Sunday, September 26, 2010

Do you cite page numbers?

I am outraged by a paper I just read:

Henige, David P.  (2006)  Discouraging Verification: Citation Practices across the Disciplines. Journal of Scholarly Publishing 37:99-118.

It turns out that many journal articles, in many fields, routinely leave out the page numbers for both direct quotes and for paraphrases. Henige describes the situation in detail, with lots of examples and context. He quotes journal citation guides and conversations with editors. He states,
  • "it has become normal practice to omit references to page numbers as a routine part of the citation mechanism" (Henige, p.102).
It turns out that disregard for providing page citations is greatest in the hard sciences, and least common in the humanities, with the social sciences somewhere in between:
  • "Did this mean that scientists trust one another more than humanists, and that this trust is based on long and affirmative experience?" (Henige, p. 103)  [The answer is, NO].
Henige is clearly outraged at his findings, and I am too. Among the examples he provides is an article in an archaeology journal:
  • Liebmann, Matthew, Ferguson, T. J. and Robert W. Preucel  (2005)  Pueblo Settlement, Architecture, and Social Change in the Pueblo Revolt Era, A.D. 1680 to 1696. Journal of Field Archaeology 30(1):45-60.
For one citation in this article, about some specific information, the authors cite four books.
  • "Thus, anyone who thinks that the stated argument is, say, anachronistic or otherwise specious will be obliged to troll through more than 3000 pages" (Henige, p.111).
This lack of page citations (in general; I'm not singling out Liebmann et al. here) is outrageous, and it is something that we all need to pay attention to. One of my publications is guilty here, and I was really astounded when I discovered this. I had included page references in the notes (the journal style uses endnotes, with no in-text citations and no bibliography). The journal evidently stripped out the notes before publication, presumably because they were not required by the journal style. I didn't check the proofs carefully enough, and so I am as guilty as the cases Henige details. How can a journal style NOT require page citations, you may ask? How can they remove page citations? Well, read Henige's paper and you will find out (and you should feel outraged as well).

And while you are at it, check out some of Henige's other publications. His work on oral history should be required reading for archaeologists who make use of oral accounts, or written indigenous history.

Henige, David P.  (1971)  Oral Tradition and Chronology. Journal of African History 12:371-389.
Henige, David P.  (1974)  The Chronology of Oral Tradition: Quest for a Chimera. Clarendon Press, Oxford.
Henige, David P.  (1982)  Oral Historiography. Longman, New York.
Henige, David P.  (2005)  Historical Evidence and Argument. Universitiy of Wisconsin Press, Madison.

And his works on Native American historical demography are extremely important (and convincing to me):

Henige, David P.  (1998)  Numbers From Nowhere: The American Indian Contact Population Debate. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.
Henige, David P.  (2004)  'Retreat into Nihilism' or the Fruits of Experience? Nahua Newsletter 38:17-21.


Chris Leonard said...

Certainly in a world where print was the leading and authoritative version of the article, page numbers could be seen as useful. However, for many newer journals, which are online only, page numbers are not relevant. Articles are numbered, but page numbers don't really exist. Even pdfs which accompany the online versions of the article are not the definitive version of the article and are only given for indicative purposes.

Thus we can say that for online-only journals, page numbers are not relevant - but for older print journals, they may be.


Sarick Rochette said...

@Chris - While I sympathize with the general point of your comment (in recent months, I have converted ALL of the contents of my file cabinets to PDFs and recycled the paper copies), what you seem to advocate is the sloppiest of academic standards.

If you write & publish an article, it is up to YOU, as the author, to show ME where, EXACTLY, you are deriving the information on which YOUR argument is based. As a reader of your article, I should not be expected to perform a search of a 30-page article for a SPECIFIC bit of information that you decided was crucial to your argument. If you cannot be bothered with this, than I should no be bothered with even attempting to discern the merit of your arguments. And if the author cannot point to specific parts of published material, perhaps the author needs to do a better job of making sure the cited references are appropriate.

I have read enough articles in which the author cavalierly cites numerous articles as if the mere quantity of publications cited should add weight to the argument being presented. This is academic sleight-of-hand at its worst.

Michael E. Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew said...

I'd like to provide a little background regarding the reference from our 2005 JFA article that Henige used as an example. Henige's point is well taken, and in fact it has made me much more conscious of proper and specific citation practices in my subsequent work. However, there was a scholarly rationale behind the citation from our article that he chose as an example--it was not simply an oversight or an example of scholarly laziness.

In the section he takes to task, we (T.J. Ferguson, Bob Preucel, and I) are discussing the fact that when Spanish colonists of the 1680s-90s wrote about Pueblo people, they typically named the specific Pueblos from whence they came. The reason we cited the books in question (journals of Spanish colonial officials) in their entirety rather than individual page numbers is that we are discussing a writing _convention_ that persisted throughout this period and throughout these journals. You can flip any one of those books open to almost any page and see an example of what we're talking about. Because this pattern is consistent throughout all 6 volumes, we chose to cite them in their entirety.

So rather than obliging a reader to "troll through more than 3000 pages" as Henige asserts (p. 111), I would counter that we are inviting a reader to choose almost any one of the 3000 pages in question to find an example of the practice in question. In retrospect, we certainly could have chosen some random examples of this convention and cited specific page numbers (using "e.g." with the citations), but to me this seems like a relatively minor point and would not have served to underscore the pervasiveness of this convention in the same way. For the record, we do cite specific page numbers in other citations throughout out the 2005 JFA article.

Matt Liebmann

Michael E. Smith said...

MATT: Looks like I jumped the gun here, accepting Henige's view without checking your original paper first. Henige should have chosen another example to illustrate his point. I apologize to you and your co-authors for implying sloppiness. My only (somewhat lame) defense is that blog writing lends itself to shooting from the hip without bothering to do the full checking that one normally expects in peer-reviewed publications.

Jason Ur said...

I think the situation here with the Liebmann et al paper shows one of the dangers of academic blogging, compared to more formalized peer-reviewed publication. In this case, Mike repeated Henige's claim that Leibmann et al's work was sloppy. Matt responds in the comments with some context, which Mike accepts. So the online record is corrected, if a subsequent reader reads the comments.

But at present, an overburdened senior scholar who has been asked to serve on Prof Liebmann's tenure review committee who does a Google search on "Matthew Liebmann archaeology" will find this blog entry at position #11, first hit on the top of page 2. A cursory reading might produce the impression that Prof Mike Smith was "outraged" by the academic sloppiness of Liebmann et al, as revealed by the Henige study. To Mike's credit, he did revise the original text to state that there was more to the story in the comments, which is not always done. But there remains the possibility that blog postings could have real ramifications for the academic future of a young scholar. (Who, by way of full disclosure, is a friend and colleague in Anthropology at Harvard.)

I read this blog regularly (it's in my reader) and the shooting from the hip aspect is a great part of it. But Mike, I hope that you (and any other respected senior scholar who blogs) will be aware of the potential impact of your posts on us junior types!

Michael E. Smith said...


Yes, this is a real concern. In fact, thinking about things like this tempt me to stop blogging. I see blogs as ephemeral and not important in the large scheme of scholarship. If blogs like this might have significant unintended negative consequences, that is not a good thing.

On the one hand I'm tempted to delete the whole entry to avoid the kind of misunderstanding you mention. But then I think that this already exists on the Internet, and even were I to delete it, there would still be copies floating around. And there is something about having a version of record, of having a firm record established that can be commented on, but not fundamentally modified.

I would hope that the overworked senior scholar would not pay much attention to blogs, but would instead look at Matt's scholarly record. Or if they DID look at things like this blog, they would take the time to check the comments and the entire record. Or that they might contact me to see whether I am really outraged at Matt Liebmann's paper (which, of course, I am not, and I should not have used it as an example). The only reason I did choose it was to try to bring Henige's point home to archaeology, and that backfired.