I’ve never been keen on the dominant style in conventional academic referencing, represented by Harvard or Vancouver – the notes generally appear as the author’s name stuffed in brackets with a date, such as “Marx, 1990”. (That’s from a book I was looking at which is citing Das Kapital. Karl Marx didn’t write very much in 1990, being dead, but we’re all supposed to know what it means.) The notes often disguise the original source, which will appear on a different page, and lots of people will stuff a small reading list into a note to support points. I’m used to my own stuff being dragged in like that. Whenever I write an academic paper, I’ll usually try to include arguments for, arguments against and my own conclusion. That gives people the chance to find three contrasting opinions in most of the stuff I do, and I’m pretty much used by now to having all sorts of weird, ill-founded or obnoxious views attributed to me, from both left and right. To take a small example, I’ve recently read an otherwise rather good article which cites my work on covert research, saying that covert research generally relies on deception. That’s a fairly direct contradiction of what I do say.
Lots of academic writing seems to rely on sources to convey the necessary gravitas, but people can be a bit cavalier about the way that names are dropped. I’ve just come across this, which seems to have been put together by pulling the names of likely contenders from a hat:
There is a long-standing problematisation of impoverished individuals subverting the basis of state or charitable support (Rousseau, 1762) and a strong conservative tradition of individualistic and behavioural understandings of poverty (Hobbes, 1651; Burke, 1790; Smith, 1776).
Rousseau, Hobbes and Burke’s Reflections (the 1790 reference) didn’t have much to say about state support for poverty, and it could be argued that Smith said the opposite. It would have made more sense to refer to Joseph Townsend, Thomas Alcock or the traditions of the Poor Law. The misattributions just get in the way of what is, otherwise, a very creditable and solid bit of empirical research. Peer review is supposed to protect against this sort of thing, but frankly most peer reviewers won’t pick them up when they’re commenting – inaccurate referencing is hard to spot, and it’s almost never the main issue requiring comment.