Alright, I’ve had it with this. The next time I hear someone say “studies have shown blah blah blah” and then fails to give a citation I may lose it.
Far too many arguments have been made by the “studies have shown…” line and nothing else. I guarantee most of the time the “information” in the “study” is actually third or fourth-hand from a biased source. Then take into consideration the telephone effect (remember that game?) of that information and you can see why it’s such a problem. Since going into science I’ve done what I can to properly cite information I use and it has proven quite useful a number of times.
Most recently, my father, a global warming skeptic due to his listening to Dennis Miller, and I got into an argument about the issue. He brought up a talking point of Miller’s that was how scientists used to think the world was cooling in the 1970s, it wasn’t, and somehow this proves that the current global warming scare is wrong (a common canard). However, I remembered reading a paper from a website I regularly visit about how the 1970s global cooling consensus is actually a myth. It was a well written article that could be understood by just about anyone. I gave it to my father who, much to his credit, read it and then further discussed global warming with me. By the end of the conversation he was “warming” to the idea of global warming. Ha! I’m hilarious.
That was just a single example of how knowing citations (and therefore knowing the actual data) is a great way of supporting your point. However, a point of caution. If you blindly reproduce a citation that someone else has used in support of his/her argument and you get called out on it be prepared to lose all credibility. I don’t know how many times I’ve made fools of someone for blindly accepting the citations, and therefore information, of someone else who happens to be completely wrong.
So my little bit of wisdom for today is to read up on issues and know your citations, but always be wary of other’s citations.