There is a clear hierarchy of citation which people would do well to follow:
- Academic papers cite academic papers cite academic papers
- Review articles cite academic papers, generally in bulk, often from different fields
- Technical books cite review articles and academic papers
- New Scientist cites technical books, review articles and occasionally academic papers; it also publishes its own review articles
- Respectable news agencies cite books and some review articles, but will tend to refer to the research groups themselves rather than their publications
- The informed layman cites any of the above
- Other news agencies will cite any of the above, without any preference or exercising of critical faculty
- The rest are bottom feeders
This is not just a matter of mere snobbishness (although I do confess etc.) There is an attempt at laying down a trail of research here that is auditable, not just a game of Chinese whispers. Citing something effectively second- or third-hand, in an arena where one ought to be mining the motherlode, suggests an ignorance of the importance of being able to validate one’s data.
So when I come across an academic paper, in a peer-reviewed journal, that freely cites Naomi Wolf, Germaine Greer, Oliver Sacks or far lower-brow… I have to wonder if the writer of the paper has any critical faculty, or whether the necessity of developing a coherent narrative and presenting interesting ideas has caused the wheat to be lumped with the chaff. Such a citation should not of course cause the paper to be rejected, but it casts doubt on the author’s ability to play the game.