips, including a helpful flowchart one can follow during an investigation.

Goals of an Investigation Writeup

An investigation writeup should achieve the following goals:

  • To summarize the findings of fact regarding an investigation subject.
  • To explain the reason why the subject is being investigated in a professional and businesslike manner.
  • To provide a clear explanation of the facts which explains the writeup's conclusions.
  • To provide links and other evidence which illustrate, or when possible prove, the validity of the facts asserted in the article.
  • To provide a record of a subject's reponse to the investigation, and where appropriate, an invitation to the subject to provide any information that is relevant to the investigation.

Structure of an Investigation Writeup

The most common mistake made by beginning authors of an investigation writeup is to concentrate on narrating the events in an investigation. Such events are of great interest to the investigators, but they're not directly relevant to our goals. We need to present some narrative to the reader so that the discussion doesn't come out of thin air, but if the result reads like a recap of the thread, it's probably a bad writeup.

The second most common mistake is to fail to link to evidence of the events in the writeup. People have no reason to believe that someone said something just because we claim it is so. If they said it in a medium where we can link to it, we should link to it. If not, we should provide the best evidence available to us, bearing in mind that anything not on this website can be taken off the web or altered. The Internet Wayback Machine is not a bad source, if it has cached a page, but they have been known to take down cached pages upon the request of the site owner. A web archive or screenshot is also good; it could theoretically be faked, but it carries credibility.

Most investigations should follow this outline:

  • Executive Summary
    A brief statement of the subject's identity, an itemized list of their claims, and a summary conclusion regarding the factual conclusions regarding the claims.
  • Background of Bullshido's Interest in Subject
    Briefly explain: How did we become aware of this person? Why are they of interest? We need this to compel interest in the subject. This section should generally not exceed a few paragraphs.
  • Claims Made By Subject
    Break out the above itemized list of claims into detailed descriptions of the claims. If we have evidence of the claims being made, link to the best evidence available. Follow each claim with the factual evidence regarding that claim. Provide sources and methods wherever possible and appropriate to enhance the credibility of the results.
  • Subject's Response to the Investigation
    Describe the opportunities the subject has been given to address the conclusions of the investigation, and their response to those opportunities. Redacted websites, contradictory explanations, or even total silence are all worth noting as responses.
  • Conclusion
    An itemized list of the claims, again, with a summary of the factual conclusions about each claim based on the evidence.

This structure may require some adjustment to fit the narrative of a particular investigation. For example, in the Claims section, it may be necessary to summarize the context in which claims occurred, and to avoid unnecessary repetition of narrative detail. However, there should be a clear link between the itemized list of claims, the detailed explanation of claims, and the evidence for and against each claim.

When editing your article, be aware of what the weakest, or most inconclusive section of your article may be. It is almost always better that this weakest link be cut before publication.

Foundation of Accurate, Reliable Investigations

Bullshido.org's investigations strive for, and achieve, accuracy and reliability because:

  • Our evidence is presented to our peers and the public for scrutiny and disagreement.
  • There may be a prediction of how an investigation will turn out, but the eventual conclusions are based on the evidence, rather than evidence being based on a desired conclusion.
  • No datum or information is falsified.
  • The methods and standards used for investigations will be directly relevant to the topic at hand, results can be duplicated or confirmed, and results are relevant to the question at hand.
  • Investigators and reporters will indicate where conclusions are less reliable or evidence is potentially inconclusive.

Bullshido.org Evidentiary Standards

At Bullshido.org we encourage investigations into questionable claims made by martial artists about their martial arts skills, achievements, and arts. We also encourage investigations regarding possible criminal and/or fraudulent behavior by a martial artist which is relevant to their role teaching, or participating in the martial arts.

Reliable Facts

Please use reliable facts. Facts which are reliable are dependable and trustworthy. Facts are something that actually exist, or are an actual or alleged event or circumstance.

Facts that are offered in the investigation will be relevant and tend to prove or disprove a particular point at issue. For example, if I am attempting to prove that David Bannon did not kill a man on the tenth floor of the Byron Hotel in London, the fact that this hotel only has five floors and a basement is relevant.

Only with enough reliable facts can the article writer reach reliable conclusions.

Recommended Sources

Information from different types of sources are usually considered reliable. These include:

  • Legal documents
    For example, arrest warrants or court transcripts.
  • Journalistic sources
    Newspaper accounts of events.
  • Video evidence
    See Yellow Bamboo and other "ki experts".
  • Firsthand testimony by recognized experts in martial arts or other topical areas.
  • Pictorial evidence accompanied by an explanation of what is being shown.
  • Websites under the control of the person being investigated.
    Good for establishing what the person is actually claiming.
  • Firsthand testimony by an identified witness.

Obviously, the reliability of different types of evidence will change from one investigation to another. For example, videotape can either show a clear picture or be shot with poor lighting and focus. Court documents can be informative, or baseless and self-serving. Some newspaper articles are reliable and well-written, others are not worth the paper they are printed upon. Each of the above sources will need to have their reliability evaluated on an individual basis before being used. In some cases Bullshido.org may use the testimony of anonymous witnesses in an article on a specific issue, if we can corroborate their testimony, but articles should not be wholly or mostly dependant on the testimony of such witnesses.

Thoroughness and Accuracy

To make sure your article is as accurate as possible, consider all evidence, including conflicting facts and perspectives.

To test the accuracy of your investigation, ask yourself if a reasonable person would come to the same conclusion you did when presented with all of the evidence.

Different Types of Evidence

There are several different types of evidence that can be used in an investigation.

  • Direct evidence is based on personal knowledge or observation and, if true, proves a fact without inference or presumption. "I saw Master Coldcash charge each student $500 to learn to levitate." This evidence is also called testimonial evidence.
  • Documentary evidence is evidence supplied by a writing or other document which should be traceable to its source so it can be proven that it is real. "I obtained a copy of this document from the Federal Court at . . ."
  • Circumstantial evidence is based on inference and not on personal knowledge or observation. Sometimes circumstantial evidence can be extremely strong. For example fingerprint evidence is circumstantial because it relies on a print that was recovered from a crime scene rather then a witness seeing the suspect there. I infer from the print that Joe was present.
  • Negative evidence is evidence suggesting that a fact does not exist, such as a witness testifying that he or she did not see an event occur when they should have. Negative evidence is often considered weaker then other forms of evidence, so be careful to explain why something should have been observed but wasn't.

Use of Personal Testimony From Yourself or Others

Testimonial or direct evidence is extremely powerful, but has the limitations of all eyewitness testimony. Eyewitnesses have been known to be biased or simply wrong about what they have seen. Before using eyewitness testimony the writer should attempt to find out if the witness has any biases or hard feelings towards the person being investigated. Such feelings do not automatically or usually invalidate the witnesses's testimony, but they are important to determine whether the witness is credible.

Similarly, the witness may be completely honest but unable to provide reliable information. For example, a white belt leaves a McDojo and reports his teacher performed Kata poorly. Perhaps the student is correct and the teacher could not even lift his foot above knee level, but the writer should be careful that he does not repeat conclusions reached by the student about the mechanics of the art that he simply does not have the background to reach.

Testimony from unnamed sources is always inferior to testimony from people willing to provide their real names. If using an unnamed source, please attempt to use this evidence in conjunction with documentary evidence, testimonial evidence from named people, expert opinion, newspaper accounts of events, video evidence, etc. Whether the eyewitness is anonymous or not, please provide as much relevant information about this witness and their relationship to the party in question. This allows the reader to assess the witnesses' credibility.

'Note: Many of the definitions used above were borrowed from Black's Law Dictionary, 7th Edition (St Paul, Minn: West Publishing, 1999).

The Investigative Flowchart

Investigation flowchart.jpg

To throw out a few examples with this flow chart:

Example 1 - Subject claims to be able to throw chi balls.

  • The claim is specific.
  • The claim can be disproved as is, but the subject could be able to provide additional evidence.
  • The subject is encouraged to provide all his supporting evidence (testimonials, videos, etc), and a demonstration is arranged.
  • A conclusion is drawn on all the evidence gathered.

Example 2 - Subject claims to have been an Olympic coach.

  • The claim is not specific, so we must determine what sport, country, and year(s) this claim refers to.
  • This claim cannot be proven or disproven as is, so additional evidence gathering is necessary.
  • A conclusion is drawn on all the evidence gathered.

General Investigative Tips

Basic Tips

  • Ensure that such claims are as specific and detailed as possible by answering the basic questions - Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.
  • When starting an investigation it is crucial to establish that the subject did in fact make the claims that are attibuted to him. Please document such claims as much as possible, for example, through screen captures.
  • Don't let personal bias interfere with an investigation - the evidence will speak for itself.
  • Review all relevant evidence and information. If it could prove or disprove a claim, it should be checked out. Don't refuse to acknowledge what could be legitimate information because it contradicts other evidence.
  • Once a particular claim is verified or disproved, lay out your evidence in a simple, easily readable manner.
    Example: "Bob claimed to have coached the US Olympic TKD Team from 1962-64. SinceTKD became a 'recognized' Olympic sport in 1980 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taekwondo#Organizations), there was no US Olympic TKD team in the years Bob claimed."
  • Be careful to use reasonable authorities. In the above example, Wikipedia is an acceptable resource, since it concerns a straightforward question of fact. However, Wikipedia is not in general a good source of martial arts scholarship, especially if the topic has a fanatical user community which is well-represented online. For example, their article on ninjutsu panders to believers in the antiquity and authenticity of ninjutsu. A dictionary is probably no better in this regard. Be careful.
  • Investigations are constantly changing as additional information in gathered. Evidence that comes in about certain claims may identify additional claims that should be investigated.

Gathering Information

  • Background information should be gathered first. Check the subject's books, websites, comments on forums, et cetera.
  • Information can be gathered covertly or openly. A covert approach is usually best applied at the beginning of an investigation to gather the details of a subject's claims (by pretending to interested in taking classes from the subject, for example). At some point, it is generally preferable to inform the subject of the investigation and invite them to provide information directly, perhaps by inviting them to Bullshido.
  • Request information from people as professionally as possible. Blunt questions may be necessary; angry, profanity-ridden demands for explanations aren't going to help the investigation.
  • When making requests for information, it is useful to ask about the claim in context. For instance, "Bob, on page 29 of your book 'Mastering Bullshido,' you indicated that you were the coach for the US Olympic TKD Team from 1962-68. Is that true?" Please note that this example also serves to allow the subject to verify the claim.
  • Keep notes of your investigative activity. This can be done as posts or through a personal information and should include ways in which another member can check the information. This should include:
    • Links to information on the internet
    • Title, author, and page number for books (at a minimum)
    • Name and phone number for witness contacts. Phone numbers should be included for 'agency' contacts (such as a police department), but not included for personal contacts (such as the subject's ex-wife). For personal contacts, save the phone number but don't post it without permission.
  • Taking Screen Shots. This is useful for capturing a picture of a website. If you use Windows as an operating system and want to take a picture of the 'active' window, press press and hold ALT while you press PRINT SCREEN (PrtScn). If you want to take a picture of the entire screen (including the task bar), press PRINT SCREEN. Then open Microsoft Paint and either press and hold CONTROL while pressing V or right click with your mouse and select "Paste."
  • Please save all relevant e-mails and replies you received. If you are leading an investigation please try to compile such e-mails for the future writeup.

Investigative Resources

  • In the US, Information about a subject's ownership of a business can usually be obtained through the Division of Corporations or Secretary of State for the state in question.
  • In the US, property ownership can be established though the county Property Appraiser's Office. There can be certain exemptions (such as law enforcement) and the leasee of rental property is usually not indicated in this resource.
  • Google is, of course, a huge source of information. There are several features that stand out with Google:
    • Google Cached Websites - If a website is taken offline, it still may be viewable through Google's "Cached" function. Under an individual Google search result, click the link on the bottom left that reads, "Cached." This will pull up an old version of the website (the date of the 'capture' is the top of the page)
    • Google News Archives
  • The Internet Wayback Machine is another source of information.
  • Many jurisidictions in the US allow a search of public records, including jail records, legal filings, et cetera. Sometimes you will have to make a Freedom of Information Act Request. If requesting such information from the state you will need to find out that particular state's name for their FOIA or open record legislation.

Legal Warnings

  • "Social engineering" (the practice calling a company and pretending to be the subject of your investigation so you can get information about them) is illegal. Don't do it.
  • Don't publish people's social security numbers which could result in the theft of their identity.
  • Do not encourage people to contact the subject of any investigation at inappropriate hours or for prank purposes. We are not 4chan.

Conclusion

If you want your investigation writeup to be successful, to be approved for publication, and to carry your byline, it is best to follow these guidelines. Investigation writeups which significantly fail to meet standards will not be placed in bullshido.org's Investigations category, and may be removed from the wiki altogether. Investigations which deviate from good investigative technique may result in missed opportunities to get the facts.