cite check

Inside Higher Ed has a post about poor citation in academic publishing. I’ve noticed this problem a few times in journal articles and books: misspelled authors’ names, wrong journal volume numbers, a bibliographic entry that doesn’t have the translator listed, a quotation that isn’t clear that it’s the authors’ translation of a French text, and so forth.

Of course, the IHE article provides more context and more egregious problems that these. Do many academics actually not read the texts they cite? I found the article interesting. However, one suggestion made by Armstrong and Wright (2008) — the study that the IHE article reports about — seems highly problematic:

“When an author uses prior research that is relevant to a finding, that author should make an attempt to contact the original authors to ensure that the citation is properly used,” they write.

As some commenters on the post note, this is simply not possible. One notes that Bruno Latour wouldn’t have time to answer all these requests, and that it’s impossible to email Derrida. Of course, practicality aside, it’s just not theoretically sound. Shouldn’t something put out in public speak for itself? Certainly, asking an author via email for clarification is not a bad idea, but if something’s out in public, it is the text, not the author. To rely so much on intent, to try to get at exactly what the author meant…. Author Function, anyone? Additionally, some concepts are redeployed or used in contexts that authors may disagree with.

That point aside, though, Armstrong and Wright bring up some pretty valid concerns (though not new concerns, I gather).

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