More yak-shaving for my MSc. A book I read was discussing data pipeline problems. How so much of the work of ETL is cleaning up crappy data and reformatting it to something useful.
We should be going to the source of the data, the book suggested. Rather than wasting time cleaning - get better at production. Or, as it pithily put it:
Whenever I see a generic quote like that, attributed to an authority figure, my Spider-Sense goes haywire. Did they really say that? Where's the evidence?
First step, as always, Twitter!
Does anyone have a citation or a source for this quote?
This was the earliest example that I've seen on Twitter - and I can't find anything which reliably attributes it to him. https://t.co/AAtIdMg9y5
— Terence Eden (@edent) June 8, 2021
Twitter's quite a good way to search for something like this. Now that I have an upper-bound for the quote, I don't need to waste time looking in books published after that date.
WikiQuote is another good source, a discussion there was unable to source the quote.
Lots of places have it as a Tutu quote - without giving a specific date or place where he said it. Even the Noble foundation and the Sydney Peace Foundation use the quote. So it isn't just mawkish fluff on Pinterest.
Internet minions good online friends help track down an early source of the quote.
Found this reference to a story told in a 1981 articlehttps://t.co/nGSNil0WCz
— Richard (@benjymous) June 8, 2021
That leads us to the 1975 paper "A Case For Refocusing Upstream: The Political Economy Of Illness" by John B. McKinlay"
My friend, Irving Zola, relates the story of a physician trying to explain the dilemmas of the modern practice of medicine:
“You know," he said, “sometimes it feels like this.There I am standing by the shore of a swiftly flowing river and I hear the cry of a drowning man. So I jump into the river, put my arms around him, pull him to shore and apply artificial respiration. Just when he begins to breathe, there is another cry for help. So I jump into the river, reach him, pull him to shore, apply artificial respiration, and then just as he begins to breathe, another cry for help. So back in the river again, reaching, pulling, applying, breathing and then another yell. Again and again,without end, goes the sequence. You know, I am so busy jumping in, pulling them to shore, applying artificial respiration, that I have no time to see who the hell is upstream pushing them all in.”1
That reference points to "I.K. Zola, “Helping Does It Matter: The Problems and Prospects of Mutual Aid Groups.” Addressed to the United Ostomy Association, 1970."
Now, Tutu has been going since well before then (and long may he continue to do so) - but this gives us another earlier bound for our investigations. Did anyone say it prior to 1970-75?
First up, can wee see that original paper by Zola? No. There's a similarly named one at https://doi.org/10.1037/h0091061
But that 1972 reprinting doesn't have the (in)famous "Rivers" anecdote. I've contacted a past-president of the UOA to see if they have copies of the original, but no luck yet.
There are a cluster of mentions of "going upstream to see why people are falling in" in the 1971 record of the US congress:
I could only find a 1970 anecdote, but again unattributed: https://t.co/ymiS3uBLEH— Dan Brickley (@danbri) June 8, 2021
So Dr Lourie was also using the story in 1971 - albeit in saltier language!
I've no idea if Lourie and Zola met - or whether it was just one of those zeitgeist tales which was doing the rounds back then.
Perhaps Tutu read it, or heard it somewhere, and then retold it? Perhaps... but there are fairly complete archives of his writing, speeches, and marginalia. There's absolutely no evidence to suggest he said anything even remotely resembling the quote.
But someone, probably in the early part of the 2010s, linked his name to it. A meme was born. And who can be arsed to fact check a fucking meme?