On academic citations

Entirely trivial I know but academic citations work as follows:

Worstall, T, 2011

Or if I had produced three papers in a year (stakhanovite labouring there for academe) perhaps Worstall T, 2011 a, Worstall T 2011 b and so on.

This doesn’t really work when citing the real world Worstall T though:

But the numbers speak for themselves –Google had for the first time more than one billion monthly visitors (Worstall, T. 2011),

Well, yes, OK, in the notes the full reference is given:

Worstall, T. 2011, Google Hits One Billion Visitors in Only One Month, Tim Worstall, ForbesMagazine, 22/6/2011, http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2011/06/22/google-hits-one-billion-visitors-in-only-one-month/

That’s not citing an academic paper but a news (ish) sort of piece. And in 2011 I must have produced 1,000 or more such newsish pieces. Worstall T 2011 just isn’t a particularly useful guide to which of those thousand or more pieces it was.

As above, yes, I do know the full reference was given. But the short version does seem to be extremely uninformative. It’s applying the standards of academia, where papers are few and far between, to online writing where “papers” are three to five a day.

10 comments on “On academic citations

  1. That’s the harvard system for you. He’s not citing “you” exactly, he’s citing his bibliography. There’s no need inline for anything more than what is necessary to find you in the bibliography.

    So it doesn’t matter how many papers you’ve written in a year, if only one is cited you’d still just be (Worstall, 2011). If two out of twenty had been cited, they’d be (Worstall, 2011a) and (Worstall, 2011b).

    The Chicago system (which is a post way of saying “using footnotes”) would have more information in the footnote. This is typically used in history or when writing with lots of primary sources when knowing more about the primary sourced referenced is more important for assessing its reliability.

    Incidentally, when citing blog posts I think using Chicago should be the norm, because although we’re all a lot smarter and more worldly than ivory tower academics (natch) most blogs barely gets a second draft, let alone an independent fact check.

  2. Actually, they can work like this:
    “According to Worstall [42], Google had for the first time more than one billion monthly visitors…”, where [42] just means it’s the forty second thing referenced in the paper/article you’re reading.

  3. Left Outside is largely right, although there are many more than the two systems he mentions.
    I should have said “[42] means it’s the forty second item in the references, which are usually alphabetically ordered by author”, but the prinicple remains, it’s just a shorthand enabling you to find the full reference in the bibliography.

    Surprise, surprise, mathematicians usually use the numbered alphabetical system, although statisticians seem to prefer the alphabetical, reference by name version (as in your example).

  4. The above commentators are right. What this guy is doing is entirely correct. “Worstall 2011″ is merely an abbreviated reference to the full entry in the references section.

    “Or if I had produced three papers in a year… perhaps Worstall T, 2011 a, Worstall T 2011 b and so on.”

    Only if they had been cited in the paper. It doesn’t matter if Smith had produced ten papers in 2011, if only one paper had been cited, then only ‘Smith 2011′ is used. (So don’t go thinking that if you see ‘Smith 2011′ cited in a paper that Smith only produced one paper in 2011. He may have produced more, he may not have, that matter is entirely irrelevant to the issue of the references in the paper you are reading.)

    Mind you, one thing this guy did do badly was not to have his references in alphabetical order. And the references section in general is poorly done, and very sloppy.

  5. Yes, the above comments are correct – it’s not like Mozart pieces each having their individual k-number, it’s simply an internal referencing system for whatever is cited and referenced in that particular academic paper.

    If the paper had cited three of your blog posts from 2011, they would be referenced as Worstall 2011a, Worstall 2011b and Worstall 2011c. If a different paper had cited three different blog posts, they would also be referenced as Worstall 2011a, Worstall 2011b and Worstall 2011c even though they referenced completely different things.

    But congratulations that you’re getting so much more attention that the referencing becomes an issue.

  6. Surely the ref in the document is to the full list of references at the end of the paper? And citing the full URL is how it’s done these days from what I can see.

  7. @ left outside
    You have gone up in my opinion.
    Having written what was effectively an academic paper which was published by a (not very) commercial organisation* I started writing what should have been an academic paper for a (?pseudo-) academic journal but when they required Harvard referencing I gave up: partly because in most cases I no longer had any idea where I had read any particular intellectual gem I had read in the past 30 years but more because I lacked the patience to carry out that painstaking but utterly trivial detail when they demanded that one subjugates substance to form.
    *It produces good quality research but I think it has made losses more often than profits.

  8. When citing references on the interweb it is important to note the date and time accessed just as it is important to note the edition of a book as later versions may not actually contain the information referred to.

  9. Cutting to the relevant point, why on earth is he citing a blog by Worstall T, as an authority on Google Traffic Figures?

    Full respect, but a heavy-weight authority on internet traffic you are not.

    How many other random blog posts has the author cited from tangential commentators?

    His citation should be the originator – Comscore – rather than Worstall quote of a Wall Street Journal quote of a Comscore figure
    .
    Lazy lazy lazy.

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