Why Don’t You Include References In Your Posts?

Damn, I’ve been rumbled!

Preston asks

I’m currently in high school (or secondary school, I’ve noticed that you’re British), and would like to consider myself an eager learner of physics. What I’m curious about is whether or not I can legitimately trust the information about science that I am reading on your blog.

Now, this isn’t to say that I at all doubt your credentials of a Ph.D in Astrophysics, but I for one would appreciate the possibility of you citing sources in your science blog in an attempt to add to the validity of your information. It is far easier to show somebody a credible source that was provided by you, than it is to show somebody a blog and hope that they take the information there for granted. I’m sure you of all people, having gone through a doctorate program, would know that blogs tend to have an exceptionally poor reputation for the truth when it comes to science, and that citing a blog will get you nowhere.

This question essentially comes down to the fact that I love reading about physics, and science as a whole, but would be devastated to learn that something that I spent a considerable time reading turned out to be an unreliable source of information. This is in no way me calling you a liar, questioning your credentials, or questioning the validity of the information that you put out in your blog, but merely justifiable skepticism, and me hoping that you would consider adding to the validity of your blog by citing sources in your science posts.

 No, this is actually a really good point. I’ve been in two minds about adding references and sources to my posts ever since I started this blog. On the one hand it’s an absolutely vital element of the scientific method that other people be able to cross-check what I’m saying elsewhere, and that they know I’m not just pulling all this information out of the aether. On the other hand it already takes me around two hours to write a post for this blog, sciencey posts often take even longer thanks to the need for me to make sure I’m not talking complete bollocks, and hunting down concrete references (i.e. not websites) to back the post up would take even more time.

As a temporary compromise until I figure out where I’m going with the blog, this is the process I go through when I’m writing a science post.

  • First I go to Wikipedia and get a crash course in whatever I’m writing about. Often I know most of it already; however, while Wikipedia is not an academic resource it is excellent as a general starting point for research because they do reference their information, and as long as the subject matter isn’t too mathsy I come out of it with a fairly refreshed and well-rounded understanding of it.
  • If there is anything Wikipedia is unclear or vague on I do a search on HyperPhysics which is less broad but far more focused, and usually gives me the information I’m looking for.
  • I also have two sets of physics textbooks lying around that I refer to whenever possible. They’re first-year university undergraduate standard and so they’re unlikely to be much help on, say, general relativity, but they are good for basic physics — mechanics, thermodynamics etc. — that I tend to have forgotten since it’s nearly ten years ago that I first learned about them. These are Feynman’s Lectures on Physics and Physics for Scientists and Engineers, although my copy of that second one is an earlier edition.
  • Finally, if it’s a subject area directly related to my thesis research I’ll be using information from my stock of bona-fide scientific papers. These I don’t usually reference because I assumed people weren’t really interested, but I’ll reconsider doing that from now on.

 One of the reasons I haven’t been doing references up until now is because it’d be these same three basic sources every single time, which would get more than a little bit repetitive. What I might do is add a “Basic Scientific Resources” page to the top menu somewhere so people can at least see where I’m getting my information from; you are right that it’s a bit much to expect everyone to take what I’m saying on faith alone. When I started this blog six months ago my audience consisted of about a dozen people who knew me well enough to know that I had the credentials I said I did, and that I probably wasn’t just making this stuff up. Since then I’ve gained a lot more readers and I should probably make more of an effort to take a proper scientific approach to my blog posts. So thanks for prodding me into action, I guess!

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2 thoughts on “Why Don’t You Include References In Your Posts?

  1. Adam Benton says:

    Provided they are legitimately useful references I wouldn’t mind being sent to the same place a few times.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I totally see your point. Maybe you can just write ”References upon request” because one has no business citing blogs. I read your posts to learn and be entertained not to write my next paper.

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