Southern Illinois University



Epistemology:  How does anyone acquire reliable knowledge?

      Why should anyone trust this website?

This resource is intended for students.  Students are expected to trust authority -- authority of parents, authority of teachers, authority of textbooks.  (Websites, not so much!)  However...

Most children learn to question at least some aspects of parental knowledge.  And wise students understand that all knowledge from any authority is provisional.  Teachers should be credentialed.  Institutions should be accredited.  Textbooks should be written by bona fide experts.  But none of these, not even peer review (the gold standard for scientific publication), confers a guarantee of accuracy. 

Trusting well-vetted authorities -- such as widely-respected reference works -- often works well enough for everyday work.  University-level scholarship calls for citation of sources for any information that is not widely known and/or shared by readily available reference resources.  In this website, most of the histological information can be confirmed in any substantial histology textbook.  For details emerging in recent research, sources are usually cited.

Nevertheless, trusting authority is an epistemological shortcut.  And trust can be treacherous, depending on one's choice of "authorities."  Self-styled pundits may themselves lack appropriate expertise or even be mendacious.  One should always maintain a healthy skepticism, even though skepticism, like all things, must be practiced with moderation.  Fact-checking every bit of one's knowledge through direct experience, or even by reference to the primary literature of science, would be impractically onerous.  But for any critical information, double-checking with alternative, independent resources is always recommended. (Note the criterion of independence.  Many textbooks simply echo or pass along information derived from some prior source.)

University students should usually be able to rely on textbooks adopted by professors in accredited institutions.  The most authoritative textbooks are bolstered with extensive citations of original, peer-reviewed research literature and have further been subjected to peer review by other experts recruited by the publisher.  Nevertheless, neither textbook authors nor peer reviewers necessarily have deep personal expertise in all topics covered by a typical text.  Errors can creep in, even in otherwise excellent textbooks written and/or recommended by highly regarded professors at highly respected institutions. 

Indeed, an update of this website during 2023 did uncover a few errors of fact.  These have been corrected, but others may still be lurking.  (Feedback from readers is encouraged.) 

Unfortunately, once an error becomes established (whether in textbooks or websites), it can be perpetuated almost indefinitely.  For one extreme example in the domain of histology, see here.  For another example, misrepresentations of the relationship between hepatic cords and bile canaliculi in the liver are distressingly common, both in textbooks and on the internet.

Needless to say, any reliance on internet resources requires special care.  A vast amount of internet information is simply reiterated from other, typically uncredited sources.  Relatively few websites are produced or vetted by knowledgable professionals.  Wikipedia can often be useful, but should be used primarily as a help for finding references with more substantial authority.  The presence of ".edu" in a website's url is usually a favorable sign, especially if it's the url of a respected research university. 

A few reliable websites for histology (in addition to this one!) are listed here.

How reliable is this website? 

I, David King, am the sole author of this website.  I hold a Ph.D. in Neurosciences from the University of California San Diego.  I also have more than thirty years' experience teaching human histology at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.  I originally created this website simply to support my pedagogy.  Apart from this teaching, I do not have any special credential in the domain of human histology.  The histological expertise which I have acquired directly (i.e., through my own original investigations of nature) has been restricted to invertebrate nervous systems, not those of humans nor even mammals. 

Most of the histological content in this website has been gleaned by studying textbooks written by many others who themselves have participated in a long tradition of research and teaching in histology (see, e.g., historical notes).  I have confirmed a significant portion of standard textbook microanatomy through personal examination of microscope slides residing in the teaching collection at SIU School of Medicine.  (Most of these slides were commercially-prepared several decades ago; a few specimens were borrowed from local pathology labs.)  But I have depended on textbook authority for much of the information in this website, especially in the domain of physiology.

Nearly all of the micrographs in this website are my own; occasional outside sources are duly credited.  All the words are also my own, except for occasional quotation of exceptionally apt prose whose source is duly credited.  Where this website includes new information (e.g. "research news"), I cite sources in the peer-reviewed literature of biology. 

This website has been available online since 2001, but it remains a work in progress.  It was listed by MedEdPortal in 2006 (at its original location, before being relocated to its current url in 2021).  Apart from that, this website has been neither edited nor vetted by a conventional publisher.  Nevertheless, as suggested above, I have tried to be conscientious with regard to epistemology and adhere to professional standards for all content.

Using this website

Comments and questions:

SIUC / School of Medicine / Anatomy / David King
Last updated:  4 December 2023 / dgk