Monday, January 25, 2016

Citing Authorities

Citing Authorities

An on-line commenter recently suggested that my essays should "provide references supporting [my] presentation."  However, I had not made an unattributed quote. Yes, I agree that writers should let readers know where an honest-to-god quote comes from. Nonetheless, this person seemed to want me to produce an outside-party authority for my personal beliefs and assertions. That's what blew my cork.

I responded that I'd given a great deal of thought to tracking the sources of ideas in my essays, articles and books. However, if one chooses to follow my columns and essays, they will see that I usually present the material as my own experience and opinion, which they (mostly) are.

The recent kerfluffle over plagiarism in Rand Paul's office really brings this issue to light.
I agree with the pundits who say he should have given an attribution for many of his large copy-and-paste incidents. For myself, I am a lay searcher-for-understanding. Everything I have ever heard, read, watched or dreamed becomes grist in my mental mill so that my thoughts become my own source.

Yes, I sometimes work with a book or web page open in front of me. I will sometimes lift a particularly apt and irresistible phrase and put it in quote marks without attribution. I might briefly quote a few sentences from a source and name the author or work in the text. I have occasionally taken the liberty to produce a digest summary (condensing to about one tenth of the original work) but have been very careful to indicate the specific source and the nature of the work.

Nope, I have decided to not try to find a supporting authority for every thought I decide to put down. Like those authorities, I expect to have sufficiently assimilated what I have consciously consumed so that I can be responsible for the content of my own products. If a few unchewed peas come through as still recognizable, I will just have to stand up and apologize.

While I'm on the topic, have you ever thought about the ethics of writing about history that occurred before your own experience? It becomes patently obvious that every writer must, necessarily, derive all of their material from other writers (who probably derived their material from other writers) with no possible way of untangling the networks of thought sources.

In everyday life, we regularly use lines of reasoning, aphorisms, phrases and even individual words that were once original thoughts of someone else. But, once these expressions are recognized as sufficiently-apt, they are assimilated into our culture and everyday speech; no one expects an attribution.

Yes, in school, I was taught to cite my sources in research papers. I understood and appreciated the requirements for rigor in academic and scientific communications. I accepted the need, as an ignorant and dependent pup, to acknowledge the wisdom and primacy of my masters.

Now, as an old curmudgeon in my own right, I reserve the right to presume that my thoughts are my own. Please feel free to quote me on that.

David Satterlee