A small but persistent peeve: Journal referencing styles are a waste of time

Context: there are many things wrong with academic publishing (the financial winners and losers from the unpaid burden of peer review, for a start).

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But here’s a simple one: the house style for referencing for journals is utterly inconsistent, user unfriendly and a staggering waste of time. It would make life easier for everyone if a simple, uniformed system was used: and they already exist because of the internet. Journals really need to rethink the burden of referencing. We, the authors, frankly couldn’t care less about the format, so long as the reference itself is accessible. And wonder of wonders: it is – through a near-magical thing called a weblink!

I posted this to Twitter earlier:

[thread] Things I don’t understand: why should there be a space between initials? Why should there be no space but full stops after each initial, occasionally followed or not by a comma? Why must the volume number in bold followed by a 😕

Why should the journal name be italicised or not? Why should the journal name be shortened or not? Why are references superscripted numbers or name (date) or plain numbers in []? Why are some references superscripted numbers which are then listed in footnotes?

Why drop authors if there are more than five in the author list? Why list any authors beyond the first author? Why did adults sit around in a committee room a 100 yrs ago and decide on a house style and elevate it to the level of holy writ?

Why was the internet invented, with its awesome cross-referencing power? Why not use doi’s, pubmed accession data or ORCHID referencing only? How many billions of hours are wasted setting out references in a house style which the endusers – readers – don’t actually care about?

Why have I never had a conversation with a colleague saying ‘the advantage of MLA /APA /Chicago /OSCOLA /Harvard /Vancouver is clear’? Why do journals impose these styles even though the internet has been invented? Don’t @ me that referencing systems do this properly for you.

They don’t; they must be checked laboriously to ensure that each one of the 100s of references in your review paper conform to house style. Why don’t journal editors just stop this nonsense?

As I said: things I don’t understand… but this ridiculous practice – an utter waste of time with a vast opportunity cost – needs cease and enter the world of the present. (end of friday morning rant)

Author: Shane O'Mara

Neuroscientist, Psychologist, Writer

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