When I studied biology as well as when I did my Ph.D., our professors were always after us because of references. I think with their precious help we learnt the art of referencing: choosing good references, citing them at the appropriate location in a text and, of course, giving enough information at the bottom of the text to allow the reader to find these references.
I just finished reading two articles in a recent edition of The Economist and they reminded me how important are these references. These articles are What would Jesus hack? and Worrying about wireless.
First an aside: it might be an editorial choice but I would prefer to know who wrote an article rather than anonymity. I don’t have (and won’t have) anything personal against any author. I just like to know if I’m reading something written by a young Mr. I-know-everything with no background in the topic of the article or by a Mrs Specialist who appears to work in the field she’s writing about. In this blog, who I am is in the “About” section in the bar above.
In What would Jesus hack? the anonymous author is throwing a mix of everything and anything to make a story. And actually it works: the article has some logic in its sequence of statements. From an external point of view you may even think it’s a nice article. You discover news and organisations that you may have missed: an opinion from Antonio Spadaro in “Hacker ethics and Christian vision” (Google translation of the abstract), the reply from Eric S. Raymond, Elèutheros, … But you will also be staggered at the hotchpotch mixing Open Source, internet, Twitter, … Why not add Facebook then, the archetypal anti-privacy web service?
The only point that the article might get right is that some software programmers are somehow seeing themselves and / or seen by others as gods: Richard Stallmann, Linus Torvalds, Bill Gates (god turned philanthropist), Steve Jobs (god turned designer), etc. On top of that, every programmer had her/his Eureka moment when she/he solves a bug after hours trying to fix the code. Otherwise, I agree with what the unnamed author puts in the mouth of Kevin Kelly and that I can summarize by: “with more power comes more responsibilities”.
And, as I pointed out in the beginning, there isn’t any reference at the bottom of the paper version, any link in the digital version. Statements and people in this article could have been 100% fictional, no one would have known that (until you look for them on the web).
I have the same issue with Worrying about wireless: no sources, no references. I don’t forbid the anonymous writer to have an opinion on the topic. Just let the others also make their own opinion by citing the sources you are using. This article is just shaping the opinion of readers in a hurry by using a partisan language and not citing sources. Even when indirectly citing sources (e.g. the WHO IARC classification), the anonymous coward succeeds in using negative wording to dismiss what doesn’t please his / her theory. I would have liked to have more information about the potential adverse effects of wifi waves in the long run, for instance. But I will unfortunately not believe such one-way gibberish.
Now you’ll tell me I don’t have to read The Economist and you’ll be right 🙂
Illustration credit: Duty calls by xkcd and Richard Stallman by Pladour on Flickr (CC-by-nc)