Standing on the shoulders of wee tiny men

There is a clear hierarchy of citation which people would do well to follow:

  1. Academic papers cite academic papers cite academic papers
  2. Review articles cite academic papers, generally in bulk, often from different fields
  3. Technical books cite review articles and academic papers
  4. New Scientist cites technical books, review articles and occasionally academic papers; it also publishes its own review articles
  5. Respectable news agencies cite books and some review articles, but will tend to refer to the research groups themselves rather than their publications
  6. The informed layman cites any of the above
  7. Other news agencies will cite any of the above, without any preference or exercising of critical faculty
  8. 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.

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