Y u no cite me?
Two uncomfortable, if not disconcerting, realizations of academic publishing is that (1) people don’t read, or (2) if they do read and write, they don’t cite relevant or appropriate work. A hard-working academic’s day can be quickly sent down the dark hole of despair or rage face when reading a manuscript or publication that doesn’t properly cite relevant work or (ahem) one’s own seminal work. Worse, if cited, the work may be cited wrongly, or the minor points override the major takeaways in subsequent research and citations. In these situations, the imperative that one should contribute to standing on the shoulders of giants calls to mind the bleak image of a whale fruitlessly calling out for colleagues in an endless sea.
More whale-calling, channeling Andy Abbott, below the fold…
While noodling around for cites on bounded rationality, I ran into Andy Abbott’s (2010) take on the phenomena of non- or inappropriate citations, which he sorts into several categories of ignorance. Using his own The Systems of Professions as a reference, Abbott examines Wikipedia’s citations in the entry on professions, as well as academic publications’ citations of his work. He notes that whereas the Wikipedia entry on professions does cite several seminal texts, it does not cite his work, and its content and editing rehashes theoretical ground that experts have rejected decades ago. Deeming this account at the level of an undergraduate paper, he notes that the entry’s authors “have no clue even how to find that literature or how to identify it when they run across it, although it could be found and identified by a person with standard library skills in an hour or two in any library that has access to the Web of Science, JSTOR, and the Annual Review series” (180). He concludes that the article reflects a “group of people that is more committed to having a debate than to finding a conclusion” and that the debate concerns “personal identity, not a problem in social theory or sociological analysis” (180). In short, Abbott concludes that such amateur authors lack the ability and willingness to adequately synthesize known work.*
As for other academics citing his work, Abbott counts up those which he deems as appropriately citing his work (about half). He identifies 10% as wrongly summarizing or quoting his work. He also characterizes a percentage of publications as citing his work ceremoniously, perhaps “to borrow the charisma” of his work or to serve as “preemptations lest I review the paper for publication and be angry at my omission” (184).
Most interestingly, he articulates the concept of “expert ignorance.” While specific facts are no longer are at the author’s grasp years after publication, the author’s increasingly stylized view of the central argument (“synthetic ignorance”) may not be readily apparent to others (186). This contribution may eventually be reworked into a larger synthesis of content by others; ignorance of what the author feels is the central contribution may allow someone to develop new notions.
Orgtheory gift of the day: using a meme generator, I’ve created the above illustration which can be shared with colleagues when you’re singing your own whale song or sharing someone else’s whale song, depending on which form of ignorance you’d like to cultivate or combat.
* My own take on this – help out such authors by directly contributing expert knowledge.