The Longest Now

Reffer Madness, part I : In My Cites
Monday October 06th 2008, 3:55 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

A ‘reference’ in a written or artistic work can have many different, sometimes conflicting, connotations.  A ref can be used

  • to identify general influences on a work
  • to name sources from which it draws an analysis
  • to credit original authors when their work is directly reused
  • to uniquely define a work that was referred to briefly in a text
  • to identify specific influences or sources of axioms and assumptions for a work which are integral to its argument or presentation

All of these connotations are commonly confused with one another in a single volume, sometimes within a single paragraph.  Citations and references have a standard format which does not account for the depth or degree of their influence on the text.  An exact quote will often receive the same ref as a bibliography entry indicating a general influence.  The use of a set of assumptions as “the standard way of approaching this problem” will receive the same ref as an amusing tangent.  As a result, if one has additional information about cited sources — for instance, a database that indicates the general reliability or currency of a source — it is difficult to know at a glance when this extra information invalidates or adds to information referring to a source.

This loss of information in refs weakens their value, especially their aggregate value when trying to iterate a process of determining reliability, or determining when a work should be revised and updated.

We can change all of this. You and me, and a handful of others — starting with how citations are used in major wiki publications and academic works.  Two of my friends, Benny Hill and Meta-Montfort, are working with me to devise a brief standard for better citation practice that we can share with you.  Stay tuned for tomorrow’s episode of…  Reffer Madness

4 Comments so far
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im all up in ur metadata
modifying ur tags

I have so many thoughts on this am not quite sure where to begin. For now, anecdotes:
1) beginners in academia (usually undergrads) find the slight differences between types of referencing (quotes here, but not here) to indicate the differences you mention totally confusing and are much more likely to notice it. Experienced researchers don’t tend to see any source of confusion as they are used to the weird convention of mashing things together; and paper conventions have grown up for experienced researchers.
2) A database with metadata about quality and authority is both a very good idea and a very, very bad one; and not just because it’s technically v. hard to do on a large scale.*
3) Referencing programs that could *so easily* indicate this extra information but don’t bug the crap out of me. I know you can add extra fields in endnote etc., but really.

* There’s a handful of ways to go about producing this information, and none of them that I have seen or can think of are that great. I am thinking not about “of course we all know this paper’s important and can tag it as such” but “what happens far down the line to scholarship if we do this comprehensively?”

Comment by phoebe 10.06.08 @ 11:47 am

This is not exactly what you meant, but it would be kind of cool if onwiki footnote numbers were color-coded by reference type.

Comment by Ben 10.08.08 @ 8:49 am

That idea just sort of popped into my head, so I don’t know how well it would work in practice. 🙂 It’s worth noting, if anyone’s reading this, that nothing like that exists now.

Comment by Ben 10.08.08 @ 10:13 am

That’s a fabulous idea. If we can keep the # of top-level citation types down to 4 or 5, we could do this with ease. Part II of the series is being posted soon; we had a brainstorming session on #openlibrary this past Monday and made good progress in tracking down existing literature about this idea.

Comment by metasj 10.09.08 @ 10:36 pm

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