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12/14/2015

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Matt Weiner

Marcus, I'm a little surprised to see you praising an approach where authors are "literally expected to cite everything that has appeared on the issue in the recent literature" while also endorsing the criticism that "the recent papers in journals [are] too much in the business of commenting on each other's work, and not enough of stepping back from this clubby discussion, and presenting the issues on their own terms as matters of importance to consider quite apart from the latest move by someone in one's professional circle of philosophy." It seems to me that if we demand this kind of comprehensive citation, then people will be effectively restricted to working in the narrow subfields where they're already familiar with the literature, and the sort of bold project that cuts across narrow subfields will become prohibitively difficult--the author will have to do a deep dive into the literature on all the subfields, and by the time they've read everything more will probably have been published.

Don't you think there'd be a tradeoff between breadth of subject coverage and depth of citation within a subject?

(I saw that earlier you said that this kind of literature search "it only takes a few minutes to do on philpapers" and so wouldn't be too onerous. But that seems to be how long it would take to do the search and compile a list of references, not to read them all.)

Marcus Arvan

Hi Matt: I'm a little surprised that you're a little surprised!

(1) A philosophical discussion can use good citation practices without being 'clubby', and

(2) Clubby discussions can utilize poor citation practices.

Indeed, one of the main problems I have with the narrow, specialized discussions that *already* occur is that the citation practices in those narrow discussions are problematic, citing the same dozen or so people (usually Big Names) over and over again, ignoring *very* relevant papers in the narrow area of discussion not by "big names." I could give a lot of examples of this--including examples from my own areas of research.

Anyway, to answer your main question: no, I don't think there is the tradeoff you mention. It is perfectly possible to read, and cite extensively, wide bodies of literature. For instance, I have published some very wide-ranging papers (spanning metaphysics, free will, philosophy of physics, etc.), and I cite extensively in those papers. To take one example, this paper (http://philpapers.org/rec/ARVANT-2 ) cites 126 sources. Yes, it takes a lot of reading to cite extensively--but that's our job as scholars.

Alex Guerrero

Marcus, just out of curiosity, how many words is your free will paper? It's 48 pages! Most journals cut us off far sooner than that in terms of word count. So I wonder if your 126 source example is realistic. Furthermore, having come from the law review world, I'm not sure that's a better world.

I agree the norms need to be improved, but I think there is some intermediate step, perhaps where we could have a category of 'relevant articles' that aren't cited but which are listed somewhere with a archived link to that list. (None of which would count against the word count.) I'm not sure that we get much more than that, anyway, from just a long listing of relevant things that aren't themselves engaged with in any extensive way.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Alex: Yes, the paper is 48 pages (18K words), and most journals don't allow papers that long. But I was responding to a claim that it's not reasonable to expect people to read and cite a lot of work (because, very roughly, it's simply too much reading to do), and I think that's false.

Anyway, maybe it was a bad example--and, in any case, I think these discussions, both here and elsewhere, are far too nitpicky. For although we can debate the ins and outs of precisely how people should cite until we are blue in the face, the big problem is that a lot of papers come *nowhere* close to citing adequately. Although I don't want to call out people publicly, I continually come across papers that claim to (A) defend a "new" view, that (B) has already been defended by other authors in the first *10* papers that come up on a simple philpapers search, without (C) bothering to cite those papers.

This is simply unconscionable to me, and again, I see it happen all the time: people pretending papers on a given topic "don't exist", when in reality, the papers being ignored are literally easiest and most relevant ones to find in a simple search.

Jessica Wilson

Completely agreed with Marcus: "I think these discussions, both here and elsewhere, are far too nitpicky. For although we can debate the ins and outs of precisely how people should cite until we are blue in the face, the big problem is that a lot of papers come *nowhere* close to citing adequately [...] I see it happen all the time: people pretending papers on a given topic "don't exist", when in reality, the papers being ignored are literally easiest and most relevant ones to find in a simple search."

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