How To Make Your Scientific Paper Better In Five Minutes

I’ve been published!

This was mostly good luck. John Bullock had an interesting research idea, and he needed someone to help out. I was available, and sufficiently interested in recording information for posterity. (Hence this blog — shout-out to those of you reading this in the 22nd century!)

 

The Paper

Modern science has a big problem. Well, a lot of big problems, but this one has the distinction of being easy to fix.

The problem is reference rot, which is what happens when you cite whitehouse.gov in your political science paper and then Trump gets inaugurated.

That is to say: The link breaks, and no one will ever know what the heck you were citing. Which makes them less likely to cite you, and also just makes it really annoying to do science.

This happens to a startling number of links in scientific papers and other official documentation. And it happens fast. Our paper found that, in the most prestigious journal in political science, more than a quarter of links cited in 2013 were broken by the end of 2014!

If you publish research papers, or anything else with hyperlinks, you’re at risk.

 

Fix Your Work in Five Minutes

How to avoid reference rot:

  1. Before you submit your final manuscript for publication, ask yourself: “Self, have I cited any online materials in this paper?”
  2. If so, replace every link with a permanent, archived version of that link. You can make these with The Internet Archive or Perma.
  3. There is no step three.

If you’re a blogger, you can also do this, but it’s tedious. Instead, I use the WordPress extension “Broken Link Checker”, which alerts me to any links that go dead and lets me replace them with the Internet Archive version in one click.

When you start to use archived links, you’ll officially be storing information more securely than the Supreme Court.

 

John Bullock Bonus

Before this paper, Bullock published a more substantial paper with a more important researcher who shares my initials (Alan Gerber).

The authors find that, while Democrats and Republicans claim to believe very different things about history, those differences shrink when partisans are offered money for correct answers to historical questions. They’re cheering for their beliefs, not professing them seriously.

If only there were a way to combine money and politics in a way that would convince partisans to disclose their true beliefs…