# How well do we all use References and Sources?

## Recommended Posts

This thread has been started after a comment SkepticLance rightly made in the Limit to Growth thread. Basically he felt that he was being asked for sources disproportionately more frequently than other members, and that other people do not cite references as often as he is asked to provide them.

Guys

It is extremely common on this forum for people to make scientific points without references.

While I personally think that's a monster Lance creates for himself, you can't ignore the fact that we don't use references anywhere near as one would expect on a forum like this. Certainly we ask for them much more than we provide them without being asked ourselves.

Do we do it often enough?

Do we rely too much on poor sources?

Do we invoke higher standards for others than we do for ourselves?

How much prior knowledge should be assumed before we point to a source?

This is a discussion about how frequently we use citations and references.

It is not intended to become a SkepticLance bashing exercise, but I am going to reply to some of his comments from the other thread because I think they highlight some issues with understanding and working with sources.

For example : on the current 'salt water amphibians' thread, by Mokele

"No, we have quite strong evidence that tetrapods only left the water once, and all modern tetrapods evolved from them. Modern amphibians (technically called "Lissamphibia") are just a highly specialized lineage who evolved a hyper-permeable skin loaded with toxin glands."

This is NOT a criticism of Mokele, and I think he should be perfectly at liberty to make such statements without references. I have enough respect for him to accept such a statement at face value.

The difference here though is that Mokele will, if asked, be delighted to trundle off and fetch at least one source. He won't deflect the issue for 200 posts.

Should we have some sort of baseline rule whereby a source must be provided if requested? That would be like the only "absolute minimum force" rule we could make; one does not pick up an argument and run with it if one's source is challenged.

However, there are people who make a demand for references for the sake of argument.

I am inclined to agree on this point. The tactic only really works though in threads where there is a dearth of people who are experienced enough with the subject matter to be able to point out how redundant a citation is.

Such a request should be made only when an issue is in doubt, and when the statement the request is made about is of sufficient importance. Simply forcing people to waste their time in pointless google searches is not needed.

I think the common counter-view to this will be that if you have to search on google to prove a point then you are ostensibly not familiar enough with the subject matter to go straight to the correct journal database, or even a web site which accommodates articles for the relevant discipline.

If I wanted, I could find, and quote, dozens of cases where perfectly respected contributors to this forum make statements of fact without references.

Yes, but like Mokele they would if asked. Whereas we have to strong-arm you sometimes for dozens of posts before you will back up your entire argument with even one reference. Find and quote dozens of cases of other people doing that (outside of P&S, that would be cheating).

Also don't neglect the opposite condition, which would turn up dozens of examples of the same people volunteering sources.

I am a bit miffed that I get criticised for doing the same on points of fact that are unimportant.

What a poster thinks of as unimportant might be perceived as critical to their arguments by other people. On a site like this, there's a good chance those other people will have seen something in the reasoning or data which the original poster did not.

I think that's a lesson we can all learn from, in fact. It would help if we all stated why a reference is necessary when asking for one.

As you know, when I am forced to find a reference for my points of fact, I do.

Eventually. Although to be fair, you really do have to admit that this is usually anything which aligns with your view.

I remember your scathing comments about my argument on guns and suicide, just after I posted a reference from researchers at Harvard who were saying exactly what I had argued. That is academic support and good sense.

This is a false memory though, isn't it Lance? In fact you linked to a news item on the Harvard network which briefly discussed researchers' views and repeated an inference. Do you really want that as your example? It took 165 posts before you went looking for that. And I didn't post any scathing comments "just after", unless you think ten days later is very quick and that scathing means "totally unrelated".

It was obvious then that you were not reading my references, which makes their value sometimes a bit moot.

The reference was read, Lance. It was ignored for various reasons which were stated in the thread. Because you were looking for something to support your conclusion, instead of interpreting all the available data (which was another criticism you received), you of course found a source which agreed with your claim. But we had already disputed the reasoning behind that claim, which meant that we also disputed the inference which was made in the Harvard news article. So basically it was an appeal to authority. Sorry.

I know it's difficult to do right for doing wrong sometimes. But there is another valuable lesson to be learned here: those of us who are trained in researching sources and evaluating data and evidence need to be much more mindful that other people aren't. I think this would best be expressed as practical advice to accompany requests for sources.

You were another who clearly failed to read properly my references in that earlier thread. My own arguments were exactly the same as the Harvard arguments.

That doesn't make you more right. It makes you as right as they are, which in that case was "not a lot". Especially since it was a 3rd hand report about an inference.

I think this exposes the major danger of googling for supportive articles - one either doesn't get the depth one requires, or falls into the trap of selection bias.

##### Share on other sites

Sorry Sayonara

You have begun this thread as a 'bash SL' approach.

I will not be commenting on this thread any further.

##### Share on other sites

I really don't think that discussing the way you use or do not use sources is quite in the same ballpark as giving you a bashing.

Since you didn't feel compelled to make a reported post out of it I am going to assume that actually, neither do you, and your reply is simply an issue avoidance tactic.

Well that's fine. Other people can still benefit from this discussion.

##### Share on other sites

You made a point with which I fully agree. It is not always necessary to supply a source. However, if someone specifically asks you to supply one, it shouldn't take 200 posts to finally obtain... It should be provided immediately without the need of continued requests, and feeling like you are pulling teeth.

That seems to be another avoidance tactic... Arguing about why someone is asking you to provide a reference instead of just supplying said reference and moving on with the conversation.

##### Share on other sites
For me the litmus test for reference importance is when a new concept is introduced that seems a bit obscure or against the grain of a thread.

That one would certainly be a priority in my view.

Maybe we could derive some sort of source priority ranking table.

##### Share on other sites

A few months ago all the mods and admins adopted BSG avatars... (source). I just haven't changed mine yet.

##### Share on other sites

I think it boils down to general vs specific knowledge, and areas of proficiency.

If someone asks me to cite a reference for F=ma , then my immediate response is going to be "Bite me" because that's general knowledge anyone posting on a science board should have and I have the title of physics expert. In something like that, I am a source.

If someone asks me to cite a reference for something I post in, say, a global warming discussion, I should be prepared to provide it: I am not an expert in that area, and there's a decent chance that details of the discussion are not part of general knowledge. And the implication of that is that I read the information somewhere (rather than use it repeatedly) and may not have parsed it properly. So a lot of posters (and I think I'm in this category) will often have already included the citation as part of their post, simply because it's good practice and it saves the effort later, in case it's difficult to find again. And if I've made a claim, the burden is upon me to back it up. If I am indeed wrong — either through misunderstanding or because I've latched on to an unreliable source, I want to correct the situation, and I'm best served by having my sources available to anyone who wants to check them.

The problem is that you don't have to be mistaken very often for your credibility to suffer enough that people simply can't trust that you've properly distilled the essence of some article, or are careful about the reliability of the source.

• 1

##### Share on other sites

The above are all excellent posts and I agree with most of the points raised therein.

Question for discussion: what about restricted references? By this I mean journal articles for which one needs a subscription, or books? Suppose I get into a flame war over the specifics of the Robinson annealation (yeah, I don't see it happening either, but run with it). I can think of maybe one site other than Wikipedia which discusses this, so my options are run to a journal article by Dr. Robinson, or my fat textbook by Prof. Clayden (et al). I think it's reasonable to suggest most posters here don't have subscriptions to many or most journals.

On the subject - Wikipedia. Discuss.

##### Share on other sites
The above are all excellent posts and I agree with most of the points raised therein.

Question for discussion: what about restricted references? By this I mean journal articles for which one needs a subscription, or books? Suppose I get into a flame war over the specifics of the Robinson annealation (yeah, I don't see it happening either, but run with it). I can think of maybe one site other than Wikipedia which discusses this, so my options are run to a journal article by Dr. Robinson, or my fat textbook by Prof. Clayden (et al). I think it's reasonable to suggest most posters here don't have subscriptions to many or most journals.

On the subject - Wikipedia. Discuss.

If you have the choice, open access is preferable — but there are always libraries. I think it's great if you've gotten to that point in a discussion, because you aren't relying on some science reporter's summary, and if you have that level of motivation you can obtain the material. By providing the reference, you eliminate the problem of figuring out where the material might be located, even if obtaining it still requires some effort.

But textbook material is often available from multiple sources, unless it's very specialized information.

##### Share on other sites
Question for discussion: what about restricted references? By this I mean journal articles for which one needs a subscription, or books? Suppose I get into a flame war over the specifics of the Robinson annealation (yeah, I don't see it happening either, but run with it). I can think of maybe one site other than Wikipedia which discusses this, so my options are run to a journal article by Dr. Robinson, or my fat textbook by Prof. Clayden (et al). I think it's reasonable to suggest most posters here don't have subscriptions to many or most journals.

To add to what Swansont said, there's no reason not to give an academic reference just because you don't think people will have access to it. There are people who have Athens access and similar even though they are not "in science", and there are libraries. Of course, this is not to say that it won't slow the discussion down, but if someone wants an academic source for something you have said and that's the only one going, then that's the only one going.

On the subject - Wikipedia. Discuss.

Wikipedia has its drawbacks but it usually gives a reasonable primer and most articles on topics we are likely to discuss give further reading as well as cited sources.

Where I think a lot of people fall down with Wikipedia is that they do not check the discussion tab of pages to see what petty arguments have shaped the content of the main article.

##### Share on other sites

Wikis a nice Entry point but the Bibliography given at the bottom of most Wiki pages are the real gold.

Like Swansont, if I say mixing A+B is bad idea because itll do something dangerous, 9 times out of 10 I wont give a source (often its screamingly obvious why its bad) but also I Dont want to point people to Recipes either!

##### Share on other sites
The above are all excellent posts and I agree with most of the points raised therein.

Question for discussion: what about restricted references? By this I mean journal articles for which one needs a subscription, or books? Suppose I get into a flame war over the specifics of the Robinson annealation (yeah, I don't see it happening either, but run with it). I can think of maybe one site other than Wikipedia which discusses this, so my options are run to a journal article by Dr. Robinson, or my fat textbook by Prof. Clayden (et al). I think it's reasonable to suggest most posters here don't have subscriptions to many or most journals.

On the subject - Wikipedia. Discuss.

It can happen that the reference is restricted. One should attempt to find similar info in an open source reference, but if that's not possible, then the restricted source is good enough. Better a restricted source than no source (although I also find it annoying if it's restricted - it may all be better in the future!).

Personally, I have quoted in numerous cases from sources that the majority here cannot check easily. I happen to have some books which contain data that cannot be found easily online (thermodynamic data is just hard to find sometimes). In addition, I have used Dutch sources. You guys just have to trust me that I translated it (or dump it in Google translate). Personally, I think that this should be enough. Requesting that I only refer to open source information would restrict me in answering questions... which is of course not desirable.

##### Share on other sites
It can happen that the reference is restricted. One should attempt to find similar info in an open source reference, but if that's not possible, then the restricted source is good enough. Better a restricted source than no source (although I also find it annoying if it's restricted - it may all be better in the future!).

Personally, I have quoted in numerous cases from sources that the majority here cannot check easily. I happen to have some books which contain data that cannot be found easily online (thermodynamic data is just hard to find sometimes). In addition, I have used Dutch sources. You guys just have to trust me that I translated it (or dump it in Google translate). Personally, I think that this should be enough. Requesting that I only refer to open source information would restrict me in answering questions... which is of course not desirable.

People may not check every source. There may not be any indications that the material was misrepresented (whether intentionally or no) or it may jibe with information I already know. As long as the citations check out for things I do check on, I'm willing to trust the poster. If there are no references to check, I am just less prone to give the benefit of the doubt that the material is valid; especially so if there's a history of some information being low in quality. It's an issue of credibility.

But when the alarm goes off that there's an issue — and we see a lot of this with "evolution is wrong" or other crackpot posts — it's almost certain I will check up on the sources. They are invariably not credible or have been misrepresented.

##### Share on other sites
I have quoted in numerous cases from sources that the majority here cannot check easily. I happen to have some books which contain data that cannot be found easily online (thermodynamic data is just hard to find sometimes).

that`s happened to me a few times, I find that giving the book name and ISBN will suffice, if (as is the case with some of mine) the book is Pre ISBN codes, then title, year and author will have to do.

##### Share on other sites

This is the true concept which understanding and people respecting time wants to outlet from there brain. I completely appreciated with your this point" Such a request should be made only when an issue is in doubt, and when the statement the request is made about is of sufficient importance. Simply forcing people to waste their time in pointless google searches is not needed."

It is totally correct. Today half of free people misuse the interest by asking or presenting silly posts. Today there is great knowledge is available on the Internet but people does not use it properly. Hackers and spammers are ruling the Internet today.

##### Share on other sites

In my opinion, there seems to be an ongoing problem for people that have a general interest in finding out as much as they can of what is current in science discoveries of what interests them. Today, people do all of their research via the internet and we blindly place trust in the content of all the websites that gladly provide their research and their conclusions of those findings. When a particular question of interest is provided by these resources and we share them here, it is often met with sarcasm and require proof of our sources.

This is confusing to the person presenting this information since I feel that the person that represents an education on the matter should already know what is being provided via the web to the public and they should provide the source that provides us with the correct information. Coming to these forums and the responses you get makes me question whether I should even bother with doing any personal research since most of it is untrue.

Another problem is, "if you don't talk like a scientist using their specific terminology and do not mimic their choice of words in the strictest sense, then you will responded as if you are an idiot. People of science should learn to translate their language in something that lay people can easily understand of how they interprete in their own opinion of the research. To insist on recited information that a scientist can only understand to the public creates a wall between them and that is why forums like these do not have a large population to participate in it.

##### Share on other sites

Another problem is, "if you don't talk like a scientist using their specific terminology and do not mimic their choice of words in the strictest sense, then you will responded as if you are an idiot. People of science should learn to translate their language in something that lay people can easily understand of how they interprete in their own opinion of the research. To insist on recited information that a scientist can only understand to the public creates a wall between them and that is why forums like these do not have a large population to participate in it.

I'm sorry - but given the recent posts you've made in the biology section I feel it's necessary to call you on this one. For example in this thread:

http://www.sciencefo...tween-bacteria/

You've challenged current scientific theory based on a complete misinterpretation of a popular science article - which you didn't reference leaving us to dig and assume we found the right one. You've then gone on to completely misunderstand the definition of many very basic biological terms in order to try and argue a point e.g.

So we can communicate properly - prokaryotes, microbes, bacteria are all one and the same subject correct?

I mean absolutely no disrespect, but I've worked with year 9 high school students who can tell me without hesitation the difference between an organelle, a bacteria, a prokaryote and a microorganism. They are fundamental building blocks of knowledge, essential to the understanding of cellular biology. Despite being furnished with wikipedia links to explain the key differences you argued the point that in your opinion they were one and the same for over a page. It's not our or any scientist's fault that your basic scientific knowledge is this lacking - you need to do a bit more reading.

This brings me to three major points:

a) Scientific illiteracy is a problem, sure. Its got roots in science, in education systems and in the media. However - ALL of the scientific literature is internet based these days. With the advent of FOS journals like PLoS and BMC, the literature is more accessible to the general public than EVER before.

b) If you're going to assert changes to a well supported scientific theory (i.e. evolution by natural selection - http://www.sciencefo...prey-mechanism/), you need to pose a legitimate problem with the theory and pose legitimate alternatives. If your problems with the theory stem from a poor or incomplete understanding of what the theory actually states, people politely and comprehensively try to explain how the theory doesn't work the way you're proposing it does and you react with snippy, sarcastic responses, it inevitably elicits frustration in the people trying to help you.

c) Scientific language, terminology and nomenclature exists purely for clarification purposes. In the above thread you deliberately refused to acknowledge fundamental, learned in high school biology scientific definitions when presented with them because it didn't suit the point you were making. (i.e. you stated: mitochondrion = microorganism, I corrected: mitochondrion=organelle, you cited: that's your opinion) It's again, not science's fault that you refuse to acknowledge differences in definitions pointed out to you reflective of important biological differences because it doesn't suit you. It also makes it near impossible to have a meaningful discussion on a topic of science when you refuse to acknowledge these definitions.

Again I mean no disrespect or dismissal of you or your posts, but please don't blame a lack of knowledge and education on science/scientists/this forum if you're capable of picking up a biology textbook and reading it.

Edited by Arete

##### Share on other sites

In my opinion, there seems to be an ongoing problem for people that have a general interest in finding out as much as they can of what is current in science discoveries of what interests them. Today, people do all of their research via the internet and we blindly place trust in the content of all the websites that gladly provide their research and their conclusions of those findings. When a particular question of interest is provided by these resources and we share them here, it is often met with sarcasm and require proof of our sources.

This is confusing to the person presenting this information since I feel that the person that represents an education on the matter should already know what is being provided via the web to the public and they should provide the source that provides us with the correct information. Coming to these forums and the responses you get makes me question whether I should even bother with doing any personal research since most of it is untrue.

Another problem is, "if you don't talk like a scientist using their specific terminology and do not mimic their choice of words in the strictest sense, then you will responded as if you are an idiot. People of science should learn to translate their language in something that lay people can easily understand of how they interprete in their own opinion of the research. To insist on recited information that a scientist can only understand to the public creates a wall between them and that is why forums like these do not have a large population to participate in it.

There is much corruption in today's encyclopedia, which has seeped into humanity's psyches as facts. This is most seen in historical sectors. People read definitions which are based on opinions up to 1,500 years after the fact, seen when the footnote legends are examined. This is a result of the opinions being from those who have already made up their minds based on their beliefs only. And those beliefs can never be evidenced by contemporary references, and are usually antithetical to its real time facts. This can be seen when one tries to find any contemporary proof for any figure in the NT - one gets dizzy following all the spins and should question why we have no Christian dead sea scrolls when so many writers are mentioned - at a time when writings was commonplace? These are the kind of stuff which has become facts when we check for references. Equally, there is no proof of Moses. There is of david, which is not bad, seeing this is a 3,200 year figure. I am wondering why the Gospels failed to record a million Jews sacrificing their lives in the war with Rome in 70 CE: it begs the Q when was the Gospels written and by whom? Its like the NY Times not mentioning 9/11 on 9/12. I found that democrasy was introduced not by the Greeks but in the Hebrew bible! I found the first alphabetical book is not phoenecian but the Hebrew bible! I found that the oldest NAME of a human is recorded in the Hebrew bible! I found that all laws which turn the world are listed only in the Hebrew bible! Now these are facts - but not seen in references stemming from Europe and made widespread throughout the world. It means humanity is standing on rickety ground.We see that the two biggest religions - Christianity & Islam - are in insane contradiction of each other of the same space-times they believe in: both cannot be right - yet these will kill and die for those false beliefs. I say:

HUSTON - WE HAVE A SITUATION HERE!

##### Share on other sites

Another problem is, "if you don't talk like a scientist using their specific terminology and do not mimic their choice of words in the strictest sense, then you will responded as if you are an idiot. People of science should learn to translate their language in something that lay people can easily understand of how they interprete in their own opinion of the research. To insist on recited information that a scientist can only understand to the public creates a wall between them and that is why forums like these do not have a large population to participate in it.

Scientific terminology is generally more precise (and occasionally less precise) than lay terminology, meaning that if you use the wrong word, you mean something you did not intend. However, you probably have no idea exactly how much a scientist is already translating their discussion into a version more generally digestible unless you spend time listening to him/her in discussion with colleagues. Compare a paper and the press release based on it sometime and you will have an inkling of how much translation is already going on, between the terminology and trying to express math in words.

Some of the burden has to be on the audience to gain some scientific literacy if they want to participate in the discussion.

##### Share on other sites

I always try to make sure the sources I use are accurate! Sometimes the ones I pick arn't right :/

##### Share on other sites

!

Moderator Note

Please note that this thread is from 2011. Not all the participants in the discussion are still active on our forum.

##### Share on other sites

!

Moderator Note

Please note that this thread is from 2011. Not all the participants in the discussion are still active on our forum.

It looks like it started in 09, and got a necro-post in 11. So from what I can tell you may see it resurface again in 2015.