Lazy citations

One thing I've complained about many times in the past with respect to internet searches is the way blogs will link to the blog where they found a link to something interesting, not to the something interesting itself.

I understand the desire to acknowledge the source of your information, and kudos to them for doing so. But from the point of view of somebody searching for information, what this means is that a google search will find a lot of blogs talking about this cool thing, all linking to each other in a long chain of clicks which is sometimes broken in the middle by a blog being long abandoned and taken down. This happens often enough that it has its own term (linkrot) and it makes it very hard to follow the clicks to the "something interesting" you're looking for. (This has been improving in the last few years, fortunately; either people are getting better at linking to both the original and their source, or google is getting better at filtering out the link chains in their search results.)

But, like everything on the internet, this is just a computerized, digitized version of something that is not new at all, as I have been discovering since starting this blog a bit over a year ago. I saw a perfect example of it while doing the reading for an earlier post, in fact, though fortunately (this time) not the linkrot aspect of it.

One paper I read made a claim, and had a citation for it. I searched Google Scholar for the paper cited, found it, and looked for the information to back up the claim. Instead, I found the exact same claim, using almost the exact same phrasing, with a citation listed. So, after shaking my head in mild disbelief and wondering if the author was just copying without verifying, I searched for this other citation. Fortunately I did eventually find the original paper, and it did say more or less what the cite-upon-cite said.

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