Sources, Lemons, and Red Herrings



25 January 2015

Sources may be lemons, and citations can be red herrings. No matter how appealingly they've been plated, when you sense a problem, don't ignore it.

Records come in all shapes, forms, and degrees of reliability. Each time we take notes from a record or a collection, we need to note any and all factors that affect its interpretation or the degree of weight that we (and others) should put upon its information. Published works are even more problematic—even when their title page carries the name of well-known authorities and the most-respected presses.

When we circulate or publish our work, our source citations should also include those appraisals—unless a budget-conscious print-editor ruthlessly excises them. In the first place, we may need that descriptive background at a later date when our recollection of the record has gone cold. Equally important: when we refer researchers to a specific source, we are obligated to alert or caution them, as they may be less experienced with the materials.


PHOTOCREDIT: "Slices of salted herring with onions, lemon, and spices," CanStockPhoto ( : downloaded 45 December 2014), uploaded 9 April 2013 by Apolonia; used under license.

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