Citations Are Not a Liberal Agenda

Citations Are Not a Liberal Agenda December 6, 2016

In the wake of Pizzagate, there’s something I need to say.

Sock puppet wearing a tinfoil hat. Creative Commons photo, by Wikimedia user Durova.
Sock puppet wearing a tinfoil hat. Creative Commons photo, by Wikimedia user Durova.

Citations are not a liberal agenda.

Citations are not a liberal agenda.

Citations are not a liberal agenda.

Whew, got that out of my system. Okay, what do I mean by it?

As a folklorist, I’ve been keeping an eye on “Pizzagate”: a white man walks into a pizza joint with an assault rifle because he believed a conspiracy theory about it. It sounds like the lead-in to a joke, but it’s not. Vox has a decent explanation of what actually happened.

This isn’t going to be a post about Pizzagate (largely because I’m hoping one of my folklore colleagues will write about it for me, or will write me a post on conspiracy theories or something similar), but rather a reminder, that when we ask for citations, or when we ask people to do more rigorous research, it’s NOT because many of us academics are liberal or progressive.

We’re asking for information literacy, so you don’t wind up with, say, someone poised to be a Trump advisor actively retweeting and encouraging conspiracy theories.

We’re reminding you – as scholars who professionally study this material – that Snopes is a credible source.

Why? Because the mere act of fact-checking is apolitical. I know it’s acquired political connotations, but in theory, the mere act of thinking, “huh, I wonder if there’s a source that corroborates this…better go look!” can be practiced by anyone, of any political orientation.

I get that belief is a slippery topic to get a handle on and research. It’s part of why there’s such a thriving body of folklore research on legends, and especially on ostension (the enactment of legends). Some folks are going to believe what others find false, and vice versa…it’s just part of the diversity of human cultures and individuals.

But if it’s something you can research, and discover sources on, then you should. Find out what others have said or written about the topic. Make sure your sources are credible, e.g., not just coming from one web ring with a particular political bias (and yes, I try to get outside my liberal bubble when doing this as well).

Facts are not liberal inventions. If anything, we all thrive on the fact-based work of others, based on how you’re probably reading this on a screen of either a mobile device or computer, using electricity, and connected to the internet. These scientific inventions – and their societal implementation – came about due to the scientific method, which requires understanding and citing sources. The peer review process disseminates scientific findings more broadly, and researchers in the social science and humanities use this process when doing empirical research as well.

So please, check your sources and provide citations. Those of us who do it professionally will happily give you some tips. When we do research, we have to be open to the idea that we’re wrong about certain things, or that acquiring new information will alter our hypotheses. Using a similar perspective when sorting through the news can prove very useful, and perhaps cut down on the number of literally dangerous conspiracy theories that people seem compelled to act on.

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