19 January 2011

Names versus numbers revisited

Last week, I weighed the pros and cons of two different academic referencing styles: (Author Year) versus 1-3.

I argued that the (Author Year) format was increasingly useful the more embedded a reader was in a research field. But I was focused on the names, and whether a reader could identify the authors.

It occurred to me that even for a completely uninitiated reader, the year is potentially useful information. A claim that is supported by a reference from 1930 means something different than a claim supported by a reference from 2010.

Whether that difference is good or bad is hard to say. Readers could be be biased by knowing the year of research immediately. Some might automatically discount older references as out of date or obsolete, when the science might have stood the test of time and be completely accurate.

Photo by Cuppojoe on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons licence.

1 comment:

Angela said...

Interesting post. For me, I think my preference is based on a few things:
- If I'm reading on screen (not too common), having to click away to see the numbered reference is a bit more of a pain. I mostly read (at least when I need to read deeply) hard copies, where the added time to flip to the last page is pretty negligible.
- I think a paper reads better with the small numbers versus text that I would only need a small portion of the time
-To be honest the first author is not necessarily what I remember about a paper, so seeing it cited that way probably won't ring a bell, so I'd flip to the bibliography anyway, and see if the title rings a bell. This might also be because in my field (cancer research) where there are a lot of foreign names, a Zhang or Wang is a common occurrence and hard to identify a specific researcher. Maybe not so much in other fields more USian biased. I dunno.

To me, its more important if I recognize whether a paper is from a well-known group publishing good papers or not.

I barely look at the date, other than if I haven't read a citation - if its super new then I don't feel so bad. My specific proteins of interest are quite well studied so every week I get many articles about them so not necessarily caught up at any 1 point.