Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Request for comments (RFC)

Some while back (as in down the page) I posted Passion in the Age of Reason, in order to recount and hopefully stimulate additional discussion about a conversation that occurred on Glenn's blog on Salon. Follow the link on that post to read the original. I am, in first life, writing a paper, and would like to cite the entire conversation. Which leads to an interesting format, an interesting etiquette problem, and an interesting ethics problem.

Scholarly articles are supposed to be, in some sense, immutable. In recent years, there has been much debate about citing electronic sites -- they could disappear, links could go dead, material can be changed, it's all bits, after all. So what should be a format, and how does it establish its permanence? Personal communication is a catchall, and can always be used, but somehow public communication is a new one. Some blogs, like Salon, maintain archives, and so could be assumed to be permanent, I'll probably assume this.

The second problem is an etiquette problem: Can one go on a public space, and ask people to stand up and be cited? Doesn't asking people, in some domain like Salon, invite questions of whether or not you've overstepped familiarity? So I am writing here, where the domain is smaller -- but still uneasy about whether or not it is polite. On the other hand, what could be less polite than failing to give credit?

The third problem or pair of problems, is ethics. Anonymity is one of the defining factors of the comment environment, the right to a nom de plume. Asking people for their names is unethical, it is like outing them. I, for one, was once cited on the Internet, by name, in a derogatory fashion that I hope never to see again. But not asking is unethical, it is failure to give credit where credit is due.

Shall I cite by nom de plume then? Does a person's concept of anonymity change if credit is due? Please let me know your thoughts, I think it would be a shame if comments were only allowed to be cited by blogs and newspapers, and never in a proceedings. I give you fair warning that if the consensus is to cite by genuine name, I shall be contacting those authors by email to get permission, and I don't know what to do for those I don't know how to contact. If the decision is to use nom de plume, I will do that instead.

Note: Due to a privacy problem with blogspot, I had to delete and repost this entry. That's why the comments disappeared.
Note Update: Karen M was able to resurrect the comments for the original entry, they are amalgamated into one comment and attached. Thanks!

1 comment:

Karen M said...

ondelette: I searched and found a cached copy of the deleted comments:


Introvert Girl said...

I will speak from the position of the peanut gallery, as I was out of town during the cited discussion and didn't participate.

If I had participated, and you wanted to cite my comments in an article, I would ask you to email me privately, so that I could slightly rewrite my comments (for clarity), and have them published under my real name with no connection to the silly fake one I use here.

Of course, I'm not sure what sort of form the citation would take, so that might not work -- if you wanted to cite the discussion from the forum itself, for example, my suggestion would defeat the purpose.

But I'd have to stick with that, only for one reason. I am a published writer under my real name, and have, fortunately or unfortunately, set up a blog identity that writes about deeply personal issues I wouldn't necessarily want connected with my regularly published material. I think I set it all up sloppily (never having expected anyone to read my blog, much less start participating in another one), but I can't turn it back now.

So ... I'd have to go for unconnected real names, or sticking with the nom de plume. However, my contribution is hypothetical, since I wasn't part of the discussion. Just my two pence!

August 17, 2007 9:19 AM

Jeff W said...

Well, I was in the peanut gallery also, because I had so much to say about the topic, I felt, well, overwhelmed and said nothing at all. Still here’s my two cents:

I’m not sure a cite assumes “permanence.” Books, after all, go out of print or go through different editions. I think a citation really has to give the source that you are citing and (given the changeability of the web) the date you referred to it and reasonably (not absolutely) allow someone to refer to that source. (Presumably, one could find an archived version of your source if it subsequently changed.)

I would check various references for the exact format to use in the citation (such as the MLA style here). If you’re writing a paper, whoever is publishing or requiring the paper might have a house style that covers the issue of citing references.

I would not view asking people about being cited, especially in a public space such as Salon’s letters, as any breach of etiquette. In fact, I’d think that, if anything, people’s reasonable expectations as to the use of their letters on a public space such as Salon’s are very broad; when you post a letter on Salon, you agree that it becomes property of Salon Media Group, so, strictly speaking, it isn’t even “your” letter any more.

It seems that other people have no problem at all citing letters or comments in their columns. People’s comments, once posted, form part of the public discourse. That you might consider asking people about being cited is, in itself, far more polite and considerate than what people would generally expect, I think.

“Asking people for their names is unethical.” I don’t see that at all. People are perfectly free to decline or ignore your request. They might think you’re a clod for asking (although I seriously doubt it, especially for this type of purpose) but that doesn’t make it unethical.

Other thoughts
Rules and expectations
I belong to a professional mailing list that enforces rules that say its messages would “never be archived” and its messages would not be redistributed. You can quote single messages from the group provided you have the consent of all the people included in the message and you can’t refer to the group by name; you must refer to it as “a professional, private Internet discussion group.”

I mention all that as a way of describing a group, where, by contrast, the rules and the expectations of the participants are very different from Salon. If you were dealing with a group like that, it would be considered extraordinary to seek to quote messages and you’d be very constrained in doing so. I do not see those considerations here.

Nom de plume
According to Bill Poser of [i]Language Log[/i], references serve a number of purposes:

* They provide authority for the statement cited.
* They allow the reader to check the accuracy of the citation.
* They allow the reader to obtain further information about the cited point.
* They point the reader to a potential source of additional references.
* They demonstrate that the author is aware of the source.
* They give credit to the originator of the idea or words.

It seems unlikely that allowing the reader to obtain further information about the cited point or pointing the reader to a potential source of additional references would occur here. But all the other purposes, except, perhaps, for “giving credit” are achieved by using either the nom de plume or the real name.

If you want to give credit where credit is due, then there is nothing wrong with asking people if they would want to be cited by their real name or their nom de plume.

So, on the one hand, it’s very gracious of you to want to give credit where credit is due (and, like Introvert Girl, they might to be cited under the real names) but there seems to me to be no problem to refer to the source by the nom de blog. Again, you’re just allowing the reader to trace the quote back to the source.
August 20, 2007 7:50 PM

Jim White said...

I would like to make a somewhat OT post to thank you for a comment you made in a recent Greenwald thread. In response to a post of mine in which I advocated widespread dissemination of a statement that the surge in Iraq has failed, based on the the Seven Soldiers Op-Ed in the NYTimes, you made the excellent point that the Op-Ed actually points out something a bit different. I appropriated your idea (I think) when I included the following sentence in a letter I submitted today to the editor of my local paper: "They go on to document their experiences in Iraq and to show how our strategy in Iraq has no relevance to the problems faced on a daily basis by the Iraqi people."

Maybe I'm not that far OT from your request here. I had no way to email you directly to thank you for the clarification you provided and too much time had passed to post something on a Greenwald thread.

More in response to your request for comments, the academics I know in the physical and biological sciences seem to have a strong bias against citing information on the internet. However, I would think that for work in social or behavioral sciences, citing discussion fora such as those on Salon that are archived would be legitimate, as these would reasonably be construed as "public" and easily retrieved from the archive with the appropriate citation in hand.
August 21, 2007 6:28 PM

ondelette said...

Thanks, all.

Introvert Girl, I have some of the same problems (I just had to create all sorts of accounts to protect myself from myself until I can get a job). It seems that no one feels that it would be wrong to try to contact people.

Introvert Girl, I am not probably quoting, it falls into the use of an idea that I would then cite a source, and I am leaning towards auth,auth,auth,...,internet discussion, archive address, date.

I do have the option of asking the audience when I present the paper, about the format, I hadn't thought of that before.

Jim, this is for a publication that straddles physical and social science. The reason for not liking web citations is because they may disappear or go dead, I don't think anyone has any other objections to them, except when they masquerade as peer-reviewed literature and aren't.

I will take Jeff W's advice and at least attempt a contact on Salon, and risk the funny look of it. BTW, I just changed my email on this blog site, as part of the above. Those who are listed on this blog site I can just contact by their emails.

Thanks for all your comments, I've never done something like this before.
August 22, 2007 7:22 PM

Jeff W said...

ondelette: Maybe you can get in "early" in the first few posts on Glenn's blog (so most people who post there will see it) and refer to the names of the commenters and Permalinks of the comments you want to quote.

I understand your hesitation but, really, I think people will understand your good intentions and the difficulties in what you're trying to do.
August 23, 2007 12:23 AM

Karen M said...

What a great discussion!

I've been away since the weekend, and without internet access... or I would have replied sooner.

I really hope we see more questions with relevant responses as in this post.
August 23, 2007 7:04 PM

Sylvia said...

Ondelette, I have no problem with your using my comments from Glenn's site, so long as you use my screen name, not real name. If you need to contact me directly, you can do so at
August 29, 2007 11:07 AM

Anti-Tron said...

re: the problem of "permanence"

One of the things you can do is copy the cited material wholesale, and store it on a site like (I have no affiliation with that site, btw.) Then reference the original link(s) and note you have mirrored it/them. I would also save the comments onto a DVD/RW or equivalent so you can upload them again if the mirror crashes or goes out of business.

Hope that helps.

Bryan Hayward aka Anti-Tron
August 29, 2007 12:01 PM

Sylvia said...

Ondolette, I see that blogger didn't give the Svensker tag I thought it would. Yo, I'm da Svensker!
August 31, 2007 6:31 AM