Sunday, May 7, 2017


An excellent piece on misattribution and misinformation: "Why You Should Cite The Source of Images by Bev Newman.

...but I doubt the average Pinterest user cares about copyright issues or attribution or historical accuracy or anything much beyond 'pretty' and 'good illustration for my alternative facts.' So preaching to an empty church.

Even academics are getting ridiculously sloppy about such things. In my dissertation (1991) I demonstrated that scholars in Education had been misquoting the conclusions from Sociology for over 28 years, because no one Education had bothered going back to the original source, but had just cited each other citing the sociologist they were misquoting. Consequently, everything on that topic in the Education literature of the 1980s and early 1990s was wrong, tracing back to a mis-reading from the mid-1960s. Alternative facts indeed!

And that was back in the 90s, before Google Scholar. Now misquotes are (I would suggest) more frequent than accurate ones. Under the pressure of putting out unrealistically high levels of productivity to maintain one's competitiveness in a shrinking market for tenured positions, a lot of 'scholars' are looking for short cuts. And google supplies! Typically, a desperate scholar trying to remember where they once read that quote they now need for their current article, will google the desired phrase, and up it pops. That's great for finding stuff vaguely remembered, but's a short step from there to "I could use someone saying X about here...Say,I wonder what Google can find for me." And so up pops the statement they need for the next paragraph, and click here's the citation reference, and Bob's your uncle. Without, um, actually READING the article the quote is pulled from...

Everybody is tacitly happy with this situation: the author gets another paper pumped out, filled with current citations without, you know, the time consuming process of actually reading all the literature... The dean is happy because look at how productive all his people are being...and the original author got another citation to his paper which beefs up his 'impact' score, so who cares really if he was misquoted?

Except, my wife and I keep finding examples of where citations to our work have got the argument we were making exactly backwards--because they quoted from the bit we were refuting, or took the quote out of context, or just left out the "not" in the sentence. It's appalling to be cited in support of arguments we find offensive or which go against all logic, or serve someone's political agenda in the face of the scientific evidence. But if it happens to my colleagues and I this often, then it's happening at epidemic proportions.

I'm okay with people using Google etc to quickly locate relevant literature, but read the damn article, people...or at least the whole paragraph where the sentence is found.

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