The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Jonathan Adler has written in favor of citing all authors' names in law review articles, joining a nascent movement. Let me suggest a radical alternative: cite no names, at least when there are three or more.
In many contexts, we speak about works without necessarily citing the author. We might speak of a recent movie, for example, without mentioning its director, let alone listing all of the names in the credits. Sometimes, we do speak about works' creators, because it is especially relevant. For example, we might wish to discuss several works by a single author to identify changes in that person's thought over time. That should be perfectly acceptable, but there is no need for the name to be included in a garden-variety citation. And when there are many authors, the fact that one particular person contributed to the joint project rarely has much relevance.
Law review articles routinely cite cases without citing the judges who wrote the opinions, while mentioning the author if authorship is particularly relevant. Legal opinions, meanwhile, usually identify judges as authors, but not always. Per curiam opinions often do not identify the author at all. Perhaps there is some value in identifying which judges wrote or signed onto particular opinions (rather than simply indicating the number of judges who agreed to an opinion), because that tends to reinforce the importance of consistency in jurisprudential approach across opinions. But there is also value in reinforcing that opinions are not merely the expressions of one judge's point of view, but statements of the law. Less citation of judges by name might mean less cult of personality and less polarization of methodological approach.
Just as one doesn't need to know who wrote an opinion to understand its holding and unpack its logic, so too does one ordinarily not need to know who wrote a law review article (or article in other disciplines). What matters in an article are the ideas and findings expressed in the article, not the article's author. The more attention that an author receives, moreover, the greater the chance that journals considering which articles to publish will focus on the identity of the author rather than on what the author argues. Competition to publish authors who are already famous reduces the diversity of ideas and makes it more difficult for new voices to emerge. I also favor blind review of law review articles but think it is more plausible that law reviews will engage genuinely blind review if they do not fear looking bad if it turns out that they end up publishing a bunch of unknown scholars. The problem is greatest for articles with multiple coauthors, where there is a danger that the famous person does the least work but is included to make the article more marketable.
The most obvious argument in favor of citing authors' names is that this enables the authors to claim credit for their works. The argument sounds like an intellectual property-type justification. We may not be paid for our law review articles (at least, unless we turn them into books), but we may well be motivated by credit. But authors can get credit for their works whether or not citations include the name of the author. I am not suggesting that it would be better if works were anonymous. An article should probably include the name of the author or authors, if for no other reason than that it facilitates third parties' contacting the author or authors in the hope of collaborating. Authors can claim credit for their articles. Scholars will thus still come to know which authors are most successful, so any reduced publicity is not likely to affect incentives significantly.
A related argument is that trademarks serve a useful value as an indicator of origin. Someone who liked reading a previous article by Jonathan Adler will be more likely to read another, and so we help maximize reader satisfaction by highlighting information that may make it easier for a reader to determine what to read. I don't think that lack of citation would change that much. It would still be easy enough to find out who wrote what. But in our polarized times, might it not be better if at the margins, people relied on trademarks other than ones that signal that an article is likely to be one the reader will agree with? Law reviews have trademarks of their own but can present a more diverse array of perspectives. This strikes me as particularly important for law, which is inherently interdisciplinary. Meanwhile, third parties can compile lists of important articles or give prizes for the best articles in a particular field, whether or not they specifically cite the author who wrote the articles.
The existing practice will not change easily, at least with solo-authored articles. Probably, it will never change, even if everyone were to agree that a change is justified. I do not intend to omit authors' names from my drafts, since such an idiosyncratic practice would alienate law review editors and maybe the authors I refused to cite. But there is an intermediate position, and it is a position on the issue that is the current subject of debate: Should we cite every author of an article, no matter the number of authors? The current debate concerns whether to use "et al." or to list all authors' names when there are three or more authors. Do the opponents of "et al." really believe that we should cite all 5,154 authors of a certain physics paper? At some point, doing so really is like going through the credits every time one mentions a movie. One can debate the appropriate cutoff, but it seems reasonable to me to stop citing all authors when there are three or more. And if it is unfair to cite one author without citing two coauthors, might it not be reasonable in these cases simply to cite an article as having been written by "Multiple Authors"?