Philosophy has a citation problem. That much, I think, cannot reasonably be denied (see here, here, here, and here). As I explained here and here, citation practices in philosophy are notoriously lax, and there are reasons to believe that they have functioned, and continue to function, to systematically favor:
- Men over non-men
- The "famous" over the "non-famous"
- People at prestigious institutions over those at less-prestigious places
- Articles in highly-ranked journals over articles in less highly-ranked journals
- In-groups of philosophers who cite each other but not outsiders
We can, of course, reasonably disagree over how serious these problems are, or even whether they are all problems. Some people may say, for instance, that there is nothing wrong with preferentially citing articles in "good journals" over those in "bad journals" (though I have explained in detail what I think is so wrong with this sort of thing here. I've heard many people say they do not even read articles in "bad journals", despite recognizing that sometimes those journals publish good or even great things, which strikes me as (A) bad scholarship and (B) bad for the discipline, since it means good work may be ignored). But whatever. However we hash out these details, I believe there is clearly an issue with prevailing citation norms and practices.
The question then is: what should we do about it? I put forth a specific proposal here. However, it was met with some pretty stiff resistance. Accordingly, although I do not entirely accept the dissenting arguments, I think it would be best if we moved forward with a proposal that more people would be apt to accept (I do not want to insist that I am right about how citations should function, though I think I am;). So, what should we do? Here is the first thing I want to say: saying things like, "We need to do a better job", isn't good enough. Few things in this world happen as a result of "resolving to do a better job." People ordinarily need incentives to do a better job, and these incentives usually need to take the form of people promoting and/or enforcing different norms and expectations. I believe this is the case here. If we want to improve citation practices in philosophy, we need to stand up and make a point of it. But how? I want to propose, once again, that we begin a Campaign for Better Citation Practices in Philosophy. But now, given that we disagree on what exactly citation standards should be (see above), how could such a campaign work? Well, here is an alternative proposal: I could solicit reader submissions each month where readers, on a case-by-case basis, get to "make the case" that either (1) a given paper is "worth citing" but has not been cited appropriately in the recent literature on its topic (whatever that topic may be), or (2) a given article that has appeared did not cite particular articles it should have cited.
This way of doing things would, I think, have the advantage of not assuming a particular, parochial doctrine of "what citations are for." Instead, it would enable each submitter to make the case for some norm(s) they favor on a case-by-case basis. Now, of course, different people may have different norms, but insofar as the process is fair -- everyone can participate -- the process would approximate an organic development of new norms. [Note: people familiar with my work on nonideal justice will recognize that this is just what I take nonideal justice to be -- fair, organic deliberation to deal with extant injustice. So, I not only think the new proposal makes good practical and rhetorical sense; I also think it is defensible on grounds of justice!].
So, what does everyone think? One final note: if we were to move forward with this proposal, I would make sure to present my "monthly reports" in a way that is not "naming and shaming", but rather positively suggesting that the relevant authors and others in the field pay give greater thought to citing the items people make the case for citing.