psychwanabe

10+ Year Member
7+ Year Member
Mar 4, 2007
674
0
Status
Psychology Student
I have a question: Is it usual/acceptable/ethical to write a paper first and then find citations to "fit" your assertions or statements?

A former classmate of mine has been given portions of journal articles by her advisor and asked to find citations to go with particular statements. Neither of us had experienced this practice in undergrad: on the contrary we were taught to know the research first and we never saw any prof doing anything else.

What do you think? Is this a common practice? Maybe part of problem is also that the prof is asking her student to do the work.
 

Ollie123

10+ Year Member
Feb 19, 2007
4,759
1,263
Status
Psychology Student
I have to say it depends.

If the professor wants her to dig up obscure references to cite for outlandish hypotheses, that's obviously bad.

I've done this before in cases where profs know the research says x or y, but can't remember where they read it. Similarly, some of the "There is substantial evidence supporting z" may require 5 different citations, and the reality is that the professor knows that is true, but may not have the references on hand.

So really, it could go either way. If they just want the student to go on a fishing expedition, to support a statement, that's pretty tough to justify. If its a matter of "I can't remember where I read this, can you go track down the article" than I don't think its a big deal at all.
 

psybee

Psychology Grad Student!
10+ Year Member
5+ Year Member
Feb 5, 2008
545
0
in the sheltering embrace of steel and concrete
www.hobo.com
Status
Psychology Student
i've had this happen. like ollie said, if they just need you to get citations for something that's pretty well established and she/he just doesn't have the refs for some of the 100's of articles out there, then whatever. when you're kinda making something up, i think you can tel your prof that -- that it feels like you're having to ignore all these other studies that say something different. if the prof is ethical, they may have a reason -- this section is part of a larger argument, and you could have a valueable conversation. people DO try to make stats and data say what they want to to say, although journal editiors and reviewers usually have some familiarity with the area an article may be on, so i expect quality journals to catch big misstatements or falsifications.
 

parto123

10+ Year Member
Dec 25, 2006
316
0
Status
Non-Student
I have a question: Is it usual/acceptable/ethical to write a paper first and then find citations to "fit" your assertions or statements?

A former classmate of mine has been given portions of journal articles by her advisor and asked to find citations to go with particular statements. Neither of us had experienced this practice in undergrad: on the contrary we were taught to know the research first and we never saw any prof doing anything else.

What do you think? Is this a common practice? Maybe part of problem is also that the prof is asking her student to do the work.
This is very common in law. The partner will tell the associate to go an find any cases that supports their clients position, and if they cant find any, they make them fit.
 

RayneeDeigh

10+ Year Member
5+ Year Member
Feb 4, 2007
1,346
1
Status
Psychology Student
Yeah, but law is all about precedents and psych definitely isn't.

I'll admit I've done this when I'm writing something and know I've heard something somewhere and just can't remember the names. But it actually came up in my ethics class as something you should definitely avoid doing often.

It sounds kinda fishy but I know it happens all the time in research. I'm just surprised this prof would be so open about it.
 

erg923

Regional Clinical Officer, Centene Corporation
10+ Year Member
Apr 6, 2007
9,798
3,490
Louisville, KY
Status
Psychologist
I also might argue that this method would be a valuable waste of time, and defeats the purpose of the literature review section. Unless it's a specific statistic that you know is out there (you just cant remember where), what happens if you don't find it? What a waste of time (possibly grant money)! You are not really suppose to cite an article unless you have obtained the article and read it. You are not suppose to write assumptions, and then scramble to find articles that support them. I was taught to write lit review sections from an empirical base as well.
 

myelin

10+ Year Member
5+ Year Member
Feb 25, 2008
422
0
Status
Psychology Student
I don't suggest that method because it is susceptible to confirmation bias, meaning that you look for things that confirm your beliefs. This is bad research if it's for a paper and not just a lit review.
 

JockNerd

10+ Year Member
5+ Year Member
Mar 28, 2007
1,810
9
Status
Psychology Student
I do this all the time. I think everyone is talking about two different things; it's fine to do it when you're in the middle of writing, know something was written somewhere and have an idea of where to look, and don't have it onhand. It's bad to just make an assertion and then justify it.
 

Psyched77

10+ Year Member
Feb 24, 2008
232
0
Status
Psychology Student
I do this all the time. I think everyone is talking about two different things; it's fine to do it when you're in the middle of writing, know something was written somewhere and have an idea of where to look, and don't have it onhand. It's bad to just make an assertion and then justify it.
I do this too. I just did for a 25 page paper. Like you said though, it's not creating ideas & then "fishing" for something to support them. It's including things in the paper that you know you know, but you have to find the exact source(s) that your originally knew it from. OR...(& this has happened to me a few times)...you heard some stats (data) from a professor in a class lecture, but you have to go find a source that doesn't say: X, Professor. 2008. Lecture on Y. Univ. of Whatever. :laugh:
 

psychanon

10+ Year Member
7+ Year Member
Feb 20, 2005
586
0
Status
Psychology Student
Everyone does this. It'd be impossible-- or at least extremely inefficient-- to write a psych paper without doing it. That doesn't mean you should start out with no knowledge of the literature, make stuff up, and then find some random reference from 1939 to support it, ignoring all the conflicting stuff. First of all, if you're writing a paper on something (especially if you're a professor), you probably have some expertise on the topic. So you can make statements that you know are true without immediately knowing the reference. Similarly, when you write papers, you end up making a lot of statements that are obvious to the average high school psychology student, such as "depression is more common in women than men," "social support has benefits," or "anxiety is common." You would be totally bogged down if you sat and searched for a good reference before making one of these statements. Also, a lot of times arguments and ideas are generated about the specifics of arguments during the writing process (or at least they are for me). You'll never keep the gears turning if you stop to look everything up. Obviously, you have to go back later and add stuff back in, and do so in a thorough way (don't just grab the first citation you find), and if necessary, you may need to change your argument to fit with the literature.

And psychology is ALL about precedent. When a study supports something, that's pretty analogous to setting legal precedent.
 

Psyched77

10+ Year Member
Feb 24, 2008
232
0
Status
Psychology Student
Everyone does this. It'd be impossible-- or at least extremely inefficient-- to write a psych paper without doing it. That doesn't mean you should start out with no knowledge of the literature, make stuff up, and then find some random reference from 1939 to support it, ignoring all the conflicting stuff. First of all, if you're writing a paper on something (especially if you're a professor), you probably have some expertise on the topic. So you can make statements that you know are true without immediately knowing the reference. Similarly, when you write papers, you end up making a lot of statements that are obvious to the average high school psychology student, such as "depression is more common in women than men," "social support has benefits," or "anxiety is common." You would be totally bogged down if you sat and searched for a good reference before making one of these statements. Also, a lot of times arguments and ideas are generated about the specifics of arguments during the writing process (or at least they are for me). You'll never keep the gears turning if you stop to look everything up. Obviously, you have to go back later and add stuff back in, and do so in a thorough way (don't just grab the first citation you find), and if necessary, you may need to change your argument to fit with the literature.

And psychology is ALL about precedent. When a study supports something, that's pretty analogous to setting legal precedent.
:clap:

(BTW, we need a regular clapping icon on here. The overhead clap is a severe clap. ;))
 
OP
psychwanabe

psychwanabe

10+ Year Member
7+ Year Member
Mar 4, 2007
674
0
Status
Psychology Student
Yeah, but law is all about precedents and psych definitely isn't.

I'll admit I've done this when I'm writing something and know I've heard something somewhere and just can't remember the names. But it actually came up in my ethics class as something you should definitely avoid doing often.

It sounds kinda fishy but I know it happens all the time in research. I'm just surprised this prof would be so open about it.
I feel like it's one thing to say "I can't remember where I read this, would you find it" and quite another to give someone a while section of a paper that has sentences highlighted and give the instruction of "find 2-3 references for this." It feels smarmy...

I don't suggest that method because it is susceptible to confirmation bias, meaning that you look for things that confirm your beliefs. This is bad research if it's for a paper and not just a lit review.
...and I guess this is why. I have been taught to do the research first, know your theory first, then start writing. I believe this prof is knowledgable in this area, but shouldn't she know the studies that prove the statement prior to writing?

I do this all the time. I think everyone is talking about two different things; it's fine to do it when you're in the middle of writing, know something was written somewhere and have an idea of where to look, and don't have it onhand. It's bad to just make an assertion and then justify it.
I agree with you. But from what she has seen of the paper, so far (it's in revision stages and the prof is on the discussion section) it appears that she is doing just that: making statements about results of behavior and then looking for research to back up the statement.

I do this too. I just did for a 25 page paper. Like you said though, it's not creating ideas & then "fishing" for something to support them. It's including things in the paper that you know you know, but you have to find the exact source(s) that your originally knew it from. OR...(& this has happened to me a few times)...you heard some stats (data) from a professor in a class lecture, but you have to go find a source that doesn't say: X, Professor. 2008. Lecture on Y. Univ. of Whatever. :laugh:
This is not looking for numbers, but more qualitative info (e.g., "the combination of this behavior and that behavior with that experience leads to this result").

I appreciate the input from everyone. I know that I have done the same thing when I am writing for classes, but it is always when my theory is there, my research is done, and I am saying something related that needs support. The situation I am describing feels different from that, and my former classmate is just really concerned that she is participating in something that is unethical.
 

Ollie123

10+ Year Member
Feb 19, 2007
4,759
1,263
Status
Psychology Student
Hmm.

I could kind of go either way on that one, I guess it just really depends on the context of the writing (whether it is a "Clearly, it is known that" or "Here are some examples of" statement), the professors knowledge base, etc.

I also think its a slightly different story given its for an actual paper. Maybe it says something about my ethics to say this, but I feel like the ethical standards for something that is meant to actually be published for others to read should be higher than for a term paper for a random class. I'm definitely alot less thorough in my literature searches when I'm writing something for a course than I am when I'm writing something for public consumption. Not sure whether I should be keeping that a deep, dark secret or if everyone does it.
 

psychanon

10+ Year Member
7+ Year Member
Feb 20, 2005
586
0
Status
Psychology Student
I feel like it's one thing to say "I can't remember where I read this, would you find it" and quite another to give someone a while section of a paper that has sentences highlighted and give the instruction of "find 2-3 references for this." It feels smarmy...

I appreciate the input from everyone. I know that I have done the same thing when I am writing for classes, but it is always when my theory is there, my research is done, and I am saying something related that needs support. The situation I am describing feels different from that, and my former classmate is just really concerned that she is participating in something that is unethical.
Don't worry, it's not unethical or smarmy at all, and people do it all the time. I'm sure the professor knows the research-- they probably know that there are studies out there that show what they are saying, and just want someone else to find it. Maybe they read a study 10 years ago, or they heard about it a conference or saw it cited in another paper. It is also perfectly acceptable to ask research assistants to do lit searches for you. I would look up references, but also see if there's anything contradicting his/her statements, which they would then probably want to also cite. It doesn't sound like this professor is trying to distort the literature to fit with his/her pet theory-- if the do that, they'll just end up getting criticized by reviewers. It sound like he/she is making theory driven arguments and basing claims on research that he/she knows exists. Remember that sometimes you think of arguments that support your thesis while you're in the process of writing, and finding citations later is a way of verifying that what you have written is accurate.

I mean, the thing is, you can never know everything you need to do a lit search on before you start writing-- like I said, you sometimes come up with things along the way. Similarly, sometimes you realize while writing that your hypothesis has a hole, or that you should try another analysis. It would be silly to say no, I've started writing, I must do everything in order. It is somewhat naive to think that everything progresses from lit search to hypothesis to data collection to analysis to writing. Obviously you don't want to fish for results or do things that aren't theory driven, but you don't have to be rigid about the scientific process. Remember that later on a reviewer might say "incorporate this research" or "do that analysis," so the process gets all mixed up anyway.
 

parto123

10+ Year Member
Dec 25, 2006
316
0
Status
Non-Student
I think this is the type of question that if you asked students/ newly minted Phds, many would respond unfavorably, at least in some part, but if you asked grizzled academics and researchers most would say there is nothing wrong with it.

As long as the person isnt intentionally ignoring unfavorable findings, there is nothing unethical or shady about this.
 
OP
psychwanabe

psychwanabe

10+ Year Member
7+ Year Member
Mar 4, 2007
674
0
Status
Psychology Student
use EndNote.

this program makes life easier.
Ha. That's a funny story b/c this particular prof has been taught 3 times how to use Refworks by her advisees and still won't do it.

I think this is the type of question that if you asked students/ newly minted Phds, many would respond unfavorably, at least in some part, but if you asked grizzled academics and researchers most would say there is nothing wrong with it.

As long as the person isnt intentionally ignoring unfavorable findings, there is nothing unethical or shady about this.

You and everyone who made comments like this are probably right. I still don't like the practice though. Asking your RA/TA/GA to do a lit search is one thing, but inserting pages of references after the article is written feels like quite another to me.

Alas, not really my problem. :rolleyes: