What is worthy of a reference?

It is the tool of the academic to use their most powerful ally: the reference. The reference is the ability to cite a study, a work, or some other medium which demonstrates or explores a certain point. The importance of the reference is to avoid handwaving gestures such as:

i. There is some evolutionary mechanism that explains this…(no reference)
ii. Obviously this is explained away by such and such a theory or person (but no reference)

There is a reverse problem of referencing; it is foolish just to refer to a study and not question its validity. A paper put in a medical journal; The Lancet made the claim that there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, which many people now believe, and have made a decision to avoid vaccination aware of this. The thing about this study was that it was later discredited. The Sokal hoax is another instance, I’m assuming a certain amount of background of the reader (like a PhD in Transformative Hermeneutics) that you are aware of the hoax.

I put forth this question: what counts as a reference? A book can be referred; a paper in a joural can be referred; but what about a newspaper? official government studies? a gallup poll? a television programme,  radio documentary, blog, podcast, computer software in general?

One should always be questionable about their sources: a video on youtube about Godel’s incompleteness theorem is hardly going to be as insightful as a paper in Mind or J. of Midwest Philosophy; however, in this eclectic and interesting information age, we should be as eclectic as Kant was in his day. In the Antrhopology; Kant demonstrates a real knowledge of his fellow Europeans: Kant read the proto-anthropological writings of explorers and well-to-do white men.

Although by today’s standards those antrhopological are unacceptable, unreliable and probably racist sources, they were, in Kant’s day, the explorers who went where no (white) man had gone before (I intentionally used genered language for that phrase). Kant’s sources try to take account of the common folk; but also the cultured intellectual.

In his theoretical philosophy, Kant drew from natural philosophy (physics), some mathematics, and as a philosopher, he went very far out of the normal Prussian comfort zone of Germanic writers by reading the English writers such as Shaftesbury, Hume, Locke, and even Shakespeare! Perhaps this fact is not appreciated today, but a few of the philosophers of the Pantheon had really gone beyond their comfort zone and normal circle of literature; Descartes had ceased to become interested in Aristotelian philosophy; Spinoza, had moved away from his cultural Jewish intellectual leanings to learn ‘Christian’ and other works. By acknowledging and immersing in foreign literature, each of these writers had met some degree of derision.

Recently philosophers and academics in general had brought discussions to podcasting and blogs; in addition to open-access journals, this phenomena might be seen as challenging the former way of things, but it seems more like it is reaffirming it. I have a habit of cataloging much of what I read in bibliography software. But I wonder more and more what is worthy of recording. I often listen to audiobooks and consider that a straightforward reference item, but podcasts and blog posts, however, need more classification tools.

Normally the fields relevant to journals and books include: Publisher, city of publication, year, author, ISBN/DOI code and so on. What about fields such as file size, date last accessed, modification history, mode of presentation (such as wiki), whether it has open-access editing, editing history. We now have new factors to consider and old ones we might find inapplicable.

An interesting source of information is the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, the factors to consider how this source is referenced include:

1. Sometimes the editor of an article changes hands.
2. Article sometimes become revised either in its content, or bibliography, to account for the new literature that had emerged since the publication of the article.
3. Who is the ‘publisher’? This question does not seem as valid; perhaps more relevant an issue is the question of: who, or what institution holds the rights, or the server from which the article is accessible.

While it is very interesting to observe these new changes in media; there comes a point to stand in and set the standards of pedantry.


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