One-fourth of all history journal citations are inaccurate

One-fourth of all history journal citations are inaccurate
college professor

About one-fourth of all citations in leading history journals are inaccurate, as three researchers discovered in a recent study in Scientometrics.

The researchers examined five top history journals and found that 24.27 percent of citations “do not substantiate the propositions for which they are cited.”

The study stated that this high error rate detected is likely lower than the true percentage of citation errors: “Due to research difficulties posed by some citation conventions in history journals, this number likely underestimates the actual prevalence of errors.”

The paper was written by professors Aaron Cumberledge, Benjamin Riley and Neal Smith. Cumberledge notes that that although he does not have the data to identify the root causes of bad citation practices, “the main cause seems to be simple negligence.”

“For example, authors will sometimes quote the wrong number from a table or conflate two different points in their reference. They also sometimes appear to be copying erroneous information from a secondary source and copying the citation to the primary reference without having read the reference themselves….if authors made a greater effort to be diligent in reading their references and accurately reporting their information, I think most quotation errors would be corrected.”

Other disciplines appear to be equally bad; “the problem of quotation errors exists at roughly the same frequency in history journals as in journals for other academic disciplines…readers should not be made to doubt the veracity of references, knowing one in four is likely incorrect.”

Solutions to many errors exist, but could be quite costly. Increasing editorial reviewing and verification of references would help diminish the problem, but this is “an unrealistic solution that places a major burden on editorial staff,” notes the study.

The study suggested citing with specific page numbers for each proposition stated to allow for easier review and error-checking by editors. This is analogous to the requirement by many federal judges that lawyers cite not just the citation for court rulings they are citing, but also the page number or “pin cite,” so that the judge can easily check just that page, rather than reading through all hundred pages of a long court ruling.

The study’s findings echo concerns raised by former Portland State University political scientist Bruce Gilley, who wrote series of essays on “junk citations” for Minding the Campus.

“The reason why junk citations are a problem is because scholars are not being encouraged to go and read the stuff they are citing, tell the reader what they are finding, how it’s done, and whether it’s even replicable,” Gilley says. “People think they can just throw out ‘the research is very clear on this, the evidence is so clear,’ but it is all built on junk citations. Academics can’t complain that no one trusts them anymore when their own writing style sows the seeds of distrust.”

Most academic research is of low-quality and read by almost no one other than the academic journal the research appears in. The typical “scholarly” article by an academic is read by only ten people, and cited by absolutely no one. Many “scholarly” articles just regurgitate left-wing talking points or  even dangerous, debunked myths. Some “scholarly” articles imbue nonsensical jargon with an air of false authority through a process of “idea laundering.”

It is also hard to publish good quality research in many fields if it does not have a progressive slant. Peer review means review by mostly progressive professors, who view non-progressive viewpoints as wrong. Progressive professors view progressive views as a sign of intelligence, and conservatism as a sign of stupidity. For example, Prof. Robert Brandon, head of Duke University’s philosophy department, argued that conservatives are rare in academia because they are stupid.

Moderate and conservative law professors themselves have advised students to parrot their progressive professors’ views just to get a good grade on their final exam. Law professor Robert Anderson advises, “Law students: Remember to echo your professor’s ideology on your final exams! If you haven’t noticed this on Twitter, many profs are incapable of separating ‘is’ from ‘ought,’ acknowledging trade-offs, or recognizing the validity of counterarguments.”

Law professor Orin Kerr agrees. He is America’s leading expert on computer crimes and the Fourth Amendment. He notes that while “there are exceptions,” what Anderson recommends “is often good advice. I took several exams in law school while rolling my eyes about the absurdity of the nonsense I was writing. But it worked.”

LU Staff

LU Staff

Promoting and defending liberty, as defined by the nation’s founders, requires both facts and philosophical thought, transcending all elements of our culture, from partisan politics to social issues, the workings of government, and entertainment and off-duty interests. Liberty Unyielding is committed to bringing together voices that will fuel the flame of liberty, with a dialogue that is lively and informative.


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