Cite? or, When Your Opinion Writes Checks Your Memory Can't Cash

I’ve spouted off on a couple of lively threads lately that prompted my fellow Dopers to ask for corroboration I couldn’t readily provide. Yeah, I’d read this or that factoid or formed such-and-such an impression somewhere during a late-night surfathon on a given topic, but you know how it is (or do you?) – you didn’t bookmark the site, and there were a lot of sites, and you raised a lot of points, and and and and.

Anyway. What’s the Dope thing to do in such a situation? Go back and dig up cites, even if they may simply be someone else’s opinion on a blog someplace, after the heat of the moment has cooled? Don’t open your big fat reply box to begin with unless you can back up every point? Preface or disclaim with, “I have no cites here, but I’ve read that…” (as lame as it sounds)?

I usually say, “I read/saw/heard somewhere that…” and hope a smarter or more patient Doper will dig up the cites that I failed to find on my own.

It’s surprising how often that works.

I think it depends on the thread. In a potentially high traffic legal “advice” thread in GQ, don’t open the reply box unless you know what you are talking about–which probably means that you are a lawyer. In other threads, strike a reasonable balance between stirring up discussion and not creating ignorance by sharing things you can’t support. Adding words like “anecdotally” or “I saw/heard/read somewhere, but don’t know where” can be a reaonable option, especially if used in moderation.

I DON’T want to be reading the perpetually in danger of bouncing checks (opinions) of a particular poster. But there are times when a little speculation can be worth it’s weight in gold–especially when it inspires someone who has some knowledge/experience/book learning in the subject to back themselves up.

Personally, I often close the reply box before submitting if I’m not as sure of my facts as I’d like to be, and don’t want to be called on for a Cite I don’t have. A lot of times, (but not always–especially in GD) I think people call for Cites not because they doubt you(generic you) but because they are intrigued and want more information. I also rarely submit posts when I could post something like “my local paper had an article on that recently” even if I suspect I could find a link if I wanted to badly enough. Then again, I talk myself out of posting stuff frequently. Frankly, I’d be mad if I was suddenly banned, but I think I could get 95% of my enjoyment out of reading others posts and not contributing any of my own.

It’s a good opportunity to dig up facts and also check your own knowledge is correct. As long as you have the grace to accept when you got something wrong it is all good.
I don’t think Googling is a good way to get answers for GQ questions, but if you have an answer to give it is a great way to check that you are remembering your own facts correctly. We all have been taught by many different people, most of them would have told us some incorrect things amongst the correct things they taught. We rarely have a reason to challenge those incorrect things until we put them out in the open and allow others challenge them for us.

I spent more than 20 years as a newspaper reporter and editor, so I’m not unfamiliar with “corrections” policies. When I post here or on the Slate Fray, I still pretend that I’m writing with a city editor reading over my shoulder. I do think your question and the responses posted so far bring up a really good point – if a poster speaks with real authority on a subject, does the post have to contain a hyperlink? What’s wrong with citing my local newspaper, expecially if I have the paper right here? Or a research paper I read in graduate school back in '73? I guess I’d have to be willing to e-mail a photocopy of the article to anyone who demanded that I provide a source.

Even hyperlinking sources isn’t a guarantee of credibility. It’s not unusual with some posters to follow their links and find web sites that are obviously biased, of questionable authority or just plain wrong. On the other hand, it is a tried and true opinion-editorial trick to cite only sources that agree with the point one is pushing. If you’ve ever watched Chris Matthews on “Hardball,” you’ve seen him say that he knows “for a fact” things that aren’t really facts. Bill O’Reilly does the same thing.

And we are practicing a form of journalism here. Journalism is, according to the first newswriting class I ever took, “the chronicling and analysis of events that affect the human condition.” The point is, we are all journalists here, and not in some badly stretched sense of the term. SDMB is a marketplace for ideas, and it’s up to us to apply our critical thinking skills to sort the substance from the chaff. (IMHO)

By the way, I always apologized in my corrections (going back to my newspaper days) but ALWAYS added the disclaimer, “… this in no way changes the intent or meaning of the rest of the article.” (Translation: “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”)