Is That Really True? Do We Care?: Online Citation in the Digital Age

Reading the article “On the marginal cost of scholarly communication” this week, started me thinking more about what it means to legitimize a piece of scholarly research in the age of the internet. And not only scholarly articles, but also any source of information or piece of writing found on the web.

In another article this week (Maxwell & Fraser), our cohort began a thread of discussion around the fact that one of the sources the authors cited and linked to was no longer available. An error message appeared. This link to a source that initially provided backup for what the authors were claiming no longer exists, and thus, one could argue, this missing citation undermines the ultimate authority of the text, all because a link doesn’t work.

This raises the question: How do we validate the accuracy of information in an ever-changing online web where many people could potentially edit and contribute to one thing and hyperlinked sources are frequently changed? And is validation in the traditional sense even important anymore?

The article on scholarly communication demonstrated how the scholarly model legitimizes certain authors and researcher by charging them for the publication of the their work on a respected online academic platform. This service also ensured the ongoing preservation of that work on the platform. Through paying a fee, the author is therefore ensured legitimacy by the platform.

I would like to suggest that the importance of citation, the value we place on it, and the way we understand its function in writing and gathering knowledge and accurate information is changing and will change even more in the coming years.

With universal search tools, easily accessible online databases, and archives of historical and current information by the thousands, fact checking no longer means going to a printed page of a book or a long file drawer in the library. These more traditional forms of getting information, a physical book or peer reviewed article, are what we naturally place more trust in, but I think this is changing.

If a hyperlink doesn’t work, or a citation seems questionable, and your average reader is still interested in finding the related information, they will just “Google it” or do some more extensive online research. I believe users are less and less concerned about the accuracy of what they consume online. This is purely a speculative opinion, but it is based on my observation of the online behaviors of my peers.

More and more people now know that something written even a month ago on the web might be out of date given the rapid rate of research and new data and facts coming to light everyday. Therefore the modern digital media consumer goes into a web reading experience knowing that it might not be perfect. And if they are the type of person who actually does care about the accuracy of something they will seek out additional confirmation through a myriad of other channels.

However, if this shift towards less concern about perfect online citation and accuracy is true (and research into this would be fascinating), does this mean having an “authoritative” or validated text will become increasingly less important? What does this mean for scholarly publishing? I would argue that scholarly online publishing will become the ONLY place where proper citation and validation is still valued enough to be found. Yes, this is a sad prospect. But I think we are moving in that direction.

One Reply to “Is That Really True? Do We Care?: Online Citation in the Digital Age”

  1. The issue of authority, credibility, and reliability of content on the Web is a huge topic, and one that deserves some attention in our class. I am glad you’ve raised it. Your response is a little jumbled—it conflates valid links to sources with trustworthiness—but still asks insightful questions and raises important issues. There is certainly more here to discuss.

Leave a Reply