List No Names

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

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"?

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  1. And if one is dishonest, one could cite a lot of publications on ones CV without anyone ever being able to tell the difference because following the citation back to the document will not yield confirmation that the person actually wrote it.

    And yes, some of us, serving on search committees, actually do check random citations to see if the documents actually exist and if the candidate’s name is on them. I did….

    1. Maybe I didn’t understand Professor Abramowicz or maybe I’m not understanding you, but I understood his argument to be about citing a paper without the author as part of the citation, not that the published article shouldn’t have the author. So if a person lists a publication on a CV you can go to the article and see who wrote it.

      1. My bad — I misread this as removing the names from the articles as well.

  2. To defend the status quo: it’s often easiest to remember articles by author and year. However, no one is remembering all 5k authors on that physics paper – which is why first author with ‘et al.’ is a nice shorthand.

    I mean, how do you *talk* about these works or remember them in either ‘cite all the authors’ or ‘cite no authors’ world? ‘That one paper in Evolution in 2005’ doesn’t feel particularly useful as a pointer, nor does giving a long string of 12+ authors.

    Coming from a science background, mentioning papers by other people during talks is not uncommon, and two author names, or one author and et al, with the year, is a good way to reference papers in a spoken format. It’s easy to write down. It’s reasonably easy to look up later. And it’s easy to remember.

    Citations aren’t just about written references to works, they affect how we remember these works and how we refer to them in conversation and while giving presentations.

    (And i don’t know about law journals, but in many fields the in-line citation will use ‘Author1 et al.’, but the references will give all the authors when reasonably possible – i’m sure that physics paper gets a shortened treatment of some sort).

    1. And really how you talk about the references, really affect the reputation of the authors.

      A single reference, perhaps not. But running into the same author across 2 or 3 or 6 different publications as a reference, and you quickly start to gain an understanding of the author and his work and how it affects others, where you might not if you were just reading his work alone

    2. “I mean, how do you *talk* about these works or remember them in either ‘cite all the authors’ or ‘cite no authors’ world?”

      How about using the actual title of the paper?

      1. One of the things you can do with the combination of title and author is you can follow the author to other publications. Then you can start to synthesize the author’s ideas by combining elements found in different publications. It works in fiction literature, too, and there’s a long history of it in academic literature.

        1. Perhaps, but the question was how do you talk about the papers, not how do you talk about a given author’s body of work.

          1. The two points (How you talk about the papers, and you you talk about a given author’s body of work) are deeply interrelated.

      2. Have you read the titles of a decent variety of scientific papers? Here’s an article from this month’s Nature: “Potent neutralizing antibodies directed to multiple epitopes on SARS-CoV-2 spike” – doesn’t exactly role off the tongue compared to “Liu et al. 2020.”, even ignoring that using the title would require more verbiage around the reference as well. (ie, “Liu et al. 2020 found…” vs. something like “the 2020 paper Potent Neutralizing Antibodies directed to Multiple Epitopes on SARS-CoV-2 Spike found…”. Just ug, and it also moves from active voice to some weird construction where the paper made the findings rather than scientists).

        And titles aren’t always easily distinguishable, especially particularly classic papers, for which later authors will write articles with titles that homage those papers titles. (And I know I’ve seen paper titles where the only difference was a period instead of a question mark).

        Searching by author and year is generally easier than searching by title, too.

  3. I know MLB is finally starting but this inside baseball stuff is no way to mark opening day.

  4. And if my name is John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt?

    1. Hey, that’s my name too!

    2. APA would be (Schmidt, 2020) — assuming you wrote it this year.

      While I think the APA style is asinine, it does have it’s advantages over Blue Book, this is one.

  5. Judicial opinions are authoritative. They don’t have to be persuasive. But even then, citing the individual author makes sense if the intended audience regards the judge in question as particularly likely to be listened to.
    Law review articles aren’t authoritative. They don’t have to be persuasive, either, but the authors intend them to be. The (principal) author’s name is a useful clue to whether it is likely to be worth reading, or whether it is likely merely to repeat things you’ve already heard before.

  6. I like it. Of course, the power of ego in academia is such that it will never happen.

  7. I’m not sure about law review articles, but how about removing the names of the lawyers from cert petitions to the Supreme Court? (The names can go on a separate letter to the clerk’s office to insure that they were written by members of the bar.) Would we find any difference in the cases that the Court agrees to hear if it does not know that Paul Clement, Lisa Blatt, Ted Olson, Carter Phillips, or Seth Waxman has submitted the petition?

    1. That would be a wonderful experiment.

  8. The author, MA, has gotten the sign wrong in his calculation. His suggest runs contrary to the strong recent trend in research publishing that all manuscripts be submitted with credit-authorship statements that describe who did what at all stages of the investigation.
    CRediT (Contributor Roles Taxonomy) was introduced with the intention of recognizing individual author contributions, reducing authorship disputes and facilitating collaboration. The idea came about following a 2012 collaborative workshop led by Harvard University and the Wellcome Trust, with input from researchers, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) and publishers, including Elsevier, represented by Cell Press.

    The statement offers authors the opportunity to share an accurate and detailed description of their diverse contributions to the published work. The corresponding author remains responsible for ensuring that the descriptions are accurate and agreed by all authors. The role(s) of all authors should be listed, using the relevant categories.
    Authors may have contributed in multiple roles.
    See “Beyond authorship: attribution, contribution, collaboration, and credit,” Brand et al. (2015), Learned Publishing 28(2)
    At https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1087/20150211

  9. Better than Adler’s nonsense idea of listing all 15 authors on a paper, but still worse than the current rule.

    1. Why do you object to listing all authors? Limited listing almost invariably screws the early career authors. The present practice is an example of poor publishing ethics among lawyers

      1. As someone who worked on law review, my objection is that it would make law students carpal tunnel even worse, it would make the articles even uglier, and it ignores the point of citation which is to direct the reader to a source. The shortest cite that can accurately direct 90% or so readers to a source is what should be preferred.

        Citations don’t exist to help law professors in the rat race, they exist to help the reader who wants more information.

        1. “Citations don’t exist to help law professors in the rat race, ”
          You can’t be that naive.

  10. I have no opinion about law review articles but I think all judicial opinions should be the opinion of the court and be unsigned. Why does it matter who wrote the opinion? It’s simply the law now, the author of the opinion is irrelevant to that.

  11. ” 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.”

    That possibility exists, yes. Publish or perish. But go ahead and continue to ignore the editors, they’re just law students after all.

    There are two sources in literature that generally do not cite the author. One is Shakespeare, and the other is the Bible. Citations to Shakespeare will usually list the play and might reference which character is speaking, but you’re supposed to know Shakespeare is Shakespeare. Of course Bible citations are chapter and verse but proper attribution to the author(s) is difficult or impossible.

    1. Bible citations are generally book, chapter, verse. And the book names, with only a few exceptions include the name of the generally accepted author. The major exceptions are Genesis, Psalms and Revelations. Of course, some of the book names get shortened in some citations.

      1. ” the book names, with only a few exceptions include the name of the generally accepted author.”
        Moses gets credit in some factions, whereas others assert that the entire text comes direct from God, no dissent tolerated.

        1. “whereas others assert that the entire text comes direct from God, no dissent tolerated.”

          If you don’t wish to believe that, then don’t — but please don’t tell me that I can’t. This is (or at least was) a free country.

          1. And proper Biblical citations include the translator, i.e. King James Version, Revised Standard, etc.

        2. Historically attributed author would be more accurate.

          Modern consensus in Old Testament Studies is that Moses never existed (probably among others). Nor do most NT scholars believe the gospel attributions are real.

          The only biblical ‘books’ where authorship is believed are *some* of Paul’s letters. (There’s ~7 that are considered authentic).

        3. If you aren’t a believer and aren’t doing theological work, why would you be citing the Bible in the first place?

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