Thursday, December 29, 2011


Make sure you cite your four letter words.

Yesterday in a post on Google+ I was called to task for making a claim in that day's blog entry without providing any references to justify my claims.  And the people chiding me for this were right - I didn't provide references to any of my sources regarding the statements that Cheeta the chimp who recently passed away wasn't the Cheeta from the Tarzan movies, wasn't 80, and probably wasn't a number of other things.  One person even went so far as to state that I'm not a journalist because of this.  I was pretty surprised - most newspapers that carried the story didn't cite the source of the information (a press release from Cheeta's retirement home) or any other information they provided (generally Wikipedia).  Oh, and I'm not a journalist.

But the conversation did underline an important point - I tend not to provide sources for the things I say here.  There are a lot of reasons for this.  I don't like spoon-feeding information, and most people who are curious should be curious enough to use Google or the search engine of their choice themselves.  I don't really like revealing that most of my "research" involves reading Wikipedia.  I'm telling a story, and I'm more interested in a good story, and possibly a good lesson, than trying to be totally accurate.  But lets be honest... the real reason?  I'm lazy when I write these.  Most of the things I write about are inspired by something in my head, and while I may look up some details to make sure I don't totally embarras myself when I write about them, most of the time I'm winging the majority of what you see here.

I do understand the importance of citations in both academic and general articles.  They provide references to learn more about something.  We use citations to help evaluate how trustworthy something might be (this was the cornerstone of the original Google PageRank algorithm, for example).  Wikipedia editors will mark "facts" as unverified until there are recorded citations to the information.  But all of these are still subject to the manipulations I suggested at the end of my entry yesterday, even to the point where information can whole heartedly be invented and gain suposed verified status (as a reader on Google+ reminded me).  And things can change quickly on the Internet - in between the time I researched for the entry and the time I commented on it later, Wikipedia had changed their entry on Cheeta to make clearer which chimp died and which didn't, and the home page at C.H.E.E.T.A. clarified that their chimp was still in California, not in Florida as I suggested.

So, lesson learned.  If you have questions about my sources or information, feel free to ask.  If you disagree with me, feel free to discuss it with me.  If I'm wrong - I'm wrong.  Regardless, I hope what I write makes you think.  (And by "you" I mean the score or so of you who actually seem to read this daily.)

But I still won't be adding citations to my entries.

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