“I am not a credible source”

Okay, I said I wouldn’t do this, I know. And Michael Drout, even, said how he deplored it. But by the time you read this I will have had to gently to explain to my students after their first batch of essays about the following things that I don’t think they should be citing as further reading:

  1. genealogy websites (except Nat Taylor’s) because when people will pay you to research their ancestry it is more profitable to write as if the evidence is there;
  2. wargaming websites, especially ones that I found Googling for lecture images so know about already, not that it’s a bad site but guys guys it is the nature of wargaming to encourage the counterfactual and are you sure you can tell are you really;
  3. my own lecture handouts, I mean yes hopefully right but not peer-reviewed, you know?

We are here well into the realm of ‘things I never thought to tell my students not to do’ (does someone know where that was? Can’t find it now…). Well, OK, now I have, and they know what will happen…


19 responses to ““I am not a credible source”

  1. From my PoV as a sere and experienced academic, it looks like you have avoided any provocative or demeaning language. Of course that does not mean I can tell what your students will think.

    • Since this advice had to be mixed in with such gems as “if you’d read the handbook you’d have known we took marks off for late submission” and “for heaven’s sake spell-check”, they may not have come away with quite the same impression, but I’m looking at it as a warning shot for the next batch of essays which are due, in fact, tomorrow. All fun and games.

  2. OK, I have now found a real use for Googlewave. We need to have it so that we can all work together on a post of “things we expect not to have to tell you!”

    I’m sending you an invite the next time I get some.

    • There is somewhere out there a marvellous blogpost going to great lengths with this theme, but try as I might I couldn’t dig it up when I was drafting this…

      • hell, I might have written it! :-)

      • highlyeccentric

        I did one, years ago, very shortly after I figured out for myself why I couldn’t use things like blogs as academic sources (I hadn’t BEEN using them, being a book snob all the way, but I had been using some not-particularly-credible books in my early undergrad years). It’s back here – I ran it past a few of my teachers at the time, and it was declared Good and Useful.

        On the other hand, it *does* seem terribly unfair that you can’t use the lecture handouts as sources. I understand why NOW, but what do you go to lectures for if not to learn things?

        • That’s not the post I meant, but I should have remembered and mentioned it, indeed I should possibly be directing my students to it. The one I was after goes on at considerable and ironic lengths about all the foolish things the person’s students might be doing right now—hand-washing electric power lines, crossing the road on the red light, juggling open flick-knives etc.—simply because the person failed to tell them not to! and so on. It was, er, perhaps less helpful than your page but better suited to the mood in which I wrote this post…

          I have been trying to get over to my students that the important thing with their citation is that I need to be able to see that they know where the information came from. My lectures do not have footnotes because I haven’t yet quite mastered speaking in superscript and that horizontal separator is a beast to pronounce. Also, they’d take twice as long to write and that time doesn’t physically exist. Ergo, if the students are citing my lecture, they can’t know where I got it from unless they’ve also read it, in which case…

          Your last question is a fair one though. At Cambridge lectures in history are not compulsory, and I mostly stopped going in my third year because I realised I’d do better, personally, reading in my room with music and a teapot close to hand. I think now that lectures are supposed, if they do anything, to stitch things together into a coherent picture and orient the listener amid a mass of information so that they can more easily recognise what is significant and what isn’t in the reading, and also to add interest to the material and some commentary on what they should have been reading already. It’s fundamentally a safety net for those who learn better by listening than by reading and a refresher session on the week’s reading. But it doesn’t feel like that from either side, it feels as if the lecturer is delivering chapter and verse, and I wonder whether I would really use them if I had the time to build the model course. Their real attraction is that they’re much easier for both lecturers and students to manage, because of the lack of interaction.

          Interestingly, at Cambridge at least, persistence with lectures was strongly gendered. The boys would give up quite quickly, and the lecture audience would be proportionally more and more female as the term went on. Whether this was about learning styles of the human brane, about female brainwashing into accepting the patriarchal authority structures etc. rather than challenging them by reading round them, about the style of students the still-very-bent Cambridge admittance system recruited, or what, I never really dared conclude. I know there was one lecture course where I and one girl carried on attending a full fortnight after everyone else stopped because we were both hoping to see each other and it took that long for us to work that out and arrange to meet up elsewhere instead. That lecturer must have been praying for that moment…

  3. Every year, the list of things I must tell my students to do/not to do grows longer. This year it is ‘please don’t forget your bibliography’. I’ve also had to remind students not to put their names on assessed work which is anonymously marked. Not reading the handbook is a common vice and one which does not lessen with age or experience (mine or the students)!

    I, too, have had people cite my lecture handouts or notes – that’s just plain lazy.

    • I’ve also had to remind students not to put their names on assessed work which is anonymously marked.

      Aha, I got exactly the opposite of that, work they assumed would be anonymous that I then had to try and work out the author of. Exactly how they thought we would ever know I’m not sure.

  4. Oh, citing the lectures. I always love this question since you know they’re in a no-win situation. My response is to say “So, you want to know where I got that information from? You’ll want to look through Kuhrt’s two-volume work and maybe at Roux as well. This article has some of the material I used.”

    Then watch their heads explode because they didn’t really want to have to work for the information — they just wanted to make even more vague and sweeping assertions based off of my broad and general in-class treatment.

    However, you know that, when denied, they go back to Wikipedia or the Catholic Encyclopedia as if they were drawn there by some powerful force. No-win, definitely!

    • Since the Catholic Encyclopedia usually lies beneath Wikipedia, this is much of a muchness, but actually I’d be faintly relieved to see it being cited as at least it was ‘authoritative’ once. The books on their reading list would still be the absolute favourite though…

  5. Oh No ‘I am not a credible source!’ concerning Academic Work. I do mean that sincerely, having worked as a researcher at UWA. Being only a wargamer who wishes to entertain and have fun.

    The internet merely gives much more (too much) information. Correct sourcing – now that is an art or is it an acquired discipline?

    Hmmm seems the internet causes you guys some teaching grief?

    Mitch of the ‘not that it’s a bad site’ but Definitely NOT College/University level reference!

    • Hullo! and sorry for damning your site with faint praise, I didn’t think about tone sufficiently there. The other thing I said in the class was that ultimately, when it comes to setting up a table-top game, those soldiers have to go somewhere, whether Abbo tells you where they were or not, so the gaps get filled and the reader doesn’t necessarily know they were there. It’s a question of purpose. But I saw a certain York-based professor mentioned a fair few times in other pages so I can well believe that your access to the information that is there is top-notch!

      The Internet helps us as much or more as it hinders I think, but it does make plagiarism a lot easier for the lazy student. Also, ten years ago they would have to read some book or other to write their essays, and now they can avoid it. I don’t know whether they learn more or less like this however; quite posssibly more, but with a greater part of it being unfounded…

      • Jonathan, I’m ok with it. I would never pretend to be a ‘source’ just a though provoker to interests. My old Professor says the internet has increased the mediocre student’s ability to produce mass at the expense of quality. Loving the medium as I do I must admit he is correct. Mitch

  6. Thanks, Jonathan. [But then you undermine my own recitation of the line to my own history students. Though I doubt any of them would have reason to cite my genealogical musings in their history papers.]

    Beware genealogists; but beware historians while you’re at it. Even Etienne Baluze gave the nod to forged documents, to satisfy a great patron’s genealogical vanity (and political ambitions): the Brioude forgeries — quite a scandal, insufficiently explored.

  7. The Catholic Encylcopedia isn’t a credible source, and itself usually lacks credible sources (e.g.: citing the bible)

    I’ll highlight a bias here:

    “Paganism, in the broadest sense includes all religions other than the “true” one revealed by “God” [sic], and, in a narrower sense, all except Christianity, Judaism, and Mohammedanism. The term is also used as the equivalent of Polytheism.”

    There is just as much evidence supporting the various nature (which we all know nature actually exist) worshiping religions as there is the invisible sky daddy.

    Nonetheless, my reading Wikipedia has found it to lack credibility and be heavily biased.

    • In the case of your cite from the Catholic Encyclopedia, that’s mainly a bias towards history, though. The word ‘pagan’ has been used like that by the Latin Church for about 1600 years now. I grant you that the etymology (‘country people’) could serve the nature religions better than the evolved sense but I’m not sure it’s fair to expect any different of a reference work on Christianity that was closed to editing in 1911…

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