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Including a footnote about a comment does not magically turn it into a fact. Even better if a book has “hundreds and hundreds of footnotes” says nothing about whether it is a bunch of baloney. OK, now back to our regularly scheduled programming. Readers are encouraged to post their favorite examples.

4 Responses to “Public Service Announcement”

  1. In the “Deteriorata” of National Lampoon’s Radio Dinner we are cautioned: “Two wrongs don’t make a right, but three do.” If footnotes are not the touchstone, are articles from peer-reviewed journals?
    “Evaluating Scientific Theories,” Garth J. O. Fletcher, Psychological Inquiry, Vol. 11, No. 1 (2000), pp. 29-3.
    “What Counts as an Experiment?: A Transdisciplinary Analysis of Textbooks, 1930-1970,” Andrew S. Winston and Daniel J. Blais, The American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 109, No. 4 (Winter, 1996), pp. 599-616.
    “Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus,” Dan Kahan and Hank Jenkins-Smith, Journal of Risk Research, (Research Paper #205, This paper can be downloaded without charge from Mother Jones here.

    The last was cited in OrgTheory on April 11, 2011, where Brayden King posted “When Evidence Isn’t Convincing.” Basically, research suggests that we make up our minds and then find facts to support our beliefs. The researchers created equal CVs and opposite opinions for three pairs of “scientists.” Subjects then rated the credibility of the experts. Overall, people rated highly those they agreed with and denigrated those whose conclusions opposed their opinions.

    Richard Feynman warned us against “Cargo Cult Science” but his advice was more Popperian than prescriptive. Aside from being ruthlessly honest with yourself, he had no formula for success. Perhaps none exists, i.e., no formula exists. Even the scientific method can be misused or misapplied or misunderstood, which was Feynman’s point in “Cargo Cult Science.”

    Yet, as I point out on my blog, the deniers and doubters get on an elevator, push the button and expect it to work even though the 19th century technology of the motor was developed before the invention of quantum mechanics. And it does work.
    “Eppur si muove”

  2. Harry says:

    Yeh. Richard Feinman, star of MSNBC.

    A great way to write a paper for some college courses is to footnote every borrowed idea, in the hope that the Perfesser will not notice the whole paper is barren of any thought, and score it well. Just make sure it has a politically correct title.

  3. Anyone who has read through and compiled journal articles is well aware of the “citation inflation” of the past generation. Some editors will accept an article, subject to the author adding even more citations. On the other hand, until about 50 years ago, it was common for a researcher, observer, or thinker to state their case on its own merits, in their own words, citing exactly what was borrowed directly or required for verification of fact.

    For a senior paper in criminology, I said that the classical theory held that criminals have free will. That was followed by three citations. Fifty years ago, it would have stood on its own as known to anyone in the field, and easy to check by anyone who cared.

    Also before this time, even scientists prided themselves on their literary style in essays, producing works that were not flowery or poetic, but nicely said. Then, they imitated Hemingway. Style changed.

    In graduate school, I learned the post modernist cant: We are on a neo-globalist trajectory that extends the Enlightenment project and denies voice to minorities. Even that makes more sense than the claim of Dragan Milovanovic that crime is torus. (He cites Deleuze and Lacan.)

    These days everyone wants to know what the attraction is with Ayn Rand. She wrote to be understood. And there are very few footnotes, and even fewer citations.
    Take it or leave it, but the ideas are unamiguous and her own.

  4. Josef Moore says:

    Noam Chomsky is notorious for his very extensive and long footnotes – most of which, from what I’ve seen, has little relevance to the statements he made in the body.

    Apparently in recognition of this aspect of his fame, his publisher collected all the footnotes of his recent book Understanding Power and put it on a website:


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