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JAMA 100 Years Ago
December 18, 2002

LITERATURE REFERENCES.

Author Affiliations
 

JenniferReiling, Assistant Editor

JAMA. 2002;288(23):3054. doi:10.1001/jama.288.23.3054-JJY20040-3-1

An article in a recent medical weekly consisted of four columns of reading matter and two columns of bibliography. Over two hundred authors were quoted from German, French, Italian, Hollandish, and Russian sources. Some twenty of the books and periodicals enumerated were found not to be accessible in the libraries of this country. The article was on a hackneyed subject and the literature to be complete should have included several thousand instead of several hundred references. The writer of this particular paper, who probably has no knowledge of any foreign language, manifestly did not consult the list of authors he referred to; the bibliography was either copied or compiled for him by someone else. This is an extreme example of a common abuse. The motive is dishonest. The pretense is altogether false. The borrowed halo of erudition fits badly. References to literature are of value chiefly to the original investigator and not to the casual reader. The former, however, wants the whole literature, and can find the desired information in an index of his specialty. The latter does not care whether Smith in America, or Müller in Germany, in 1856 or 1902, described this, that or the other case. Haphazard bibliographies, therefore, should be omitted. Seldom do they enhance the value of the ordinary article even when they are honestly compiled and accurate as far as they go. When they consist merely of a list of titles that has not been carefully verified and controlled by the author, they are altogether misleading, and hence worse than useless.

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