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John Cowan wrote:
> Greg Colyer scripsit:
>>> I would have thought that uncited truth is generally more helpful than,
>>> for example, cited untruth, but this notion almost runs counter to that
>>> particular culture. Of course, no-one is disputing that cited truth is
>>> the ideal, but with limited resources would you be better off spending
>>> them checking the facts or finding the originator of the
> To transpose to our own domain: which is better, undocumented correct
> code or documented buggy code? (No one disputes that documented correct
> code is the ideal.) For purposes of immediate execution, the correct
> code is obviously superior, but in the long run you may be better off
> with buggy code that you can understand and have some hope of fixing.
Right. As I was taught at university (in physics), no experimental
result is any use without an estimate of the error.
So my question was not entirely rhetorical, and I apologise for probably
sounding as if it was. I respect the academic culture greatly, including
the practice of citation for scholarly (not back-scratching) purposes.
As you imply in your last sentence, the correct priorities are
context-dependent. The purpose of citation is to provide information to
the reader. There is no point including references that are either
obvious or useless. Physicists don't cite Newton any more, because his
original work was in Latin, would be difficult to find, and is explained
far better (for almost all modern readers) in innumerable text books.
When writing for the general reader on a blog or in a newspaper,
academic-style citation may simply be a waste of time and therefore the
culture of expectation does not develop. Both are typically seen as
transient forms of publication (in spirit, even if archived), and so the
analogy with your "immediate execution" example is quite close.
I admire New Scientist for putting a handful of hyperlinks (typically to
arXiv.org) at the end of "general interest" articles, enabling more
savvy readers to get quickly to the cutting edge. It only costs them a
few column-mm. But New Scientist is in close contact daily with
academics, and you would expect it to be affected by osmosis. You can't
expect the same where the culture as a whole sees little gain from it.