A Note from Our Editor: “Check Your References!” -- By: John Warwick Montgomery
A Note from Our Editor: “Check Your References!”
During my academic career, I have made students on both sides of the Atlantic miserable by insisting that (1) they never rely on unverified web references, and (2) they never copy a reference from an author without going to the cited source to make sure that the reference is accurate. This of course slows down the writing of research papers and debate preparation, but it is the only way to prevent the creation of “bibliographical ghosts”: references to non-existent material or citations that actually lead nowhere.
Here is an example encountered serendipitously—and one that will warm the cockles of the heart of every conservative reader.
Go to the Wikipedia article on Chief Justice John Marshall (accessed 16 April 2012). There you will read: “Marshall himself was not religious and never joined a church; he did not believe Jesus was a divine being.” The footnote (66) given as the authority for this assertion is “Smith, John Marshall, pp. 36, 406.” This refers to Jean Edward Smith’s acclaimed biography, John Marshall: Definer of a Nation (Henry Holt, 1996, 1998).
Smith is professor of political science at the University of Toronto. The book was listed as a New York Times Notable Book of 1996 and, typical of euphoric reviews, Gordon S. Wood wrote in the New Republic: “We are in Smith’s debt for a richer, more accurate and more balanced view of Marshall and his achievements than we have ever had before....The best single-volume biography of the Chief Justice that we have.”
“More accurate and more balanced”? We go to page 406 and find the Wikipedia claim stated—but with no documentation. The claim also appears on page 36, in the following terms: Marshall was “unable to believe in the divinity of Christ.” The authority for this assertion is given in a footnote as “Dillon, 3 John Marshall: Life, Character, Judicial Services 14-17.” That three-volume collection of tributes to Marshall (Chicago, Callaghan, 1903) was edited by the distinguished jurist John F. Dillon and prepared as a centenary tribute to Marshall, who had been appointed chief justice by John Adams in 1801. Now go to Vol. 3, pp. 14-17: you will find not a single word corroborating the claim that Marshall denied the deity of Christ, much less any comment about his religious views.
But perhaps the page reference is just a typographical error? So we consult the detailed subject index at the end of the work (covering all three volumes) and what do we find? No reference anywhere in Dillon’s work to such a view as held by Marshall. To the contrary, the following references are typical of those pertaining to Marshall’s religious position:
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