Thursday, February 19, 2015

Bad Bibliography part II

For the rest of this post to make any sense, you should read part 1 here first. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Bye Bye Bad Bib

The students in the Terrorism class (Studying it academically and how to fight it, not how to do it) made quick hash of my bibliography, but not in the way that I expected.They spotted all kinds of APA formatting errors that I had not noticed. Of course, I had not tried to get all the formatting right. Better still, this helped me to make the point that while many academic databases will offer citation formatting tools, they are not 100% accurate.

Captured from, kw: "terrorism" "citation"

While the students demonstrated a better grasp of APA format that I had expected, they had more difficulty in spotting the content errors, despite my bibliography being rife with folly.

What Did I Do Wrong?

1.  The first one was the easiest to spot. This is simply a URL to a page from a fan-created wiki for the TV show 24.  No author attribution, no credentials, no good. 
2. I found this article using the library's multi-platform search tool SUMMON, so that's good, but it is actually a history article about 19th century anarchists, not modern ones.  The information is off-topic and out of date. No good.
3. The single-word title and publisher's name might be a clue here. Nobody caught this one, so I had to explain that this is a children's book on the subject. This will not be a complete treatment of the subject. No good.
4. An astute student caught this one right away. This book, while otherwise academically sound, was published during the Eisenhower administration. The information will be out of date, and therefore no good.
5. This one might be satisfactory, depending on how well it meets scholarly requirements. Its only problem here is that it uses MLA format, not APA. 
6. Apart from a host of formatting mistakes, this long-winded title obscures the fact of its source - the New York Times magazine. Magazine articles are usually not penned by scholars, and so lack credentials, and are likely too short to be thorough. No good. 
7. There's no author listed, but that's the least of its' problems. This sounds pretty off-topic, and the title phrase "your family's guide" betrays its very non-scholarly character. A disaster preparedness work is more of a public service announcement (as the professor dismissed it) than a worthwhile research source. No good. 
8. Much like the previous entry, this is less a discussion of terrorism than a lobbyist propaganda piece on the USA Patriot act. This will probably be incomplete, and almost certainly biased. Both are things you want to stay away from. No good. 

So I scored (maybe) one good entry out of the eight. Now that we had a look at what not to do, we spent some time talking about what questions to ask yourself. For a thorough explanation of evaluation criteria, I present Hope Tillman's classic work.  For everybody else, here's four things, briefly.
  1. Completeness  Does the resource cover all aspects of the topic?
  2. Authorship  does the author(s) have relevant academic credentials or professional experience with the topic?
  3. Objectivity  Is this resource presenting all sides of the topic fairly, or is it biased in favor of one aspect?
  4. Currency How up-to-date is the information given?  Age can quickly lead to incompleteness for 'current events' topics.
The college/university library attempts to handle these issues for the students by acquiring works with scholarly credentials, that are up-to-date and objective/neutral or at least open about their biases. Sturgeon's Law, my favorite corollary to the famous Murphy's Law, says "90% of everything is crud."  Librarians sort through the crud and find the good stuff that makes up the other 10%. That's how we roll.

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