Academic citations in the popular press


12 July 2010


It is very unusual for a newspaper article to cite an academic paper, unless it is in Nature, Science or the Lancet. Mostly, what we write is too technical and assumes too much background knowledge for it to be accessible to anyone but specialists. So I was pleasantly surprised to find a reference to the International Journal of Forecasting in a recent Wall Street Journal article. It is a citation of a 1996 article, so in terms of scientific research it is a bit like quoting the Magna Carta, but a citation nevertheless.

I once tried to get newspaper coverage of a special issue of the IJF on forecasting the US Presidential election. It was published about four months before the 2008 elections. If anything was going to attract the attention of the popular press, surely this was the topic! Alas, all we managed was a short piece on a research news website although there were copious articles on predicting the election result based on less valid methods.

Even forecasting the recent world cup didn’t get any serious attention, despite some excellent (albeit unpublished) work over at Paul the Octopus had tens of thousands of news articles, but the careful statistical modelling at kaggle had none at all that I could find.

All of which goes to show that newspapers are not good sources of information about forecasting (or anything else?).